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The Burner Bike: DIY Tips from Playa Pros

Love it or hate it, it’s Burning Man season, which means our fair city is about to be flooded with everything Playa-bound: the people, the fur, the rented RV’s. And while much of the Burners are prepping their art cars and modified pop-up vans, a fair share of hardcore Playa folk are putting the finishing touches on another form of desert transit: The Burner Bike. From the slice and dice choppers to the glitter-covered top tubes, we bring you portraits of four long-time local Burners, their favorite desert bikes, and their tips on how to Playafy your ride. 

EDDIE VALTIERRA (14 years at Burning Man)

(photo by Molly DeCoudreaux)

Origin of bike: Two years ago my Burning Man bike's pedal fell off and was beyond repair. Thankfully, a girl who had come to Burning Man from the UK and could not take it home, gifted me her bike. 

Accessories: Last year I spent hours bedazzling my bike and adding pink faux fur. The only new additions this year are the cupcake antennas. 

Advice for last minute bike builders: Decorate your bike because you can easily recognize it and lessen the chance of it getting stolen or accidentally taken. 

Tips for riding on the Playa: Always have lights on at night and watch out for grooves of loose playa dust.

Most important in a Burner bike: Comfort, style, and a nice basket!

 

TORSTEN HASSELMANN (12 years at Burning Man)

Origin of bike: I built and welded it and myself out of the town dump when I lived in Wyoming. Among other things the handlebars used to be a shopping cart frame.

Accessories: Minimal, just the bike here, though I used to enjoy EL (electroluminescent) wire so I put some on the bars for lighting back in 2004 and still use it to not get run over.

Advice for last minute bike builders: Start earlier next time and make it fun for everybody.

Tips for riding on the Playa: Keep it upright.

Most important in a Burner bike: Hopefully it’s not just fun for you, but brightens other peoples’ experience as well.

 

TOBY SANDERSON  (8 years at Burning Man)

Origin of bike: I built it from an old mountain bike, some scrap steel tubing, a few old bike parts, a lot of spray paint and a plenty of hammering, grinding, welding, blood, burns and cursing.  

Accessories: It has fire instead of headlights. You can turn them from flickering candles to flame-throwers. The flames also come out the ends of the handlebars, though I've singed myself a couple of times with that feature. I was recovering from a bad bike accident two months prior to last year’s burn, so I installed training wheels to stop me from falling off.  

Advice for last minute bike builders: If you're actually building a mutant bike, build it so it's rideable…and I wouldn't recommend setting fire to your bike for the first few years. 

Tips for riding on the Playa: Ensure your bike is well lubricated and works properly before heading to Playa. Bring a lock if you're really attached to it (Take it back home with you even if you're not). 

Most important in a Burning Man bike: Have one. They're the best way of getting around unless you've got your own art car. For many burners it's a great way of starting working on an art/radical self expression project of their own.

 

STEVEN T. JONES  (9 years at Burning Man)

Origin of bike: I made it from a used mountain bike, initially modifying it for Burning Man 2004 and adding little touches to it since then, such as the high handlebars and changing out the dusty fake fur on my basket every year. My latest fur design is my favorite by far. 

Accessories: It's painted with a thick acrylic paint called 3D Paint that looks a little like stucco. The basket on back, which I just changed out to get more trunk space, is covered in tri-color fake fur -- hung against the grain, so the long pieces flutter in the wind -- and laced with electro-luminescent wire for lighting. 

Advice for last minute bike builders: Form and function are equally important in building a Burner bike. A basket is very important and high handlebars make for a more comfortable ride. And beyond that, sass it up good! Anything goes and creativity is important, so hit some art supply or toy stores and get some ideas. 

Tips for riding on the Playa: If you hit soft patches, just keep going straight and pedal through it. Riding on the playa is pure joy, and this year—with a wet winter leading to a hard-packed playa—the conditions should be ideal. 

Kristin Smith writes on biking in San Francisco (and beyond) weekly for 7x7.com.