2024 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race

Next date: May 3, 2025 9:00 am

Just show up! You don't need tickets.

I predict that Baltimore’s Mardi Gras, the crucible of nerdy-pop athleticism, the Weirdo Bike Parade (weirdo being the highest compliment in every Baltimorean’s vocabulary), A.K.A. the one and only Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race — is about to jump to the top of your bucket list.

This movable feast of comic, human powered, amphibious carnival floats starts and ends at the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) the first Saturday in May.  It covers at least 10 miles of Baltimore Streets, with two key venues: Canton Waterfront Park (where the floats are, well, set afloat) and Patterson Park (where competitors are subjected to hilarious displays of engineering and athleticism).  My personal fave is the mud pit, where (in 2023) I watched in awe as participants cycled, pushed and ratcheted (yes, ratcheted) their enormous sculptures up a mud slicked hill.  At the top, they were hosed down by two organizers in clean suits and chain mail.

It was also there where I spoke with the new Executive Director of AVAM, Jenenne Whitfield, and Development Director Valerie Williams, in the Bar-b-que line.  Like many there, they were dressed colorfully and in high spirits.  It was thanks to them that I was able to see past the absurdity and begin to appreciate the participants and the months of intense preparation that make this event possible.

To get a sense of the flavor of the event, you can read the rules and regulations, but you won’t fully understand what’s going on unless you start talking to the crowd.  Be on guard: if you let them know this is your first time, they might have a little fun at your expense.  One spectator told me that there is a “Best Bribe Award,” which is not listed in the official rules (surely this is just another gag propagated by the judges?)  By the way: you can spot the judges by their costumes: black gowns and barrister’s wigs.

Where to Park: Arrive at Patterson Park by 11 and you should be able to park on the street.  You can then set up your lawn chair along the parade route.

What to Bring: The most important equipment is a few water bottles.  Although there are port-a-potties along the course, water stations were rare.  Beyond that, there are two diametrically-opposed strategies: one is to arrive with a lawn chair and cooler and claim your spot somewhere along the route (the mud pit by the judges station is ideal), the other strategy is to pack light and mobile so you can enjoy the many parts of the race.  James and I brought our bikes and, at times, were riding along the route with the floats.

What to wear: Take your most over the top halloween costume, and double it.  You’ll be right at home.