DIY Your Burn: Bikes!

Hello out there! First off, I’d just like to thank everybody who stopped by my last post to talk about DIY shelter ideas, swamp coolers, Mylar and other ways to stay alive comfortable at Burning Man. If you haven’t checked that post, go read it now! You’ll learn more from the comment section than you will from my post, no doubt.


Hi folks! I’m sure everyone out there is busy getting gear together. Between fabricating the scorpion shell for your new art car, obtaining replacement links for your geodesic dome and trying to learn to walk in stilts, you’ve probably been too busy to think about your bike. Your two-wheeled steed isn’t something to leave for last, though, so I thought I’d better bring it up.

Black Rock City is a city of bikes. You need a bike to get you to the hidden art in deep playa, or the dance party at 3:15&D, or back home before the windstorm hits. I consulted the Department of Public Works and the Green Bike Project staff, and we all came up with some suggestions to make your cycling experience muy fantastico.

Bicycle Protocol – HEY READ THIS
(thanks in advance from the DPW)

1. If you bring a bike, take it with you after the event! Every year, hundreds of bicycles are left behind. Leave No Trace means Leave No Bike.

2. Bring a lock, and use it. Sadly, bikes do tend to wander away when left unlocked.

3. Bikes also tend to disappear when you lock them to someone else’s property, so avoid attaching your bike to a trailer, another bike, an art car, a golf cart, etc.

4. At the end of the event, secure your bike firmly to your vehicle. Double and triple check it. Lost bikes on the road are incredibly dangerous and, let’s be honest, inconsiderate.

5. Hey! Read the Survival Guide for more hot tips!

How To Choose A Playa Bike

1. It should be something you can get dirty. Or lost. Or totally trashed. I highly recommend a used, junky mountain bike. You can find ’em at thrift stores, pawn shops and bike kitchens, and they should cost well under $50.

If you act now, you can reserve a bike from the Reno Kiwanis or from Black Rock Bicycles. These bikes are playa-ready and totally affordable, and you have the option to return them when you’re done! What an amazing idea!

2. Single speed is best: The sprockets, derailleurs & chain are liable to get all mucked up with the first wind.

3. Get yourself some off-road tires, as wide as possible, to float you through any dunes.

4. Your tush demands a comfy seat! If your bike doesn’t have one, install one or wrap the whole thing in squishy foam. Your ischium will thank you after just one day of riding over bumpy roads.

5. Light thyself. You’ll figure that out the first time you try to cross Esplanade at night, or you can just be proactive and light your bike before you go out. Just please-please-please-please no glow sticks OK? There are so many other options.

Bike Maintenance and Repairs

1. Before the event, check your bike. Make sure the tires are full and don’t leak, the bike fits you properly and is comfortable, the brakes work, etc.

2. DO NOT, however, grease up your chain with WD-40. Your bike will be non-functional within minutes of hitting the playa.

3. Bring at least two extra tubes with you, and a repair kit, and a bike pump. If you’re going to deep playa, pack your bike kit along.

4. Your “friendly” bike repair technicians at the Center Camp bike shop tend to become a little less friendly as the week wears on. If you need a repair, try first to take care of it yourself. If you can’t fix the problem, be prepared to ask nicely and make the bike crew feel special. They will appreciate it. (I’m warning you though, they probably won’t be big on glitter hugs)


photo by Danger Ranger

Community Bikes

Throughout the city, you’ll see green cruiser bikes with “YELLOW BIKE” painted on them. Those are community bikes, and they’re meant to be shared. Wanna get the most out of the yellow green bike program? Here’s how:

1. Don’t keep a green bike. It’s rude, it’s selfish, it’s mean and it’s bad bad bad. Plus, it’ll get you yelled at by somebody who might otherwise have been very nice to you. Once you schlup your butt off the bike seat, it’s public property and you should leave it out in the open for anyone to take.

2. If it’s broken, get it fixed. This means returning it to Center Camp, where there’s a bike shop that’s equipped for repairs. If you’re far away from Center Camp, make it an adventure. Flag down a passing art car and ask ’em if they can give you a lift, or just walk it back and stop at every bar en route. Way to take one for the team, bro.

3. If you *ahem* *cough* ride NAKED or SANS CULOTTES, please have the consideration to *ahem* wipe the seat after you use it. Thank you.

4. Don’t keep a green bike. When the event is over, if you are seen trying to take a green bike out of the city, you will be followed and detained and annoyed and harassed until you are full of shame and remorse. And yes, we are looking for freshly-painted cruisers too. After assembling thousands of those babies by hand, the bike crew can spot one at a distance no matter the color.

What works for you?

