6 Tips for Bringing a Bike to Burning Man 2019

So you’ve got your ticket to Burning Man and you’re preparing to go to Black Rock City, one of the best cities in the world for bike commuting. The vehicle speed limit is 5 mph and there is no speed limit for human powered bicycles. Bikes rule the roads. Make sure you follow these tips on bringing your bike to Burning Man! And you really want a bike.

So many bikes at burning man near the embrace art installation.
The picture I found with the most bicycles in it. If you want to see The Embrace burn, scroll down to the end of this post.

1. Why do you need a bike?

Burning Man covers a large area, about 7 square miles. Although you can easily walk from one side to the other, it would take a significant portion of your day, and if you ever want to ride with your friends to make it to an event on time, you should really have a bicycle.

Google map of burning man with biking directions across the city. 2.2 miles in 10 minutes.
A screenshot from Google Maps biking directions. This 10 minute bike ride would take over 40 minutes to walk. You’ll see a lot more things on foot, but if you ever want to be somewhere, you’ll need a bike. And don’t forget about exploring the deep playa, which expands further out from this image.
A bicycle in the mostly empty desert of burning man
The deep playa goes on forever. You’ll find fun art installations in the middle of nowhere.

There are some shared bikes called “Yellow Bikes” (which aren’t yellow, they’re more green), but there aren’t too many, so if you find one to use you’re lucky! Make sure you leave them in a public spot if you use one. They are meant to be shared and used by everyone, not hidden until your next biking adventure.

It should be noted that any electric bicycles or other not fully human powered modes of transportation are subject to the 5 mph speed limit like cars.

2. Where should you get your bike?

First off, let’s dispel a common myth. Burning Man will NOT destroy your bike so it’s never the same again. This won’t happen. The playa dust doesn’t come from hell to destroy everything it touches. While the dust can certainly cause more wear & tear than usual, when you get home, just give your bike a good wash and it will be fine. I know people that have taken the same bike to the playa for years AND ridden it back at home.

People say that Burning Man will destroy your bike, but it’s more likely that they’re buying crappy bikes from Walmart for $100 which can barely handle the default world, let alone the playa dust for a week. A good bicycle won’t break down on the playa when you need it most.

Thousands of cars seem to make it out of Burning Man every year and live on. Your bike can do the same.

Now that that’s out of the way, a world of possibilities opens up. If you already have a bike with tires that aren’t super skinny, you can just bring that bike! Does it have gears? Even better! You can go slower when you’re feeling lazy. Can’t do that on a single speed. Your gears will survive the dust.

Whatever you do, treat your Burning Man bike purchase like buying a cheap wine. You don’t want to buy the absolute cheapest, but one or two price points above will get you a huge jump in quality that you need on the playa.

Guess what happens when you follow this advice? You are NOT the person that leaves a broken bike on the playa after Burning Man. Thousands of bikes are abandoned on the playa after Burning Man. Don’t be that person. Leave No Trace means Leave No Bike.

If you don’t already have bike with bigger tires, you have a few options:

  • Rent a bike! There are a few camps that offer bike rentals you can pick up on the playa (Playa Bike Repair and Hammer & Cyclery), but you can find cheaper deals if you pick it up off the playa (BM Bike Rentals).
  • Buy a used bike on craigslist. You can probably get a decent bike on Craigslist that isn’t a cheap Walmart bike. Watch out for cheaply made bikes being resold. Check the Bike Blue Book for info (and fair price) on the bike you’re buying.
  • Buy a good starter commuter bike around $300-$500 at your local bike shop.  This is pricier than what people usually tell you when buying a Burning Man bike, but this will be useful for much more than Burning Man, making this money well spent compared to $100 on Walmart trash. Watch out for small bike shops that only sell high end bikes that are unnecessary for Burning Man. A large bike shop or sports store like REI or Sports Basement will have more options on the lower tier end.
  • Buy a hybrid commuter bike on Amazon. A cheap (but maybe not the cheapest) commuter bike or cruiser bike can work out on and off the playa. A wide tire bike will also work well to smooth out any bumps, but it will be slower.
  • If you’re traveling by plane, refer back to the first bullet point and rent a bike! It will cost about the same as buying but you’ll have people to fix it if something goes wrong and you’ll be leaving no trace. If you do buy a bike, make sure to pack it out and donate it. On the official bicycles post, scroll down to see organizations that accept bike donations on and off the playa.

