Citibike …….. why didn’t I try this sooner?!

Today was over 90 degrees in New York City, so I decided it would be a great day to try out Citibike! Yes, my timing could have been better, but that’s beside the point. I have been wanting to give this a try and since my bosses were not going to be in the office, I figured it was now or never.

Last week I downloaded the Citibike app to my phone so I could be prepared to find out which kiosks had bikes available. As my bus was driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, I pulled up said app and saw that the bikes at Port Authority were all taken as I expected. The next closest kiosk was at 39th and 9th so when my bus finally stopped, I headed over there to choose one of the 6 available bikes. However, this is when I ran into my first snag. At the kiosks was a man just hanging out which I found odd. I glanced at the bikes and saw that all 6 had flat tires but obviously had not been reported as in need of repair to Citibike via the kiosk (bad Citibike users!). I chatted up this guy and learned that he was waiting for someone to return a bike so that he could use it. He told me that last week he tried 5 different kiosks before he finally found one with an available bike. He suggested my best bet was to wait as well. Within two minutes a bike came in and he was able to go on his way. Within another minute, someone else returned a bike and I headed over to it. That’s when the second problem happened – User Error! Silly me forgot to read the instructions on how to rent a bike and tried to stick my credit card directly into the bike slot. Der! Luckily a nice man came along and told me I had to do the transaction at the kiosk which of course was at the end of the bike rack 20 slots away. He was kind enough to not take my bike while I went and did the credit card thing.

Once you pay Citibike and accept the rules, they give you a 5 digit code that you then enter into the slot of the bike you want to rent. Next you just lift the bike by its seat and pull it out. I didn’t have any issues with this part at all because I read these directions online after reading that some others had problems removing the bikes. I made the mistake of taking the time to adjust the seat after I pulled the bike out (which was when my rental started). When you have only 30 minutes to ride, every second counts so adjust the seat prior to removing the bike! Adjusting the seat was easy though so I was quickly on my way. Conveniently, 9th Avenue has a bike lane that is separated from cars so I took that all the way down to my job’s cross street. It took me a minute to get the bike to lock back in the slot but again that was my fault. I just jammed it in and expected it to lock instantly. Fortunately, Citibike workers were there fixing the kiosks or bikes and showed me that it just takes a second for the machine to lock the bike in and for the light to turn green. You can hear it locking and it does it quickly……just not as quickly as I expected.

Later I again took out a bike to head over to my father’s job and then back to work and also back to Port Authority at the end of the day. I had a snag on returning the bike back midday to kiosks by Union Square. One was full so I headed to another and that one was full as well. Fortunately, as I headed to the machine to request more time to find another kiosk, someone came and rented a bike so I was able to take that slot. In the future, I will check the status of kiosks to see if I may have a return issue (only one or no slots available).

The main issue I found with riding a bike in Manhattan was pedestrians. They don’t look where they are going, they stand and walk in the bike lane. Then they have the nerve to give you dirty looks even when you have the right of way. Another issue is that at the speed I was riding (slow) I missed almost every traffic light. This caused me to take 30 minutes to ride 27 blocks and almost pass my 30 minute riding window. During subsequent rides, I admit I ran red lights and even walked my bike on the sidewalk to get past traffic that was blocking the lanes. Also, I always think of Manhattan as flat, but you sure feel the hills when you are riding a bike!

Basically, I think Citibike is a great idea. I biked 7 miles today. I sweated up a storm, my hair was squished from my helmet, and I am exhausted, but it was so freeing and felt so good to be exercising and doing something different than my normal day. However, I think Citibike is not for the timid. You have to be prepared to whistle and make your presence known to pedestrians. You can’t be afraid to ride with the traffic as most streets do not have dedicated bike lanes and even if they do, they are usually blocked anyway. You also have to be prepared to ride around cars that are turning which sometimes means some good maneuvers. Fortunately, I seem to bike like I drive, which is a bit aggressively.   🙂

For under $100 a year, Citibike seems to be a great way around town! Perhaps, I will wait a bit to commit. I don’t know how many more 90 degree weather days I want to bike on.

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