Taking Citi Bike for a Test Ride

With Citi Bike set to launch later this spring, the long wait for bike-share in New York City is almost over. But I couldn’t bring myself to wait an instant longer, so recently I headed over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to try out some Citi Bikes.

A small network of bike-share stations has been operating for the past few months in the Navy Yard, where people who work inside the walls can try out the system, checking out bikes using the same key fobs that annual subscribers will get once Citi Bike launches. I was able to borrow one of the fobs and go for a test spin on a frigid morning in March.

The fob.

Here’s a look at one of the stations they’ve got set up in there:

You’ll notice that these docks are angled so the bikes take up a minimal amount of sidewalk width — to my eye it was about four feet, maybe a little less. Relatively few of the stations are going to be on sidewalks, but this should help preserve precious space for walking.

To take out a bike, you insert the fob into the slot on the left side of a dock:

When the light turns green, you lift the bike up slightly by the rear wheel, and you’ll feel it release from the dock. The instructions about entry codes refer to the way weekly or daily users, who don’t have fobs, would unlock a bike.

Once you’ve got a bike, to adjust the seat you just loosen the quick-release seatpost clamp and have at it, then tighten the clamp. The seatpost is engraved with numbered levels, so once you’ve figured out a good seat level the first time, you know where to adjust the seat every other time you ride. (I’m pretty sure I moved my seat to the level 5 position.)

If you’ve used bike-share in DC, Boston, or Minneapolis, I don’t really have any news for you about how these bikes ride. They’re basically the same sturdy three-speeds that the Public Bike System Company makes for those systems — a “two-wheeled tank,” as BusinessWeek put it.

The riding position is upright, with a slight forward lean. A twist of the right handlebar will shift gears. Second gear was fine for the mild rises and downhills in the Navy Yard. I tried out a few bikes and they all pedaled smoothly and braked crisply.

When you return the bike, you know you’ve finished the job when the green light in the dock turns on. It helps to have a bit of a rolling start, demonstrated in this video of a headless person undocking and docking a bike:

So who wants to make a short video about all that?

A few more notes about the stations. On the side of each kiosk that faces away from the bikes, there are two maps that will be helpful to anyone who’s trying to orient themselves, not just bike-share users. Inside the service area, this is going to be the most accessible wayfinding system around (other than asking a New Yorker for directions).

The top map shows the area within about a five-minute walk of the station:

A second map shows more of the city, with nearby subway stations, bike lanes, and points of interest clearly marked:

Finally, here’s a look at a double-sided station, a layout that helps pack a lot of bikes into not that much space. This set-up has about 55 docks:

Beautiful, right?

Now here’s my eyeball estimate of how many cars you can fit in the same area.