Coming off the high of my 11th burn I figured it was time to address one of the craziest fads that have ever taken hold at Burning Man. Last year was the first year I really noticed any sizable number of ebikes at Black Rock City, but this year it seemed like they were absolutely everywhere. This article will try to talk some sense into people who are considering bringing their ebikes to the playa and at the same time will talk about the potential of Art-ebikes to completely replace the large, dangerous, smelly gas powered Mutant Vehicles of Burning Man.
If you haven’t been to Burning Man it is absolutely impossible to describe the experience. For myself I haven’t done any drugs or drank in the last 20+ years, but the entire time I’m at Burning Man I pretty much feel like I’m in an altered state. The environment is so alien and people are so damn happy it’s really hard to feel like you’re not trapped in some bizarre dream that you just can’t wake up from.
So what are some of the reasons you shouldn’t bring your fancy-ass ebike to the Playa?
- You’re probably going to get your ebike stolen. Not everyone at Burning Man is there for noble reasons, there are folks that come for the sole purpose of committing crimes. Last year Doug and I met an unrepentant sexual predator in deep playa which totally bummed out my entire burn night. Think no one is going to jack your several thousand dollar ebike? You’re just plain wrong, it happens every year. If you want to protect against people ‘radically self-gifting’ themselves your bike just write “FUCK YOU BIKE THIEF” on your bike and your camp name and address. It actually works, I’ve had my bike stolen and returned by the thief who then asked me if I had ANOTHER bike they could have instead. I said no. (true story)
- If the ebike isn’t stolen you’re going to accidentally abandon it on the playa and then not be able to find it. Every year I stumble across giant bike graveyards out in deep playa where burners chase after the art cars to dance, then end up walking or riding home and leaving their bike along with dozens of others sitting out in the middle of nowhere. This year I actually saw an abandoned ebike that was unlocked and with the keys in it that was probably from a Plug and Play camp where ebikes are given to members for free usage as part of their astronomical $20,000+ camp fee. Yup, abandoned ebikes. Insane. Every year there are thousands of bicycles that are just left on the playa because people are just too damn lazy to cart them home or they are stolen during the festival then abandoned.
- Playa dust destroys everything. Ever notice how the sound system on Robot Heart has steadily degraded over the last several years? Playa dust is not only incredibly fine, it is also conductive and will eventually ruin any and everything that comes out to Black Rock City. Electronics should be kept in sealed ziplock bags and only taken out to be used briefly and then put back away. As a rule I never bring anything I care about at all to the Playa.
- You have to find a way to charge it. Your ebike battery is not going to be all that welcome at the Solar charging camp, they really only want small devices and laptops to charge. If you’re like me you might know someone with a 25,000 Watt generator you can plug into, but if you don’t then how the hell are you going to charge your ebike battery? If you own a Sondors, a popular choice on the playa, if it runs out of juice the bike is geared too high to ride without power and you’ll probably just end up walking it home.
- They’re gonna confiscate your ebike while you’re out screaming across the playa at 35mph or more. Seems like almost every year someone gets run over by an art car. Rangers are serious about enforcing the speed limits across the playa which are 5mph for mutant vehicles and whatever you can get away with on bikes and scooters (usually about 20mph). This year I saw plenty of BLM with night vision goggles watching out past the trash fence this year, so if you think you can ride without lights that fast and get away with it, you’re wrong. Remember, safety fourth.
The thing with bicycles is that exercise is good for you. The last thing I want to do is worry about my damn bike when I’m out enjoying the playa at night. There is something incredibly magical about cruising across the desert under the moonlight in complete silence under your own power. If you haven’t experienced it, you really should. This year I went out every single night for several hours to check out art on the deep playa and I still didn’t see half of the art out there. An $80 singlespeed beach cruiser from Walmart is close to the perfect burner bike, since there are no hills and you really don’t even need a motor.
Now that I’ve convinced you NOT to take your ebike to the playa now I’m going to tell you why you should build an awesome art ebike and drag it out to the desert.
- A small electric motor will allow you to drag hundreds of pounds worth of art ebike across the playa with little to no effort on your part. Since you won’t really be going over 15mph with it just use a mid drive motor and gear it way down or get a 12T hub motor and mount it on a tiny 20″ or smaller wheel.
- You can even weld a bunch of bikes together and have an art ebike that seats several people at a time. More people = more fun.
