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Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race
2011 Race Report

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Saturday 7 May 2011

With more sculptures than ever before, more spectators than ever before, and more volunteers than ever before, this was a great race! With 33 sculptures from 26 teams, there were bound to be curious coincidences: this year we had two teams of bees and two teams of cats.

Thanks to a dedicated corps of volunteers and hard work by the staff of the American Visionary Art Museum, 2011 also made major advances coordinating and managing this extraordinarily complex and chaotic event through 15 miles in 11 neighborhoods over 7 hours.

To see others’ coverage of the race, or to tell others of your race experiences, be sure to check out the Kinetic Forum.

The Champion: PLATYPUS

David Hess’ magnificient PLATYPUS (Personal Long-range All-Terrain Yacht Proven Un-Safe) finally received the 2011 Grand Mediocre East Coast Championship trophy for his seventh year in the race. Fully loaded with his eight pedalling pilots, plus one barnacle steering and an optional barnacle aloft, Pokey weighs roughly two tons, yet is propelled along the 15-mile racecourse entirely by those eight pedallers.

This year, the PLATYPUS sported a Scottish theme, with tam o'shanters and kilts.

On the water, PLATYPUS switched to paddlewheel drive and cruised magnificiently on their pontoons.

Pokey has never entered the ACE level of competition, but instead demonstrates engineering prowess through sheer capability. When Pokey last year encountered the mud—the most difficult in east-cost Kinetic history—Pokey’s pit crew sullied themselves heaving him through. They were prepared for mud that rough this year when the pilot leapt forward out of the steering seat and operated a hand-crank winch which would have pulled Pokey through the thickest mud.

This year’s mud wasn’t the viscous shoetrap it was last year, and seemed rather shorter, so Pokey had no difficulty pulling through.

As Champion of the East Coast 15-mile race, the PLATYPUS is eligible for the 42-mile World Kinetic Sculpture Championship over Memorial Day weekend in Humboldt County, California.

While each of Pokey’s pilots pedals an individual bicycle chassis, the chains combine their energy in a transmission from a Suzuki SUV. From that point, the drivetrain, wheels, and tires are all automotive components.

Captain Hess raises his hand triumphantly as the team receives its championship trophy—topped by gold-plated bicycle handlebars—at the awards ceremony.

Ankh-ers Away

It’s utterly unprecedented for the judges to give one team any major award three years in a row—especially the Art Award. However, Frank Conlan’s team of Make Believers creates such spectacular entries that for the judges to do otherwise would be a travesty.

Pilot's Choice The sail features the image of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of justice, under the sun to which she gives birth every morning, and with Baltimore’s Teutonic Kinetic Chicken on her forehead.

Above the waterline along the hull were painted hieroglyphics portraying the history of the Make Believers, including (at right) the premonition that they would cross the finish line at AVAM.

On the water, sets of oars worked via hand cranks.

However, the sail caught the wind as much as one might expect, and—since it could not be tacked—the ship blew strongly off course. The crew pulled down the sail and…

…were towed to shore by trusty volunteers.

The Lobe Trotters

The Janelia Farm campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn pooled their scientific minds to create the spectacular Lobe Trotters colossal all-terrain brain.

With on-board DJ setup and synchronized subcortex illumination, industrial-strength chassis and gnarly wheels, it looked like nothing would stop the Lobe on its Trot…

But as they crested Federal Hill, one of their two motorcycle power chains severed under the load, and the Lobe suffered a seizure. Without tools to break and repair the chain, its terrestrial progress for the rest of the race depended upon being pushed by its crew.

Kinetic races have seen the failure of many a bicycle chain1 stressed beyond its capacity. However, we’ve never seen any other instance in which a motorcycle chain2 has failed.

This photo shows after they had trailered the Lobe to the water entry, under the distant watchful eye atop the National Bohemian building.

Due to this surprising failure, they received the Worst Honorable Mention, given in this case for a design that should have done better.

1ANSI series 40, with 810lb working load
2ANSI series 80, with 3300lb working load

On the water, the Lobe was superb and swift. The recumbent Lobe pilots easily passed other teams stooped over with oars.

The Trotters pushed the Lobe throught the knolls of Patterson Park to reach the sand and mud.

With a tow crew, the Lobe made it through the mud.

Portals into the brain demonstrated some of its functions. Note that a chocolate bar appears in both “joy” and “addiction”.

Here they proudly receive their trophy at the awards ceremony. We hope they repair the chain and come back with Lobe 2.0 in 2012.

Crew costumes were lab coats and an unusual array of scientific headgear, including a helmet-mounted microscope made of foam.

