When we decided we’d like to try playing bike polo, we started looking for a ratty old bike to use. I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an adult-sized bike at pawnshops and thrift stores. After several days of dedicated effort, I found this great girls’ 1975 Schwinn Varsity at a scary pawn shop in south LR. The guy wanted $40 for it, but I told him it was clearly not worth it, since the back brakes didn’t work and the tires were too rotten to hold air for more than eight minutes, tops. (Should I feel bad about this? I’m not sure.) Fortunately, I’d worn black pants to work on Friday, so grubbing around in the back room of a pawnshop was okay, because the grease didn’t show.
Schwinn used to make great bikes, back before they became a toy company and started producing full-sized bicycle replicas instead.
I guess I have a soft spot for the old Schwinns. (And I’ve noticed that Bryan’s an amazingly good sport about it.) This bike’s great, a real classic, made in Chicago, and came with many entertaining features, such as Giant Reflectors The Size of A Cat, Awesome Upside Down Homeless Guy Handlebars, and those old paddle-style shift levers that look like they should be used to serve draft beer.
Saturday, Bryan and I spent lots of time happily fiddling with the bike. We removed lots of unnecessary parts. He took off all the reflectors, and everything related to the non-operational back brake. He removed one of the chainrings and the guard, along with the front derailleur and cabling. I chopped off the kickstand with a hacksaw.
Earlier this spring, when we remodeled my Voyageur touring bike, we replaced the useful but ugly Michelin gumwalls with nice new Schwalbe tires. We’d saved the Michelins, though, and I was thrilled to find that they’d fit on the polo bike just fine. We only had to buy new tubes and rim strips for it.
We moved the handlebars, but only a little bit. We decided to, for the most part, retain the Awesome Upside Down Homeless Guy Handlebar arrangement because it’s surprisingly comfy. We took off the ratty handlebar tape, and after much experimentation, settled on a new placement for the single remaining brake lever.
Proper polo bikes, we’ve learned, have spoke protectors. This makes sense. It seems as if mallets, balls, and other peoples’ feet would not only make for bad crashes, but could really damage a wheel. So early in the week, I secured a generous supply of corrugated plastic scraps from the sign shop at work. We traced the wheels and cut out circles, making a straight slit along the radius so that the discs would ‘dish’ properly along the spokes. Then we marked the spokes, drilled holes through the plastic, and attached them to the wheels with zip-ties.
Being less than amazingly creative, I copied the old Schwinn “star” pattern from the frame of the bike and filled it in with Sharpie. I threw in some polka dots made with paint from Mandy’s crafts box, just on the principle that polka dots are usually a good idea.
I’m ready to play. The back wheel discs aren’t quite done, because I’m waiting for some sort of creative inspiration. We may make some changes to the handlebars and brakes at some point. But for now, it’s great. Total cost: $38, for the bike, rim strips, and tubes.
It rides beautifully. 3-2-1-POLO!