Mind Your Dust: A Note of Caution on Electric-Powered Bikes in Black Rock City

Burning Man and bikes go together like flamethrowers and cold playa nights, but as electric-powered bikes and other motorized (non-mutant) vehicles get more popular, we have a word of caution regarding zipping through the thoroughfares of Black Rock City.

Last year, we saw an increase in complaints about speeders and generally unsafe maneuvers by participants on electric-powered bikes. The speed limit on playa is 5 mph.

We get it. It’s easy to get swept up in moment (“Immediacy!”) to speed across the playa to see the next cool thing. But grazing a leg or a full-on collision can ruin a fellow participant’s entire day (or night, or week).

In any other city, we might see more rules and stricter penalties for those who break them. But this is Burning Man, where we look after each other. Not because it was mandated to be courteous, but because that’s a part of what it means to be a citizen in Black Rock City. So if you’re operating an electric-powered bike this year at Burning Man remember that with the sweet privilege of electric-powered cruising, comes an obligation to:

BE RESPONSIBLE — The speed limit on playa is 5 mph. Yes, even for electric-powered bikes.

BE SAFE — Even if you’re doing the speed limit, operate safely around participants, especially in crowded or highly trafficked areas.

BE CONSIDERATE — Beyond being responsible and safe, it’s also important to be considerate of those around you. That means being mindful of the dust kicked up by your powered vehicle and if you do have an accident, it means taking a moment to ensure any injured parties get proper medical attention.

Lastly, if you see someone speeding on an e-bike or otherwise piloting one unsafely, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask them to slow down or be considerate.  Remember, we’re all in this together. And Black Rock City will be better for it.


Top photo by Robert Bruce Anderson

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52 Comments on “Mind Your Dust: A Note of Caution on Electric-Powered Bikes in Black Rock City

  • Bike rider says:

    Please ban electric and electric assist bikes. They go way too fast and there’s no way they’ll limit themselves to 5 MPH, especially when regular bike riders can pedal faster than 5 MPH.

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    • Kennita Watson says:

      I’m not in favor of a ban, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be too much to ask to have the electric-powered bikes hold themselves to the speed of the surrounding human-powered bikes.

      I’d be happy if someone made a robot that would roam the playa with one of those signs that would tell you how fast you moving, and blink if you were moving too fast. It could have the voice, and say things like “Chill out!” or “Be safe out there.” There are, of course, much cleverer things that I haven’t thought of.

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      • Kennita Watson says:

        Googling shows that the minimum stable speed for a bike is a little over 5 MPH. and “The NutriStrategy website categorizes riding at speeds of 14 to 15.9 mph as a vigorous pace. Speeds above 16 mph are considered very vigorous while riding a bicycle. A light pace would be 10 to 11.9 mph while a moderate pace is categorized as 12 to 13.9 mph.” So most human-powered bikes will be going at least 10 mph when they’re going anywhere, so it’s reasonable for electric bicycles to keep pace. It’s when vehicles get larger and heavier than that that dust and momentum get to be issues. In any case, hunkering down to go maximum speed on a bicycle is way too fast, whether it has a motor or not.

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      • Robert says:

        AI at BM….wat a hoot!

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      • Randal Huizenga says:

        I think that the robot should say: “Slow down and remember; Safety Third!”

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      • Sasa Salsa says:

        I think banning is too harsh. The only way I can be at the burn this year is with an elecyric bike, as I injured my knee pretty badly. That’s unfair to prevent attendance of those who can only attend with an electric power or assist vehicle. Where’s your radically inclusive spirit?

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    • Corvus says:

      Can pedal, yes. Should is another matter; human-powered bikes, like all vehicles, are limited to 5-mph in BRC. Now, this is often winked at in broad daylight in deep playa when there’s no crowd around but if any of those factors is missing, a brisk walk is the proper speed.

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    • Scooter says:

      Ok – you cant have one – how’s that? Some of us mind the 5mph rule – some of us had knee surgery and cant pedal all day.

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      • Randal Huizenga says:

        I know what you mean; I have had one knee surgery and three shoulder surgeries in the past 23 months. It is really, really difficult for me to pedal a bike without causing pain to my shoulders and further damage to my knee.. I do have a small electric bike but it has skinny tires and I don’t think it could handle the dust traps on the playa – and if I fall off of the bike I could do some serious damage to the shoulder surgery that is now only 19 days old!
        I sure wish that I could rent an electric bike with fat tires!

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    • Nancy Cristina Nazario says:

      The electric bikes should be limited to juried art cars and/or those who are physically unable to ride a bike. Last year I saw too many reckless e-bikes on the playa and several near hits.