- You don’t have to wait in line at the DMV to get permission to ride around the playa on your art ebike (as long as there are no flame effects on it).
- You can build an art ebike for a TINY fraction of what people waste on their art cars. Think about if you took the millions of dollars squandered on the Mayan art car and did thousands of micro loans to artists to build art ebikes instead.
- If people consider your ebike art they are far less likely to steal it. Although vandalism and theft of art at BRC happens, it is incredibly rare.
- You don’t need a giant heavy trailer to get your art to the playa. Just strap your art ebike to the top of your car, duct tape some trash bags around the motor and drive train and pull the battery out and you’re good to go.
Why drag an old 747 out to the desert when you can make something way cooler and bring that for almost nothing? Part of the madness of Burning Man is ego-centric artists constantly trying to out do each other. The year I strapped a 43′ tall bamboo man puppet on my back (it was my 4th puppet built on the playa out of scavenged materials costing me almost nothing) and wandered around the playa I got way more love than the most flaming art cars out there. Do something new, do something awesome and people will thank you for it. The last thing the playa needs is another pirate ship or dragon (my apologies to all the pirate ships and dragons out there). Make something awesome and drag it to Burning Man or just get inspired to build something crazy when you’re there.
You will be transformed in the process.
My favorite bumper sticker at Burning Man is ;
“My vacation is your worst nightmare”
15 thoughts on “5 Reasons You Should Never Ever Bring Your Ebike To Burning Man (Unless It’s A Mutant Ebike)”
“Rangers are serious about enforcing the speed limits across the playa which are 5mph for mutant vehicles and whatever you can get away with on bikes and scooters (usually about 20mph).”
that last part is not true. the speed limit is 5mph, period — that’s bikes and scooters too. i constantly see people on bikes breaking this rule, it’s true — and more often then not they are also unlit, becoming dangerous, high-speed darkwads.
The lack of any ecological thinking and “Art” Car culture are the main reasons I have never been to burning man. Art and psychedelics can be found just about anywhere and I prefer the terrain around Moab.
Great article. Mutant, fat tire, ebike owner here. Totally agree with all of your points. Make my bike an art bike helps to not get it stolen as it’s not some generic “which sondors was mine?” moment….
3 years of playa and the bike still running strong. But curious if you have any long term tips for making it another 3, and another 3….
Don’t use the battery pack in 105 degree weather. I’d keep the battery in a ziplock back when not in use and not charging.
Cool and entertaining Burning Man video here if anyone is interested https://takingmyparentstoburningman.com/ Check out the trailer if you have the time. My nephew Joel McCarthy and a few of his friends made this movie for under $10,000.00 a few years back. The festival is not my idea of a good time but glad you enjoyed it Karl. ……….wayne
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Keep doing more blogs
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Great writing Karl. Fourth and half burn coming up (I only count my fist burn in ’98 as a half) and feel I am not participating in the way I want. (I found you by googling e-bikes and how to charge them on the playa.). I find your blogs inspiring, so thanks. Now I want to build a puppet inspired by your writing.
1) For joints, do you use sting down the middle of the bamboo / PVC?
2) How do you fasten 20 feet to your back? I am sure some kind of backpack, but…
I built most of my puppets on the Playa with scavenged materials. I used a very expensive internal frame backpack which I took apart and put the bamboo ziptied to the back piece. It was quite an ordeal. I used heavy duty zipties for the joints, put 2 together but just barely then put 2 zipties on each side of the bamboo inside the loop and duct tape it all together. The Zipties make great joints.
Good luck. Check out the article where I built a 43′ high one. That was a mistake. https://awaken-spirit.org/2013/09/10/worst-idea-ever-build-a-43-tall-puppet-strap-it-to-my-back-walk-around-60000-people-in-20-mph-winds-burning-man-2013/
I read that one! That’s why I am posting here. Will you be on the playa this year?
Not this year. Planting 5000 Chestnuts and Hazelnuts on my property. Too busy. Have a dance at Rythmwave 5:00 & A for me and check out the museum at my sister’s camp Plunderground 4:30 A.
Got your advice and thanks. Now Further questions.
1) is the picture with the puppet and the ship in the 24 foot puppet or the 42? It’s enormous.
2) For the structural parts,ie the triangles in the photo, are the ends just ducted tape together or how did you join them?
24 foot puppet. The 42 was over the top. Everything was built with zipties.
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