Today I rode one of the new Citibikes. It’s lighter, faster, smoother and better in pretty much every way compared to the old version.
Today wasn’t the first such ride. That happened June 17, a little over a month ago, and I commemorated the event with a Facebook post with a bunch of photos (many of which are reproduced here). In that post’s comments section I alluded to doing a more complete analysis here at Commuterblog, and it’s taken till now for that to happen. You’re welcome, Madi.*
Nope, today was the fourth or fifth such ride. I’ve grabbed the new bike every time I can, and since I take 10 rides a week, I get a new bike roughly 10 percent of the time. Judging from activity at my main station in the morning, Penn at 33rd and 8th, I’d say most riders grab the new ones ASAP, which may help explain why I don’t get it very often. There’s also obviously much fewer of them around than the old ones.
Now if this was a real review, like something I’d write for my day job CNET, I’d take the time to do some research on the real percentage of old vs. new Citibikes. I’d regale you with a paragraph about how the two differ, what company makes them, what other bike share programs they’ve appeared in etc etc. But you have the Internet, presumably, so I’ll leave you to perform that research yourself because I don’t want to waste the time.
The important thing here is that the new bikes are better, according to me and the fact that my fellow riders grab ’em first, and according to a couple rider friends I’ve talked to. They feel at least five pounds lighter, and as any biker can tell you, every pound matters. You can feel the difference, even on the relatively flat ground of Manhattan, especially when you’re going uphill.
Other big differences? The new seats have a sot of gap in the middle, which is cool but not really cooling, and the old ones were plenty comfy. Externally the biggest difference is the swoopier rear fender with its big red tail light, which replaces the small, frame-mounted tail lights on the old one.
In terms of ride, the biggest improvement is the new shifter. It’s still a three-speed internal gearbox that you can (joyfully) shift without having to pedal, and that’s still a godsend at stoplights, where I routinely drop into 2nd while I wait, then switch to third after I get going. One thing that always annoyed me about that old shifter, however, is the fact that the action was backward: you had to rotate the grip down (counter clockwise) to shift up (from 2nd to 3rd) and up (clockwise) to shift down.
The new shifter is not only easier to twist, with a wider grip, and better-looking, with clear icons and a little window for the gearing numbers, but it’s oriented correctly: rotating up actually shift up, and down shifts down. Yay! The downside? Whenever I get on a new Citibike after all this time riding the old ones, I have to remember that it’s reversed (correct) and occasionally I get tripped up and go into first when I want third. No biggie, and totally worth it.
Also welcome is the higher gearing. You can literally go faster on the new bikes because third, the highest gear, is more efficient. It’s still not nearly as high as the higher ratios on most private bikes, and you’re still gonna be pretty slow by comparison, but it’s still a big improvement. 2nd is also higher and thus gets a bit more use from me—I still never use 1st, however.
As someone who has to adjust the seat every time, another pet peeve I have with Citibikes is the seat release, which is too often either too stiff or too loose and always a pain to quickly adjust. The new one feels more solid and has a bigger knob for easier tightening. I also like the new black seat stems.
There’s a new two-pronged kickstand that brings the bike up and elevates the rear wheel entirely off the ground. Rolling forward disengages it and flips it back up. It took me a sec to get the hang of it (I’m sure motorcyclists will have no such problems) but the superior design is obvious.
The new rack is also better, with new bungee cleats and different warning label words facing the rider. The bell is more recessed now, but it’s still a rotating design that makes a lame tinker-toy noise that’s way too quiet. Something to fix for next time.
As you can imagine, the ride is also smoother, but I don’t know how much that has to do with the fact that these bikes are, well, new, compared to the older ones that have been ridden hard and put away wet (or snowy, or frozen solid, or baked, etc). Hopefully the new models hold up under the stress of daily use by myriad riders in Manhattan.
So that’s all I got. The new bikes are better, and it makes me happy as a daily rider that I can look forward to some variety. I’m wondering if the faster gearing will affect “traffic calming,” which is the concept that a whole bunch of slow Citibikes will make the streets of New York safer by forcing cars to drive more slowly. I doubt it, and even if that’s the case, it’s worth it for the extra speed and efficiency. Bring on the new bikes!
*Note: It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog, something noticed only by my friend Madi Carlson, who runs the site familyride and also happens to have written a book about biking. So me starting up again is partly in response to her gentle prodding, in part because I’m mentioned in the book along with this site. So bring on the new posts!