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The Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby: 15,000 people will watch Mummers on Rube Goldberg bicycles

People piloting sculptures in wacky costumes will take over the streets of Kensington and Fishtown on Saturday, as dozens of Philadelphian strap on their helmets, their weirdly-themed clothing and ride decorated bikes through the neighborhoods.

Think Mummers on bikes: These sculpture pilots that take part in the annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby work all year to come up with human-powered float-like objects to parade through the streets.

And they get pretty weird. Last year’s fan favorite was a sculpture called Game of Cones, which literally churned ice cream inside itself while it was parading through the neighborhoods. Others feature larger-than-life costumes that go along with the float’s theme of the year.

Here’s what it looks like:

Since the derby was started 10 years ago, Kensington and its surrounding neighborhoods have changed a great deal. But the derby draws more than 15,000 spectators annually and remains a community tradition that lives on into its 10th year this weekend.

Here’s a look at the event:

The basics

What: Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby and Arts Fest
When: Saturday beginning at noon
Where: Starts at Trenton Avenue at Norris Street and goes through Kensington and Fishtown
How much: Free!
Sponsors: Philadelphia Federal Credit Union, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Tee Ess Eye Productions, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, The Merchants Fund, Diamond and Associates, Wag the Dog, La Colombe, Stuart Leon Bicycle Crash Law, JA Cunningham Equipment, Johnny Brenda’s, Domus, National Equity Fund, Anderson Construction, Fireball Printing, Blue Cadet, Kraftwork, AECom, Spot’s Spot and Spa, Northern Liberties Veterinary Clinic, Friends of Farnese, Settle Down Philadelphia.

What even is the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby?

Basically the wackiest thing you’ve ever seen in Philadelphia. The derby (not a race; more of a parade) consists of more than 20 teams of up to 12 people who have spent all year designing and creating artsy vehicle floats that are completely human-powered. Think pedals, not engines. The Kinetic likens it to “Mummers on hand-crank driven pirate ships, or an alien space ship on two welded-together bikes.”

How it started

The New Kensington Community Development Corporation created the event 10 years ago to draw attention away from some of the negative aspects of the community.

For decades, the Kensington neighborhood has been home to some of the most severe drug problems in the city, causing pervasive crime and a downtrodden image. But a decade ago, the neighborhood association wanted to change that. Between the vast biking population in the area and the abundance of artists and makers in the community, the Kensington Kinetic was born.

Year after year, people in the Kensington and Fishtown neighborhoods say it’s their favorite annual event.

“It is such a neighborhood event,” said NKCDC communications director Karina Ambartsoumian. “Everybody is involved, from the site to the restaurants to the neighborhoods. It’s like Kensington Christmas.”

Ambartsoumian said the sculptures are a mixture of creativity and engineering, and the teams that participate in the event, in some cases, begin working on their creations for next year the day after the event ends. They attend workshops and seminars, striving to come up with the best of the human-powered sculpture floats.

Are there winners?

Kinda. Again, it’s not a race. But floats and teams can win awards like:

  • People’s Choice Award
  • Best First Time Entry
  • Best Breakdown
  • Best Art
  • Best Engineering
  • Best Costume
  • Worst Pun
  • Best Pack
  • Best 1-2 Person Entry
  • Best Overall Theme
  • Judges Choice

Are there rules? 

A ton. Like, more than you would think. Some of the rules for the “pilots”:

  • Sculptures must be human powered. No stored energy, motors, electricity, no pushing, no pulling, no walking.
  • You must be able to keep up with a 3 mph minimum speed
  • Sculptures must be no larger than 102 inches (8′ 6″) wide,12 ft high, and 18 ft long and must be able to be operated legally according to Pennsylvania motor vehicle code.
  • No pushing or walking-type Flintstones style sculptures are allowed.
  • Sculptures must be decorated in a recognizable theme, or unrecognizable, as long as it is glorious.
  • Sculptures must be able to stop safely and quickly, sculptures that do not pass the brake safety check will not be allowed to compete.
  • All participants must be sober while operating their vehicle. (Guess they really AREN’T Mummers.)

How you can watch it

The derby will be parading through parts of Kensington and Fishtown for a total of 3.6 miles. There will be official and unofficial “spectator spots” set up throughout the route so you can check out the parade with some comfort food or a beer in your hand. Here’s a map:

What you can watch the derby:

  • Norris St. at Susquehanna Ave. at Cedar St. where the parade will be passing by around 12:45. Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen, Loco Pez and Reanimator Coffee will have block party shenanigans, food & drink specials, the Kensington CAPA drum line and dancers to perform.
  • 400 block of E. Girard Ave. at Columbia St. Parade will pass by around 1 p.m., and here you can secure outdoor to watch the parade. Check out Milkcrate Cafe, Dipinto’s Guitars and Sketch Burger.
  • 300 block of E. Girard Ave. at Marlborough St. Parade will be passing by around 1:15. You can check out Girard Brasserie, Stock, Keys to the Attic, Street Glitter and NicNacs4Peanuts.
  • Frankford and Girard. Parade will pass by around 1:20. Watch the derbies get washed at the “Sculpture Wash” and enjoy food and drink specials from Johnny Brenda’s, Frankford Hall, Fette Sau and Joe’s Steaks.
  • 1300 block of Frankford Ave. Parade will pass by around 1:30. Go here for outdoor seating food trucks and retail promos plus the La Colombe Coffee Truck. Check out Jinxed, Toile Atelier, Adorn Boutique and La Colombe.
  • Frankford Ave. and Oxford St. Parade will pass by around 1:35 p.m. Go here for animal-themed drinks and cute puppies at the new PSPCA location. Sulimay’s Urban Saloon will be hosting a cookout with hotdogs and drinks. Stop by Steap & Grind too for 25 percent off iced tea.
  • Have pets? Check out 2217 Frankford Ave., where the parade will be passing by around 1:45 p.m. Go here for pet-themed activities right across from the Arts Fest.
  • Go to 2311 Frankford Ave., where the parade will pass by around 1:45, to celebrate Little Baby’s anniversary with ice cream and pizza specials from Pizza Brain.
  • Hit up the 2400 block of Frankford Ave. where the parade will pass by around 1:50 for a viewing party at Friend and Nemesis featuring cold-brew coffee from soon-to-open Incarnate Coffee

Also check out

3rd annual BlightBusters Ball and Derby Preview

Wednesday from 6 – 9 p.m. at La Colombe Torrefaction at 1335 Frankford Ave. The 2015 BlightBusters Ball honorees are Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources, and Joan Reilly, Chief Operating Officer at the Mural Arts Project. Each will be presented an award for their efforts in the community.

Trenton Ave. Arts Fest

Organized by the East Kensington Neighbors Association, check out this five-block long arts fest on the same afternoon as the Kensington Kinetic anywhere on Trenton Avenue in between Norris and Dauphin Streets. There will be hundreds of vendors and artisans in the area.

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