3. How to Prepare Your Bike For the Playa

Make Sure Your Bike is in Working Order

The most important preparation is making sure your bike is in working order. If something is about to break, the playa will probably push it over the edge into the broken category. Lube your chain with dry chain lube and make sure to wipe off all the excess. Don’t use WD-40 or other sticky, wet compounds. Anything sticky will attract the playa dust. If you want extra protection in the dust, a wax based chain lube can attract even less dirt.

Lights

Next thing you need are LIGHTS! You don’t want other bikes or slow moving vehicles to run you over in the darkness. I covered my bike in El Wire and one of those Monkeylectric lights that spins on your wheel and makes cool designs. Wire lights are also cool and brighter than El Wire.

Burning Man at night with a bike covered in lights.
Light up the night! A standard front and rear light also helps. For the front light I just used my headlamp.

Basket

Next thing you need is some kind of basket to carry things. If you have a bike with a rack, get a rear pannier or basket. Otherwise, go for a front basket.

Burning Man bike covered in fur and EL wire
Don’t get a Huffy like this one. But do cover whatever bike you get in El Wire and fuzzy fur, along with a basket.

Repair Kit

A simple tube repair kit, a small multitool, and some extra tubes (for your wheel size) will go a long way. Sometimes the hot desert sun can heat up your tires, expand the air, and pop the tire from sheer pressure. Make sure your tires aren’t pumped up too much to keep this from happening.

Bike Rack

The last thing you need is a way to get your bike to Burning Man. I have the Bones 2 rack that can fit on any car (no need for a hitch). I’ve put it on Mustangs, Sedans, SUVs, Vans, it works for everything. If you’re taking the Burner Express, you can bring your bike on there for a fee. Whatever you do, make sure you think about how you’ll get the bike back too! Remember, Leave No Trace.

4. How to Lock Your Bike on the Playa

Fortunately, bike theft in Black Rock City is minimal. The most common bike theft is drunk people stealing your bike to ride with their friends because they either didn’t bring a bike or their cheap bike broke halfway through the week and now they want yours.

All you really need to deter this kind of theft is a simple cable lock. Whenever you stop, just lock your frame to your front wheel, and it won’t be fun for anyone to go riding your bike. Some people I know enjoy the letter locking combination locks because it’s easier to remember!

Just a note, this advice differs greatly from my usual security recommendations for biking around town, including a strong u-lock and wheel locks.

Two bikes locked together with a cable lock at burning man
My fantastic lock job. Even keeps 2 bikes locked! Make sure you’re both leaving at the same time if you do this…really better to just lock your bike to itself.

As a precaution, it might be a good idea to label your bike with your camp name and location so in case you do misplace your bicycle it can find it’s own way back to your camp.

5. What to do if your bike breaks down?

If you didn’t get a proper tune up before Burning Man, it may turn out you need to fix something while there. No problem! There are bike shops all over Black Rock City that will help you fix your bike. The maintenance crews may be happy that you’re bringing them a nicer bike that will be easier and more fun to fix than the cheapos.

If you snag a map, you can find all the locations, but if you don’t remember just ask around or go to Center Camp where there will be one. When I was at Burning Man, there was even a DIY bike fix-it station in deep playa. Maybe it will be there again…

6. How to Clean Your Bike When You Get Back

Grab a hose and spray it down with water. Get up close and personal to get as much dust out as you can. A used toothbrush can help with this. You can take your bike to a DIY car wash place as well to find a good sprayer if you don’t have a hose handy.

Once all the dust is gone, lube up the chain, and maybe the cables wherever they connect to other places that could’ve gotten dried up and dusty.

If your wheels, handlebars, pedals or anything feel like they’re sticking, you may have to grease the bearings in these parts. This is a job best left for a bike shop or some more serious tools.

That’s it! Your bike is as good as new for your cruise around town in the default world again!

A clean burning man bike
A nice clean bike post Burning Man after I removed all the lights & El Wire. This was the picture I used to sell it on Craigslist.
the embrace art installation burning at burning man
As promised, a picture of the Embrace burning.

Enjoy Burning Man and happy biking! 🚲🚲

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