The thousands of big, blue Citi Bikes clumped along the streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn are certainly built more for comfort than for speed. But in a pinch, what are the outer performance limits of these easy chairs on wheels? Could a sufficiently motivated rider, say, make it from Battery City to Harlem without being hit with overage charges? To get answers, Daily Intelligencer enlisted the well-developed riding skills and quadriceps of nine-year bike messenger Danny Koniowski of Samurai Messenger Service.
After inspecting and rejecting the first two Citi Bikes he came across at a Citi Bike station on Canal Street near Sixth Avenue — one for having misaligned tires and the other for being, in Danny’s professional opinion, “a piece of shit” — our test-rider finally settled on a suitable specimen. We then headed out to the Hudson River Greenway to start the process of making Danny bike as fast as he possibly could in blazing 90-degree heat, all in the name of science.
The outlook on the way to the path didn’t seem very hopeful, with Danny pointing out the clunky aluminum frame, sloppy welding, and lack of proper gears to get any speed on it. But once on the bike path, he seemed to adjust to the task at hand and immediately began making a Citi Bike go much faster than we’d ever seen one go before.
Our first question, relying on the GPS-enabled Strava iPhone app to calculate speed and distance, was just how far a top-tier cyclist can ride on a Citi Bike in the allotted half-hour rental period before overtime fees begin to accumulate. Since it was too hot to run Danny out at maximum effort for a full 30 minutes, we sent him off on a five-minute sprint at what he considered a sustainable pace and extrapolated the results.
Following a tense interval that had us recalling the fact that a missing bike costs the renter $1,000, Danny reappeared in the distance. He looked to be going legitimately fast. And the results bore out that observation: Sticking to the path, he put up an average speed of 18.2 mph and covered 1.5 miles, including a near-stop to make a U-turn at his turnaround point. If given the full half-hour to ride, he was on pace to cover nine miles — or approximately the distance from the southern tip of Manhattan to Harlem.
More impressive was his top speed: 27.5 mph, during a section of the course when he was riding with a tailwind. (For reference, that's about as fast Usain Bolt has ever run.)
Danny’s opinion of Citi Bikes also lightened during his road test. “They’re good bikes,” he admitted, with the caveat that you have to avoid the bum ones. His change in attitude may have also come after he managed to get the bike into a wheelie — although he wasn’t able to hop curbs or pull an “endo.” Until Sunday, Citi Bikes are only available to people with an annual pass, but after that, the whole world will be free to try and top Danny’s mark.