NYC by bike

New York’s citibike experience was great. Wednesday evening I got off work, went to my hotel room to change, and hurried outside with the intention of renting a bike at the station outside the hotel. I purchased a 24-hour pass ($9.95) only to find the three bikes that were parked there were out of service (the little red LED). While I was pacing back and forth thinking of what to do about this a man rode up and checked in a bike. Perfect!

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I went over and punched in my access code to check the bike out and the little indicator light turned orange then green, so I tried entering the code again. The bike was still locked, or so I thought. An older woman had been standing there, much too close, watching the whole thing. I turned to her and asked her if she knew how to get the bike out; she did – and then she rode off on it.

This was a bit of a predicament because I had checked the bike out with a $101 deposit, and I was liable for penalties if not checked in every half hour. I tried checking out a second bike but couldn’t as I already had a bike checked out.

I called citibike, and to their credit they answered the phone right away in what must have been the busiest part of the day. If my internet provider customer service was even half as great as this guy was, I would be thrilled. Anyway, they cleared the charge and reset my credit card and I went on my merry way. Except there weren’t any bikes.

I decided to walk to the next station, which was also sold out, as was the next and the next and the next. I started running between them and turned it into a game of how many blocks I could run between light changes (three). Nine stations without bikes. I couldn’t believe my luck when I reached the 10th station, and there was one bike available. I punched in my code and rode off. Very happy.

My plan had been to ride to Union Square for dinner. I ended up running most of the way but I stopped at 14th St. anyway. I had to check in the bike every half an hour or pay penalties. Checking in the bike was easy – basically just ride into the V-shaped rack. I ate a quick meal then checked out a different bike – and by now there were lots of bikes, or maybe a lots of people go to Union Square for dinner so getting a bike wasn’t a problem.

Riding in the streets is fun but not for everybody. First, you should know where you’re going and the lay of the streets to get there. A little bike in a sea of busses and taxis is not a safe perch from which to be reading a map. There are huge potholes to be on the lookout for – some looked like sinkholes where the pavement was caved in, deep enough to grab a bike wheel for keeps. And the taxis. Several drivers thumped at me as I went by – feigned ignorance is the best nonconfrontational approach here. Red and green – is it really a big deal?

I should note that you never want to thump a taxi driver back; I saw it happen in DC where the driver jumped out and gave the thumper a good pounding right there in the street. They can move quickly if provoked.

The bike ride went well. I rode over the Brooklyn Bridge in to Brooklyn, did a check-in/check-out, then rode to the Brooklyn Promenade and walked it for a great view of downtown Manhattan. I rode back to Manhattan via the Manhattan bridge, which was actually a pretty ghetto ride as the bike path is caged most of the way, and the path is on the uptown side of the bridge where the view isn’t that great, and the bridge is a big, iron, clattering, honking contraption due to its multiple layers of car and train traffic. The biggest hills in New York City are the bridges, and it’s quite a climb to ride across one because they’re so high above the water. Given the heat and humidity, it was quite a workout.

I decided to ride back into Brooklyn on the Williamsburg bridge, completing the “BMW” bridge tour. I enjoyed the Williamsburg bridge for some reason; it wasn’t great-looking and the views weren’t breathtaking but it seemed authentic I guess. Authentic. That’s what I liked about it.

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I did some more short loops around Brooklyn. It was getting dark, and I didn’t want to be caught out away from a bike station, or end up in the wrong ‘hood, so I headed back to the little island. Plus I was feeling some fatigue.

Park Avenue is awesome at night split in the middle as it is with Grand Central Station and the MetLife (formerly PanAm) building. I walked through Grand Central and got back on the bike and rode back to the hotel.

Overall I was very impressed with the bikes I used. The bikes are new and everything was in top mechanical condition. Sure, they’re a bit heavy at around 40 pounds, but I didn’t mind. The gears (three speeds) are a tad small – I would top out my leg speed at around 20-25 mph, which is fast enough for most given the conditions. The stations worked great, once I figured them out. My only recommendation is that you educate yourself on the station/check-out procedure by reading instructions or watching someone else do it. And commit the city map to memory, haha. Or stick to a clearly defined route – like riding over the Brooklyn Bridge and back to the same station, or riding along the Hudson River bike path.

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