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Faces of Bike Month: Sculpture Derby

Last year we took a look at the many faces of Bike Month — from advocacy groups to bike shops, May is an opportunity for bikes to unite.  Over the next several days, we’ll be highlighting some of the stories — and faces — we featured in our American Bicyclist magazine for Bike Month 2013.

Today, we’re taking a look at a story by Erin Decou, executive director of Neighborhood Bike Works, about the Philadelphia-based organization’s  sculpture derby!

At Neighborhood Bike Works, we aim to turn our kids’ creativity into transportation creation. And Bike Month means putting that artistry on display during the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.  Each February, when after-school riding opportunities are minimal, we open up a unique class that gets our kids’ artistic gears turning. The local artists-in-residency program (40th Street AIR) lead youth on a journey to create a bicycle sculpture for the Derby. From a pirate ship to a prehistoric shark to an alien space craft, their ideas never fail to awe and inspire. 

On Derby day in May, our sculptures are mounted to our four-person chassis and Neighborhood Bike Works youth from many parts of the city don costumes for the 13-mile journey. We gather in Kensington at the eastern edge of the city and parade through the streets — 30 or 40 strong — with several dozen bike sculptures. 

The Derby is not a race, but there are perils along the way. Many crafts break down; indeed there is even a Best Breakdown category in the final judging. 

In the homestretch lies the biggest hazard, and our youth anticipate it all day: the mud pit. We hunker in, downshifting gears and spreading out, and plow through, mud flying, to the finish line.  Last year, our spaceship followed by dozens of Cyclenauts on bike, rose from the mud and won the Judge’s Choice award. This year, I have no doubt that our newest creation will rise to meet the challenge, too.

Neighborhood Bike Works is a nonprofit educational organization in Philadelphia that seeks to increase opportunities for urban youth in underserved neighborhoods in greater Philadelphia by offering educational, recreational and career-building opportunities through bicycling. For more information, visit