Imagine a city of 60,000 where 90% of its residents ride bicycles to get around town. And it’s not in Denmark or Holland or Japan or China, but out in the wide-open desert of Nevada. The city’s web site is direct: “Black Rock City is designed for pedestrians and bicycles…Bikes are not merely a convenience, they are part of our culture.”
I’ve never visited Black Rock City, but my neighbor is headed there this weekend. Rachel’s bringing her “playa bikes”, immediately recognizable by those in the know as bikes embellished for Burning Man, an “annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert.”
What makes a bike a playa bike? First, they’re chosen for cruising the loose soil of playa, not speed. With an official speed limit for motorized vehicles (aka mutant vehicles) set at 5 miles per hour, greyhound-speed bike is not appropriate. Even if it didn’t get bogged down in the alkaline soil of Black Rock Desert’s dry lakebed, your mechanic would never forgive you for the wear and tear on your delicate road or mountain bike.
And despite the virtuous mission of Burning Man, bike theft is an issue. It’s no surprise that while Rachel and her friend head out for dinner without lights, she carries a strong lock. Even in a city where no one sells anything and everyone gives and receives freely, hand painted bikes are too tempting to leave unsecured.
What does your vision of bike-topia look like? How close does where you live come to it?