Tuesday, September 24, 2013

NY CitiBike vs Bringing My Folding Bike

CitiBike Kiosk just off of 7th Avenue in Midtown. Lights & Bells included.
During my last trip into New York City for a post Fashion Week event, I took a little time to check out the new CitiBikes I saw lined up at various points in Midtown. I walked along 7th Avenue from 34th Street downtown to Soho and noticed a few people riding them albeit quite slowly. These are very heavy bikes, weighing in at 45 lbs. I thoroughly understand that they need to be because they are made to accommodate heavier riders, up to 260 lbs. Since I have already taken my Greenzone Folding Bike to NYC on the train and rode it downtown to Chelsea, I think I can offer a pros and cons comparison of the two experiences.

Getting to NYC 
Most trains along the eastern corridor including New Jersey Transit offer space at the end of the cars for full sized bicycles. I was able to put my folding bicycle in its carry-bag and place it right on the seat for the ride.

My folding bicycle bagged and on the train to NYC.
This was not a big deal but when I got to NYC Penn Station, the escalator from the train platform was OUT so I had to carry the bicycle up the stairs. Welcome to NY! Not too bad as my bicycle is the alloy version and weighs only about 25 lbs. So for this portion of the trip I'd say CitiBike - 1, Folding Bicycle - 0 

Streetside in NYC
Once I arrived in NYC, I was able to quickly set up my foldy and start riding right in front of Penn Station. I went down 9th Avenue to pick up the Bike Path on 10th by taking 34th Street. This was very easy and I felt completely safe even when I wasn't using the Bike Lanes.

When I went to NYC last week, I didn't see a CitiBike Kiosk until I was pretty far down on 7th Ave. It wasn't terribly far from the train station but I would have liked to have seen one a bit closer. So for this leg of my trip, I'm going to give CitiBike - 0 and Foldy - 1

I was almost in Chelsea before I saw my first CitiBike Kiosk off of 7th Ave.
Picking up Your CitiBike
I noticed that most of the Kiosk spaces were almost completely filled with CitiBikes even though I did see at least ten people tooling around on them. There might be a few reasons why. CitiBike requires 24hr pass users get to your destination within 30 minutes and dock your bike or you will be charged extra, ($4.00 for 30-40 mins.overtime). CitiBike only takes MasterCard (which I happen to have) but it's a bit inconvenient if you don't. Once you have paid, ($9.95 + tax for a 24 hour pass), you have to lift the CitiBike straight up by the fat seat and then let it down to unlock it from the station. Hurry up and adjust the seat because you're paying for it now! Throw your bag in the front basket slot and secure it with the looped bungee (if you can). It squashed my Italian leather duffel bag which barely fit. By the time I found my first Kiosk, I would have already been half way downtown on my folding bicycle.
Here's the score for this experience: CitiBike - 0, my Foldy - 1

My Greenzone Foldy downtown at Chelsea Piers
Riding in Midtown
The reality of riding in Midtown means competing with cars, taxis and trucks who are all bigger and more experienced on the streets of NYC than you. CitiBike specifically tells you to stay off the sidewalks and most Midtown streets and avenues are ONE WAY. That means you will have to figure out how to get to where you're going (in 30 minutes remember), without cutting through pedestrian traffic and walk-ways. With 45 lbs of CitiBike, it would be impossible on crowded city streets. With my folding bike, I was able to walk it up on the sidewalk and take a seat on a bench. I can even fold it up and take it with me inside a building and on an elevator. I also wasn't frantic about figuring out when and where I could dump my rental before I got charged extra.  Sooooo...CitiBike - 0, my Folding Bike - 1

My poor bag almost fit!  Notice the REAL bicycles parked nearby.
The Return Trip
So if you were able to drop your CitiBike off at a Kiosk in 30 minutes, kudos!  When I finished my event on West Broadway and Houston Street, (pronounced House-ton), there was a Kiosk right around the corner. However, I was looking around and all the adjacent streets were going in the opposite direction to where I needed to go. 7th Ave. runs one-way North to South downtown so I would need to pick up a CitiBike on another avenue going uptown. Oye! With my folding bicycle, I simply road down to the streets or walked the sidewalks I needed and used the ones going in the right direction towards my destination. Really very easy BUT once I got back to Penn Station I had to carry my foldy down to the train platform on a crowded stairway. This was pretty horrible not to mention scary! If I had rented a CitiBike, I would have been able to leave it in NYC, board my train and relax. So for this scenario: CitiBike - 1, my Foldy - 0

The Wrap
So you will have to figure out which works best for you, but you've been warned! CitiBike is no ride in the park, (although for extra rental time, you could arrange it).  I think if you live it NYC, it could be quite useful if you buy the yearly program that gives you 45 minutes to dock or die. What concerns me is that on an absolutely gorgeous, sunny, 72 degrees, low humidity day...the CitiBike Kiosks I personally saw were all nearly completely full. I think the concept is a good one but the inflexibility of payment and one-way street restrictions might be off-putting for someone who is just visiting for the day. Even with all of the carrying and lifting, I think I would still bring my own Folding Bike into the city instead of using CitiBike once I'm there. Well, that's just me!

My Greenzone Folding Bike is the clear winner over CitiBike.

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