Did you know that Black Rock City has a bikesharing program?
For the past few years an independently funded, DPW-organized fleet of “Yellow Bikes” (conveniently painted green) have been provided for community use. They’re easy to spot: Bright green, spraypainted with the words “Yellow Bike,” and usually left unlocked at the side of the road. That’s how it works: You ride it until you get where you’re going, then you leave it for the next Burner.
It’s a concept that our community is still catching onto, so the Yellow Bikes Crew Facilitator, Ballyhoo Betty, has put together a wealth of propaganda for your ingestion. Read on:
Ballyhoo Betty writes:
You’ve likely seen them on the playa before. Maybe you’ve even ridden on one. Perhaps you’ve wobbled one, using only one pedal, for 4 miles, into the heart of Esplanade, determined to get to Black Sabbath Pancakes after a sleepless week of partying, before they run out of those sweet, sweet hotcakes. Hey, it’s happened.
Yellow Bikes are free, community bikes for all citizens of Black Rock City to enjoy. The rules are simple:
- Don’t steal (or redecorate) them.
- Ride them, and then leave them for the next person to use.
- Wear pants while riding them.
Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised. Every year, we encounter a great deal of confusion about the Yellow Bike Program and protocol, so we’re here to set the record straight. Let’s take one of those at a time:
In addition to the physical removal of a Yellow Bike from Black Rock City, theft also includes locking and decorating a community bike. Once you place a lock on it, or decorate it beyond recognition, you’ve just rendered it inaccessible to the rest of the community.
Ride them and leave them:
If a Yellow Bike helped you get to where you’re going, you may not want to give it away just yet. After all, there’s a whole lot of cool shit to see out there and only so much you can cover in a week on foot. Unfortunately, if you hold onto a Yellow Bike, you are once again removing it from communal use. “Leaving it for the next person” means placing the bike unchained in a highly visible area, such as the side of a street or a bike rack. Don’t hide them in your camp.
I hope this needs no explanation.
Why do we do it?
We passionately believe in a world where people are empowered to use their own strength, instead of fossil fuels, to fuel their transportation needs. We also believe in a society where tendencies such as greed and ownership can be broken down. These are lofty goals, but we can begin experimenting with these ideas through a shared bicycle program. While bike share programs have been attempted in other communities, at times with relatively little success, we also put confidence in the idea that Black Rock City is not your typical community. Through cooperation, and for the love of bikes, we can create a city where free bikes become the public transportation infrastructure that mobilize every citizen. Now, get on our bikes and ride!
So now that you understand the culture of the Yellow Bikes that we’re trying to promote, what can you do if you…
Stumble upon a broken Yellow Bike? Fix it. (Remember Radical Self-Reliance?) If you’re not mechanically inclined, you can take it to one of the bike repair theme camps, or drop it off at the Yellow Bike shop (5:30 & A). If none of these seem like viable options to you, or whatever state of mind you’re in, then flip the broken Yellow Bike upside down and leave it on the side of the road. This helps our staff find the ones that need a little help.
See someone decorating, locking or in some other way violating a Yellow Bike? Be proactive and explain to them how their actions are damaging the community. Often times, people truly are unaware that their behavior is shitty. Other times, they are completely aware, but being called out by a fellow Burner can be more effective than you may think.
Want to get rid of your camps’ bikes on your way out of Burning Man? DON’T LEAVE THEM BEHIND. There is a common misunderstanding that by piling them up and leaving them for us to clean, you’re donating to our program. This is incorrect. We spend a whole lot of hours and sweat picking up these remaining bikes and then donate them to the Reno Bike Project. If you want to get rid of your bikes, we encourage you to consider donating to Reno Bike Project or some other community bike shop.
Lose a bike during the event? Email a description of the lost bike to firstname.lastname@example.org. We do run a Lost & Found Program post-event, and you can improve your chances of being reunited with your recovered bike if you have photos, descriptions and make/model info … It’s a good idea to store this info before heading out to the desert, just in case. Better yet, label your bike with your name and camp address.
Helpful tips from Yellow Bikes’ Lead Mechanic, Andrej:
Bring extra tubes that fit whatever bike you plan on riding. Patch kits might not fix the problem when you can’t thoroughly clean the dust off or dry the glue in the scorching heat. By the way, Yellow Bikes take 26″ x 2.125″ tubes. (Hint, Hint.)
When choosing a bike to bring to the playa, remember where you are. Avoid bikes with a lot of components (i.e., shifters, derailleurs, etc.) as dust gets into everything, and anything with grease becomes a playa magnet. Go with a bike that has wide tires and preferably single speed. Beach cruisers with internal breaks are always a good choice and in the Yellow Bike shop, we only deal with coaster breaks to avoid a few headaches.
We encourage everyone with a personal bike to bring a lock and some form of light. Theft sucks, but it does happen, even at Burning Man. Accidents and crashes also suck, but they happen too, often because pedestrians and cyclists can’t see each other at night.
While our team works to pump out several hundred Yellow Bikes for the community each year and does not have the time or resources to be a full-service shop, we don’t want to see anyone stranded or bike-less. If you see us around Black Rock City and need repair advice or a little air in your tire, let us know.
A few messages from Yellow Bikes’ Minister of Propaganda, Rest Stop Buddy
If you’re going to bring a bike to Burning Man and ditch it immediately following the event, buy a Huffy Cranbrook Cruiser 26″ (Men or Women’s). At BRCT Yellow Bikes, we only use this bike because 1) it streamlines our maintenance process, 2) minimizes the number of parts we need to order, and 3) they deal relatively well in the environment. These bikes are cheap and available nearly everywhere. Post event, you can donate these cruisers to the Yellow Bikes. (Please drop it off at the shop at 5:30 & A, not in deep playa.) The population limit was just raised to 68,000 people. While we’re steadily working on increasing the fleet, we currently only have around 700 bikes for that many folks. This is one way you can help us grow with the city.
And a reminder from crew member Marisa:
While it has taken some time to disseminate information about how the program works best, it’s obvious that common knowledge of the program is growing. Seeing folks riding the bikes built by our crew is great, but watching them participate fully by using the bikes in the proper manner is even more gratifying. We know we didn’t build any of those bikes for one person. We built them for 50,000 people, and it’s important it stays that way. In 2007, we received 1,000 bikes. We’re starting this year with about half that. Yes, some of the bikes have retired over time due to frequent use in a harsh environment. But there is no doubt that the vast majority of loss has stemmed from personal theft and vandalism. It’s hard to believe, I know.
The good news is that we’re not slowing down bike production. We will prepare every single bike we can spare for you this year. And perhaps as the program continues to excel, we can earn another donation. Ideally, the city would be flooded with community bikes. Historically, these programs dissolve because of misuse. People think if they just steal one from the fleet, it won’t make a difference. However, unfortunately, when many people share the same idea, the impact is grave. Soon enough, the shared bikes become harder and harder to locate. And it’s less likely for people to depend on or even utilize the program. Thus, it fails. In other cities, oftentimes use of coin machines or memberships are employed to help regulate the programs. This limits the propensity toward theft and vandalism. Not only is this not a feasible option in Black Rock City, it shouldn’t be a necessity. Radical self-reliance is providing for yourself completely, and then enjoying the excess of wealth as it’s granted to you. If you want to ride a bike for the whole event, bring your own.
Are you down with the Yellow Bike crew? Join the party (and get more cool propaganda images) at their official Facebook page.