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      • completely agree, at age 75 i can’t ride long distance under my own power and the more I ride regardless of speed the less sefe I am for myself and otherd. Watch the videos of years past and yoou will see the vast majority of prople powered vehicles moving accross the zplayy at 10 or more MPH. disalow electric bikes unless thry seve a disabiliity, otherwise the vast majority can peddle them as they always have, in simple truth, electric bikes are desined for commuters in the “default world” to replace fossil fueled vehicles and take up less space, why not live with that !

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  • RyteeTytee says:

    Motorized bike & trikes on the Playa are lethal devices waiting to happen…

    Like personal lasers, they will some day be banned at Burning Man.

    But not before some innocent, non-consensual participant(s) suffer(s) a MAJOR irrevocable loss: broken bones, torn tendons, non-concussive brain, loss of blood, painless breathing, life, to identify just a few.

    And not before an avalanche of ignoramus outcries, beseeching their “No More Rules!” mantra until bone-headed, obvious REALITY arrives in the form of avoidable human loss. Please let it be THEM or THEIR LOVED ONES that suffer the consequences of THEIR myopia.

    “Can an e-bike even go under 5mph ?!?!”

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  • Does says:

    Is this the burning man spirit? Speed limits and talking about the dansers of cycling?! Here in Holland we cycle as fast as we can and with as many people as we can – no problem. Be a free true free spirit; speed limits on e-bikes are sad and perfect for people who used to not come to the burning man… please, stop here…

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    • Does says:

      Danser = dangers…

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    • The Hustler says:

      Here in Portland, OR, USA, where people actually ride bikes for transport (and fun, and adventure) e-bikes are a problem. E-bike riders often operate their electric motorcycles irresponsibly and on bike paths/cycletracks.
      The blog post doesn’t seem to mention electric-assist cargo bikes, which I happen to think are a wonderful idea. I see them around town being used for hauling all sorts of things from children and take-away food to construction materials and other bikes.
      In Amsterdam, unlike most of the USA, people actually know how to ride bikes, and how to ride them in groups.
      People need to be reminded they’re not alone and their actions have an effect. This isn’t just to ruin someone’s good time for no reason, e-bikes are a problem. They’re banned in many parks and trail systems, and in the bike community there is a lot of scorn toward the clueless potatoes who ride them like idiots.

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    • bystander says:

      I spend a lot of time in Holland, and I would not recommend the type of cycling which is common in Amsterdam to anyone anywhere else, certainly not to the people at Black Rock.

      Cycling in Amsterdam is dangerous, and yes, people get hurt. The Dutch are willing to tolerate this situation for reasons best known to themselves; that does not mean we should import it to Burning Man. Everybody slow down.

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    • bystander says:

      Also, in the Netherlands, brommers (motor driven bikes) are not allowed in bike lanes.

      There are scofflaws there, as here, but they are frowned upon (and sometimes ticketed).

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    • Shelby says:

      Actually, this is very much the Buring Man spirit.

      “Civic Responsibility” = one of The Ten Principals of Burning Man

      “Radical Free True Free Spiriting” = definitely not on of The Ten Principals of Burning Man.

      In regards to your notion that limits on e-bikes are “sad” because e-bikes are “perfect for people who used to not come to burning man”: This sentiment goes against the principles of Radical Self Reliance and Radical Participation more than it does anything to promote the principle of Radical Inclusion. It is very easy for disabled persons, injured persons, and handicap persons to obtain permits for electric bikes, electric vehicles of all kinds, golf carts, etc. The people you seem to be referring to are not people who actually lack the physical ability required to pedal a bike or walk themselves. Electric bikes are a luxury, not a necessity, and should be viewed as such. If not having one would cause a physically able person to question whether or not they even wanted to go to playa, they probably should not go to Burning Man. They are likely not suited for the

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  • Louis Christie says:

    Any means of transportation is unsafe over 5 with. mph.to pedestrians .
    Being responsible is for all not just a few stand outs.
    E bikes are a means of transportation as for me to see all the playa has to offer , maybe a handicap cap regerstration would be I order. Yes but that opens a bigger can of worms to deal

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  • Jamie says:

    Whatever happened to safety third? I say keep Burning Man potentially fatal. Go fast and have fun. If someone gets dusted up or injured so be it. If you haven’t noticed it’s a dusty and dangerous place out there… You know what you’re getting into when you go to Burning Man. If you don’t want any risk of potential danger stay home. Or maybe we should turn into into Disneyland and ban anything dangerous?!

