A good set of wheels is key to a good burn. With 7 square miles of art, music, and city to explore, you’ll want to see it all and, unless you have an approved art car, you won’t be able to drive on the playa. While you could go with a OneWheel, scooter, or Segway, most burners will want a bicycle to get around the burn.
Here’s what you need to know about bikes at the burn:
Getting Your Bike to the Playa
If you don’t have a car or truck you can fit a bike in (or on), or a friend who can transport a bike for you, there are some options.
If you fly into Reno, there are a few bike rental places who specialize in Burner bikes. The only one I’ve tried and can recommend is Playa Bike Repair, a Burning Man camp which has bikes that can withstand the elements (for rent for $150). If there’s 10 or more people renting, they’ll provide a trailer to hitch to your rental vehicle, which is a great option if you’re leading a small camp. If you want an e-bike, Black Rock Bike Rentals has some you can rent and pick up in Gerlach, the closest town to the Burn.
Many camps offer bikes, which will be there for you on playa. If your camp doesn’t, consider arranging with your campmates to do a group rental.
If you’re riding in on the Burner Express, you can take your bike for $40 (from Reno) or $84 (from SF).
Which Bike Should You Bring to the Playa
If you can afford it, electric bikes are golden. They allow you to travel faster and further, maximizing your experience (and saving your energy for dancing & playing). Burning Man limits e-bikes to 750 watts, with working pedals & maximum speeds up to 20 mph. Many modern bikes I saw on the playa last burn (including mine… sorry, BMO) exceed this maximum speed, but as long as you keep your speed to the single digits, few people will notice. The volunteers checking you at the gate most likely don’t know the specs of all the models of ebikes. Mopeds, golf carts, motorbikes, or gas-powered anything will need approval at the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles), which has a high probability of being turned down.
But even if your bike goes fast, don’t speed. You’ll stir up dust and be a potential hazard. The ground is uneven and hitting a sand pile at 30mph can be disastrous.
Electric bikes come with a few drawbacks (beyond price). You’ll need a power source to charge your battery (at least once during the week) and if it breaks down, the bike repair camps probably can’t help. My brand new bike was having issues by day 4. My craigslist analog bikes I’ve ridden in the past have all lasted longer. And an ebike is way too hard to ride across Burning Man’s terrain without the power assist.
On that note, the terrain is rough out there, so it is important to choose a bike that is sturdy and can handle the soft dust and hard bumps of the playa. Cruiser-style bikes and mountain bikes are popular because they have fatter tires, are a comfortable ride, and can handle the harsh conditions.
If you have a disability (and a government disability ID to prove it), you’ll have more wiggle room in what you can bring. Golf carts are an excellent option for people with reduced mobility, because whatever you drive will have to have 3 or more wheels but be smaller than a car.
One note on folding bikes: they are easy to pack but (I’m told) are more prone to getting that metal-eating, gear-sticking dust in their mechanisms.
Burner Bike Maintenance
Once you have chosen your trusty steed, it is important to keep it in good working condition. The playa dust can wreak havoc on our bikes, so be sure to clean off the dust regularly. Bringing along some spare inner tubes and wax bike lube can save you a trip to one of the bike fixing camps (like Playa Bike Repair mentioned above). Avoid oil-based lube, which collects dust & becomes cement.
Transform Your Bike into a Burner Bike
There’s a few modifications and accessories to make your Burning Man bike experience even more comfortable:
Lights are essential, both to be seen and find your bike at night and when bike parking gets crowded. You’ll want a strong headlight to see the terrain in the deep playa where there is less light, and lights all over your bike. I usually run color changing LEDs around the frame, and something more recognizable. Last year, I had a gold dragon on the back and put lights behind it for glowing eyes, but that’s extra credit. As long as you can see (the headlight) and be seen (other lights) you’re good to go.
I need a basket or rack to transport the massive amount of water I bring with me. I also add a cup holder. A bluetooth speaker (mine was stolen last year, so lock yours up if you do). To find your bike during the day, I like to add a flag or streamers which move in the wind, helping me spot it parked amongst hundreds of other bikes. I even used a remote controlled doorbell on year. It only worked for three days before the cheap electronics succumbed to the elements, but it did work in helping me find my bike fast.
You’ll want to bring a bike lock, but a cheap one will do because the people who take bikes at Burning Man aren’t professional thieves (it’s more likely people in altered states of consciousness). So you don’t need a Kryptonite lock, just one which will make it a little harder to ride off with your bike. I’d suggest going with a combination lock because keys can get lost.
It’s also a good idea to label your bike with your Playa name, camp name, and camp address… in case that dude who took your bike wants to return it after he sobers up. I label everything from my polaroid camera to speaker for the same reason.
Covering your bike in fun fur, hockey tape, neon electrical tape, gold lycra, will not only help protect it from the dust but also make be another way to Radically Express Yourself (One of Burning Man’s principles) and help you find it in a crowd.
Since you can’t drive around the playa to pick up/drop off anything, a bike trailer can help you haul ice to your camp, deliver someone’s suitcase to the airport, or carry a freezer and blender to make smoothies for people deep-playa (if you have one of these, find me please).