See their article and a fabulous video at the HHMI Bulletin.

Pussy Galore

The first of two feline entries, Pussy Galore featured four bicycles leading a platform with two more pilots, and a barnacular sofa-sitting television-watching crazy cat lady inspired by The Simpsons character.

For repair services provided to the Judges wagon and other exemplary behavior, they received the award for Best Pit Crew.

The sculpture was adorned with a variety of Kinetic and cat images, from the Pink Panther to Cat Stevens. It is perhaps the first time this photographer has been presented as a peer to Hello Kitty.

When they reached the water, the hydrophobic felines dashed back to the platform and the bicycles were hoisted out of the water.

This entry came from 1800 Lbs, the exhuberant team responsible for

At the mud, the bicycling cats pedaled while the remainder pushed from behind. The crazy cat lady never left her couch.

When Hell Freezes Over

The purple-tongued Satan returned with icy blue fringe in When Hell Freezes Over. Paddles for the water entry are on the side, and you can see their stout aft paddlewheel.

This Falls Church entry was Going to Hell in 2010 and 2009.

Go Ask Alice

In its second year, Go Ask Alice brought a new face and monocle. Enthused by its jocular wagging back-and-forth locomotion, the public gave it this year’s People’s Choice award, for the second year running.

One of the largest sculptures ever to enter the race, the caterpillar easily dwarfed cars in Butcher's Hill.

An internal view.

The collosal spectacle was even more dramatic on the water.

As the 35-foot long multi-hinged caterpillar came in for landing, the pit crew lined the pier and used their feet to help align it for a straight approach.

The Boxer Bee

Sollers Point Technical High School 2010’s robust Heavy Metal rebuilt as Boxer Bee—a bee with boxing gloves. With a new rack and pinion steering system and disc brakes to complement their impressive swivelling pontoon mechanism, their shop-fabricated engineering was first class.

Even with broad tires, the combined toil of pit crew and pilots was needed to traverse the mud.

Tragically, their axle broke near the end of the race (not pictured).

Jemicy’s Vechysvboat, Einherjar, Odin, Ve and Vidar, Buri, and Brunehilde

Baltimore County’s Jemicy School came with a record six entries, with considerably more artful festoonment than in previous years. This year they won five ACE and three other awards.

Vechysvboat had four pilots, two giant hands, and a giant blond-moustached face.

With thick gnarled tires and low gearing, Vechysvboat had such an easy time in the sand that just after dashing through at nearly full speed, the pilots said “Where’s the sand?”

The five smaller Jemicy sculptures, from foreground to background:
  • Odin won a ACE Award.
  • Einherjar won an ACE Award.
  • Buri won a ACE Award, and also the Next-to-Last award.
  • Brunhilde won a ACE Award.
  • Ve and Vidar, had 2 pilots, but due to folded sprockets did not win an ACE.

For dramatic fortitude in successfully pursuing his ACE, despite strong winds arising which dramatically increased the difficulty, the pilot of Einherjar also won the prestigious Sprit of the Founder award.

The entire Jemicy team distributed these spectacular homemade horned headbands which handily won them the Best Bribes award.

Just like Vikings of old, they pulled down their sail and used the mast to punt the ship.

Am-ish sin Caballo

Am-ish sin Caballo
Am-ish (like the Amish)
sin caballo (without horse)

This traditional entry replaced horses with pilots Phillip Smith and Melissa Koerner of Arbutus and Catonsville. The actual wooden buggy wheels are embellished with paddles for the water portion of the race, and large outrigger pontoons provided buoyancy.

The buggy wheels were no match for the mud, and immediately sank. This hand-cranking technique had been very successful at the water exit—and is perfectly legal under all race rules as the pilot does not leave the scultpture. However, hand cranking proved fruitless in the mud, so they resorted to pushing and sacrificed their hoped-for ACE award.

However, their simple design held together through the race and for their innovative success with antique technology they received the Engineering Award.

The Claw Machine

The Claw Machine came from the Landsowne High School student government, a sculpture reborn from a donation by the Catholic Community School of South Baltimore.

Moments after splashing into the water, their starboard pontoon gave way and the the sculpture crashed into the pier. They were destined for the Golden Flipper award for “Most Interesting Water Entry.”

They offered soggy stuffed animals to race officials as bribes, and tossed others into the crowd.

The V-8 Power Plants

An amphibious vegetable garden, the V-8 Power Plants ran on the same chassis as last year’s Scrum Roll Racer. For the second consecutive year, they won Best Costumes for their thematic garb, including helmets topped with enormous vegetables.

