Burning Man is a pretty big place, and bicycles are considered a necessity for most Burners.
BRC Hardware is not generally equipped for bicycle repair if you don’t have your own spare parts. We do not keep a stock of tubes, tires, chains, or other specialized parts and tools in camp. Nevertheless, we get a lot of requests from people who don’t prepare their bikes before they get to the playa, and we’re not likely to be generous to those who neglected this crucial aspect of their Burning Man experience.
The good news: the playa is flat – you shouldn’t have too many problems with brakes or gears, and you can likely leave it in one gear the entire time.
The bad news: It’s a high altitude, alkaline desert, and the environment may wreak havoc on your tires, and you’ll get dust in the mechanics.
Here’s what you can do to prepare your bike for the playa and to keep it in good condition during the Event:
- Assemble and bring a repair kit. Inside should be: a pump, spare tires in the proper sizes for your bikes, metric nuts, extra chain, wrenches, tire tool, lubricant (see below). Even if you get into a bind and you don’t know how to fix it, if you bring the appropriate spare parts to Hardware, we have a better chance of helping you!
- Give your bike a tune-up before you leave home. You can’t just pull your bike out of storage (especially still caked in playa and rusted out from last year’s Burn) and expect it to get you through this year without a problem. Check your tires, tubes, brakes, chain, and derailleur. Pump it up, grease it up, ride it around and make sure the seat and handlebar height works for you. With this tiny bit of attention, you are way less likely to have a problem.
- Don’t use WD-40! It’s a dessicant, not a lubricant. Use a proper lubricant (like White Lightning), and you will avoid most of the mechanical problems that we most commonly see.
- Bring extra tubes and tires. Even if someone out there has a extra tubes, they may not fit your bike. Extra tires are even harder to find. You’ll be easier to help if you show responsibility and forethought by bringing your own parts.
- Don’t pump up your tires too full. Heat and elevation cause the air in tires to expand and cause blowouts, even when your bike is parked. Let a little air out and let the tire be slightly squishy. If you pump it up at night when the air is cooler and condensed, make sure to let some out before the sun comes up! The softer tires will also help you ride across soft playa surfaces.
- Don’t forget a lock! An unlocked bike is likely get taken for a joyride (and then unceremoniously dumped where someone else will have to deal with it). Make sure you lock your bike, even if you’re just making a quick pit stop at the potties.
- Don’t ride behind the spray trucks or after it’s been raining. Wet playa will stick to itself, to your tires, and jam up your fenders and your frame. You’ll end up carrying it, so if it rains just leave it in camp.
- Lube your pedals, too. One of the most common problems we see is broken pedals. They need lube, too, and you can’t stomp down on them too hard, or they can shear off. If you come to Hardware needing a pedal, our only fix is to force a large bolt through, and that causes permanent damage to your bike. (We make sure you understand that before we proceed, but that’s the solution.)
- FINALLY, IF YOUR BIKE IS BROKEN BEYOND REPAIR, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DUMP IT ON THE PLAYA. DISASSEMBLE IT, PACK IT, AND TAKE IT HOME.
When the playa is particular soft, and dunes have formed, we get a lot of questions about how to ride through it. Best thing to do is make sure you have soft tires, and don’t make sharp turns when riding through the dunes as it will slow you down. Try to speed up and move in a straight line, and you’ll have an easier time getting through.
If you still have a problem, there are several bike repair shops around Black Rock City, but, as we said before, they will also be much happier to help you if you followed these suggestions first.
Don’t forget the Green Bike program, and feel free to make use of the community bicycles. But respect them, and do not lock them up. If we hear of a green bike that has a lock (or we find a bike that someone has obviously tried to disguise as their own), we will come armed with bolt cutters to liberate community property, and a megaphone to educate bystanders. Don’t be a dick.
Radical self-reliance isn’t just a suggestion!