What is Citibike, you ask? It's a bike share program, similar to those in other cities across the country and around the world. Basically you rent a bike for a short period of time/short distance and return it to any other dock (not necessarily the same one). I describe it as a supplement to the public transit system we already have in place. These are not all-day rentals for tourists who want to ride around the park, and they are not meant for long distance trips (more on that later). They are simply, the way I see it, to go short distances. For me, I envision them as replacing things like a long walk or a bus ride if I happen to not have my own bike for whatever reason.
Now, Citibike was supposed to launch LAST spring, then it was pushed to summer, then pushed further out. Then there were problems with the software which delayed the launch again and finally - to add insult to injury - Hurricane Sandy wiped out half the fleet of bikes. Because of that, less bikes and less stations ready for installation, but with over 6000 bikes and 300+ stations they planned to install them in Manhattan from 59th St and down, and a few in Brooklyn (none in Greenpoint... yet). (The entire station map is here)
Earlier this year we were told it would launch this May. But with all those delays I doubted I would really ever see the day it would happen. Then, on April 15, annual memberships became available. I immediately signed up.
Just to explain the memberships, there is an annual membership, which I bought. It's $95 (+tax) for the year. That entitles you to unlimited rides up to 45 minutes long.
Then there is a 24 hour pass, which will cost you $9.95. Or a 7 day pass which is $25. (full details on pricing are here) Both of those plans give you unlimited rides up to 30 minutes at a time. (Note: if you are low on time but still need to ride, just dock it and take out another one!)
For me, the annual membership makes sense because as long as I rent a bike at least 50 times, I've more than made up for the cost that I'd spend on the bus or subway for the same number of trips.
A new launch date was finally set: Monday, May 27th. And last week my key arrived! (*note: after you receive your key you must activate it online before attempting to use it at the kiosks)
Today I had no plans other than riding. I had to wear something blue to match the bike (for photos, naturally)
I knew where I wanted to start out - in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at the dock on South 2nd St off Wythe. I love this street & view! There's the Williamsburg Bridge in the background.
I put my key in to release the bike from the dock
While curious people looked on, I adjusted the seat and jumped on for my first ride!
|A moment later, riding on Wythe|
|Headed to the bridge on South 5th St|
On my way to the bridge who should I run into but Dmitry (my photographer & official photographer of #BikeNYC). He was on his way to City Hall for the Mayor's press conference for bike share. We rode up the bridge together and I asked him to get a photo of me when we got to the top. Fortunately he was early and had time to do that for me.
|after an exhaustive climb up the ramp|
Dmitry grabbed a shot of me for my Instagram -
and one for his own Instagram -
|Dmitry shot this - he saw me on my approach to the bridge from the Brooklyn side|
Impressions from my first mile, including the ramp up the Willie B from Brooklyn?
OH MY EFFING GOD! THIS BIKE IS SO HARD TO PEDAL!!! First off, it's fairly heavy - 45 pounds - but my Hello Kitty bike is 50 and I often have stuff in the baskets making it closer to 60. Citibike has 3 gears. HK is single speed. Yet, HK is infinitely easier to ride up the bridge. It seems Citibike is really not made for steep hills - I was pedaling furiously and felt like I was going nowhere (which is one reason I would not want to use this on a long trip!) but after a lot of effort, I got the job done...
After that, Dmitry headed to City Hall and I was on my way to Union Square -
|basic reminders on bike rules in NYC|
I made it to my destination and docked her at Union Square
After doing my errands, I returned to Union Square and took out a new bike. I headed down Broadway -
|Passing another CitiBike station|
As I waited for a light I noticed this time my bike had Spanish instructions!
|every bike has a bungee in the front to carry up to 17 pounds worth of stuff. very handy!|
Nearly every other CitiBike station I passed had curious onlookers.
|Suffolk & Stanton|
This was my first time returning to Brooklyn over the Willie B on a CitiBike
|at least this time I knew what I was in for!|
|Tried to get my favorite shot but missed it|
Just about at the top on the Manhattan side...
I made my way back to Williamsburg to return the Citibike to a dock and unlock Isabella. As much as I enjoyed my adventure on CitiBike, boy was I glad to see her!!
Here are my initial impressions from my first ride:
- The gears: There are 3 gears and they are set in such a way that even in high gear you are pedaling your ass off. I estimated having to pedal about twice as much as usual to go the same distance (I came to that number because I know how many times I have to pedal to get from Delancey to the top of the Willie B on Isabella: 100 But with the Citibike, that same distance caused me to pedal 195 times)
- First Gear: You will never, ever have a reason to use this gear. Trust me. And if you go into it accidentally, you will find you can't pedal fast enough to keep up with it. For the most part, you'll use gear 2 and if it's flat road/downhill, gear 3 (see below).
- Third Gear: even on flat road, in this highest gear, you are not going to be able to go very fast. It's not because of the weight of the bike, it's because you have to pedal so much! I could barely make it to green lights that normally I would have no problem making in time.
- Hand brakes: Oh dear god, it will take me a very long time to get used to a (right) rear hand brake. It took me months to get used to the left (front) handbrake on Isabella. If you're used to them, this shouldn't be a factor.
- No coaster brake: Again, for most of you, this will not be an issue but I'm used to pushing backwards on my pedal and stopping. I don't like that when I push backwards, the pedal keeps going back and around. It's very disorienting!
- The seat: It's very comfortable. That seat might be more comfortable than either of my own cruiser seats.
- Storage: The bungee cord in the front is super tight and great for carrying your stuff.
- Illumination: I love that the lights are activated simply my moving the pedals. This is genius.
- Docking & Undocking: Getting the bike out of the dock can be tricky if you don't know what you're doing. I got it on the 2nd try. After swiping your credit card or using your key, wait for the yellow light. About 5 seconds later, the light will turn green. At that time, you have to lift it by the seat to slide it out. Returning it is similar - line up the front thing in the slot, wait for it to turn yellow and then green. (I was nervous about re-docking it, not sure if I did it correctly. I kept checking and rechecking that it was securely back in place - I don't need to get charged $1000 for an unreturned CitiBike!)
- Turning: You know that expression "turns on a dime"? No one will ever use it to describe turning on a Citibike. You have a much larger turning radius than you will expect - It takes a lot more room to turn. This was especially noted trying to get onto the Willie B from South 5th St via that very sharp turn.
- The ride: They ride very smooth and feel very sturdy - even over cracks & bumps and cobblestone.
- The App: I love the app! It shows where all the stations are and has a timer you can activate so you are alerted when you're running out of time (you don't want to pay the overtime fees!) Again, if your time is nearly up but you have more riding to do, just dock your bike and take out another one to avoid the fees. (note: the station locator wasn't working today but I'm sure it will be online soon)
In summary, I'm thrilled to welcome CitiBike to NYC and think it's a great addition to our public transportation infrastructure. I would definitely recommend it. And it looks like there's currently a $15 discount off the annual membership, which means you can get a year's worth of 45 minute rides for $80 instead of the full priced $95. That's a great deal!
If you aren't sure about riding in the city, or want to know more about CitiBike, attend one of their classes. I went to the one at Bicycle Habitat on Lafayette and can tell you from firsthand experience that not only are they full of great information (especially for new street riders) but you'll get a pass to try CitiBike free for a full day!
Now that I'm recovered from that initial ride, I'm ready to do some more. See you out there on a blue bike!