Kinetics: In The Beginning

My neighbors waved pleasantly at me as they drove past my garage today. I expected a few odd looks considering the fact that I spent the better part of the afternoon physically assaulting an old thrift store bicycle with a hacksaw, power drill, and various other hand-held tools. Also worth noting: nobody bothered to stop and ask me what I was doing. Maybe they didn’t see the mass of tools, partially dismantled bicycle components, and various building supplies that has engulfed more than half my garage. Or they really had to pee and didn’t have time to inquire about my situation. Perhaps they are robots. I may never know the truth. But I do know this—my name is Omar and I’m building a craft for this year’s Kinetics Race.

If you have gotten this far and are asking, “What is a Kinetics Race?” you are not alone. Despite the enormous popularity of the event in the Boulder, Colorado area, the contest is not widely understood on a national level as it has yet to be broadcast, to the best of my knowledge, on any of the 17 current ESPN channels. If you have gotten this far and are asking, “What kind of robots are your neighbors? Are they like Commander Data from Star Trek, or cute but kind of creepy like the robot girl in the 80’s situation comedy Small Wonder?” Well, I hate to disappoint, but the rest of this story is not about my robot neighbors. Maybe later in the year I’ll address that issue in more detail.

So where was I? Oh, yeah, the Kinetics Race—what exactly is it, anyways? In its simplest form, its most convenient definition, the race requires teams to build a human powered vehicle than can traverse a course of land, water, and mud in the immediate vicinity of the Boulder Reservoir. Staying on top of the water—that a good start. Not getting bogged down in the mud—even better. Finishing the course as fast as possible—well, that’s half the race. Completing the race dressed up as, say, a medieval wizard riding on a purple, fire breathing dragon, now that’s doing it in STYLE.

So what’s the best way of acquiring a Kinetics vehicle? Walmart doesn’t have any in stock, and you can’t purchase a used one on EBay. The best approach is to actually go to the race as a spectator and see what everyone else is racing. The vehicles can be a small single person craft or a massive eight person monstrosity. Some start with a bicycle and make it buoyant. Others are boats modified to go over the land. And every year the Army reserve comes by with 8 soldiers and a raft—when they get to the land they each grab a handle and run with it. Not very elegant from a design standpoint, but it seems to impress the female natives.

After several years of being a spectator for the great race, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge (hopefully not literally) and move into the ranks of the competitors. I decided I was going to start with a bicycle frame and make it float. I looked around at several thrift stores for used bicycles. While I found several that were in fair shape for around $30, I decided to splurge and buy a new mountain bike at Walmart for $54. After realizing I was going to need a extra chain and a few gears, I bought another bike in far-from-new condition at the local thrift store for $16. So the running total for parts is $70, and I have the land and mud section completely resolved.

Now I just have to make the bike float. That, and actually move across the water. This shouldn’t be too difficult considering I have a limited supply of and the fact that my last nautical experience involved getting my sailing merit badge at Boy Scout camp when I was fourteen. But hey, a lot of people have done it in the past, so I believe it to be within the realm of possibility. Sure, a lot of people have gone into outer space, but that is something totally different.

To keep from getting overwhelmed on this project, I’ve split it up into three sub-projects. The first part, which should be the easiest, involves keeping the front end from sinking and also provides steering in the water. The second part involves keeping the back end from sinking and also provides propulsion. The last part is coming up with a good theme, which I’m putting on the back burner until I’ve finished the first two parts. I really believe I’m off to a good start. So until next time– when the topic will be, as you have probably guessed by now, “Tape and Other Adhesives: How They Can Be Used in Kinetics.”