In July, New York City will add its name to the many cities that have public bicycle programs. The Citi Bike program will feature 10K bikes in 600 docking stations around the city, making it the largest such program in the US (the name comes from Citibank, who gave $41M in sponsorship money).
You can either rent bikes by the day, week or sign up for a yearly membership; prices are $10, $25 and $95 respectively. With the yearly, you receive unlimited sub-45 minute rides with nominal charges when that time is exceeded.
Programs like this have been going on for years across the US and the world. Paris has 20K public bikes, London 9K, Montreal 5K, Washington DC 1500 and Hangzhou, China has a whopping 60K+.
Public bikes are ideal for city-dwellers who need to get somewhere quick. The bikes’ upright position and grease-less configuration make them business-attire compatible. They also cover the spaces not covered by public transport. Most importantly, they make biking more accessible and acceptable to larger swaths of the population. They are, as Treehugger puts it, “cycling’s gateway drug”–once you start, you can’t stop.
New York Magazine’s Chris Cohen test rode the new Citi Bikes. The verdict: Un-chic, but surprisingly pleasant.
I rode around in circles for a while, feeling like I should be wearing a rainbow wig and oversize red shoes, but I must confess I was quickly charmed by the ride. I was riding bike number 00001, which would probably be worth a fortune someday if I somehow managed to steal it. But the Citi Bikes are heavy beasts, designed to be durable and theft-resistant, and just the thought of carrying it up to my apartment made my lower back twinge.
Once it gets up to speed, the weight of the bike becomes an asset and, combined with a long wheelbase and high handlebars, delivers an extremely stable ride. Unlike most bikes, it has an internal gear hub that can be shifted while coasting or stopped at a red light, and safety lights come on automatically whenever the bike is in motion. The Citi Bike demands as little from its operator as possible.
Pedaling around in circles, I found myself so relaxed that my thoughts wandered away from operating the machine and towards more pressing issues, like my Twitter feed and whether I had eaten lunch. After my test-ride, I can confirm that there is no better design for rolling lazily against the flow of traffic up the Second Avenue bike path while ordering Thai food on Seamless. The people who designed the Citi Bike know their audience.
When I asked the chipper Citi Bike employees why the test-rides were being confined to such a small area, a staffer told me that safety was a concern, as “a lot of people haven’t ridden in a while,” while he mimed a wobbly cyclist. But what will happen when the program is rolled out later this summer? He shrugged. “We just have to hope for the best.”
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