Citibike – first rides

My Citibike key fob finally arrived last week, and I’ve got three days of riding under my belt.  I feel great about it, and also had a few first impressions that I didn’t expect.  So, in no particular order, some first observations, especially for those of you thinking about becoming Citi-bikers.

  • I’m wearing a helmet.  You should wear a helmet.  Everyone should.  It’s just too much to be riding through traffic without it.
  • Getting from inside Grand Central Station to work in Chelsea takes between 14 and 18 minutes, riding at a good clip.  The subway takes longer and has more variability, so my benchmark is 25 minutes.  That feels like a pretty significant improvement.

    NYC bike lanes
    Map of bike lanes in NYC (click for interactive map)
  • I’m very comfortable on a bike, but even so in midtown it feels busy with a lot of traffic and obstacles.  If you’re not confident on a bike/in traffic, you probably don’t want to be commuting during rush hour anywhere between 30th and 43rd street in Manhatten.
  • The new bike lanes are amazing.  I really had no idea how ubiquitous they were and what a big change they are in Manhattan’s landscape.  It’s significant, large-scale work that I bet has gone mostly unnoticed compared to its scope.
  • At least on the route that I’m going, hills are basically inconsequential.
  • It’s been in the upper 80s and lower 90s when I’ve been riding and it was still workable.  I’m no more hot and sweaty than I get when I walk/take the subway.
  • The racks are everywhere and the system to get bikes in/out of them is flawless and very quick.  Little red lights tell you when there’s a problem with a bike or a rack.  So far these are minimal.
  • The bike is a big clunker but that doesn’t matter much.  The three gears work well and give you decent range, though limiting your speed.  The chain is protected and the handlebar rack for your bag is good, though the bungee cord is a bit too tight.
  • The Citibike iPhone app itself crashes a lot for me.  I’m using BikeShare instead, which is more stable and works well (and is free).
  • You end up seeing and experiencing a lot more of the city this way.  On the subway (or a taxi) I experience two blocks of the city even though I’m covering two miles.  That’s a really nice plus.
  • Availability plummets after 9AM (I’ve experienced it, and it was just reported this morning on WNYC).  That said, I (and the commuter profiled in the WNYC post) only had to walk two blocks to get a bike, which is trivial.  As Citibike gets more popular I wonder if availability is going to become an issue.  I also wonder about how bike maintenance is going to be handled over time.  Both are good issues to have, because they mean that Citibike is working.

All in all, I’m a big fan and think it’s pretty incredible.  Yes it’s a bit of a grimy way to get through the city if you’re covering more than two miles, as I am.  But it’s so easy, works well, saves me $5 a day, saves me time, and I’ve discovered that rushing a bit on a bike is less harrowing than running for the subway (not that I ever run for the subway).

Given how compact Manhattan is, it’s really perfect for Citibike.    That probably explains some of the numbers: 200,000 trips/week as of the end of June, more than 2 million miles already traveled, and an estimated 50 million calories burned by riders (the equivalent of 52,000 pints of Ben and Jerry’s).

Speaking of which, maybe I should get myself an ice cream.

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