In 1969 Hobart Brown, a Ferndale metal sculptor, made a working sculpture using his son’s bicycle as a base. Fellow artist Jack Mays challenged him to a race. Others joined in and the first Kinetic race was held on Ferndale’s Main Street. The race has been held every year but now it’s a three day, 50 mile race starting in Arcata, traveling along Eureka’s waterfront, and finishing in Ferndale.
The sculptures range from bicycles with a few simple additions to very colorful, multi unit, elaborate structures. The purpose of the race is to have fun and the rules are tongue in cheek but what really matters is the method of propulsion. Most racers use pedal power but using wind, sun, and gravity is acceptable. Feet may not touch the ground. To make the race harder the course travels over 3 miles of sand, 1.3 mile of water, 1.3 mile of river bar and river, and .8 mile of field with the rest on streets including a few miles on the shoulder of a divided highway.
We were expecting a fairly conventional festival with large crowds but the atmosphere is very casual with a small town “let’s have a party” vibe. There aren’t large vendor areas, few streets are closed off, cops do not direct traffic, and it’s pretty easy to get a parking spot. We arrived early for the start of the race, parked in a grocery store lot, and walked/rolled the few blocks to the Arcata Plaza. We parked in a city lot on Eureka’s waterfront and walked/rolled to the boat ramp to watch the start of the water section. We parked along Eel River Drive to watch the hill climb. We parked in the RV lot in Ferndale and walked/rolled to the finish line on Main Street.
The start and finish are the highlights, of course, but the sand section (impossible to reach the viewing area in a wheelchair), the water entrance, the hill climb and descent, and the river crossing (hard to reach the viewing area in a wheelchair) are fun places to watch the action.
We were surprised that so many of the contestants not only completed the course but their sculptures stayed intact.
And they still made it to the finish line!