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Group envisions Richmond park as space for sports

Bike sports

Forget the muscular horses, the team uniforms, the upper-crust attributes. For bike polo, it's muscular people, decorated wheel spokes and an attitude.

On Sunday afternoons, the tennis courts at Richmond's Abner Clay Park become an impromptu polo field for RVA Bike Polo. Traffic cones mark the goalposts. A board closes the gap between the tennis nets to enclose the space.

Now, the group is hoping to make the arrangement permanent, with a proposal that the city resurface and slightly enlarge the paved area to accommodate bike polo, roller hockey and bike-safety courses.

Based on resurfacing costs for other tennis courts in the city, the group estimates that the project will cost less than $40,000 and offers to contribute $5,000 of that amount.

The first fundraiser for the project was held last week by RideRichmond.net, RVA Bike Polo and the Cutthroats Bike Club. The combination of music and Goldsprints stationary bike races at Strange Matter raised about $1,600, said Michael Gilbert, who's active with RideRichmond, Saddle Sores Bike Club and the Alexandria Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Abner Clay Park, which fills a triangle between Leigh and Clay streets just east of Belvidere Street, has become an informal home for bike polo and roller hockey because it's convenient for the players and its tennis courts are rarely used for their original purpose, he said.

If it's reworked as a multiuse space for bike and skate sports, Gilbert said he could also envision after-school programs for alternate sports and adult classes in how to ride a bike.

"Bike Arlington has had success with this," he said. "There are a lot of adults who do not know how to ride bikes. This would get them out there riding and feeling comfortable with it."

Gilbert said he sees bike polo as an example of Richmond's strong bicycle culture and community.

"I personally think it is amazing that these things are happening and vibrant in a city that currently has two bike lanes," he said in an e-mail. "The mayor is making major strides toward infrastructure changes and, if Richmond has both parts of the puzzle (the culture and infrastructure), I have little doubt it will be the Portland of the East Coast."

Last November, a bike-polo tournament at Abner Clay Park attracted 22 teams and more than 120 participants from all over the East Coast, Gilbert said. Two Richmond players went to Berlin for the world championships, he added.

Bike polo is an intentionally scruffy mix of hockey and polo, with hockey supplying the general rules and polo supplying the idea of swinging a stick while riding.

Polo sticks are fashioned from old ski poles and plastic pipe. Improvised wheel covers keep the ball from getting stuck in the spokes and sometimes identify teams. Touching a foot to the ground during the game earns a penalty.

"It's an alternate sport, but you shouldn't discredit it as physical activity," Gilbert said. "It is pretty competitive."