Yellow Bikes: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know


Did you know that Black Rock City has a bikesharing program?

For the past few years an independently funded, DPW-organized fleet of “Yellow Bikes” (conveniently painted green) have been provided for community use. They’re easy to spot: Bright green, spraypainted with the words “Yellow Bike,” and usually left unlocked at the side of the road. That’s how it works: You ride it until you get where you’re going, then you leave it for the next Burner.

They never actually look this organized.

It’s a concept that our community is still catching onto, so the Yellow Bikes Crew Facilitator, Ballyhoo Betty, has put together a wealth of propaganda for your ingestion. Read on:

Ballyhoo Betty writes:

You’ve likely seen them on the playa before. Maybe you’ve even ridden on one. Perhaps you’ve wobbled one, using only one pedal, for 4 miles, into the heart of Esplanade, determined to get to Black Sabbath Pancakes after a sleepless week of partying, before they run out of those sweet, sweet hotcakes. Hey, it’s happened.

Yellow Bikes are free, community bikes for all citizens of Black Rock City to enjoy. The rules are simple:

  1. Don’t steal (or redecorate) them.
  2. Ride them, and then leave them for the next person to use.
  3. Wear pants while riding them.

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised. Every year, we encounter a great deal of confusion about the Yellow Bike Program and protocol, so we’re here to set the record straight. Let’s take one of those at a time:


No stealing:

In addition to the physical removal of a Yellow Bike from Black Rock City, theft also includes locking and decorating a community bike. Once you place a lock on it, or decorate it beyond recognition, you’ve just rendered it inaccessible to the rest of the community.

Ride them and leave them:

If a Yellow Bike helped you get to where you’re going, you may not want to give it away just yet. After all, there’s a whole lot of cool shit to see out there and only so much you can cover in a week on foot. Unfortunately, if you hold onto a Yellow Bike, you are once again removing it from communal use. “Leaving it for the next person” means placing the bike unchained in a highly visible area, such as the side of a street or a bike rack. Don’t hide them in your camp.

Wear Pants:

I hope this needs no explanation.


Why do we do it?

We passionately believe in a world where people are empowered to use their own strength, instead of fossil fuels, to fuel their transportation needs. We also believe in a society where tendencies such as greed and ownership can be broken down. These are lofty goals, but we can begin experimenting with these ideas through a shared bicycle program. While bike share programs have been attempted in other communities, at times with relatively little success, we also put confidence in the idea that Black Rock City is not your typical community. Through cooperation, and for the love of bikes, we can create a city where free bikes become the public transportation infrastructure that mobilize every citizen. Now, get on our bikes and ride!

So now that you understand the culture of the Yellow Bikes that we’re trying to promote, what can you do if you…

Stumble upon a broken Yellow Bike? Fix it. (Remember Radical Self-Reliance?) If you’re not mechanically inclined, you can take it to one of the bike repair theme camps, or drop it off at the Yellow Bike shop (5:30 & A). If none of these seem like viable options to you, or whatever state of mind you’re in, then flip the broken Yellow Bike upside down and leave it on the side of the road. This helps our staff find the ones that need a little help.

See someone decorating, locking or in some other way violating a Yellow Bike? Be proactive and explain to them how their actions are damaging the community. Often times, people truly are unaware that their behavior is shitty. Other times, they are completely aware, but being called out by a fellow Burner can be more effective than you may think.

Want to get rid of your camps’ bikes on your way out of Burning Man? DON’T LEAVE THEM BEHIND. There is a common misunderstanding that by piling them up and leaving them for us to clean, you’re donating to our program. This is incorrect. We spend a whole lot of hours and sweat picking up these remaining bikes and then donate them to the Reno Bike Project. If you want to get rid of your bikes, we encourage you to consider donating to Reno Bike Project or some other community bike shop.

Lose a bike during the event? Email a description of the lost bike to We do run a Lost & Found Program post-event, and you can improve your chances of being reunited with your recovered bike if you have photos, descriptions and make/model info … It’s a good idea to store this info before heading out to the desert, just in case. Better yet, label your bike with your name and camp address.

