Test-Riding the Citi Bikes: Un-Chic But Surprisingly Pleasant

By
Photo: Gianmarco Magnani

New York City’s new bike-share program was offering test-rides of their shiny new custom-designed Citi Bikes in Tompkins Square Park on Thursday. After signing a waiver and handing over my driver’s license, I was instructed by a kind but stern representative to roll around in an implausibly small rectangle of concrete.   

The Citi Bike vibe is much more nerdy Obama than Sartorialist, and as a two-wheeled billboard for a government-supported financial behemoth, feels like a final kick in the stomach of Occupy Wall Street. Nevertheless, swallowing my biking pride, I adjusted the seat to a usable height, gave the legally mandated bell a ding, and pushed off into Tompkins Square Park to begin a series of immediate U-turns. 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.”