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Who Wants to Bike to Burning Man with Us?

Hey Makers! Let's Lower Carbon Emissions by Riding Our Solar-Powered Cross-Country Bicycles to Burning Man This Year.

by Laurence Clarkberg

If you've been reading this blog, you know that Judy and I are big fans of Burning Man, the world's biggest consciousness-raising event held every year at Black Rock City in the desert near Reno Nevada. One area of Burning Man that has a lot of room for improvement is lowering the carbon footprint of the event. Some thoughtful approaches to this are described in the Burning Man Project 2020 Environmental Sustainability Report. That paper notes that car and plane travel to and from the event accounts for over 90% of the event's carbon footprint. But, incredibly, that paper does not suggest any alternatives to driving or flying to Black Rock City. There is an obvious alternative: let's encourage people to arrive by bicycle. Judy and I plan to arrive at Burning Man by bicycle this year, and we encourage others to join us. Here's a bit about our plans.  

This graph is from 2006; current estimate is 100,000 tons carbon emissions and 91% of it from participant travel to and from the event,

One great way to make a low-carbon long-distance trip is to bring a bike on the train. Judy and I did that in 2022. We got to Burning Man by bringing our folding ebikes to Reno on Amtrak. We used them to visit friends and family along the way, and we also used them to get around at the event. At the event we even had a small solar panel for recharging the ebike batteries without emitting carbon. However, we weren't completely low carbon. We were daunted by the dangerous last stretch of road from Reno to Black Rock City, so we rented a car to travel that last 125 miles to and from the event. This year we plan to do better.

At Union Station in Chicago.

Charging our folding ebikes at Burning Man.
Judy at Burning Man 2022.

This year in 2024 we plan to bike as far as we can from upstate New York to BRC while camping out along the way. For that we'll need a large bike capable of carrying our food and shelter. A two-seater makes it more fun so we can chat along the way. And add in a couple of ebike motors to help us get up the hills. And lastly add a couple of solar panels to recharge the batteries for the ebike motors, and bring along an inverter and an induction hot plate to cook our meals. What would that look like? What you end up with is the Sun Pony, a solar-powered cross-country tandem trike that we've developed for just this purpose of getting from New York to Nevada. (I should note that we've also arranged for a friend who is bringing an art car by truck and trailer to serve as our emergency sag wagon, and to carry our supply of water from Reno.) We are inviting other makers to join us in their own solar-powered vehicles, such as those created for the well-established European cross-country Sun Trip. (And we also welcome travelers on regular touring bikes to join us.) It's going to be an epic journey! Interested? See how simple it is to equip your ebike with solar panels in this Primer on Solar Ebike Systems. And feel free to contact us for help by scrolling to the bottom of this page and filling out the form there.

The Sun Pony.

We plan to travel as much of our route as possible on rail trails: bike-and-pedestrian-only paths that are often extremely scenic. This is a great way to travel. The Rails to Trails Conservancy is developing a Great American Rail Trail across the United States that is over 50% completed. We plan to take the 60-mile Pine Creek Trail south from New York into Pennsylvania, visit family in Pittsburgh, and then head along the Great American Rail Trail as far west as Richmond Indiana. At that point, after visiting with family there, we plan to join with our friends driving our truck and trailer to Burning Man. We'll need to leave the Great American Rail Trail to head farther south. Part of the time we'll carry the Sun Pony in the trailer, and part of the time we'll set it down and bike, as our schedule allows. Lastly, we are organizing a group of bike riders to bike together for the last 125 miles from Reno to Black Rock City.

We're concerned about safely traversing the stretch of roads from Reno to Black Rock City, and safely getting to the gate. In past years we've experienced a lot of very aggressive drivers on the road to BRC, combined with a two-lane road that has blind curves and no shoulder. And at the gate we've seen how the massive number of large vehicles kicking up dust can create white-out conditions that make it hard for motorists to see where they are going. How can we make this final stretch safer for bicyclists? My current plan is to organize as large a group of bicycle riders as possible to travel together. We should travel on a road and on a day and time with the least amount of traffic. And we can have someone drive a sag wagon at the rear of the group with caution signage and hazard lights on. We'll have to have the sag wagons carry the water we'll need at the event. (Burning Man recommends bringing 1.5 gallons of water per person per day, and the event is seven days long, so Judy and I will need 21 gallons of water. That's more than we can easily carry on the Sun Pony.) We'll have to find a place to camp out along the way. And I am also asking Burning Man to provide a way for us to get to the gate that doesn't require waiting in line with the dusty cars.

Once inside the event, we plan to transform the Sun Pony into a work of art, what Burners call a "mutant vehicle". We'll also use the Sun Pony to get around the event, and for camp tasks such as making the daily trip to get bags of ice for the camp.

I envision that what we accomplish this summer has the potential to grow into a national movement. I see traveling cross-country by solar-powered ebikes becoming a positive alternative to other kinds of climate action, such as simply blocking the road, that we saw at Burning Man on national news media last year. And I see Burner makers putting the same spirit of innovation that they bring to their art bikes into their solar bikes, and becoming celebrated for pioneering cross-country solar-powered transportation. 


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