Helpful tips from Yellow Bikes’ Lead Mechanic, Andrej:

Bring extra tubes that fit whatever bike you plan on riding. Patch kits might not fix the problem when you can’t thoroughly clean the dust off or dry the glue in the scorching heat. By the way, Yellow Bikes take 26″ x 2.125″ tubes. (Hint, Hint.)

When choosing a bike to bring to the playa, remember where you are. Avoid bikes with a lot of components (i.e., shifters, derailleurs, etc.) as dust gets into everything, and anything with grease becomes a playa magnet. Go with a bike that has wide tires and preferably single speed. Beach cruisers with internal breaks are always a good choice and in the Yellow Bike shop, we only deal with coaster breaks to avoid a few headaches.

We encourage everyone with a personal bike to bring a lock and some form of light. Theft sucks, but it does happen, even at Burning Man. Accidents and crashes also suck, but they happen too, often because pedestrians and cyclists can’t see each other at night.

While our team works to pump out several hundred Yellow Bikes for the community each year and does not have the time or resources to be a full-service shop, we don’t want to see anyone stranded or bike-less. If you see us around Black Rock City and need repair advice or a little air in your tire, let us know.

A few messages from Yellow Bikes’ Minister of Propaganda, Rest Stop Buddy

If you’re going to bring a bike to Burning Man and ditch it immediately following the event, buy a Huffy Cranbrook Cruiser 26″ (Men or Women’s). At BRCT Yellow Bikes, we only use this bike because 1) it streamlines our maintenance process, 2) minimizes the number of parts we need to order, and 3) they deal relatively well in the environment. These bikes are cheap and available nearly everywhere. Post event, you can donate these cruisers to the Yellow Bikes. (Please drop it off at the shop at 5:30 & A, not in deep playa.) The population limit was just raised to 68,000 people. While we’re steadily working on increasing the fleet, we currently only have around 700 bikes for that many folks. This is one way you can help us grow with the city.

And a reminder from crew member Marisa:

While it has taken some time to disseminate information about how the program works best, it’s obvious that common knowledge of the program is growing. Seeing folks riding the bikes built by our crew is great, but watching them participate fully by using the bikes in the proper manner is even more gratifying. We know we didn’t build any of those bikes for one person. We built them for 50,000 people, and it’s important it stays that way. In 2007, we received 1,000 bikes. We’re starting this year with about half that. Yes, some of the bikes have retired over time due to frequent use in a harsh environment. But there is no doubt that the vast majority of loss has stemmed from personal theft and vandalism. It’s hard to believe, I know.

The good news is that we’re not slowing down bike production. We will prepare every single bike we can spare for you this year. And perhaps as the program continues to excel, we can earn another donation. Ideally, the city would be flooded with community bikes. Historically, these programs dissolve because of misuse. People think if they just steal one from the fleet, it won’t make a difference. However, unfortunately, when many people share the same idea, the impact is grave. Soon enough, the shared bikes become harder and harder to locate. And it’s less likely for people to depend on or even utilize the program. Thus, it fails. In other cities, oftentimes use of coin machines or memberships are employed to help regulate the programs. This limits the propensity toward theft and vandalism. Not only is this not a feasible option in Black Rock City, it shouldn’t be a necessity. Radical self-reliance is providing for yourself completely, and then enjoying the excess of wealth as it’s granted to you. If you want to ride a bike for the whole event, bring your own.

Are you down with the Yellow Bike crew? Join the party (and get more cool propaganda images) at their official Facebook page.

About the author: The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.

38 thoughts on “Yellow Bikes: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

  • I remember when I lost my bike at Burning Man. I thought I’d never see it again. Then, as I was riding someone else’s bike around, I saw it out the corner of my eye. I left the bike I was riding, picked up my old one, and rode off. It was black.

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  • I love this program. It was sunrise, I went out to the playa for a morning looksee, I realized I had a flat tire. There it was! A Yellow Bike , alone on the vast playa. Such a site. I locked my bike to the sinking ship and continued my journey. I came back to my bike, left the Yellow bike, took my bike home to fix.

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  • sam, you haven’t been issued yours yet? Have you submitted Request Form 2819X-339 to the Burning Man Hovercraft Dept?

