Why Burning Man may start banning electric bikes

Electric bikes have proven to be a massively popular form of transportation for millions of Americans, but their use at Burning Man may soon end.

Electric bike use has been on the rise in the US, and it seems no area has been left untouched. Even Burning Man’s Black Rock City (BRC), the temporary city formed each year in the desert around 120 miles (200 km) north of Reno, has seen a massive influx of e-bikes in the last few years.

The Burning Man event has always been a heavily cycle-friendly festival, but that has usually meant pedal bikes swarming around BRC. As electric bikes surged in popularity in 2021 and 2022, Burning Man’s share of e-bikes has grown quickly as well.

E-bikes are an effective way to get around the sprawling BRC, but many event goers have watched with dismay as their numbers grow. As explained by Charlie Dolman, director of event operations at Burning Man:

After the 2022 Black Rock City event, participants sent Burning Man Project an overwhelming volume of feedback about how their fellow Burners were operating e-bikes.

Most of the feedback was negative, usually relating to how fast e-bike riders were traveling. There’s a hard 5 mph (8 km/h) speed limit in BRC that applies to anything with wheels. Cars are banned outside of staff vehicles and other approved vehicles such as moving art installations and “mutant vehicles,” but bikes and scooters are limited to 5 mph speed limits. E-bike riders, it seems, have often disregarded those speed limits.

Currently, BRC only allows Class 1 e-bikes, which don’t have a throttle but can easily reach up to 20 mph (32 km/h) with pedal assist. However, Class 2 e-bikes with throttles and Class 3 e-bikes that can reach 28 mph (45 km/h) are frequently seen as well.

Burning Man officials, while not outrightly against e-bikes, haven’t been overtly supportive of their use due to the potential for high-speed abuse. They point out that not only is going faster than 5 mph not allowed, but it also causes riders to miss much of the beauty and uniqueness of BRC. As Dolman explained:

Black Rock City is best discovered at a pace that lets the best-kept secrets and unplanned surprises of the city (and there are oh-so-many!) reveal themselves. If you go too fast, you miss many of our ephemeral city’s hidden wonders and surprise encounters: whimsical treasures of the backstreets, understated art, spontaneous new friendships, popup events, and parties with secret entrances.

Many of the Burning Man attendees have complained about riders going too fast on e-bikes while under the influence of cognitively impairing substances, creating a dangerous situation to those around them. Dolman added that many e-bike riders as well as pedestrians and cyclists were injured at the 2022 event because of e-bike speeds.

Dolman explained that Burning Man officials don’t want to have to outright ban electric bikes or require a fee to register them at the gate, but that such actions may become necessary if e-bike riding behavior doesn’t improve at this year’s event.

A list of four rules for operating e-bikes at Burning Man was shared:

  1. Keep speeds at or below the 5 mph limit — everywhere!
  2. Watch out for pedestrians and other cyclists — everywhere!
  3. Remember to stop, get off, and explore — everywhere!
  4. Respect and listen to those who raise concerns — all the time!

And as much as Burning Man officials don’t want to hand out punishments, e-bike riders have been put on notice:

Be forewarned: if you don’t abide by these basic guidelines, you may be pulled over by law enforcement or Black Rock Rangers, and your e-bike may get impounded.

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