Guest Post On CitiBike NYC By Francisco de Orellana

Finally had a chance to try out Citibike last weekend. At first, I was weary of trying it since I didn’t want to be one of the few on one of those tell-tale blue bicycles. I heard that some biking aficionados looks down on people on Citibikes because it is assumed that they aren’t seasoned bikers. Therefore, I took a look down the bike path that runs by my building to see if there were anyone on Citibikes. As it turned out, there were tons of people on citibikes. Assured that I would be just one in the crowd, I went to the nearby Citibike station. Actually, I waited until 3PM since the cheapest pass I could get was the 24 hour one and by waiting until mid-afternoon, I could use it over both days of the weekend.

As luck would have it, when I got to the stand, there was a couple in front of me who just struggled with the machine. It seemed self-explanatory to me but they were having a hard time of it. They didn’t know which buttons to push, etc. When they finally figured it out and moved on, it was my turn. I got my code with no problem. Next came figuring out how to input the code on the bike stand to get my bike which wasn’t as self-explanatory. Luckily, a British tourist couple that was behind me who apparently had done it before showed me how to do it.

Off I went. At first I was hesitant to get on the Hudson River bikeway since that is so packed with bikes that it is like getting on a high speed LA freeway. However, after I got on, I was passing bikes right and left. There were tons of others on citibikes and it was apparent that the citibike people were definitely the slower ones. Some also weren’t too use to bike lane demeanor as there were families where each member was riding side by side.

I managed to make it all the way up to 59th street before my half hour was up. With citibikes, if you have a 24 hour pass, you must dock the bike every 30 minutes. In reality, all it is is finding an open dock, docking the bike and then getting a new code and undocking again and going on your way. However, it can be easier said than done (more on this later). After docking at 59th, I undocked again and took a ride up to 100th Street through Riverside Park and back. Since Citibikes are only installed from 59th Street on south so far, there was some illicit pleasure in taking the bike “out of its zone”. However, I noticed a few also had the same idea. I rode up to 100th and then turned around and went back to redock at 59th before my 30 minutes were up. Then – not wanting to ride on the streets – I walked to Central Park to try to get a bike there and ride it around the park. When I got there, there was a HUGE line at the dock. I finally got to the front of the line, got my code, and inputted the code. However, as I was undocking the bike, my hand slipped and the bike redocked!!! That meant I had to get another code. Rather than wait at the line, I walked a few blocks over to another stand and got a bike there. I rode it around the park but, when it came time to redock, I couldn’t find an open dock at the station right by Central Park. I went to the next one over – again no luck. One of the Citibikes employees told me that there was another one a block over. Oddly enough, that one was completely empty and I docked there. Then, after a break, I took a bike out again for another spin. This time I took a longer loop around Central Park but it turned out to be too ambitious. Not wanting to be late for my 30 minute appointment with the dock, I turned around and headed back the wrong way on the bike path (bad, I know, but it was already dark by that time and there were few bikers) to get back to the dock in time. I got there but then had a hard time docking the bike. There is a certain art to it. You need the right amount of angle and force. It usually works best by riding the bike right into the dock but this can be dangerous. After struggling and finally docking, I noticed that I was late by just 1 minute but I was already charged $4 for an extra half hour. Wish I had known that before I docked!

After that, I walked back down to the Hudson bike path and took another bike home, docking once along the way. I noticed that the dock closest to me, however, had only a few docks open. One thing I have to keep in mind for next time in case I wind up going home and finding no dock and having to use precious extra time finding the next station.

The next day, I decided to take the bike up the East River path. I went back to the station near home. Again, I was blocked by a couple that just couldn’t figure things out. It became apparent that the machine wasn’t accepting their card but, instead of just giving up, they kept on trying and trying even as a huge line built up. Finally, they gave up but then the lady in front of me also had trouble. She fortunately gave up after a short while. Luckily, all I needed to get was my code so I was in and out of there. It was a little annoying threading the bike through the all the tourists at Battery Park going to the Statue of Liberty. Kids kept on running onto the bike path and tourists kept on walking on the path thinking that it was a walkway. When i finally got past them and onto the East River bikeway, it was a smooth ride. At one point, however, a car mysteriously got onto the bike path and was driving down it. The car had Florida plates and an elderly driver and passengers so I assume they were tourists who got really lost. At one point, the path makes a sharp turn to get around a pier for a bridge and one side is a concrete barrier and the other is a fence. The car tried to negotiate it and ended up getting wedged in between. I was right behind it. After backing up and going forward several times, it finally got out but at the cost of major damage to its sides. The driver was too embarrassed to get out. unfortunately for him, he was forced to keep going down the bike path until he finally found a way out. I managed to bike up to 34th Street before needing to dock. Docking was again kind of a struggle but I finally got the bike in and went to a nearby hot dog stand to get a drink. Embarrassingly, the proprietor asked me whether I was able to get the bike docked. After undocking, I rode the bike back to a farmers market I saw along the way. However, my app showed that there was a nearby dock but I couldn’t find it. After giving up (it turned out to be on a pier in the river), I went to the next one and again docked 1 minute late. Again I was charged $4! Oh well. Anyway, by that time, my 24 hours were up.

Overall, it was a great experience and I’d do it again. I just wish there was more of a grace period and that the machines were easier for people to use so that there wouldn’t be such huge lines (though I found them easy enough). Annual members get to skip the machines though since they have their own keys. Anyway, having done a ride on a bikeshare now, i feel more confident in taking advantage of it when I’m over in Europe where many cities have them.

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