    Sassafrass, thanks for returning it! Even better would be to drop it off for the bike crew, but I am not about to complain. Glad the bikes came through for you at just the right moment. That’s happened to me once, too…what an amazing feeling.

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  • Doesn’t the statements of theft, and specifically in regards to decoration fly in the face of “There is no theft or vandalism within BRC”?

    Anything you brought with, that some one else might be in possession of, is not considered theft within the city until post event.

    If people do things to your art/property, it is said that this is not looked on as vandalism, but as personal expression and part of the communal nature of the event.

    Maybe I’m unclear on this rhetoric, but these values, and those above posted in regards to yellow bikes appear to be in conflict.

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  • Year III – Where does it say “There is no theft or vandalism within BRC” in this article, or on this website? I am confused by your statement. That is indeed a contradiction, but I don’t think I’ve seen many claims by the Burning Man organization that theft and vandalism don’t happen in BRC. Maybe you have heard that from a participant, but it has not been my experience. Theft and vandalism totally, totally happen.

    …human nature, right? Lame ;)

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  • Well thank you for the clarification The Hun. I don’t know where or when this information entered my understanding. It was in response to my questions about such things as spray painting messages on the temple and the like.

    It was explained to me that should something go missing, that it would not be acted upon as a theft (by the authorities that be) as intention is understood as much as action. IE: For all the owner is aware, the person whom now holds the property in question could have found it apparently abandoned and may think that it was lost and/or forgotten. They may be actively searching for the original owner, however distracted from that goal they have become since acquiring it. In addition many art pieces are expected to be altered by participants. How does the uninformed determine the level of participation expected when they are alone, deep playa, with an art piece.

    I just wonder where the lines are and how best to more actively advise people of such expectations or limitations. The article states that any decoration of a Yellow Bike constitutes theft. I have met burners who make regular use of Yellow Bikes and leave little charms, or gifts for the next rider on the bike. Typically such things are easily removed and hopefully not prone to becoming Moop. I wonder if such activities should be viewed more as gifting and participation or as theft?

    I think it is easy to understand that the spirit of all of this is to make sure that people do not attempt to disguise a Yellow Bike as their personal conveyance. But where is the line? When will the “do not decorate” rule cause some one innocent of selfish-intention undue duress? Is the populaces truly well informed enough (they should be, but let’s be realistic) to avoid such misunderstandings?

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  • I’m with Year III even if he did hear that from a random participant, I mean, Hun, you’re right to say that it doesn’t say that anywhere on the website or here or anywhere that “There is no theft or vandalism within BRC” although I feel like the real basic reason or the common backbone at the center of why anyone goes to BRC is to be as close to true “freedom” as possible and I just think having to be careful where you put bikes and this and that etc. is just a strain on that. Although I am just one man, and this is just an opinion, but I think rules in general are a contradiction in BRC as far as I’m concerned. As I understand BRC’s purpose is to give us all the freedom to work together and help one another or not and to prove that humanity can do these things without having to have so many rules or too much city structure. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this right but basically I’ve always thought every year i go that I wished the rest of the world were more like this and the reason being is because, at least from what I have experienced in BRC, even without rules and regulations etc. people can still come together and interact, help, feed, etc. one another without being told to or being tainted by society’s values. I’m sorry if i’m rambling and this makes little sense, but bottom line of what i’m trying to say is I think rules of any sort just “lessen” the experience, or water it down. I’m not saying go do bad things or anything, I’m just saying I believe in the community of BRC to make their own rules, and for me, that’s the whole point.

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  • Now I have to devote some time to the other side of this.

    J, I am not attempting to advocate complete anarchy. I do agree with all of the rules that have been provided for the use of the Yellow Bikes. If these rules were not in place then the 700 Yellow Bikes would quickly become 700 peoples personal bikes instead of a useful public resource.

    You should wear something to cover your genitals and posterior when riding the bike.

    You should never hide the bike or even take it off of the road.

    You should never disguise a Yellow Bike. You should never do anything to a Yellow Bike that makes it difficult to transport, repair or maintain.

    But with any written rule/law/creed there are grey area situations that it is a good idea to discuss and clarify so that participants do not run afoul of themselves.

