Discarded Burning Man bikes find new purpose

Published: Sep. 13, 2017 at 1:19 AM PDT
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A viral post-Burning Man photo is causing a stir on social media. The photo shows burners leaving a significant trace- thousands of discarded bikes, covered in playa dust, piled on top of each other.

Please ⚡️don't ⚡️leave ⚡️your ⚡️bikes ⚡️at ⚡️Burning ⚡️Man. #burningman #dpw2017 #leavenotrace

Posted by Logan Mirto on Monday, September 11, 2017

It's an alarming sight, but most people may be surprised to learn it's fairly common after the festival.

"[This year it] seems like a bit more," Aric Shapiro, Director of Development for The Generator in Sparks, said. "It seems like there's around 4,000 bikes out there. I think what happens is people fly in, so it's easier to buy a bike at Walmart and leave it out there, which is such a shame because it's suppose to be a leave-no-trace event."

Though common, the image still has people upset, including those involved with Burning Man.

"Participants should be responsible for their own property," Shapiro said. "Anything you bring to Black Rock City or the playa, you gotta take it back with you."

An estimated 70,000 people attend the festival, but according to Shapiro, only about 1,000 or so volunteers stay behind to clean up after the party in the playa.

"There's just not enough man hours," he said. "They will be out there until October, like they always are, cleaning up."

Fortunately, buried under all the playa dust on the bikes is a silver lining. For years, organizations and nonprofits like the Kiwanis Club and the Reno Bike Project have collected as many discarded bikes as they can. The Reno Bike Project says it collects around 700 each year. Many of the bikes are refurbished and sold to the next year's burners. The playa is hard on the bikes, and many of them are not high quality, but with a little work, the bikes can service burners for several years.

But the nonprofits can only take so many. That has Burning Man organizers scrambling trying to figure out what to do with the abundance of bicycles this year. Several hours after the original picture was posted on Facebook, the community had responded. A post by a man within the Burning Man organization claims a steady stream of people made the trip to Gerlach all day to pick up bikes.

But there are still plenty of bikes available. Shapiro says several artists from The Generator will make the trip to bike up as many as they can.

"We're going to try to get around 150 to 200 of them, put them in one of the bays back here," he said. "Swap out some parts, get as many operational as we can, and you know try to find a home for these bikes and some kids who need them."