Today marked the first day that “Founding Members” of the CitiBike program could ride the bikes (everyone else has to wait a week). It was a day I had been looking forward to ever since hearing about the concept a little bit more than year ago. I brought a buddy along with me on a ride around Manhattan, and here are some of my thoughts.
Unlocking/Locking the Bike
This proved to be the most difficult part of the experience, but once you got it, you got it. I went to the nearest station and went to the kiosk. There were two other people there who were watching me and my confused look as I tried to figure out how to unlock the bike. The kiosk itself seemed straight forward for anyone wanting a daily or weekly pass but not for what I wanted. As a yearly member, I get a fob key that unlocks the bike. After trial and error, we all learned that the key (or credit card) goes directly into the docking station via a slot, not the kiosk, and that unlocks the bike. Great, mission accomplished. Now, how the heck do I remove the actually bike from the station bike. Without trying to break the thing, the man who was standing there (who acknowledged he wanted to see how it works) recommended lifting the seat up and pulling it back. Viola! That did it. Then I wanted to make sure I knew how to lock the bike. I kept jamming the bike back in like a neanderthal but it wasn’t locking. Then I noticed that the front tires on the other bikes were suspended in air, meaning I had to lift the front of the bike and slide it in. When I did so, it worked. I’m sure this is written somewhere on the website, but I must’ve glossed over it because I’m a guy and guys don’t read instructions. Once I knew how to unlock/lock the bike, away we went.
This thing is sturdy, but it had somewhat of a simple design. The handle bars are pretty standard - bell on the left (which I used a lot), and the gear switch on the right - brakes on both handles for front & rear tires. There are two sets of blinking lights. A white one in the very front, and two red blinking lights in the back. It’s pretty bright and noticeable during the day, but it’s meant for rides in the dark. The bike only has three gears, which should be enough based on Manhattan’s terrain. The first gear is for the steepest of hills, but when I shifted into it, I looked like a fool peddling in it. I stuck to 2nd or 3rd gear the entire time.
The friend I was biking with brought up a good point - maintenance. One bike I picked up had a dead front tire, and another only worked in 1st or 3rd gear. I suppose there will be a human maintenance, aside from members submitting bike reports. There’s a chain cover which will limit the threat of rust on those rainy days. I would imagine these bikes get checked every 3-4 months?
Smooth. Very, very smooth. I think because the bike is so sturdy that riding it was a good experience. Even on the cobble stone roads, it rode well, although you have to make sure you’re not sitting.
Since I’m a yearly member, I have unlimited use of the bike, as long as I dock it within 45 minutes. I traveled from 18th street and 1st avenue down past the South Street Seaport, around Battery Park City (got to see the Freedom Tower), up the West Side and then across 23rd street back to 18th and park — within that entire ride, I docked my bike twice.
I never had a bell on my bike before, but I’m glad these bikes came equipped with them. That being said, sometimes it felt like I didn’t really have one because several times I’d ring the bell and nobody would move. They’d half-way turnaround and keep walking. Seriously? You need to walk 4-by-4, let alone on the bike path meant for bikes? As I passed those folks, I couldn’t help but murmur things along the lines of, “Thanks for moving,” but not in those exact words, if you get my drift.
Stares and Glares
For the first minute of riding, I did feel like I was a walking advertisement for Citibank. After all, this bike is extremely branded with Citibank logos. I mean I get it… Citibank dropped $41 million for a 5 year sponsorship. However, after this first minute passed, that feeling went away. I’m almost certain it crossed my mind because I work in advertising, so my thought process is always a little skewed.
As I rode around, I definitely noticed the stares, and passing comments. All of them were in sheer curiosity, and excitement. When locking/unlocking bikes, folks did come up to me to ask me questions, and I shared whatever I knew. I did speak highly based off of my current experience, but I don’t think that’ll change at all. The entire thing did have this feeling that was probably felt when people first started to ride cars. I’ll admit, it did feel pretty darn elite to be one of the first Citibike riders.
A lot of people with whom I’ve talked to about this program share the same two concerns:
1. Drunken bike accidents
2. Increase of amateur riders on the road
These are very valid points, but in addition to promoting the program the folks at Citibike need to also promote the safety element of it just as much. It’s unfortunate, but while you can’t completely eliminate drunk driving, as an example, you can’t completely eliminate drunk riding (despite that sounding out right silly). NYC has spent a lot of money to make NYC very bike-friendly. This is just the next step in that evolution
As a side note - I did joke around with my buddy that had I received my Google Glass at this time (I’m a #GlassExplorer) I would’ve successfully reached of a very geeky milestone. Soon…
Overall, I’m very excited of this program, and proud to be a “Founding Member.” I sincerely hope it goes smoothly, but I know there will be some hiccups. I’m going to continue to be an avid supporter of this program, and may have already convinced some friends to be members, and hopefully more.
Update: I got an interesting response on Twitter.