Contraptor, metalworker, global activist, steampunk... specializing in pedal-power.

Using steel, wheels, and sewing, I rend Victorian æsthetics into a Mad-Max setting with a rigorous use of found and recycled materials.

Burning Man 2009

Photo by Mark Watson:

Prior to the start of the event, this was the first year where the bike crew had distributed all leftover Burning Man bikes to charity: To the Reno Kiwanis, to the Reno Bike Project, and others. Burning Man likes the idea of shipping some to my African bike project but I would need to raise the funding for the shipping. A shipping container of only costs $4-6,000 to ship to Ghana, but transporting the bikes out of the desert will be expensive as well.

Maintaining and deploying 1000 yellow bikes has become a smooth operation. I was able to get in some time in the metal shop, which may have the world's widest selection of odd metalworking jobs. Among other things I was able to work on this:

...and work on a memorial metal book cover for Tom Kennedy. This was also the first year I worked on the Man itself, on the massive brackets that fit the 4' X 2' wooden sections in its base:

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Burning Man 2008

This year the bike crew at Burning Man faced a new challenge: Assemble and paint 400 bikes, repair the existing fleet of 600, and distribute them all in addition to dealing with the abandonment of another 1100 bicycles in the Black Rock Desert. I worked in the metal shop before the event and managed the fleet repair and cleanup crews.

We think the continued presence of community bikes accounts for the 400-bike drop in abandonments this year. Approximately a container's worth of bikes were dontated to the Reno Kiwanis Club, with another container set aside for my Ghana project. Fundraising continues for that shipment- we've got what we need to drop a container but not the shipping fee.

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Burning Man 2007

A "yellow bike" program is something that townships do to provide bicycles to their citizens. The bikes are provided by the town and painted a distinctive color. People can use them to get around town and are supposed to leave them on public racks when they are done.

If the saturation of bicycles is high enough, theft goes down because the bike has essentially no value. Towns like Austin, Texas that have tried these programs have found a little attrition (usually kids throwing them in the river) but the real challenge is the long-term maintenance of the fleet.

At Burning Man 2006 the bicycle crew had managed to paint and assemble about 200 bikes for the citizens of Black Rock City to use. The organization's eventual goal is a saturation of 10 per cent. In theory, you only use a bike far less than ten percent of the day, so that many bikes should be plenty.

For the 2007 event, an attendee wanted to fund the program so that he himself could take advantage of it. He purchased 1000 Huffy bicycles for the festival, which we painted a distinct green and assembled. We deployed them on the event grounds and recovered them afterwards.

This is a Leave No Trace event, so we also recovered approximately 1500 bicycles that were left on-site. These went again to the Paiute tribe and the Kiwanis of Reno.

As our program grows, so has our maintenance requirement. At the 2008 event I will manage a crew for maintaining the existing, assembled fleet.

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Bike Club

Since 2004 I've lived in the gang-ridden Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. It was only natural that neighborhood kids would come around to have their bikes fixed, and so before long I had a regular event on my hands. We called it "bike club" and we'd teach kids how to fix bikes, build up bikes with them to give out, and weld custom bikes that they had designed.

While my job has me traveling a lot more these days, I still fix up and give out as many bikes as I can, and can't stay in one place for long before every neighborhood kid knows my name. Eventually I'll grow my Ghana project enough that I can fund an arm of it in the U.S. inner city where it is equally, desperately needed.

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Burning Man 2006

In 2006, the Reno chapter of the Black Label Bike Club was given control of the Burning Man Festival's bicycle management. The festival faced a formidable problem: 1500 bicycles left in the desert each year by festival-goers at a no-trace event. The BLBC wanted to use some of them to seed a yellow bike program, but needed someone to deal with the overflow. They knew of my experience shipping bikes to Africa and brought me to the desert.

Before the event I worked shade crew, constructing shade for the event infrastructure. Afterwards we distributed the bikes between the local Kiwanis and the Paiute Indian tribe. Thus began my cherished position on the Black Rock City Department of Public Works, where I pick up and distribute bicycles each summer in August and September. Living and working in that harsh environment is the hardest, and most rewarding, thing I've ever done.

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NPR's Worldview Global Activism Series

NPR's Worldview program focuses each Thursday on global activists. One week their theme was "oil dependency" and so they brought me in to talk about my efforts in getting bicycles and cargo bikes to Ghana.

Listen Here- NPR Worldview Global Activism Series August 2005

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In 2003 I met Dr. Osei Darkwa of Patriensa, Ghana; he and I discussed cargo bike designs. He invited me to spend 6 months there starting up a school for welding, bike mechanics, and cargo bike design. The center imports donated bikes from the first world (both taking them out of the wastestream and conserving the energy of their manufacture) and modifies them for bush cargo use. As a hobby I fundraise to send bicycles and volunteers to the center.

For more information:

NPR's Worldview Global Activism piece on the project

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