Bike sharing in NYC: Fun, fast, and surprisingly social

Andy Darrell

Recently, my key to NYC’s new bike share system arrived in the mail. I opened the envelope, read the simple instructions and placed the blue key on the kitchen counter. My kids thought it was cool.

A number of critical stories had come out as the system was getting under way: the bikes were heavy; the docking stations were in the wrong places; the docking systems were clunky; the web site was down; the keys came late (mine did); it’s expensive. Enough to give me pause.

Also, even though I love to bike, I felt a bit chicken about riding on city streets. The Hudson River greenway? Sure. In city parks? Absolutely. But frankly, the idea of getting “doored” isn’t that appealing.

So, I looked at the blue key and wondered. Will I use this? Did I plunk down $95 for a “Founding Membership” mainly to enjoy bragging rights at some future Environmental Defense Fund happy hour?

Long story short, I tried it. My first ride was a whopping three minutes, from a coffee shop downtown to a nearby subway stop. My next ride was a bit longer, and my third was from my office to downtown, about 20 minutes. Here are my take-aways:

  • Wow, it was easy. Plug the key fob into the rack, pull out the bike (raise the seat a bit, then pull – took me a couple of tries the first time), ride the bike, put it back into the rack when you get to your destination. It worked.
  • It’s fun. The bikes have a stable glide that smooths out potholes. They have three gears and are surprisingly fast. You’re upright (not bent over the handlebars) and can see a lot. This is not hardcore cycling, this is get-to-where-you-need-to-go, quickly and with a smile.

So far, bike sharing has been an amazingly social activity. At a light, a guy in a delivery van rolled down his window and said: “I’ll try it on the weekend, when I have time out of the van.” A couple of tourists near Astor Place asked so many questions they almost made me late. A lady with a Chihuahua asked if I thought her dog would fit in the basket (I doubt the dog would appreciate being held down by the bungee cord).

I also became much more aware of how many bikes are on the road already, and it was interesting to see Citi bikes blend in with the city’s many different bike subcultures. A guy in racing spandex asked, “Isn’t the bike heavy?” The answer was yes, compared to his racing bike. But the weight gives the bike that gliding feeling I mentioned. It’s like being on a beach cruiser with gears, or surfing on an old-school longboard.

On Third Avenue, a guy on a black-taped single-speed ride made a point of passing me, cutting in just ahead of my front wheel, and then slowing down. My blue bomber may look slow, but it’s not. I passed him, he passed me again and then he ran a red light and flipped off the taxi driver who yelled at him. I waited at the light, and within four blocks we were even again. He was balancing in place (that’s a cool move), messenger bag dangling nonchalantly, waiting to turn. I was tootling along, upright, dorky, my blazer flapping in the breeze. The turtle and the hare. Two bike cultures, one city.

The Bottom Line

So far, my rides have all been pretty short, but they’re becoming part of my routine travel around the city. Riding has replaced a couple of cab rides and put a little exercise into my work day. I ride conservatively: I try to obey traffic rules and I wear a helmet (black, clipped to my briefcase). Still, I’m continuously surprised by how fast I get to where I’m going.

So, yes, I’m feeling pretty good about my $95 annual fee. For that, I now have access to thousands of bikes without having to deal with locks and storage. And I’m having fun.

I hope they expand bike-share to more of the city — soon.

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