Create and Race Your Own Human-Powered Vehicle at Boulder Kinetics

Events, Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Jess Steinitz on June 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm

If you’re an athlete, sculptor, artist, or engineer — or if you aspire to be any of these things — then Boulder Kinetics is your summer event. Teams race handmade human-powered vehicles over land and water, accompanied by elaborate costumes, whimsical songs, and over-the-top vehicular decoration. Farmers riding in a tractor floating on buoys. People in Big Bird costumes riding in a giant rubber duckie catamaran. Knights riding in a welded dragon. At Boulder Kinetics, anything goes.


Sculptor and gallery owner Hobart Brown started Kinetic Sculpture Racing in Ferndale, California in 1969, and it grew into an annual event involving a 42-mile course over various terrains. Ten years later, Boulder firefighter Rick Hartner witnessed this controlled madness and decided to reproduce it in Colorado. Kinetics hit the ground rolling on May 3, 1980.

There are several kinetics events held around the country, but Boulder’s has had the highest attendance. As many as 45,000 people have come for years to the Union Reservoir in Longmont, lured by live bands, rollicking spectators, and incredible mobile sculptures.

The Kineticists website has a wealth of information to help you build a vessel that will convey your body and your vision of creativity across water, prairie, mud, roads, and past spectators and reporters.

Your contraption will be judged on the following criteria:

  1. Sculpture: The pieces of your vessel may start as thrift-store discards, yard-sale treasures, or strange things found in your garage, but are transformed into the most creative, perhaps wackiest, most theme-appropriate, highly attractive sculptures. These awards go to the team that uses this Kinetic opportunity to construct the most spectacular works of art possible that still function.
  2. Engineering: The main frame is connected to the drive train. The drive train is connected to the paddlewheel. These awards go to the top two teams whose sculptures not only glide effortlessly across land and water, but which also contain innovative mechanical ideas that actually work.
  3. Costumes: Halloween on water, Mardi Gras in August. This award goes to the team that comes up with the most unique, creative, and out-of-this-world costume theme.
  4. Team Style: There’s something indescribable about a team that has it all together. They have the sculpture, the theme, and the costumes, but what separates them is the X-factor — that quality that makes men green with envy and that makes women swoon. You can think of it as the team with the top “performance art.”

There are several rules that must be followed in order to qualify for Kinetics. The main two are that sculptures must be no more than 8′ wide, 14′ high, and 35′ long, and that sculptures must be human-powered — although it is allowed to get assistance from the natural power of water, wind, sun, gravity, and friendly extraterrestrials.

When you register, you will be asked to share some fun facts about your team, your craft, your costumes, your sponsors, your team members, and how you came up with your theme. You will also be asked to explain how your Kinetic Conveyance is propelled.

Registration costs $40 per team plus $10 for each team member and camping is available at the reservoir on Friday, August 26. The gates to the reservoir will open on Saturday the 27th at 6 a.m., judging will take place at 9 a.m., and the race will begin at 11 a.m.

For one day out of the year, you can dress like a wizard and prove to everyone that the contraption you built with your own two hands isn’t going to sink in the middle of the water. If this sounds more exciting than your day job, why not give Boulder Kinetics a shot?

[Photos courtesy of]

    1 Comment

  • Jacquetta Mcandrews says:

    Excellent way of explaining, and nice article to take facts regarding my presentation subject, which i am going to present in academy.


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