Kinetic Madness

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Octomom Sculpture

Three days of human-powered, all terrain, endurance silliness.

There are a few so-called Kinetic Sculpture Races around the world. But the original one was held in Humboldt County, California, USA in 1969. It is now called The Kinetic Grand Championship.

It is a three day 42 mile (67 km) race on roads, beaches, sand dunes (Deadman’s Drop), bay and river crossings, and slippery slopes. The contraptions are human-powered, usually by peddaling. Elaborate and highly suspect propulsion systems involve chains and gears welded into a nightmare of breakdown potential. Some entries deserve to be called sculptures because of their exotic artistic structure and elegant engineering. Others are really humorous because nobody in their right mind would expect the thing to work.

And there you have the essence of the silliness. There is honor in being absurd and eccentric. The impractical imagination and naive energy required to enter some of these contraptions is truly exquisite.

If you just had to pedal down the road that would be easy. But the skinny tires for efficient road cycling are horrible on the beach and the dunes. And the sturdy structure required to withstand Deadman’s Drop (a ridiculous plunge down the back side of a tall dune into very soft sand) can add enough weight to sink your dreams into Humboldt Bay when you go in the water. So you also need to be able to deploy significant floatation. And everything has to be on-board and carried with you for the entire race, including toothbrushes and teddy bear.

The race starts with the noon whistle on the Plaza in downtown Arcata. The contraptions line up on one side of the road and the pilots and crew are on the other and with the whistle the Le Mans start is underway. After several laps around the plaza to the delight of thousands of cheering fans they head out via farm roads toward the beach and three days of voluntary pain and shame. And some few will gain wonderful glory.



Officials Officiating




With a silly race there has to be silly awards and silly rules. There are. According to the official website: “…when Hobart Brown started the Kinetic Sculpture Race 40 years ago, he lost the race he created! Now one of the most coveted awards is the “Mediocre Award.”



Other awards include “The Golden Dinosaur,” which is the first sculpture to break down after the start line, “The Golden Flipper,” for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water, and “Poor Pitiful Me.” Racers can also “Ace” the race, which means they race the entire course for 42 miles without pushing or ”getting caught” cheating. Each award is handmade by a local artist!”

The race starts tomorrow and is now held on the weekend of the US holiday of Memorial Day. My wife and I met at the Kinetic Sculpture Race in 1980. We have seen the start of most of the races since that time.

As you can imagine it is a photogenic event. I will be there using my ladder again for a vantage point over the crowds.





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