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!
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.
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 mutant vehicles (but unlikely to be enforced if you ride with the flow).
There are some new rules on what kind of e-bikes are allowed in for 2023. Most notably a 750 W max power motor, and 20mph max speed using pedal assist. E-bikes with a throttle seem kinda banned, but maybe you’ll get lucky at the gate.
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 many people that have taken the same bike to the playa for years AND ridden it back at home, myself included.
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. With the rise of e-bike popularity, you think people are letting those bikes break down? Hell no, they’re cleaning them, using them at home, and taking them to the burn year after year.
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 lots of bike shops or theme camps that rent bikes (or sell them for cheaper than renting!) near the playa. Check out the official list or some others BurningMan.org isn’t listing like BM Bike Rentals, Playa Bike Repair (expensive), Hammer & Cyclery (only renting to large camps of 30+, but also selling for $150 each), and Burn Bikes (website seems down)
- Pre 2020 theme camps could offer bikes for pick up on playa, but since that conflicted with some of the Burning Man values, you must rent and pickup off the playa now. More info on the official list of bike shops by the Borg.
- 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 department store 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. Don’t forget to get one with wider tires!
- 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 fat tire bike like this one will also work well to smooth out any bumps, but it might be slower.
- If you’re traveling by plane, refer back to the first bullet point and rent a bike! You’ll have people to help 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 survival guide bicycles post, scroll down to see organizations that accept bike donations on and off the playa.
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 playa friendly dry chain lube (or a more popular and cheaper brand but not as EcoFriendly) 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 (the Eco recommendation above is also wax based).
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. Fairy lights are also cool and brighter than El Wire. I’ve taped the battery housing of fairy lights to my wheel hub and strung them around the spokes. Small neon lights can also look really cool and bright.
USB-powered lights enable you to use and swap batteries easily with rechargeable power banks. Certain fairy lights and light strips let you use small power banks instead of disposable batteries (you can always get rechargeable AAA batteries and a charger too!). If you’re planning to use a USB power bank, you don’t need the huge 10,000mAh bricks that are meant for charging your phone multiple times. A smaller, lighter block with 5,000mAh or less will do the trick just fine (may need a few charges throughout the week)
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. I prefer to have a basket on my rear rack that I can put my backpack in, so when I park I can just take my backpack with everything in it.
If you want to easily haul ice, compost, or other larger things with your bike, consider investing in a bike trailer. Your campmates will probably love to borrow it, and you can easily find uses for this off-playa as well!
If your bike doesn’t have a cup holder already, this is a nice addition to make for a pleasant biking experience. There are a few different types. You have cup holders attaching to the handlebars, cup holders attaching to the frame (the standard style you probably see on racing bikes), as well as little cup holder bags that can hold bottles and even your phone too (but I prefer a dedicated phone mount).
My “cup” is an insulated bottle with a sealing cap so I don’t have to finish my drink before I move on to wherever else I’m going. I’ll drop it in my bottle holder, put my backpack in my basket (which has a few liters of water in the hydration pack), and be off! I’ve also put soup in my bottle and it works alright, but the insulation doesn’t let it cool very quickly!
A simple tube repair kit, a small multitool, and some extra tubes (for your wheel size, check the sidewall of your tire) 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. It’s good to have at least 1 bike pump in your camp as well. There are repair camps to help you fix your bike, but they get crowded and if you can do-it-yourself you may save yourself a trip!
If your bike has a kickstand, consider using an old tennis ball (or a precut colorful one) to put on your kickstand so your bike doesn’t sink into the sand when you park it. A simple and effective trick! But make sure you can still ride it without knocking off the ball.
Bike Rack to Carry Your Bike to the Burn
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.
Fortunately, bike theft in Black Rock City is minimal. The most common bike theft is 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!
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.
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, but be warned they can get busy. 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. You might even come across my small bike maintenance station around the 4:45 & I area. Look for the bike repair sign!
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 may be one. One time I found a DIY bike fix-it station in deep playa. Maybe it will be there again…
I see too many bikes in basements that are still coated with playa dust being stored for next year. Most of them also have sticky hubs and degrading parts. This drives the myth that Burning Man destroys your bike, but only if you don’t clean it! It’s much more likely your bike is going to make it through the year if you do a little cleaning and maintenance immediately upon returning. Then the playa dust doesn’t have time to wreak havoc on the parts.
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. Adding a little white vinegar to your scrubbing mix can help get rid of the dust.
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!
Enjoy Burning Man and happy biking! 🚲🚲
If you want more Burning Man content, check out my reflections on biking at the 2021 Renegade Burn.