Review: My first ride on a CitiBike.

I just got back from a ride on a CitiBike, one of NYC’s new bikeshare deals.

Executive summary: It works. I felt like I was there on the first day the subway opened in NYC.

However it was not without glitches.

I am a founding member, having paid the $95 annual fee on the first day they were available. I am user number 1411. In theory as long as each trip is 45 minutes or less, I don’t have to pay any more money to use bikes. As much as I want.

A picture named bikes.gifBut how does it work? I looked all over the website. They had instructions for people who were buying day passes or week passes, but no instructions for people who have annual memberships. I figured I’d find out when I got to the bike station.

I went to the kiosk. No instructions for members. They did however suggest you get a membership if you’re going to use it a lot. Okay I got one, so what do I do? No clue.

I wasn’t going to go home without trying it so I put my credit card in and started the process of buying a daily pass. There are some real usability problems with this system. First, it’s very slow. Second, the display is at about belt level for me. Granted I’m tall, but not that tall. Some of the instructions refer to buttons that aren’t there. You might guess wrong, as I did. Some user testing could have avoided this.

It was so slow at responding to keystrokes, about midway through the process (I guess) after asking for my phone number and zip code, it just gave up and took me back to the main menu. By then a small crowd had gathered around to find out how it worked. A guy who had done it before showed me that I didn’t need to do any of this. There’s an unmarked slot where you can insert your keychain card. I did. It took a while for the light to turn from red to green. When it did, I was able to take the bike out of the rack, I adjusted the seat and off I went, south on Broadway toward Times Square.

The bike looks like a klunker, but it rides pretty smooth!

It has three gears, probably not enough, but pretty close to enough.

It’s comfortable, more comfortable than my regular ride.

There are flashing red lights on the rear of the bike. (I know this because I saw them on another CitiBike.)

There’s no bell. That makes it an illegal bike in NYC, as I understand it. There were many times on my little excursion that I wish I had a bell. Pedestrians in NYC think bike lanes are useful for picnics, baby carriages (with babies in them), hand-holding at arms length. Waiting for red lights. You name it. The cars like to honk when they think you’re in their way. It’d be nice to have something to fight back with, even though a bell sounds a little wimpy, it’s less likely to get you killed than the typical NYers salute of Fuck You Asshole. 🙂

  • Update: Apparently it has a bell, I just didn’t spot it.

As soon as I entered Times Square proper, I took a right and headed over to Ninth Ave and rode all the way downtown to Bleecker St, where I made a left on 4th St, and dropped the bike off at the stand on 7th Ave. I got a couple of hot dogs at the Papaya Dog on 8th St, and rode the 1 train back uptown.

It was on the subway that I realized that I had just used a new form of city transport, one that’s perfectly suited for NY. I encountered a few other riders on my way. There’s a Zero Day kind of feel to it. People seem excited. The bikes are nice. And there are enough bike lanes to get around.

Bloomberg is a total 1 percenter, and a real dick about some things, but he got this one right. He will be remembered as a visionary mayor. I believe this is a keeper. Bikes and NY go together.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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