Tour de France Meets Burning Man
Freda Moon gives us the scoop on some not-so-common forms of kinetic transportation.
You could imagine this past weekend’s Kinetic Grand Championship as Tour de France meets Burning Man. But really this 3-day bicycle race in Humboldt County, California is an event all its own. In place of traditional bicycles, racers pedal “kinetic kontraptions”– part sculpture, part bike. Instead of smooth road or velodrome, racers navigate land, sand, mud and water in people-powered art machines built to look like everything from Octomom (an octopus with a baby gripped in each tentacle) to a fire-breathing metallic dragon constructed from discarded aluminum, to a tie-dyed Hippy-Potamus with wiggling ears and batting eyelashes.
The event, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, began when one local sculptor, Hobart Brown, challenged another to a race down the main drag of Ferndale, California. Forty years later, the route is 42 miles long, and takes racers across sand dunes (including one called “Deadman’s Drop”), across a bay, up and down a mile-long hill with a seven percent incline and across a river. The race, which draws thousands of spectators each year, has spawned similar events across the country and as far away as Perth, Australia.
The Kinetic Grand Championship is about fun, not prize money. But awards–handmade sculptures crafted from re-purposed materials, many collected from the local junk yard–are given for creativity, survival and folly. They include the Golden Dinosaur (the first to break down), the Golden Flipper (the first to flip over) and–because all competing contraptions are required to have a teddy bear on board to comfort losing racers–the Teddy Bear award (the best bear is chosen by children, who also make the award). Each year a Rutabaga Queen is decided in a “kooky pageant” to represent the championship as race royalty and organize the race’s annual Rutabaga Ball.
Other kinetic sculpture races around the country:
Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, Baltimore, MD
The Great Port Townsend Kinetic Sculpture Race, Port Townsend, WA
Grand Kinetic Challenge, Corvallis, OR
Klamath Kinetic Challenge, Klamath Falls, OR
Kinetic Sculpture Race, Ventura, CA
Prescott Valley Kinetic Sculpture Race, Prescott Valley, AZ
Photos: courtesy of the Kinetic Grand Championship
- Nat Geo Expeditions