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.

Mary Lee, left, and Aileen Kroll, right, dance during the opening ceremony of the Kinetic Sculpture Race. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Federal Hill is a popular spot to watch the kickoff of the race and it is often dotted with spectators early in the morning. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
"Cut out to be Royal" is a 6-pilot carriage that carry "everyday royals" on par with this year's theme of "Everyday People". The team operating this sculpture is Team Goes to Eleven, who was previously the 2008 champion for "Rat Rod"
"Cut out to be Royal" is a 6-pilot carriage that carry "everyday royals" on par with this year's theme of "Everyday People". The team operating this sculpture is Team Goes to Eleven, who was previously the 2008 champion for "Rat Rod" (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Scenes from the Kinetic Sculpture race on May 6, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Spectators and cyclists gather for the opening ceremony to kick off the race. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Spectators watch from Federal Hill Park. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Joan Cooper and daughter Juliet Cooper, 7, dance during the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony gets cyclists and spectators pumped for the kickoff.
Joan Cooper and daughter Juliet Cooper, 7, dance during the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony gets cyclists and spectators pumped for the kickoff. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Chip Walsh poses for a portrait outside of the AVAM. Walsh is from team Cap Kinetic with sculpture "Engines and Dragons". Team Cap Kinetic was the 2022 champion. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

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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.

Mark Ward, Water Master of Ceremonies, stands watch before sculptures are allowed to enter the obstacle. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
"Book of Platypology" Personal Long-range All-Terrain Yacht Proven Un-Safe in every race since 2005 and won the 2019 Engineering award as Shark Tank and 2005 & 2011 Grand Champion. It had eight pilots and breezed through the water obstacle. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Spectators gather on the rocks at the park to watch the sculptures. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Judges and "police" watch from the pier to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules. If a team isn't abiding, the judges may be swayed by a homemade bribe. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Participants don't have to worry about getting lost at sea. Sharks are there to keep them inside safe parameters. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

Children line up to watch the bikes go through the mud obstacle which is one of the most popular spectator sites. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Jemicy School struggled to get their bike, "The Big 50" through the deep mud pit.
Jemicy School struggled to get their bike, "The Big 50" through the deep mud pit. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Pushing your bike through is a no-no, but sometimes inevitable. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
The mud pit obstacle is notorious for destroying many shoes. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Fifi, the iconic pink poodle, makes through another year and another mud pit. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
"Reverse Dog Sled" by Team 1,800 Lbs, breeze through the mud pit. They have won 12 awards since 2007. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Jemicy powers through the pit with one of their five bikes. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
AVAM volunteers have fun hosing off muddy cyclists after the obstacle. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Cyclists from Mr. Jon Dig-it got hosed off. Mr. Jon Dig-it is a Jon boat converted into a backhoe to honor Buck Schuster, long-time friend of the Soda Quackers of NJ & PA. They won 2019 Grand Champion and last year. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Nate Anderson cheers on cyclists coming through the mud pit. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

People cheer for award winners at the awards ceremony. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Jemicy School wins this year's Ace Award (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
The judges hold up the Best Bribe award. This award goes to the team presenting the best gifts to encourage cops and Judges to absolve minor infractions.
The judges hold up the Best Bribe award. This award goes to the team presenting the best gifts to encourage police officers and judges to absolve minor infractions. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Team USS Rosie the Recycler wins the award for best bribes. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Kaitlin Newman is a photojournalist specializing in multimedia coverage. Her main areas of focus are politics, conflict, feature and breaking news. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing from Towson University, which is where she is also the professor of photojournalism. 

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