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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2004 Summer Newsletter

Bicycle City

by John Manyjohns

What does Black Rock City have in common with Montreal, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon? They're all top-rated cities for bicycling! If you're already a regular biker, welcome comrade. BRC is your city! What? You don't ride a bike in your off-playa life? Friend, you're in for a treat. Now is your chance to immerse yourself in the joys of bike culture in the world's most interesting pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city!

In 2004, BRC will encompass srreets stretching 35 miles, and it will be 8,200 feet in diameter. The Man itself will be almost half a mile from Center Camp. BRC is large enough, the experience vast enough, and the desert environment just taxing enough to make biking an ideal pursuit. A bicycle offers the perfect combination of mobility and sociability. Marvelously, at its glittering social heart, Burning Man is about direct experience and immediacy, participation and interaction, being in touch with other people, and, dare I say it, being in touch with one's soul. This space is where your bike and sweat can take you.

Have you experienced the joy of performing endless figure eights on the deep playa in the ink of night? Away from the hubbub, the event site is eerily quiet and the stars hang in plump little galaxies. Some say that nothing could be sweeter than a morning breeze blowing up your skirt as you pedal lazily toward Center Camp for an iced coffee. Unexpected art will materialize out of the dust. Godzilla Shrine! Have a fabulous conversation with a friendly person, leave an offering, stroll BRC for a while. On a bike, you'll avoid heatstroke, a bathroom is never more than a few minutes away, ice runs are a breeze, and your camp is closer than you think. You're cut off from nothing and no one.

Riding on the playa is a magical experience. However, the playa will not magically fix your bike, nor will the Burning Man Project. Before you leave for the desert, make sure your bike is in good working order. In preparation, ride that puppy! If it has a problem in your home town, it surely will in Black Rock City. Is something going thunk? Are the wheels wobbling? Are the tires getting flatter by the minute? Do rusty and abraded cables murmur "tetanus" in the wind? When you turn the handlebars, does the bike keep going straight? If you can answer "yes" (and "I don't know" is acceptable evasion) then you have some work to do.

You are responsible for fixing and maintaining your bike before and during the event. At Burning Man, this practice is called radical self-reliance! If you can't fix it yourself, your home town bike shop can, usually for a very reasonable fee. Don't wait! Better yet, remember that Burning Man is also about communal effort. Someone must know someone who has bike mechanic skills. How about a home-town bike-tuning picnic, a party, a fund-raiser, or an ice cream social?

Once your bike is properly tuned up, you can begin to decorate it. Reduce your chances of collision and increase your chances of easily finding your bike in the dark of night: Cover it with reflectors, put LED type lights on it, install a lamp and a warning device that honks or jingles. Yelling "Hey! Look Out!" doesn't work. Bring a lock to deter theft and accidental bike appropriation. Bring basic tools and parts such as an air pump, tire levers, and two extra inner tubes per bike. If you're part of a large camp, bring a designated bike mechanic or come prepared to adopt one.

Here are some pre-playa tune-up tips:

  • Wheels: Prepare for tube and tire troubles; inflate the tires well before you go, and bring a patch kit, tire pump, and spare tubes.
  • Chains: If yours is merely rusty, use a "dry" style lube. (Ask your local bike shop.) If it's fused (with completely immobile links), then you'll need to get a new chain.
  • Brakes & Shifters: Do they work? Does the bike change gears well? Does it brake well?
  • Nuts / Bolts / Screws: Is anything loose? Tighten everything you can, with a firm twist.