    The Yellow Bikes, much like rainbows, are for everyone. Do not be selfish or greedy with them. If this means that I have to become a champion of keeping them free of any embellishment, then I will. They are a gift, and should be accepted in the spirit they are provided so that they will be there to enjoy next time.

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  • Mama Dukes, it’s in there:

    “Want to get rid of your camps’ bikes on your way out of Burning Man? DON’T LEAVE THEM BEHIND. There is a common misunderstanding that by piling them up and leaving them for us to clean, you’re donating to our program. This is incorrect. We spend a whole lot of hours and sweat picking up these remaining bikes and then donate them to the Reno Bike Project. If you want to get rid of your bikes, we encourage you to consider donating to Reno Bike Project or some other community bike shop.”

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  • Year III, J – What a great discussion!!! Thank you.

    Year III, there are law enforcement professionals at Burning Man, and they do take reports of theft. As much as we would all prefer to live communally, this event still takes place in the USofA, and since ten different people might have ten different interpretations of the meaning and intent of property — the authorities do step in to regulate when these matters are brought to their attention. For better or for worse, that is actually what happens. Ideally, the Rangers have a chance to work with the situation first. But there are no event-wide concepts of property or possessions that are any different from what you experience in your home town. On an individual basis, ABSOLUTELY. But it will change from one interaction to the next.

    J – You’ve got a great point. The deal with community bikes is that, by riding them, you agree to participate in the experiment of shared property. That experiment comes with certain rules that are designed to ensure that the property stays shared. But if you don’t want to participate in that, you don’t have to use the bikes! Radical Self Reliance, right?

    As for decoration being theft. I have always struggled with that one, but I also know that the bike crew struggles (physically) to remove decorations. So that rule is probably more for their own health and sanity than for ours. And no, the populace is not well-informed about that, and it will probably keep happening for ever and ever and ever. But I think it’s reasonable for the bike crew to at least ask for that consideration, and by doing so I’m sure they’re saving themselves a little extra work!

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  • Maybe it might be a good idea to create a designated bike abandonment area. All bikes left in that area are free game, and any left post-event are picked up and taken to the Reno Bike Project.

    I realize this happens in effect anyhow, but this might ease some of the strain. Burners with capable transport could sign up to haul X number of these bikes to the Reno Bike Project.

    Not everyone would use the service, but it would be better than the wide spread bike moop that becomes apparent Monday morning.

    Burners with catastrophic bike issues might go into this corral, pick up an unloved-but-functional bike or parts.

    It could be the great Playa-Bike Graveyard & Resurrection center.

    All to often I hear stories about bikes in perfectly good condition left abandoned and in the other ear stories about burners completely bikeless.

    If people are going to abandon bikes anyhow, maybe a central receptacle would lessen the distance they have to be carried post event?

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  • “Anything you brought with, that some one else might be in possession of, is not considered theft within the city until post event. / If people do things to your art/property, it is said that this is not looked on as vandalism, but as personal expression and part of the communal nature of the event.”

    The truth is, the above just isn’t the truth.

    A minority of participants feel that anything they find is a “playa gift”. They take them because they didn’t bother to be self-reliant and it’s just a poor excuse for theft. Another minority feels that modifying art is free expression. It’s not. If you believe that my art, which I spent 3 years creating, would look better with 30 seconds of your sharpie modifications, build one just like mine (I’ll even give you the plans) and then improve it as you see fit.

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  • First off, you guys both make very valid points and i’m very happy to be apart of a community with so many intelligent opinionated people. All i’m saying is these things are pretty common sense, and that I believe in the community to make the choices that are fair and good for the community, but i could be putting too much faith in humanity. Also I realize now I should’ve probably considered them as more like “guidelines” than anything else. Like the people who bring us the bikes saying “hey please do this it’ll help us all” or whatever. So I’m sorry if i seemed like i was advocating people just do whatever and steal bikes I just think most people who know BRC would try not to let that happen. so anyways sorry i’m just rambling again, i’m sorry if i seemed like i was against that i”m just kinda against hard set rules in a place so free. :)

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  • Regarding thievery in BRC: Theft is theft, not performance art. Burners are more honest than most; I’d bet there is far less theft in BRC than in any other town of comparable size. But there’s 68,000 in the city this year, and all it takes is one. Anyone who says there is no theft at all is foolish.

