While abandoned bicycles at Burning Man, an annual weeklong counterculture event in the Nevada Black Rock Desert, is a normal – if undesired – occurrence, event organizers said this year 3,000 to 4,000 bikes were left and given to charitable groups.
Burning Man draws 70,000 attendees, including 15,000 people living outside of the United States, according to the group’s 2016 census data. Having a bike at Burning Man is essential equipment, with attendees riding multiple miles daily across the vast temporary city.
“We communicate with participants in advance of the event that leftover bikes are MOOP (Matter Out of Place), and tell them it’s their responsibility to take care of their bikes after the event ends,” said Jim Graham, a spokesman for Burning Man Project, the nonprofit that organizes the late-summer event.
Many attendees – foreign and otherwise – buy inexpensive bikes specifically for Burning Man. In 2016, some 39 percent of attendees were there for the first time. Leaving no trace is one of the event’s key principles.
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“Every year, participants leave bikes behind – on the order of 1,000 to 2,000 – which we make available to local charitable organizations like the Reno Bike Project and the Kiwanis,” Graham said.
In response to the flood of abandoned bikes, Graham said they put out the call hoping others would step forward and take some of the bikes.
“We received more than 80 inquiries over two days, and all usable bikes were taken. Broken and otherwise unrepairable bikes have been sent to a recycler,” Graham said. “The inquiries came from charitable groups and nonprofit organizations across the country.”
Local burners (a term referring to Burning Man participants) say the abandoned bikes are a sign all is not healthy within the community.
“Abandoned bikes perfectly illustrate the throw-away lives of privileged (Burning Man) consumers, but they’re also a great source of fixer-uppers for the rest of us if we have space for them,” said Don Teeter, a frequent attendee.
Some speculated that their bikes may have ended up abandoned after being stolen or borrowed by another attendee.
“I got a great bike at the Sacramento Bike Kitchen that I was going to donate back, but my bike got stolen from my camp in the first few days. I’m hoping someone took it back out with them, but I have no clue,” said Karin Johnson, a first-time attendee.
Sacramento attendee Jennifer Brown said while packing up her camp, numerous bikes were being left at nearby portable toilets.
“It was like because one person left a bike it was OK for others to do the same. The numbers just kept growing and, sadly, we had no room to take them and feared we would be accused of stealing if we did,” said Brown, who attended for her fourth time this summer.
The Burning Man organization will keep studying the problem, including why it was worse this year, and is looking forward to discussing possible solutions, Graham said.