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Austin’s First Public Bike Polo Court Wheels Into Town at Metz Park

Apr 03, 2023

James Rambin June 6, 2023 Comment

A view of the Metz Park Multi-Use Bike Polo Court, now nearing the end of construction at the south end of the park and recreation center in the Holly neighborhood of East Austin at 2407 Canterbury Street. Photo by James Rambin

Just as bikes offer a cost-effective alternative to car commuting without the added expenses of gas and maintenance, the game of bicycle polo represents a working-class response to the better-known "sport of kings" enjoyed by the idle rich, without the horses, oats, lawns, or stables — alongside famous local pastimes like disc golf and flat-track roller derby, it's ideal for Austin's casual sensibilities. The original version of the sport played on grass dates back to 1890s Ireland, and arrived here in some form by the 20th century — "The messenger boys of Austin are not big enough to play polo on ponies and perhaps none of them know the game, but when it comes to ability on bicycles the messenger ‘kids’ have many of the trained players looking for instructions," explained the Austin American-Statesman in 1913.

The original form of bike polo — played on a grass field instead of a paved surface — was occasionally staged at Zilker Park, as seen in this photo from the Austin American-Statesman in 1989. Kinda makes you wonder, when was the last time anyone actually played polo with horses at the Zilker Polo Fields instead of parking their cars there? Image: Austin History Center

It's no surprise then that bike messengers in Seattle eventually cooked up the most prevalent modern version of the game, known as hardcourt bike polo and typically played using single-speed bikes, mallets, and street hockey-style PVC balls on tennis courts and parking lots, in the early 2000s — subsequent local enthusiasm led to the formation of the Austin Texas Bike Polo Social Club in 2009, which has remained the city's major organization for the sport ever since.

This month, the club will celebrate the opening of the city's first purpose-built bike polo facility at Metz Park in the Holly neighborhood of East Austin, officially known as the Metz Park Multi-Use Bike Polo Court. (For the record, the ATXBPSC prefers to call the area Mendez Park, since Hamilton Metz was a Confederate army captain — although the renaming of the park's recreation center for Austinite and dance instructor Rudy Mendez was approved in 2020, Austin's City Council has yet to approve the full renaming of Metz Park for Mendez, which is something we should get done.)

Initiated by the ATXBPSC through the Neighborhood Partnering Program of the City of Austin's Transportation and Public Works Department, the project transforms an aging tennis court at Metz Park long used by the club as a makeshift playing field into an official public bike polo court, with new fencing, concrete barriers, and a fresh playing surface restriped for the sport. The project is funded by the city's Neighborhood Cost Share Program, which allows groups like the bike polo club to partner with the city on small-scale public works improvements like traffic circles, bike lanes, and community gardens — but the Metz bike polo court is likely the most unique result of the program since its initiation in 2010.

A closer look at the Metz Park bike polo court, now nearing the end of construction. Photo by James Rambin

Austinite and career cycling enthusiast David "Daud" Tashnick, who serves as one of the club's main organizers when he's not running the city's largest fleet of pedicabs at Easy Rider, says the court is modeled after similar facilities in bike-friendly cities like Vancouver and San Francisco, and will be "pretty much a world-class facility" for anyone interested in joining the sport. The group plans to host a "newbie night" once a week for newcomers to learn the rules, with loaner bikes and mallets available for first-time players. The court, which you might agree is an interesting milestone for the city whether or not you’re brave enough to hop on a bike and pick up a mallet yourself, is expected to celebrate its grand opening by the end of June.

Filed Under: News Tagged With: 78702, city life, design, history, parks

bicycle polo hardcourt bike polo Metz Park Mendez Park, Transportation and Public Works Department, David "Daud" Tashnick,