When they got to the water, the seed packets on sticks transformed into paddles.

Their front-wheel-drive tricycle design enabled them to drive with ease straight out of the harbor.

Unfortunately, they suffered a castastrophic breakdown in Patterson Park and were unable to finish the race.

Itty Bitty Charm City

Jumbo tricycle Itty Bitty Charm City celebrates the route taken by the Sculpture Race through Baltimore. Pilots’ helmets bore likenesses of the Patterson Park Pagoda, the Domino Sugar factory logo, and the Power Plant guitar.

Given this metropolitan enthusism in a team originating from Rockville, they were awarded the Judges’ Discretionary Spirit of Baltimore Award.

Among the waves and roadway on the side of Itty Bitty Charm City were photos of past years’ sculptures on the respective terrains.

This is the same team that won the 2008 Championship with Rat Rod.

Margot the Escargot

Even by the time it got to Federal Hill, the giant pink snail Margot the Escargot needed hauling from the front and pushing from behind. Since the crew pushed it through to the finish line—they were awarded the Push + Pull Award.

They had many exclamations throughout the race like “It’s a snail, not a slug!”

Aric Wanveer’s team also created 2010’s Mobile Media, 2009’s Voodoo Air, and 2008’s Wilma & the Wombats.


With a dramatic flourish, Bee-Have was the first sculpture to enter the mud. While it needed tugging and pulling with a tow line to get through the mud, this is allowed under race rules as long as a sculpture is not following the more stringent ACE protocol.

The three bees atop the sculpture spun around with dramatic velocity.

Bee-Have comes from Tony Walker and Tom Rivers of Fell’s Point, responsible for 2010’s Chessie.

One of the three spinning bees was entered as the homemade sock creature required to be carried on each sculpture at all times while it is in motion. That bee won the Sock Creature of the Universe award.


Bob is a giant model of the drinking bird thermodynamic heat engine, created by the Takoma Park team that made 2010’s Champion Candy Haus and 2009’s Snakehead.

Bob dipped his beak into a bucket of Bromo Seltzer, Baltimore’s most famous patent medicine remedy for hangover and digestive upset.

Bob’s head pivoted up and down enthusiastically as the sculpture navigated the racecourse.

On the harbor, pilots propelled Bob with shoe-paddles.

In preparing to enter the water, Bob’s rack & pinion steering failed, and he careened into the DJ canopy. No one was hurt, but those in the canopy fled. This is why the Rampmaster compels the crowd to keep the path clear for sculptures.

For this engineering mayhem the year after winning the Grand Mediocre Championship, the team received the Lucky 13 award.

Idol 001

The Baltimore Lab School brought Idol 001, where Simon, Randy, and Paula raced through the city seeking an Idol.

Their sturdy sculpture made a big splash.

They presented a dance routine just before the water entry.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer arose from Max’s Taphouse of Fell’s Point.

The distinctive four-in-a-row bobsled-style configuration provided aerodynamic transit along the roadways.

However, their diminutive wheels proved extraordinarily troublesome in the mud, necessitating great heaving.

As a bush-league entry, they did not go into the water.


The Dark Knights of Baltimore City College High School brought the Batmobile, complete with Batman, Robin, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, Joker, and Penguin, and a guy in a white suit and yellow shirt.

This sculpture featured solid engineering from this new group of young racers.

The Batmobile proved itself amphibious at the Canton Waterfront, indicating that they had likely tested it before the race.

T-Wrecks Reformed

T-Wrecks Reformed from Crofton was sponsored by Cabinet Discounters and Dibs Catering, and introduces a second dinosaur friend added to 2010’s T-Wrecks

At the water entry, they remained tethered to a line to ensure they didn’t drift out to sea.

The arrangement of pilots and art gave the appearance that the dinosaurs were operating the paddles.

Star Fisher

The Star Fisher came from a fleet of parade bicycles made of parts salvaged from bicycles, lawn mowers, and physical fitness equipment.

The wheel spinner at the rear is used to spin frisbees which are painted as the bike is moving. The group calls this Star Fish Spin as the paint is put down in a formation that looks like a Starfish. When frisbees are sold, proceeds are donated to make bio-sand water filters for people in Haiti who lack clean water.

The PolyGnomials

The PolyGnomials from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute high school started the race with a modest supply of art, but as you’ll see, by the time they got to the mud all that remained were their red gnome helmet covers.

(We’re unsure why the paramilitary squad from a suburban police department wore battle dress uniforms and brought their assault vehicle. Perhaps classified CIA intelligence reports indicate stateside infiltration by anti-kinetic sculpture race militias.)

