Riding a bike through a giant mud pit is harder than you may think. Especially when the bike is carrying a six-foot wooden dragon or a mesh train that shoots stream. But last weekend the riders in the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby proved that it is possible.
The Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby is an annual event where participants build sculptures or floats out of bicycles and ride them throughout the neighborhood. Contestants are encouraged to come up with the craziest and most intense vehicle ever, dress up in elaborate costumes and ride in a procession complete with obstacles. The derby is not a race, but a design competition and celebration of kinetic transit.
The event is hosted by the New Kensington Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that aims to revitalize the Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond communities. “Our mission is to strengthen the physical, social and economic fabric of the community by being a catalyst for sustainable development and community building,” says NKCDC’s business resource coordinator and derby coordinator Kathryn Doherty-Chapman. She first introduced the event to the neighborhood in 2007 after she was inspired by other kinetic sculpture competitions. According to Doherty-Chapman, the kinetic sculpture competition originated in 1969 when California artist Hobart Brown took creative license in jazzing up his son’s tricycle.
When the first Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby took place in 2007, 10 riders entered the competition. Today, over 20 entries flaunted their creative geniuses along the derby route. “It’s a forum for people to express themselves in a totally unique way and it really makes people proud to live or work here,” says Doherty-Chapman.
Among the entries were a pirate ship, a golden chariot, the Kenzinger Express and the entire food pyramid on wheels. According to resident Kate Simon, the Kenzinger Express tries each year to get its steam locomotive to work and this year it was more successful than ever.
At the end of the route the contestants had to get his or her kinetic sculpture through a mud pit stationed in the middle of the intersection at Susquehanna Street and Trenton Avenue. Once they dug their sculptures out of the mud and mulch the contestants were graded for creativity and craftsmanship by a panel of 11 judges.
The derby is held in conjunction with the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival, an arts fair complete with live music and food. It is hosted by the East Kensington Neighbors Association, an organization that also strives to improve the neighborhood. Merging the two events together generated a humongous crowd of residents who gathered to celebrate art and sustainability within their community. “The derby makes human powered transit fun,” says Doherty-Chapman. “And [it] reminds folks that anyone can do anything if they want to.”