Burning Man Bicycle Survival Guide
A bicycle is an essential part of any Burn. With miles of roads and plenty of open desert to criss-cross, it's just the right size for bicycles. And taking in all that Black Rock City has to offer is a daunting task with only your feet and a week to absorb it all. Black Rock City is more than 2 miles across and is the third largest city in Nevada (after Las Vegas and Reno).
Bicycle travel is the most practical way to get around. The Playa isn't like a soft sandy beach. Black Rock City sits on a fine dusty soil that packs hard and smooth after just a little bit of rain. It is more akin to a well trodden dirt road and it makes for a surprisingly good riding surface.
Even though Minneapolis and Portland seem to get all of the credit, Black Rock City is one of the most bike-friendly towns in the world. Most Burners "commute" by bicycle. It is certainly the most tolerant of bicycle diversity (as in, the more different your ride, the better).
This is your chance to join in a movement that eschews spectators and literally celebrates every effort of participation.
Burning Man Bicycle Survival Guide:
Choose your ride
Helmet (recommended, but not common in BRC)
Basic repair kit (recommended)
Racks, baskets, and backpacks?
Choose Your Ride:
Your bike is going to suffer at Burning Man. The playa dust can be unforgiving. Do not bring something that you'll be afraid to hurt. Or rent a bike from our camp and pick it up at Burning Man.
Style of Bicycle
MOUNTAIN BIKE: wide off-road tire tread and gears for traveling at whatever speed you choose (within reason).
The mountain bike is rugged and durable. It was made to take the kind of abuse that a good Burn can dish out. The wide tires have plenty of tread to keep you on top of the Playa dust and handle the occasional pot hole. Most mountain bikes are equipped with a very low gear for slow cruising as well as relatively high gears for moving quickly when the terrain or scenery permits.
BEACH CRUISER: a simple ride that will make your week of travels on the playa as smooth as Destiny Lounge at sunset.
The Beach Cruiser was made for Burning Man. The Playa is a kind of giant beach (without the gentle slope toward the water). Of course the wide tires keep you on top of the dusty surface where narrower tires would cut into the ground and slow you down. But just as important, the beach cruiser is an uncomplicated machine that puts simplicity ahead of aggressive performance.
Most important, the beach cruiser was made for cruising. The wide upright handlebars keep you sitting up in a relaxed cruising position. The beach cruiser is as chill as you wanna be.
ROAD BIKE: more doable than you might expect, but these are not recommended because the narrow tires sink into the Playa surface or worse, cut into the hard crust below the dust. This can slow you down. Road bike tires also tend to be high-pressure and not very forgiving on the pitted parts of the Playa. Go with soft wide tires. Your butt will thank you.
Locking your bike on the Playa:
Hint: If you are a thief, the bathrooms are a great place to snatch and grab. Riders think, "I'll only be in there a minute. Nobody's going to get my bike in just a minute." Pssst, riders: Bike filchers know what you're thinking. Lock up your bike even if you just need to pee.
Locking up your ride at Burning Man is a must. Every year many Burners lose their ability to travel quickly around Black Rock City because someone snatched their bike. Don't let this happen to you. It is always best to lock your bike to something solid, something that a would-be thief could not easily move. Short of this, lock your bike to a friend's bike. Someone dragging two bicycles across the desert is going to attract attention.
Please be careful not to lock your bike in such a way that it becomes a hazard to structures, traffic, or people.
It used to be that you could merely incapacitate your bike by locking a wheel to the frame so that your bike would not roll. And sometimes this is the only practical option. But we are seeing more and more examples of aggressive thieves snatching these rides as well and just cutting the cheap locks after they've dragged the "locked" bike back to their camp. Pro tip: use a beefy lock to discourage this kind of theft.
Always attach your lock to the frame of your bike. If you've got the room, capture a wheel in the lock as well (the back is preferred). If you lock up your bike by chaining just the front wheel to a camp support structure, you might find that a determined thief has taken your bike and left you with only a wheel.
As a last resort, if you are by yourself in the middle of nowhere with nothing solid to which you could safely attach your bike, lock one of your wheels to your frame. This will force a would-be thief to drag your bike off instead of ride it, a difficult proposition on the Playa.
Finally, bring a spare key (and remember where you put it). Or write down your combination (and remember where you wrote it down).
Burning Man Basic Bicycle Repair Kit (recommended):
- Spare tubes (Check your tires for tube size. Also check your tubes to see if you have Schrader valves (standard, like on your car) or Presta valves (skinny and complicated).
- Wrenches that fit your axel nuts (note: front axel nuts may be different size than rear axel nuts or you may have quick release hubs which do not require tools to remove or install). A good 8” adjustable wrench can go a long way, but it's not going to do squat for you if you need a hex wrench (check your bike). The most common bike tools are 13mm and 15mm box wrenches and 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm hex wrenches. A good multitool will include all of these. A five minute conversation with your local bike shop's service department before you head to Burning Man will identify the correct tools to bring.
- Tire levers
- Air pump. Check to make sure your pump works with the valves on your tubes. Bring the appropriate pump or adaptor.
- Pliers (recommend 6" needle nose for versatility)
- Zip ties (small and large for problem solving)
Bicycle specific multi tools can be life savers. For 25 bucks these are compact enough to bring with you wherever you go and they usually pack more tools than just the basics. But don't rely entirely on a multi tool. They can't pack everything into them.
Also see our Burning Man Bicycle Maintenance Tips article For on-the-fly repairs, flat tire tube changes, handy tools, clean-up tips, and more.
For anything beyond the basics, trust the experts. Come to Hammer And Cyclery for issues that require special tools or a practiced hand. We'll be at Burning Man all week.
Having said that, do not count on us to keep you rolling. Burning Man is closing in on 100,000 people and most of them bring bikes. Come prepared (Radical Self-Reliance and all). We will do what we can, but you may have to wait (and we're not open 24 hours).
Safety Lights (must)
Two lights, white for the front and red for the back (just like a car) will keep you visible as you travel across the playa. The front light will provide limited illumination of the path in front of you, but only very bright headlights should be counted on to reveal all of the hazards of riding at night in Black Rock City. Safety lights are usually easy to mount and remove. When you are not sharing the scenery with your bike, your lights will fit in your pocket to prevent the jealous from making their bike as safe as your bike.
Cargo (racks, baskets, and crates)
Baskets can be convenient. Do bring a backpack to carry your stuff when you absolutely must walk, but getting ice back to your cooler is way more fun when it's not on your back.
We recommend a front basket so you can see your stuff as it bounces out onto the Playa (and then pick it up) rather than a rear basket that only lets you know what you've lost after you arrive at your destination. And the deeper the better. A wide shallow basket spills your stuff much more easily than something with high sides.
Lights, Bells, Horns, and Other Obnoxiousness
The crazier your bike looks, the easier it will be to find in the ever-shifting geography of art cars, bodies, and installations (especially after a long night at Disorient).
If you do plan on using your bike again, clean it ASAP (or have it cleaned at a bike shop). The sooner the better. The Playa dust is alkaline (the opposite of acidic, but just as destructive). Check out our Clean Your Bike with Vinegar article.
Hammer And Cyclery and Re-Cycle, Inc share no official affiliations with Burning Man or Black Rock City, LLC.
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HAMMER AND CYCLERY
(Playa address announced in July)
Open Daily 10:30am-5:30pm
Saturday Aug 24 - Monday Sept 2, 2019