Citi Bike Share Review: The Inside Scoop, Revealed By a Test Driver

Citi Bike Share is launching this Memorial Day weekend! Thanks to a PolicyMic press pass, I took one out for a test ride on Friday in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My big takeway? These bikes are not meant for speed demons, but are super sturdy and will serve as a great alternative mode of transportation for visitors and locals alike.

What I learned from the test ride: Being a daily bike commuter in the city and a regular long-distance biker, I decided to turn on my Strava app to see how fast I could get this bike going. Weighing in at about 45 lbs, the bike is about twice the weight of a commuter’s street bike. I only averaged 9.7 mph on the flat streets, but did manage to break a sweat. However, riding on the highest (3rd) gear on a small downhill slope in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I was able to ride 19.9 mph. See my Strava report here:

This bike is so heavy you definitely can't carry it up a flight of stairs, but that also means it's super sturdy and the bikes won't need to be reparied or replaced too often.

A few tricks and tips: Adjust your bike seat (and remember its height) and inspect your bike for problems (loose chain, deflated tires, etc.) before you undock it to save time. Lift the bike from its seat to undock it. Use the elastic strap to secure your bag. Push the wrench button on the bike’s dock station if the bike needs maintenance. Request a 15 min leeway from the kiosk if your docking station of choice is full of bikes. 

Key details: Citi Bike Share launches Memorial Day (May 27) for annual members and June 2 for day/week users. With over 13,000 members already signed up, they’ll be busy filling the racks with bikes over the weekend.

The annual member fee is just $95, which gives you unlimited up-to-45min rides for one year from the day you activate the key you receive in the mail after signing up. That’s only 26 cents a day and way cheaper to ride for one year than to buy a monthly MTA card. All you do is insert your key into the slot next to the bike and the 45 min countdown begins.

If you want to test it out before you commit, you can for up-to-30min rides for one day, starting June 2, for $9.95. Citi Bike will be posting outreach ambassadors at many stations for the first two weeks to answer questions and help users with the bikes.

While Citi Bike expects New Yorkers to get the membership, it is also available to tourists who have a credit or debit card. The touch screen kiosk is in seven languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese) and issues you a code to punch in to release your bike.

Fun fact: Why didn’t they launch last summer? Turns out Citi Bike had interface software issues with the kiosks last year and then Sandy destroyed losts of equipment in the low-laying Brooklyn Navy Yard. They’re not starting at full capacity (currently 330 racks, 6000 bikes) for now but plan to expand once they recoup some of their losses!

Helpful hints: Three of my biggest concerns with the Citi Bike Share Program are the lack of helmets provided with the bike, the prevalence of bike theft in NYC, and the limited time allotted for commuters.

1. For the helmets, they expect people to buy or bring their own but do offer a $10 helmet discount to members. While I expect some members to invest in a helmet, I sincerely doubt day and week users will buy one.

2. As for bike theft, the quick release adjustable seat is safely secured and the rep gave me a comical analogy borrowed from a bike blogger: Stealing a Citi Bike part is akin to stealing a payphone instead of an iPhone. All the bike’s parts are unique to Citi Bike; unless you want to sell it to your buddy at Capitol Bikeshare or Hubway. And if your bike is stolen outright, report it to the police but know there is a $1000 penalty to replace the bike (and they have your credit/debit card information so they’ll be after you!).

3. If you choose to make a long commute (i.e. from Dumbo to Midtown), the 30-45 min window allotted for users might not be enough. The representative I spoke to suggested that if you’re nearing your time limit and don’t want to pay an overtime fee, you should dock your bike at a station, wait a minute, and take another one out since you do have unlimited rides that day/week/year.