by Whatsblem the Pro
Having a bicycle on the playa is considered essential by just about everyone who isn’t riding a Segway or driving a golf cart or an art car. Bringing your bike from home might not be wise or practical, however, for a number of reasons:
- Your bike may not survive the playa. This could be a real issue for those who bring the bicycle they use for daily transportation the rest of the year, or for those weekend warriors with seriously expensive high-tech rigs.
- Your bike may not be appropriate for the playa. Balloon tires are vastly preferable, as is serious decoration; not only does uniquely decorating your bike make it a more welcome sight to the rest of us, it also makes your bike a less-attractive target for thieves. Speaking of which. . .
- Your bike may be stolen. Lock it up if you want to keep it, and at the very least, write your name and camp address prominently on the frame, in case of joyriders who really don’t mean to steal your bike, but who may have a lapse in judgment re: borrowing it while intoxicated.
- You may be coming from overseas. Bringing a bicycle with you on an international flight? Bad idea, for so many reasons. You need to pick up something locally!
No matter what the reason, you do have options if you just don’t want to bring your bike with you to Burning Man (or if you don’t have a bike). The surest and most obvious is the Yellow Bike program. Yellow Bikes (which are green) can be found all over Black Rock City, free for the taking to anyone who needs one. . . but remember, there are only approximately a thousand of them, and if your butt’s not on the seat, it’s fair game for anyone else to take. Do not lock up Yellow Bikes, or stash them, or otherwise take them out of circulation unless you have an immediate need. If the Yellow Bike you’re riding breaks, please do your best to fix it yourself; the same goes for your own bike if you bring it. There are camps that do nothing but bicycle repair, but don’t count on them, and try to be self-reliant if at all possible. Carry basic tools and a patch repair kit with you, even if you’re using the Yellow Bikes. Bring some chain lube, too, as the playa has a way of insta-rusting things. . . but in the interests of leaving no trace, use lube that doesn’t get flung off the chain when freshly lubed, and be sure to catch any drips or overspray so your lube doesn’t end up on the playa where it will have to be cleaned up (yes, that kind of thing really does have to be cleaned up, and so do puddles of crystallized urine, so don’t piss on the playa either). Make sure the bike you’re on is appropriately lit-up at night, so you don’t end up creaming some other darktard out on the deep playa, or being run over by an art car whose driver can’t see your inadvisably lightless ass.
If you’d prefer to avoid the vagaries and vicissitudes of riding Yellow Bikes (which may suddenly disappear under another rider anytime you’re not on them), there are several choices in Reno for acquiring a playa bike. The econo route is to reserve a bike with the Kiwanis Bike Program, which provides no-frills machines specifically tailored for on-playa use. You should do this as early as possible; last year they were completely out of bikes by mid-June. You can also hope to score big for small coin on a first-come, first-served basis at the Reno Bike Project, which runs a similar program. You can reserve a Kiwanis bike anytime, and pick it up between August 23rd and August 28th, 2013 between the hours of 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM, or at other times by appointment. If you show up in Reno having forgotten to make a reservation, you may still be able to buy one from a limited pool of machines they reserve for just such situations. To reserve a Kiwanis bike, you’ll need to give Kiwanis a PayPal deposit of $40 per bike. Some of their bikes cost a little more than others, but the maximum price is $50; when you show up to get your bike, you’ll choose from over 400 available, and pay the extra $10 (if applicable) then. All proceeds from Kiwanis Bike Program bike sales go to support the Kiwanis Bike and Pedestrian Safety Programs and other service projects. To make a reservation or for more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or give them a call at (775) 337-1717 or (775) 846-7146.
If the Kiwanis Bike Program doesn’t have what you need, try the Reno Bike Project. They no longer do reservations, but they do have a large fleet of over 500 playa-ready bikes you can buy for prices similar to Kiwanis at $55 and up. The mechanics at Reno Bike Project are probably a little more skilled than the folks at Kiwanis, and the environment is a bit hipper, but otherwise the two programs are very similar. Like Kiwanis, RBP will accept your bike back as a donation after you leave the playa and want to head home unburdened. Reno Bike Project: (775) 323-4488, or e-mail
If Kiwanis and the Reno Bike Project are both out of bikes, or if you’re looking for something a little more high-end, then Black Rock Bicycles might be the place for you. Their prices – even for rentals – are quite a bit higher than what it would cost you to buy a bike outright from the other two places, but they do offer a better quality of machine in your choice of colors, plus a dizzying array of both utilitarian and decorative accessories with playa riding in mind. Again, you’ll need to make your reservation early, as they typically run out of bikes weeks before Gate opens. If you’re too late or too much of a fancy lad to jam econo, the nice thing about Black Rock Bicycles is that they’ve got fairly cheap playa bikes for rent or sale, but also stock a wide range of gourmet brands and accessories that run into some serious money. You won’t get off as cheap at Black Rock Bicycles as you will at the Kiwanis or the Reno Bike Project (the rentals are $95, versus $50-$55 to buy a bike outright from Kiwanis or RBP), but you’ll get absolutely everything you need at the level of quality and affordability that suits you.
If you’ve already got a bike (or if you just snagged one from Kiwanis or the RBP), Black Rock Bicycles can fancy you up with lights, baskets, and all kinds of playa-savvy decorations and accessories. If you’re not terribly handy, BRB has seasonal volunteers who will install accessories for you in exchange for tips! To reserve a bike for purchase or rental from Black Rock Bicycles, or if you have questions, e-mail email@example.com or call the shop at (775) 972-3336. If you’re broke and relying on your burner work ethic to see you through, both the Kiwanis Bike Program and Black Rock Bicycles have deals for people who volunteer their time. Put in a few shifts at either shop fixing up playa bikes for other burners to rent, and you’ll pedal away on a cycle of your choice, freshly fixed-up by you with your newly-acquired and/or freshly-honed bike-fixing skills. Again, the earlier you do this, the better.
Let’s not forget that “leave no trace” applies to unwanted bicycles as much as it does to standard litter. If the bike you bring to the playa is going to become a millstone around your neck once you leave, there are a number of places that will take it off your hands for charity; the Kiwanis Bike Program and the Reno Bike Project are two of them. Whether you bought the bike from them or not, you can donate it to them when you’re ready to leave. If you just can’t make it back to Reno with your bike, you’ll see several hand-painted signs on the highway during Exodus, directing you to spots where you can donate your bike to local (usually native-operated) charities. . . just please don’t leave your bike on the playa to be someone else’s problem! Thousands of bicycles are abandoned each year in Black Rock City, and it’s a bit of a headache for the Resto crew, so pack it out with you even if you no longer want or need it.
It would be nice if everyone’s bicycles were as unique and interesting as these, but that might not be practical for you. Hopefully your creative energies are being put to good use on some other aspect of your burn. It would be nice if everyone’s playa bike could be as cool as some. . . but no matter what you ride, ride tough!
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“Playa Bike Repair” is another option (www.PlayaBikeRepair.com)
We rent and sell bikes online to Burners Worldwide, and transport bikes (any bike!) from SF to BRC. Proceeds fund our camp, “Playa Bike Repair,” where “We help you fix your bike.” Last year, over 2,000 bikes were repaired in our camp! Thank you for your support.
Thanks for all the good work you do on-playa. Here, this link is for you:
Thanks to Tom ‘TomCat’ Martin for his input on this article.