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Another good and acceptable defensive ploy was to smack the ball into the leftfield chain-link fence, which obviously slowed the offensive momentum.
But what about offense? Generally, offense was less spectacular and demanded more polish than basic barbaric defense. The secret to scoring was hitting the ball hard and directly in the center. I've never played polo on horseback but I assume the same problems exist with respect to the intensity of the mallet swing. The weakest shot is a head-on shot, i.e., hitting the ball in the same direction you are moving. The anatomy of the human arm explains this. You can get a far more powerful shot by overriding the ball and slamming it, actually backhanding it, in the opposite direction. In addition to being more powerful, the backward shot eliminated the problem of smacking the ball into your own front tire—a common occurrence until we learned how to compensate and hit the ball just off-center on the side closest to the bike. This sent the ball away from the tire but sacrificed power.
By far the most productive shot, and I doubt seriously if it is used on horseback, was to approach the ball from the side, so to speak, and smack it between the moving tires of your own steed. What a shot! What power you could get behind this shot, but it took plenty of practice and expert timing. For one thing, you had to make sure the pedals were out of the way. Ignoring this not-so-obvious detail resulted in a botched shot and sore ankles. Timing was the key. Swinging too soon put the ball (and sometimes the mallet) into your front spokes and resulted in an embarrassing self-inflicted Brahma bull ride. Hitting your own rear spokes was less dramatic but still resulted in a botched shot. The biggest problem was getting the mallet back before the rear tire ran over it. Failing to do so resulted in sore wrists.
Just about everyone mastered or at least developed a between-the-tires shot. There was nothing more rewarding in bike polo than approaching a ball at full speed, riding one-handed and leaning over with the mallet poised, smacking the ball between your own tires and then looking back over your shoulder to see it going between the goal markers. Conversely, there was nothing more embarrassing than having the same open-goal shot and putting the mallet head into your front spokes, the bike standing on end before deciding which way to fall, you meanwhile skidding across the gravel in front of it.
While the between-the-tires shot was the most productive and envied by those who had not mastered it, the so-called chip shot was definitely the most feared. It was possible, with a well-placed hit—the ball and ground at the same time—to lift a croquet ball off the ground sometimes as high as bike-seat level and most certainly as high as shinbone level. The chip shot brought oohs and aahs from the spectators and was respected on the field because it was so difficult to master and hurt like hell if you were in the way.
Spectators? You bet we had spectators. The people in the houses beyond the leftfield fence, who once watched furtively through window curtains for a chance to snatch a home-run ball from their flower beds in time, sat openly on their porches and cheered the action, secure in the knowledge that their windows would not be shattered. Workers walking home from the nearby AC Spark Plug factory stopped and watched through the chain-link fence. Younger kids sat along the sidelines on their useful and still cool bikes and grimaced whenever one of us would leap off ours, throw it to the ground and wrench a rear fender off because it was rubbing against a tire.
Had we been smart and enterprising, we would have passed a hat among the spectators to pay for repairs and bike polo would have lasted a lot longer. Spokes were not cheap to replace, and breaking them put a wheel out of round. Tires wore out quickly with all the high-speed braking on gravel. Chains and sprockets broke. Mallets broke. And even balls broke, sometimes splitting in half along the grain. We went through a complete set of mallets and plenty of balls before so many bicycles gave out that the game had to be abandoned. In fact, bike polo ended just a couple of weeks after its conception. It ended the evening Don Harris showed up with his sister's bike—his was beyond repair—and left with it crumpled in the trunk of someone's '55 Chevy.
But then, '55 Chevies were actually what bike polo was all about.