For years Burning Man has had an issue with people leaving behind their bicycles. Festival-goers typically use bicycles, which they elaborately decorate, to get around the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
But despite an event guideline asking people to clean up after themselves, one of the 10 principles of Burning Man, thousands of bicycles are left at the event every year to gather dust. With this in mind, the festival works with local charities to donate the perfectly useable bikes. However, this year there were so many bicycles that the charities couldn’t take them all.
Following the cleanup of Burning Man, photos of the dusty bicycles began to show up on social media. While some became outraged at the estimated 5,000 bikes that were left behind, one woman decided to take action.
Nearly 5,000 bicycles were abandoned at Burning Man.
When Meg Kiihne saw a photo of thousands of bicycles needing a new life, she realized that those who had recently been affected by the deadly hurricanes could benefit from them.
In 2009 Kiihne moved to Turks and Caicos, where according to Winona Daily News she opened up a bike shop and helped create the first paved bike path, a bicycle police force, and a national bike federation.
“I always knew there was this dream of getting more bikes and bike business to Turks and Caicos,” she told Winona Daily News.
Kiihne knew that many of the people she met while living in Turks and Caicos could benefit from a bicycle. Many citizens of the islands have lost everything due to recent hurricanes, and something as simple as a bicycle could help them immensely.
“Bikes can enable somebody who may have lost their home and staying with a friend, they can get to their job at a resort so they can continue to make money to help rebuild their home… they can get around on a bike and get to food,” Kiihne told the BBC.
Burning Man officials asked people to pick up the bicycles or else they’d be recycled.
Kiihne rushed to Black Rock Desert to pick up as many bikes as she could. By the time she reached the desert, the majority of the bicycles had already been picked up, but she was able to salvage 110 bicycles.
“The tire pressure was fine, but there was so much dust on them,” Kiihne told Winona Daily News. “You would drop the bikes and a bunch of dust flew off.”
Just checking tire pressure. Still good! (Getting a solid playa dust bath at the same time!). Thanks for all the support on @gofundme and from @burningman staff to collect and repurpose these bikes to regions in the Caribbean affected by #hurricaneirma please follow us on CaribbeanBikes.com as our project evolves and expands! #bethechange #ilovebikes #burningmanbikes #focusforward #islandbikeblond #turksandcaicos #donatedontdumpbikes 📸 @madonacasini
It took Kiihne and other volunteers two days to give the bicycles adorned in “fur, lights, and horns” a thorough cleaning.
Once they were cleaned, it was time for Kiihne to work with her connections to find a way to get the bikes from their storage location in Reno, Nevada to communities in the Caribbean.
Kiihne collected 110 bikes and spent two days scrubbing them clean.
After seeing the potential success of salvaging the bicycles, Kiihne, who set up a GoFundMe account to raise the funds needed to ship the bicycles, plans to work with Burning Man in the future.
While the bicycles from this year’s festival will go to help victims of the hurricanes, she doesn’t necessarily believe what she is doing should be considered a relief effort.
Deep in a 26" @gouhaul unloading these dusty girls to give them a solid clean and tune up before they head to their new homes in #turksandcaicos a country hit hard by #hurricaneirma I'm not happy with so many people abandoning their bikes after @burningman but I'm also grateful we can begin a long term mission of getting more people mobile in countries with so many live with so little. #focusforward #ilovebikes #caribbeanbikes #itonlytakesone #playadusteverywhere photo: 📸@casabonitadr
“Also this is not what I consider a ‘relief’ effort as much as a ‘rebuilding’ effort with a vision of moving all communities toward more eco friendly, sustainable modes of transportation and living,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page.
So far she has raised over $6,000.