If you’re from Baltimore, you’ve probably heard about the American Visionary Museum’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. It’s one of the quirky, weird and wonderful events that make Baltimore the oddball city that it is with each year’s sculptures becoming more elaborate and artistic than the last.
The idea of the Kinetic Sculpture Race has been around since 1969, but didn’t come to Baltimore until American Visionary Museum founder Rebecca Hoffberger kicked off the very first one in 1999. There were only six entries the first year but those numbers continued to increase over time. This year there were 25 entries.
Sculpture participants began at the museum around 8:30 a.m. and kicked off the race around 9:45 a.m. by going down Key Highway, peddling up the hill that leads to Federal Hill Park, going around the park and back down Key Highway. The steep hills on Battery Avenue leading up to the park were no easy feat. Cyclists had to navigate issues such as flat tires, steering, and balance by maneuvering through several main obstacles, including water, sand and mud.
From the park they headed to Canton Waterfront where their bike sculptures had to float successfully around the pier and back out again. The engineering part of the design is crucial at this obstacle. Teams have tried multiple approaches, including putting a kayak on wheels, attaching floatation devices, and propellers to successfully make it through.
The music playing was a mix of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, The Dandy Warhols “Bohemian Like Me”, and The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” to pump up both participants and the crowd. Afterwards, teams rest here, grab some food, and prepare to head to Patterson Park for the mud and sand obstacles.
The last two obstacles are the sand pit and the mud pit, both at Patterson Park. AVAM volunteers work to make the mud pit full of goopy goodness, starting early in the morning watering a large dirt pile. One year, 2002, there was even an ice obstacle because the race was held early on April 13. The ice rink was still open and that day marked the first and only ice crossing in the history of any Kinetic Sculpture race. This year there was no ice crossing, but the sand and mud proved to be quite the challenge for many bikes.
Exhausted cyclists completed the mud pit and headed back to the AVAM for dinner and a very special awards ceremony. There isn’t just one award, there are over fifteen special awards given out to participants.
The highest race challenge is the ACE. “ACE pilots can’t swap or receive forward propulsion assistance at any time, and can’t get out to push or pull (especially at the water exit, sand, or mud). Each ACE-seeking team has a pink license plate and a merciless ACE judge scrutinizing every move,” according to AVAM’s special spectator guide. This year’s ACE Award went to Jemicy School.