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  • Rusty Pineapple says:

    I will be riding my e-bike for the 2nd year this year and I fully agree that people need to be responsible. I will be leading by example; mostly using pedal assist (rather than full power) and keeping pace with human powered bikes. Only going faster in deep playa during the day when visibility is good and no one is around. (it’s nice to ride out to remote port-o-potties and shit with the door open) Anywhere near people or low visibility i’ll just be coasting along with pedal assist to save energy for working and dancing!

    I will also be calling out anyone going too fast for the conditions and ask them to reconsider their actions. I don’t think we need a ban, we need to hold each other accountable and remind each other that it only works when we consider each other, not just our selves.

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    • Biff says:

      I agree with Rusty. I will be bringing an ebike for the 1st time this year and have strict plans to keep it at the speed limit and helping to hold others accountable. If you want to ban something ban those fucking loud and obnoxious stand up scooters that are constantly speeding.

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    • Tinker Toes says:

      Note to self: do not approach open port-a-loo with e-bike idling nearby.

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  • Dustin says:

    Shit. There are a high number of people at BRC who don’t know how to ride a normal bike, let alone electric bikes. Burning man always struggles with how to enable creative risk takers who want to have some fun while protecting morons from themselves. Be careful and mindful of those around you, no matter what you are doing (biking, walking, dancing, eating, drinking, and so on).

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  • Kahn Bush says:

    I agree, ebikes go too fast at burning man. They’re scary when they almost clip you.

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  • Gary D Kirk says:

    I’ve had bikes, trikes and this year an ebike, the only “accidents” I’ve ever had was being t-boned by guys on 2 wheelers going to fast in the dark. I agree with no matter what your riding, keep your speed down, it’s not the bike, it’s the driver.

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  • Bugs says:

    Danger Will Robinson danger

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  • Running Kills says:

    Are they going to be handing out speeding tickets to everyone running in the Ultra Marathon?

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  • Jeff Levy says:

    I have a disability and ride an e-assist recumbent trike. It’s what makes the Playa accesible to me. I’m not sure an uptight two wheeler can be stable at 5 mph (can it?). Mutant vehicles certainly seem to go faster. I can move at a crawl if the conditions warrant where an upright can’t and must be walked. Hey, there’s a thought let conditions dictate a prudent speed.
    Kronos )*(

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    • Make me an e-bike ranger! I’ve been to 2 burns building e-bikes. But would rather come to spawn a critical mask theme camp! I make glasses for kids with no ears and would love to have a camp masquerade to promote my philanthropy. Ebikes are here to stay and the inexperienced riders are gonna bite the DUST………. spokification is the way!

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    • Tinker Toes says:

      Thank you for adding the accessibility point. The playa is flat, but that doesn’t make it a level playing field.

      Burners are responsible for the impact we create and BRC conditions dictate frequent one-off decisions. We can’t possibly cover it all in advance. Hopefully folks will figure in the physics and the physical requirements of moving around the space when making choices, or judging others’ choices. I’ve seen some avoidable bike injuries involving that inky darkness and I’m still fairly freshly dusted. I imagine there have been some traumatic incidents from well before e-bikes were so readily available (“readily” for a hefty price.)

      Anyway, my rambling point is, one might not know how crucial some of the “conveniences” are for someone else. Limiting accessibility would be an unintended consequence of blanket bans. Someone needn’t be a ‘card-carrying’ disabled person to need adaptations. Requiring folks to register/prove they need mobility assistance can lead to unnecessary regulations. Might someone scam the system? Of course. Might someone else be disinclined to go through hoops to get permission to have the option of electric-assist even if it means missing out on the Temple and art beyond The Man? I guarantee that some people might. I’m still working out how to be more self-reliant while accessing the entire site.

      I’m not dissing the existing access support system. There are some awesome folks investing time, resources, financial and otherwise, and brilliant solutions to make BRC accessible to more people. Mobility Camp is worth a visit to see what they’re up to. Camps who are generous with their power are angels in the dust to someone on low battery. (I hope I’m remembering the name correctly) “Electro-Therapy” saved me repeatedly out in the outer rings. My chair didn’t have the capacity to make it to center camp to charge, out and about, to the temple, and back to my camp. I almost got grounded out by the Man and would’ve had to push the chair. Suffice to say I was close to becoming extremely reliant on others. Not ideal. Knowing I’m with such caring and giving people means I wasn’t scared, but I was definitely anxious to not be “that” person. LOL Oops. TL;DR Sorry.

