The Citi Bike bike sharing program is up and running in New York City, and those blue Citibank logo-ed bikes have taken over the city streets (and sidewalks). Bicycle commuting is becoming increasingly popular in major US cities, and it’s great to see that NYC has jumped in on the healthy and eco-friendly transportation kick. While I myself am an avid subway rider, I wanted to give the bikes and the sharing system a try. There has been much written about the program, pros and cons, and I thought I would interesting test it out and share my experience.
Firstly, let me talk about the bikes. At Style Of Sport, while technical performance is the starting point for anything we feature, the style is what we love the most. I did a story a couple of weeks ago titled The Urban(e) Cyclist, all about the chic and distinctive style that has evolved with the popularity of city commuter cycling. My first exposure to a bike sharing program was in Paris. Their simple gray bikes that blend harmoniously with the Parisien scenery is a preferred look for me, but this is New York, where the taxis are bright yellow and now our bikes are bright blue. While I am appreciative Citibank’s sponsorship of this program, I wish the branding was toned down a bit, so we didn’t feel like we were riding around doing free advertising, especially given all the beautiful bikes there are to buy.
So with a few errands to run downtown today, I thought this would be a great opportunity to take the Citi Bikes for a ride. I logged on www.citibikenyc.com to see what I needed to do to get started and found out day passes were available for $9.95 at any kiosk stand. I downloaded the Citi Bike app so I would have a map of all the bike stations handy on my phone. I live on the upper east side of Manhattan and there no stations above 59th st, so I had to subway it down to begin my journey. With a stop at Rizzoli on 57th, I headed over to the Citi Bike station at 56th and 6th.
Excited to begin my ride, I followed the instructions at the kiosk, but the system wouldn’t process my credit card and kept timing out. Another person on line gave his a try, but experienced the same problem. I have been hearing about these technical issues and glitches, and was now experiencing them right off the bat. Determined to persevere, I checked my app map and found there was another station just a few blocks down on 52nd st. But alas, a similar problem… the kiosk wasn’t able to read my card or anyone else’s on line. A guy docking his bike told us the system was down.
Again, determined to persevere or now at least get a good story, I hoofed it down to the next station, thinking however, if I had actually needed to be someplace on time today and was relying on these bikes, I would have abandoned this mode of transportation back on 56th st. I decided to give the system a little time to reboot and meandered over to the station on 49th and Fifth. Success… the system was working! I now had my code to unlock my bike and but found myself searching for the “keypad” to type it into. Now when I think “keypad”, I envision the one that is on our phones… not three tiny vertical dots, that look more like the reset button on the side of the phone. Luckily a tourist was there to help me out… nothing like a native New Yorker having rely on an out-of-towner to show her the ropes in her home town.
Finally I was on my way, riding down 7th Ave through Times Square in the middle of mid-afternoon traffic. Where were all those bike lanes everyone has been complaining about? As I said, I am a native New Yorker, and know better than to assume a taxi is going to stop just because they see me coming. I can’t help but wonder, however, how many accidents there will be when others naively assume the opposite. I must admit I was not wearing a helmet, and decided this better be my first stop, especially as we have featured so many cute ones on Style Of Sport!
I had 30 minutes to get to my destination before the bike had to be returned. Those with annual memberships have 45 minutes per ride. If you go over, you are charged extra starting at $4 for the first 30 minutes you are late. Now mind you these bikes are not designed for speed, which is probably better for safety reasons. They are heavy clunkers, with 3 speeds only, but I made it to the stand on 20th and 7th with time to spare. I docked the bike and was relieved to have none of the problems I had heard about when trying to return them. I popped into Sids Bikes on 19th and bought the very Penelope Pitstop looking brimmed Giro Reverb as seen on Style of Sport! Looking very stylish, I picked up a new bike on 18th and Fifth, and continued cruising downtown to meet some friends for a coffee.
So after some initial glitchyness with the bikes, it all went pretty well. They are gaining in popularity and people seem to be forgiving of early days issues. After chatting with friends I ran into, I was late to return the bike so I guess the whole journey ended up costing me around $15 + 2 x $2.50 for the subway rides, which is the price of a cheap cab ride these days. I would probably use the bikes again, more for fun than transportation, but either way, if the technical issues get resolved and helmets are made mandatory not optional, I would say share the ride and pedal on!
SIX MONTHS LATER… THE CITI BIKE UPDATE