The art of bicycle maintenance

What your bike needs before the wheels hit the playa

Noah Silverman is a co-founder of the Reno Bike Project, a group that could help you fix up your bike, too.

Riding a bicycle is the primary mode of transportation for most of the Black Rock City population. I would wager most attendees ride more miles during that week than the rest of the year. Bringing a bicycle that can be ridden 40 or 50 miles in a harsh environment like the playa requires a little forethought, so let’s get prepared.

Keep it simple. One gear and one brake should more than suffice for the playa. The playa is typically flat, smooth and hard, and with the exception of the occasional dune or unlit tent stake, relatively easy to navigate. Superfluous derailleurs and brakes are just opportunities for more things to go wrong.

The chain is often considered the weakest link on a bicycle, and it will take a beating from the playa. If your chain seems rusty or old, replace it before you go, and have it done right, even if it costs you extra. Trying to repair a broken chain can be a bear; most people don’t have a chain tool or even know how to use one properly. If you think your chain looks fine, then do it a favor and clean it. YouTube has some great instructional videos for bike repair, so look there for the best way. Lubing your chain is always a good idea, but make sure you use a rag to remove all the extra lube.

I have seen all sorts of bicycles come back from the playa, and just looking at what some people have ridden makes my kidneys hurt. Volume is the critical component to any good tire at Burning Man, and it should be maximized. Balloon tires are the most desirable, often 2-2.25” wide. They provide a little cloud that follows you around and allows you to float over dunes and little bumps in the road. Make sure your tires are well inflated, and avoid large holes, art cars and anything burning. If you can’t fit a large tire on your bike, then for your own comfort, try to find a padded seat.

Bike tool kit

If you run into trouble, there are a couple of cheap and easy things to have on hand that can save you a lot of headaches or, worse, walking. Patch kits or a correctly sized spare tube are easily taped to a bike and will save you the pain of asking every other camp if they have the supplies you need. Other things to add to your tool kit are tire levers, a multi-tool, crescent wrench, pump and a seat bag. Seat bags are great, and I recommend everyone have one; they can carry all your lifesaving essentials.

Once you return home, it is critical that you thoroughly clean your bicycle, especially if you plan to leave it outside until next year. A hose, rag, soapy water and elbow grease are a good start, but if you want to really keep your playa bike alive, consider getting the bottom bracket repacked and cleaning the chain well. This will save you from replacing rusty parts next summer. Once again, Youtube has some great videos for bike maintenance for the do-it-yourselfer, or try your local community bike shop. They would be happy to help, I am sure.