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  • Flame says:

    Turtle Cars are built on electric mobility chair platforms, most of which have a maximum speed of 5 mph. They are easy to build, easy to transport, and are safe. They are the electric playa vehicles of the future. Join the herd (or bale)!
    http://Www.facebook.com/groups/turtlecar

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  • Zetan says:

    I burned out 2 ebikes at burning man trying to go slow. They don’t perform well at 5mph.

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  • Greg Brooks says:

    This will be my second burn with my e-bike. I live in Huntington Beach and have a problem with these folks who speed down the crowded boardwalk filled with walkers, skaters, little kids and bikers on e- bikes AND peddle bikes. The speed limit there is 5 mph when people around and 10 mph max when no one is around. When very crowded they turn on flashing yellow which means walk bikes.

    That being said, I only use peddle assist and follow the rules. I don’t want e- bikes banned in HB or on the Playa. They are a lot of fun when used responsibly. When I want to go fast I use the roads or a trail.

    Be safe!

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  • Greg Brooks says:

    Plus – An e- bike with a little trailer attached is great for ice pickups!!!

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  • Tiahaar says:

    the correct reaction to a speeding bike/ebike is ‘SLOW THE FUCK DOWN YA FUCKING STUPID FUCK’ joined in by all around for a general shaming ;-)

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  • Brett says:

    May I suggest a simple requirement that “all” bicycles and other vehicles, electric or otherwise, must be fitted with a speedometer. These are relatively inexpensive and reasonably accurate if fitted according to instructions. It would make the “5mph” rule, a little easier to adhere to.

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  • mazinga says:

    We keep our ebike on pedal assist, 100% of the time. Keeps the fun of pedaling and batteries last days not hours.

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  • Dragnet says:

    Peddle only in town, electro assist open playa light traffic…..

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  • Hug Slut says:

    Due to bad knees, I need the e-bike, and yes, at time I went too fast and people have yelled slow the fuck down, but it has opened up the playa to me. The only down side was it makes the playa smaller.

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  • Dogknee says:

    Why not give the LEOs something to do and write the speeders tix and increase the Nv. revenue even more? Those speeding tix sting the wallet.

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  • Kevin says:

    Guys it is very simple. we just enact a law stating that any e-bike being ridden must have a person walking in front waving a flag or lantern at all times. Users of e-bikes may check out lanterns at the Lamplighter village.

    This is a silly conversation. Hey Mutant vehicles, Hey Bikers, Hey one wheelers, Hey unicyclers, Hey e-bikers, Hey cars, Hey RVs, Hey Buses, Hey Airplanes… drive responsibly and respectfully of all others on the road.

    Or as Will Wheaton says, “Don’t be a dick!”

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  • Kismet says:

    An e-bike has made a big difference for this 64-year-old in terms of fun and more accessibility. I’m healthy but 4 trips across the playa in the wind and I’m likely to call it a night. I can ride 5 mph, or close to it with my fat tire Rad Rover. I agree that the way some bikers ride is hazardous, and would like this to stop before something happens that leads to a ban. Some kind of a lock-down for extreme repeat offenders? For now, I appreciate the positive approach in raising awareness and we’ll see how it goes.

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  • Anthony Gonzales says:

    I own a ebike and bought it because I have bad knees. My ebike is a cargo bike, it’s big and heavy, 75lbs, so going 5mph isn’t impossible but is a bit tough. BUT every year I see pedal power bikes doing 20mph and not safely at times and at night with no lights, dark matter. How about speed limit signs, nice message signage out on the playa. Don’t ban ebikes, some are and some serve a need.

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  • Fiver says:

    I’ve had an ebike out there for a few years now and my god it’s made burning man SO much better. You can get around without killing yourself. Pedaling is for chumps.

    That said, yea, no need to do more then 10-15 miles an hour on your bike. Basically just cruise at the same speed as all the normal bikes.

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  • roissy says:

    One of the main issues of night riders of both manual and electric bikes is the lack of forward facing lighting.
    So we basically have a fast-moving Darktard. Most riders are great for putting lighting all around the frame and wheels but do not put anything up front so you can see them coming, just try to cross the Esplanade at night.
    (I know most Burners don’t look before they cross, but that is another story)

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  • Pokey says:

    Many of us folks with disabilities and those of us who are elderly really benefit from electric bikes. As long as the are limited to the same speeds the pedal bikes are going they should be fine.

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  • Respectfully this whole discussion is irrelevant. All electric bikes, whether pedal assist or not, can be held to any speed the rider desires. Our Fat Tire E-Bikes are not equipped with pedal assist and these bikes can be pedaled manually as well and can actually ride at less than 1 mph if needed. Just like a car or any other vehicle the driver (rider) is in control.

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