When asked why she started Raleigh Bike Polo in 2012, Michelle Willcox’s response is simple: Because I wanted to play it.
“No league existed at the time,” she explains. “I had friends in other states that played, and I wanted to find a way to play, too.”
Raleigh’s cycling culture historically embraces the Do-It-Yourself mentality. So Willcox rolled up her sleeves, made some mallets, and encouraged local cyclists to come try bike polo. “Not many companies manufactured polo mallets,” she recalls, “So we used ski poles and gas piping to build up our own mallets.”
Despite a rocky start, Raleigh Bike Polo, equal parts sports league and social community, has gained traction in Raleigh. The league has around a dozen active players at any given time, and over 200 cyclists follow their Facebook group.
After several months of searching for a solid location to play, the group finally found a home at the Tarboro Park Tennis Courts in Raleigh. Armed with DIY mallets and barrage-ready bikes, the players are serious, but Willcox describes the atmosphere as grassroots and welcoming. “I really just enjoy the community that we have, and I like that anyone walking by can pick up a mallet and play with us and have fun.”
“We would have neighborhood kids come by and just want to try it out. All ages. Some of them could barely reach the pedals. We made them wear helmets, though,” Willcox shares. The group also fixes up local kids’ bikes, helping build the next generation of the cycling community.
Kyle Hord, a volunteer with Oaks & Spokes who also plays with Raleigh Bike Polo, adds, “We also want to maintain a good relationship with the city, hopefully make improvements to our courts at Tarboro, including rebuilding a rotting tennis practice wall there.”
Many members of Raleigh Bike Polo will also take part in the Oaks & Spokes Festival in May, a ten-day celebration of Raleigh’s cycling culture. During the event, they will raise money for the Vs. Cancer Foundation.
As the group expands, Hord lays out plans for the cycling community’s future. “If we could ever talk the city into helping finance or build a permanent court,” he expresses, “that would be great.”
The real magic of Raleigh Bike Polo is in the culture. “I love cycling because it’s introduced me to so many rad people,” says Willcox, who has traveled to Puerto Rico, Florida, and NYC for tournaments.
“It’s how I’ve met the majority of my friends,” she says.
Other members express similar feelings—finding a team, a sense of belonging, and an energizing angle on local cycling. Many players compete in local tournaments, sometimes traveling or settling rivalries with Asheville’s bike polo group.
Raleigh Bike Polo has loaner bikes and mallets for anyone who wants to give it a shot. “We always need new players.”