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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Column: Polite pastimes

If L.A. and S.F. are the main battlegrounds for bike/car wars, Davis is where bicycles politely agree to disagree but never get in a fight.  Davis is a place that’s too kind to cyclists to encourage aggressive events such as bike polo, underground racing, or critical masses. The main activities of leisure in Davis are drinking way too much, peeing on cars and stealing bikes (I know, I live downtown and put up with a billion of you bros this weekend. My housemate was watching a crew of boys walk away from downtown and look at our bike rack and say, “man, we would go a lot faster if we had some of those”. Thankfully she was there to stop them before they got too creative, but the fact remains that young irresponsible males need a channel for this sort of negative energy). 

If you want to participate in bicycle events, you’ve got to set them up on your own. And while playing, you have to dodge the rice rocket kids and monster truck dudes and the people that drive to the ARC to work out. Bicycle polo, underground racing and critical masses are all important and vibrant cycling events in big cities. In Davis, where cycling is important but maybe not as difficult, community events such as these are a little less emphasized but just as vital.

Bicycle polo is a game that takes on the world’s most dangerous, awkward, and fun games and makes them accessible. Professional sports emerged from aristocracy, and polo is the pinnacle of such sport: a hockey-like game played with horses, elephants and now bicycles.

I love polo. I’m sort of like the fat kid you picked last in junior high when it came to sports. I’m not going to score the clutch goal or beat everyone in a race, but I will put all my energy into it. The trash talking is endless, as is the bicycle repair.

At Friday’s game at West Manor park, a group of us got together to test out new mallets. Four of us are ministers from the bike church, a good group if you want your bicycle repaired in time for the second chukkar. The other four players weren’t as trained in the art of repairs, but made up for it in talent and bravado: I would never run my bicycle into harms way with quite the same fervor.

Polo is not just about speed nor is it purely skill. Luck plays a huge role, as well as your ability to maneuver the fairly constant game of chicken that’s being played with various sections of your bicycle, someone else’s bicycle, the fence of the roller hockey rink and the buckets we use for goals. So … that’s equal parts speed, skill, luck and chicken. It is the true do-it-yourself game. We’ve put together our bike polo bicycles, we’ve built our mallets and we make up rules as we go. We tap out of the ring when we set our feet down. You’d be surprised how easy it is to balance your feet on your bike and the guardrail, and hit it backwards through your bike at your friend. There are constant hits on your stick, bikes threatening to hit your bike and a ball rolling millimeters away from the reach of your club what seems like every time. It’s an amazing game and I want to get more people playing.

If group sport isn’t your cup of tea, Davis is a town that is built for bicycle racing. It’s almost criminal that there aren’t tons of underground racing events. Unfortunately for the UC Davis Police Department, the emptied campus serves as a perfect site for a quick unsanctioned race: there is seldom traffic from cars or people, and the common awareness of the campus makes for simple checkpoints. I’ve helped organize a few derbies and races, but the racing in Davis is all painfully covered with lycra and carbon fiber. Davis could be the fast and the furious for bikes every weekend if we wanted to. 

I’m almost done but here’s a parting image. I recently got off a bus with my bike in Los Angeles, and I realized I was looking at the L.A. critical mass. I saw 400 bicyclists, all wearing crazy cool getups, neon lights and making life hell for a bunch of people who were driving less than one mile to get to a super market. I know we don’t live right at the front of the conflict, but the least we can do here in Davis is stop being polite to people who waste gasoline.Christopher Salam is a minister at the Davis Bicycle Collective, and can be reached at mrsalam@ucdavis.edu. If you are interested in DIY bicycle repair, visit the DBC at its Bike Forth location, on L Street and 4th. (M) 1 to 5 p.m., (T-R) 4 to 8 p.m. & Saturday 12 to 6 p.m.


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