    If you have something valuable stolen, do what you’d do at home: Report it to the police.¹ They will do what cops do but you have to realize, there are priorities. There might not be enough manpower to look for your red Huffy.

    ¹If it’s your stash that was stolen, don’t do that.

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  • This concept is great for Paris. I wish I could say the same for BRC.

    Unfortunately, I rarely see these where these green bikes are available for everyone’s use. but i have my own bike, so maybe I’m just not looking for them.

    When I do see these bikes, they are usually adorned with someone’s own personal stuff, or a lock — too bad.

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  • Any chance of someone setting up a spot to RETURN a lost bike? We sometimes have this happen at our camp (Carcass Wash) for whatever reason, and if no one comes back to collect it, someone else has to drag it off playa. Meanwhile, the real owner has no clue where it is, and gets a bad BM experience.
    The lost and found at INFO says they won’t take a lost bike until after the event – which is ridiculous. Most of the town is gone by then.

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  • I still don’t understand why they are called “Yellow Bikes” when they are Green? It can be confusing enough out there and then what about those poor colored blind peeps out there, they have no idea what color bike they are riding…

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  • Bikes and trash are abandoned everywhere on Playa. Noone is going to abandon anything in a designated area unless its a dumpster. Last year on wednesday, after almost everyone had left, I checked out many many abandoned bikes. No one was camped near them. All were seriously fucked up and barely or nonridable. They could have been repaired, but the average bike repair + parts = $50+, and abandoned cheap used bikes are never worth that much. People don’t dump good working bikes.
    Tons of bikes were also in racks at center camp cafe. Not sure if those were abandoned but I’d say probably. If youre going to leave it leave it there, at least its central.

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  • At 60 thousand attendees, not including the law, I can’t believe that more than a third of them reported cases of herpes at Burning Man last year ??!!??

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  • Please inform all people who might use 1 of these free,not carefree bike that all bikes are subject to corrosion,even in a short time,the chain will freeze up,start popping,without chain lube/oiling,so if there was a place to do so every other day,We wouldn’t find Yllow Bikes(&lots of others) disgarded with frozen chains,Lube the Chain Camp should be a prioty & the information published as such,piles of broken bikes could be avoided !

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  • Last year we had 3 flats. Bringing spere tubes saved our ride.
    And yes indeed
    Beloved Ezekiel
    I seeth thy bike
    Dark as the midnight night it was
    And a rider rideth on it
    In the distance

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  • Love the program. Thank you for your energy and levity.

    Simple rules that are easy to follow are nice to have. Ones that much of the community believe in make for a successful experiment. This yeah is gearing up to be the best traveled yet. I am so glad to be part of the ride.

    Abundance in all things. Yeah.

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  • Thanks Greengate…i think that 26000 herpes quote is ridiculous…makes a good point though. I should probably stay home…or maybe wear a space suit…fitting for this years theme.

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  • I LOVE his program and after losing three bikes on the Playa (and endured much hassle transporting them there) I vowed to never bring another and use the program. It may seem at first like there aren’t any around when you need one, as soon as you start depending on them, you gradually acquire the ability to spot them almost at will.
    I have found what I believe to be a great exception to the “no decorating” rule: As I ride around the playa on bike and I run across abandoned or lost “glowy things, I pick them up and try to find a way to temporarily attach them to the yellow bike to make them more visible at night, both when being ridden or parked. Usually I just put them in the spokes so they can be easily removed.
    It is my contention that as many bikes as possible remain somewhere close to the city so they can be reused the next year. I’m thinking a large multilevel structure of bike “lockers” be built on the work camp property and rent out the slots. You could even arrange to use another owners bike if they can’t make it .

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  • The drawback of picking something expensive is that though it grabs the attention of others for
    quite some time, people may never use it ttoo often or over and over again.
    Go for shoes in a pale peachy shadde to lengthen your legs woth matching acceseories to liven up a
    neutral oor loral dress for a stunning on-trend outfit.
    There are big and medium purses as well as sjall purses and clutches.

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