What other bike-related advice can you give? What style of bike works best for you, and how do you keep it safe and functional throughout the event? Have you ever had a bike stolen? Ever had a magnanimous stranger fix your flat?
Let’s hear your stories.

About the author: The Hun

The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.

16 Comments on “DIY Your Burn: Bikes!

  • Brody says:

    I just went and bought a $100 cruiser bike from Target when they had them on sale… big seat, balloon tyres, no shifters or hand brakes to break down mid-week. Now to figure out how to modify it!

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  • angelicfiend says:

    you are one sexy person for putting this info together!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY for radical self reliance!!!!!! it is all about the extra TUBES! and watch out for the wrong lube and single speeds are easier to keep happy!!!!

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  • Jody Fulford says:

    LIGHTS LIGHTS LIGHTS if ya gonna ride at night!!!
    Add to the colour and don’t be hard to sight.

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  • Eric says:

    You don’t “need” a bike and I would argue it diminishes your experience. Bikes drastically increase your chance of arriving at your intended destination, which is rarely where you really want to be. The better destination is usually the spontaneous, unplanned one that you would otherwise cycle by. That windstorm? Duck into the nearest camp for shelter and meet wonderful people you otherwise would have never met. You are much more likely to talk to people along the way on foot than on a bicycle. Leave your bike at home. You won’t regret it!

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  • west says:

    So…what should I lube my chain with?

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  • Matt says:

    @west You should not lube your chain at all. The playa dust is extremely fine and will immediately gum up anything you put on as lube.

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  • casey says:

    as for chain lube, I have found Jig-a-loo spray better than nothing. It is non sticky.I am told there a wax based chain lubes that I am trying to source for this year.Using nothing might end in broken chain, a drag really…

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  • casey says:

    @Eric your suggestion of not bringing a bike is perhaps an opinion you should keep to yourself, your nuts! Bikes and burning man are like booze and ice, Best friends! I would agree with not bringing your bike out all the time, but to not have one at all will have you left behind.

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  • Money says:

    I got some honda motorcycle dry lube for my bikes. I agree with Eric, don’t bring your bike at all. Just ride around on big ass art cars and look down on all the small peeps.

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  • mary says:

    put a gps tracker deep within the frame. that way if someone borrows it, you can find it again.

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  • The Vladster says:

    Don’t rely on the Center Camp bike shop! There are several camps that provide bike repair services (Midnight Ridazz is one of them). Ask around when you have a problem, one of them might be right around the corner.

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  • Indigo says:

    My first Burning Man, I made the mistake of not bringing my bike, thinking I could use the public yellow bikes or just walk everywhere. Bad idea! The only yellow bikes I saw had bike locks on them, and walking everywhere meant I missed some things I really wanted to see or participate in. My bike comes with me every year now. And yeah! I just started playa-fying it two days ago! Got me a big ass seat with shocks! And thanks for the tip about not oiling the chain. I was wondering about that! It’s a bit rusty from getting the playa dust washed off, so I’ll just be safe and replace it.

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  • Erin D says:

    Give your bike somepersonality- it is a great way to enhance interactions and best of all, to find it easily after dancing all night…”there it is, I can spot that caterpillar anywhere…”

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  • BearHug says:

    At least one of those abandoned bikes might have been mine– alas I could not stay until after the main event to try to find it after someone took off with it from Distrikt on Tuesday. I hadn’t locked it because I figured, “it’s only Tuesday, the party crowd hasn’t shown up yet”. The only bike left there had a broken pedal. I figure somebody decided “hmm, working bike or broken bike, I’ll borrow this one”. It had a camp tag on it.

    I tried in vain to use a yellow bike during the rest of the burn. People had them locked up, or had left their stuff on them, or in one case when a couple rode up on a pair and got off them, they sternly said “We are using these this week! Go find your own!” Thanks for writing that folks “give up” their yellow bikes when their butt leaves the seat– next time I will just take somebody’s stuff off the bike and ride away on it. Actually, next time I will lock my bike from the very beginning of the week– so sad, but look what happened last year.

    I wrote to the bike squad folks in the protocol they say to use to find your lost bike, but never got a reply– included a description and picture of the bike too. They are busy, don’t count on getting your bike back even if it’s left behind.

    One of the bike repair camps was really sweet and tried to put together a beater bike out of some old parts, but we couldn’t make it work. I felt really cared about that they tried, though, and brought them goodies next time I went by there.

    OK, rambling, time to stop!

    See ya on the playa,

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  • Jello Cornbread says:

    The Yellow Bike Shop would like to inform you that PANTS ARE REQUIRED at all times on a yellow bike regardless of how well you clean the seat. Don’t force people to rub their junk on your junk. Riding a yellow bike without pants is rape.

    Hail Satan.

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  • FIGJAM says:


    Nuf said?

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