In a school sports hall one would normally expect to find a mob of hormonal teenagers taking part in a games lesson, but on a cold and wet Saturday morning in February things are a little different.
The guys from Cardiff bike polo have come for a three-hour stint on the smooth surface of the sports hall at Llanedeyrn high school, Roundwood. As niche sports go, bike polo is up there with the strangest and the best.
Here are some snaps of the guys.
The game is essentially the same as its somewhat more upper-class equivalent – just with bikes instead of horses and a whole lot less pomp. There are three players on each team, the aim is to get the ball in the goal and the main obstacle, aside from the opposition, is making sure one’s feet do not touch the ground.
On arrival, there are just six players getting kitted-out, with a couple more showing up as the morning went on. Some wore full helmets with face guards, as well as elbow and kneepads, while others chose to go without.
Cardiff bike polo in action on Saturday morning.
Listen to Jim Cochran talk bike polo to crankitupcymru
Jim Cochran, who has been playing for about two years, said one of the best things about bike polo is the do-it-yourself kit. This is a welcome change for those used to paying big bucks for their sports kit and particularly cyclists, who generally tend to pay more for bikes than some people pay for cars.
Most of the players have adapted their bikes themselves. Sawn-off handlebars make maneuvering on the court easier. Then there are twin-lever brakes, which mean players can operate the front and back brake with one hand – the other firmly wrapped around a mallet, of course.
Wheels are blacked-out with road signs and old television production materials. This protects tyre valves as well as helping to deflect the ball, which is particularly useful for the goalkeeper.
Long-term member, Paul Beesley, has been playing since the club was started, almost three years ago, by Martin Higgins of the Bike Shed, Pontcanna. He said: “I love playing. It’s such a good laugh. We usually have a beer while we play and we don’t take it too seriously.
“We struggle for numbers in Cardiff so we tend to play with the guys from Bristol quite a lot. We’ve entered a few tournaments. Most of the teams there are a lot better than us, but it’s good to go away, play, meet other people and pick-up on some of the new stuff they’re doing.
“I could go mad for constantly tweaking my bike so it’s ideal for polo, but it probably wouldn’t make me a better player.”
Richard Miller, who had travelled from Bristol to play, discovered bike polo three years ago while touring in France. “I noticed a couple of guys sitting outside a pub with their bikes and mallets, so I went over and asked them about it,” he said.
“I’m so glad I found bike polo. I don’t have too many commitments so I spend a lot of time playing. I have work commitments like everyone else, but polo comes first.”
Because bike polo is such a niche sport, players learn from each other and pick up skills and tactics by watching games at tournaments. Mr Miller said: “Polo is a tactical game and some of the guys in London are highly skilled, so we learn a lot from them, like shielding players and things you just wouldn’t think of doing.
“Bike polo’s got such a friendly scene, because it’s such a small scene and everyone’s so enthusiastic about polo and keen to share that with others.”
Bike polo can look fairly slow-paced, but even as a competent cyclist, handling a bike in a confined space, while chasing a ball and with a mallet in one hand, was an absolute challenge. After getting the mallet stuck in the spokes, I decided it was probably best to return to my spot on the sidelines.