Harbor waters can be chilly.

At the water entry, the sculpture somewhat disintegrated, plunging the pilots into the harbor. It appears to lack sufficient pontoon buoyancy.

After lurching through the sand and flying over the handlebars, the pilots exclaimed “We didn’t taco!” referring to the tendency of wheels to collapse like taco shells under lateral stress.

The Kipplala

From the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) and the Belt Street Pilots’ Association comes the fabulous tusked cat The Kipplala.

At the water entry, their unusual configuration had one pilot facing forward and one backward. The front steering wheel became a rudder with a simple insert.

Once again, the artistic value of a giant head is profound. We’re not sure what the head is made of; if they tell us we’ll post it here!

The Firebreather

The Firebreather was a Homerian dragon boat from the Odyssey School of Stevenson, Maryland. As a bush-league entry, it did not enter the water.


Skyler Lemkuhl of Philadelphia, of the Dumpster Divers, brought Cat-amaran. The Dumpster Divers have been in every Baltimore race—since 1999!

This unembellished design crossed the finished line first and handily won the Speed Award.

AVAM’s Fifi is a Lucky Dog, Bumpo, and Frog

The American Visionary Art Museum’s grande dame Fifi returned for her eleventh year, looking as young as ever. Fifi sported a lucky shamrock, dice, and casino-costumed pilots.

Bumpo, AVAM’s pachydermous entry, bore a pot of gold and shamrocks.

The Frog suffered some engineering angst but survived the race intact.

Kinetic Couch

Our team of photographers took over 3,000 photos throughout the race, but at the starting line itself came our only shot of of the seemingly unseaworthy Kinetic Couch.

However, the couch is built of styrofoam and wood, the lamps are oars, and a mini-keg under the front helps keep everything afloat. The pajama-clad couch surfers were ready to tackle the race until an axle breakage a couple miles from the starting line won them the Golden Dinosaur award, created by the same Dr. Laurence J. Peter who created the Peter Principle.

Thanks! Batala, Baltimore Police, and HMS Yellowbottom

The all-women Brazilian-style percussion band Batala kicked off the opening ceremonies.

The Baltimore City Police did a great job guiding the race through the urban streets.

Bob and Melina Meshako of Capital Specs, LLC provided with the HMS Yellowbottom—the yellow kayak that provided an excellent platform for taking some of the photos in this report.


Here they are—some of the motivated, effective, dependable corps of volunteers who make the Kinetic Sculpture Race possible. It is through their somber toil and stoic determination that such a serious, solemn exposition of engineering and artistic proclivity can occur on the streets of Baltimore the first Saturday of every May.

If you think you have what it takes to join this team in future years, consider enlisting on the Volunteer Email List on this website, and we will notify you when opportunities arise.

Festivity Among the Crowd

Many spectators, pit crew, volunteers, and pilots were well-costumed for the day. Here are some of them.

The Kinetic Baltimore Team

The festive cohort responsible for creating this 2011 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race Report comprises five individuals:

Amy Swackhamer: Head Race Commentator

James Riordon: Ramp Master and Crowd Wrangler

Mary Catherine Adams: Head Photographer

Johanna Jones: Director of Benevolence

Tom Jones: Creator of Fine Websites, Maps, Spectator’s Guides, and other Paraphernalia to the Kinetic Trades, and Kinetic Seer #746 ordained by the Glorious Founder, Hobart Brown.

Show individual pages
  1. Champion PLATYPUS
  2. Ankh-ers Away
  3. The Lobe Trotters
  4. Pussy Galore
  5. When Hell Freezes Over
  6. Go Ask Alice
  7. The Boxer Bee
  8. Jemicy’s Vechysvboat, Einherjar, Odin, Ve and Vidar, Buri, and Brunehilde
  9. Am-ish sin Caballo
  10. Claw Machine
  1. The V-8 Power Plants
  2. Itty Bitty Charm City
  3. Margot the Escargot
  4. Bee-Have
  5. Bob
  6. Idol 001
  7. Speed Racer
  8. Batmobile
  9. T-Wrecks Reformed
  10. Star Fisher
  11. The PolyGnomials
  1. The Kipplala
  2. The Firebreather
  3. Cat-amaran
  4. AVAM’s Fifi is a Lucky Dog, Bumpo, and Frog
  5. Kinetic Couch
  6. Thanks! Batala, Baltimore Police, and HMS Yellowbottom
  7. Volunteers
  8. Spectators
  9. The Team
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The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race is sponsored and run by the American Visionary Art Museum. is the volunteer work of Tom Jones.
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