Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Bikes That Roll

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!
Yellow Bikes are green! Photo by Danger Ranger

Yellow Bikes are green! Photo by Danger Ranger

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.

Serving the Children of the World

Serving the Children of the World

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, or give them a call at (775) 337-1717 or (775) 846-7146.

Photo by Reno Bike Project

Photo by Reno Bike Project

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.

Playa-Ready Fleet for Sale! Photo: Black Rock Bicycles

Playa-Ready Fleet for Sale! Photo: Black Rock Bicycles

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 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!

Photo: Torsten Hasselmann

Photo: Torsten Hasselmann

Photo: Commodore Minxie

Photo: Commodore Minxie

Mutant Gas Alert!


by Whatsblem the Pro

In news that will surely upset those who fondly imagine Larry Harvey as Moses handing the Ten Principles down to the Chosen, the Org is testing the waters to see if a Black Rock City gas station might be a workable idea.

Yesterday, the following e-mail was sent out to registered Mutant Vehicle owners:

Greetings BRC licensed vehicle owners.

To best support the Burning Man community in ways that make sense, we are researching the possibility of having fuel available for BRC licensed vehicles on playa this year. To fully research this, we need some information from you on your potential fuel needs. We only need you to fill out the survey if you are planning on bringing your vehicle to be licensed by the BRC DMV on playa in 2013.

In brief, we are looking at the possibility of a system where you would prepay for credit that you would then use on playa via some sort of token or card to fill your Mutant Vehicle or Disabled permitted vehicle. This would not be for other vehicles at the event. No money would be exchanged on playa. You would possibly be able to add more credit to the system if you run out on playa, and we are also researching options on how to handle unused funds. The exact process is still pending. Prices would be comparable to or possibly less than fuel in Gerlach.

Please fill out the following survey on the link below so we can assess fuel needs. We recommend you fill out the survey using a full computer and not a smart phone or tablet.

Respondents were asked to provide their names, e-mail addresses, names of vehicles, and an estimate of how many gallons of fuel they expect to use on the playa. A space for additional comments was also provided.

It’s silly to decry this as a potential violation of the principle of decommodification. . . or is it?

In one sense, it definitely is silly. The decommodification of the playa began as a utilitarian thing, not some holy-joe attempt at purifying our spirits by freeing us from the evil bonds of Mammon. I’ve written about sacred cows and the origins of on-playa decommodification before; if it lacks a profit motive, this idea of providing a gas station for Mutant Vehicle owners only conflicts with the decommodification principle if you’re some kind of trash-eating zealot who is so allergic to capitalism that touching a dollar bill would make you break out in open sores.

On the other hand, if there’s a profit motive here, then what we’re looking at is the Org testing the waters for the establishment of future revenue streams. With Burning Man going non-profit, the founders and other Org players who have been raking in millions of dollars from ticket sales each year will soon see the primary source of their great wealth turn to dust and ashes. . . and money is known to be a powerfully addictive substance.

We should all recognize that a gas station would be a useful, handy thing to provide for Mutant Vehicle owners that would reduce waste and fuel transport inefficiencies. However, we should also be aware that BRC already has a gas station, run by DPW. Traditionally, if you want to gas up your art car there, you pay in beer. Lots of beer. It’s possible that the Org is simply trying to stem that flow. We should also recognize, however, that with all the money pouring into their coffers and all the expense and labor of building and operating a Mutant Vehicle, it might be reasonable to expect the Org to provide MV drivers with gasoline for free, or at least at cost.

Now let’s look at that e-mail again:

Prices would be comparable to or possibly less than fuel in Gerlach.

Well there’s the rub right there. If fuel prices at an on-playa gas station are comparable to retail prices in Gerlach, then someone’s going to be turning a profit on this. If the prices are less than retail in Gerlach, how much less will they be? If it’s higher than at-cost, we again must wonder who’s raking it in.

Who's pumping you?

Who’s pumping you?

Given that the Org has profited so mightily on an event that has been mainly dreamed up and built by volunteer labor and paying attendees, it seems par for the course but still a bit of a slap in the face on several levels to watch them cynically size us up for further fleecing, if in fact that’s what they’re doing. . . and make no mistake: whether or not this is an example of a fleecing in the offing, we can be sure that now that the Org is going non-profit, ancillary businesses controlled by insiders will be popping up like mushrooms on a cow pat. It’s going to be George Bush’s great-grandfather selling rifle straps and stocks to the army all over again. To deny this is to deny that the people running the Org are greedy in proportion with the wealth they’ve already attained, and that would be giving them credit where none is due; they are, after all, human beings, with all the ethical frailty being human implies.

Oh, and speaking of credit:

You would possibly be able to add more credit to the system if you run out on playa, and we are also researching options on how to handle unused funds.

I’ll bet. At this point, it’s hard to say what this gas station idea truly portends. . . but we do know from long experience that basic accounting is extremely difficult for the Org, even though they find advanced game theory so easy.

All levity aside, let’s hope Mutant Vehicle owners benefit from this without funneling more undeserved wealth into the hands of people who are already undeservedly wealthy.