Spending at least two hours and thirteen minutes on a Long Island Railroad train every weekday. And loving it.


Citibike 2 review


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!


Bill and the Snorer

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I ride the same LIRR trains every weekday with the same people. I usually sit in the same car–the first car, popular with people headed to the west side and the ACE subway lines–and so do they. So we see a lot of each other, even though we almost never exchange words, or even direct glances.

I recognize almost everyone, but I don’t know their names. There’s the two friends from further toward Port Jeff, one middle-aged, clean-shaven dapper dude always in a suit, window seat, reading the Journal; and his middle-aged, bearded, schlubbier buddy in jeans and a button-down, aisle seat staring into his Blackberry. I’ve gathered over the years that beard has a son and clean-shaven a sardonic sense of humor, but that’s about it.

There’s the sort of pathetic older man, seated across from me this morning, ID cards and train pass around his neck, who’ll occasionally talk to them. They seem to barely tolerate him–I think more because he’s annoying than because they’re jerks.

There’s the hot wife, always high heels and skirts, who seems to chair a loud group in the vestibule, including a confident semi-fat guy who seems a bit too friendly with her, a homlier lady in her 50s who barely speaks but to cackle with mirth, and an older, droopy man with poor posture and a droning, pedantic tone.

There’s the silent balding guy closer to my age, the bearded IT-looking guy a bit younger than me (the only one who is), a couple more mid-50’s guys, one all smiles who nonetheless always takes the jerky aisle seat to prevent someone sitting next to him.

There are also a few regular sleepers. And one snorer.

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My last commute of 2013: A look back


I’m sitting on the train at Penn Station right now, and the doors are closing for the last time of the year. I just finished my last Citibike ride. Another year of commuting for nearly three hours every weekday is behind me.

It’s been the best commuting year so far. Looking back, that’s mainly because of two things: this blog and Citibike. And some great reading material.

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How a touchscreen laptop helps on the train


Thanks to a loan from work, I’ve had the opportunity to check out a touchscreen laptop running Windows 8 for the last few days. It’s pretty nice. Now I kinda want one for my daily commute.

Honestly, I haven’t been using it long enough to determine that my desire isn’t influenced at least in part by the “COOL NEW GADGET, MUST HAVE” instinct upon which much of the consumer electronics industry is built. As an editor for CNET, I’m exposed to lots of cool new gadgets on a daily basis–I have a Hemingway-esque tolerance for gadgcoolcohol. I’m not immune, however, and the touch screen on this laptop is pretty cool.

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Citibike log: first rainout day

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This morning, for the first time since I started commuting via Citibike regularly, the weather was bad enough that I decided to walk. I always carry an umbrella just in case, but today is the first time I’ve used it in months. I got rained out.

I’m fine riding in very cold temperatures, and I’m honestly excited to try out the seemingly weatherproof Citibike–with its full fenders, fat tires and massive weight–after it snows. Many of the hottest days this summer were pretty bad, especially (I’m guessing) to the neighbors who had to endure my sweaty self in close proximity on the hour-long train ride home. None of that stopped me, but the freezing rain today did.

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Ode to the Real Kindle

Kindle Touch

Do you like to read a lot? Books, long articles, actual flowing paragraphs of beautiful words–as opposed to pictures, captions under pictures, pullquotes, tweets, texts, emails, summaries and funky-font 24-point headlines?

Then you owe it to yourself to get a Kindle.

Not a Kindle Fire tablet, HDX or otherwise. Not any tablet, in fact, not even an iPad. Not your phablet or phone, not your laptop, and no, please no, not a physical book. A real, live, honest-to-Bezos e-ink Kindle. The ones I’m talking about start at $69. Here’s why that’s money well spent, even if you already own a tablet or other multipurpose device that happens to let you read.

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Citibike review: The ride

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After a few months of riding nothing but Citibikes, I feel qualified to provide some impressions of what the actual ride is like.

The short story is they ride well enough, but nothing like a decent road bike. The predominant feeling is of heaviness, solidity, safety and all that entails. They’re very smooth, a plus on the torn-up streets of Manhattan, but clunky, unwieldy and slow—entirely by design, I’m sure.

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How to get work done on the train


If you’re in the unenviable position of having to do regular work during your train commute, I feel for you. Me, I try to spend that valuable train time doing things I enjoy, and extra work is rarely one of them.

But there are plenty of times when I need to word process, spread sheets or otherwise produce stuff. For those times, here′s a collection of tips that′ll help make it easier. Read More


My morning Citibike ride (video)

Have you always wanted to experience my bike commute from the comfort of your computer screen? Now you can.

Backstory: I’ve been helping my buddy and colleague Joshua Goldman review action cams by attaching them to my Citibikes and, in this case, my helmet, and riding around. The above 1080p video was captured by the Drift Ghost-S, a high-end ($399) action cam. Check out Josh’s reviews for more.


Citibike review: Lack of bikes is the worst part (but it’s not that bad)

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Citibike really is too popular for its own good. Well, at least for the good of riders like myself, who have to use high-traffic bike stations like those convenient to Penn Station during rush hour. In the mornings there, availability of a bike is a crap shoot, and long, empty racks can spawn disappointment, confrontation, and even bikering (pronounced BICKering, not BYKEring). This being New York, those reactions are commonplace enough without a newfangled transportation system, ripe with promise, adding more opportunities to experience them.

Back in mid-summer, when I first became an annual member, availability wasn’t yet a problem for me. I get in early enough to Penn (around 7:20) that the tales I heard and articles I read of empty racks were mostly restricted to later in the morning, when the commute is busier. But moving into September–as the Citibike program’s inexorable ascent in total ridership accelerated, and the weather became cooler and better for riding—even the early hour of my commute wasn’t enough to guarantee a bike.

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