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Bike Sharing Tips for Getting in Gear

by Kathryn Bonn

As bike-sharing expands to multiple cities around the U.S., one intrepid biker shares her tips for getting in gear

“It’s like having an extra shot of coffee in the morning!” extolled my sporty neighbor about the virtues of New York City’s bike-share program when it launched. “Are you going to sign up?” “No way,” I replied, laughing and shaking my head, “I don’t have the guts” (or a death wish, I thought). My only experience cycling in my native city was as a teenager, inspired by a summer cycling trip to coastal Maine. After being cut off and almost catapulted by a turning taxi, I vowed, never again.

But as protected bike lanes began appearing around the city and I learned the price was $99 for a year of unlimited use of the Citi-Bike program, I started warming up to the idea. (Note: rates have since risen to $163 for an annual membership, though some discounts are available.) Racks of royal blue bikes were installed on my block and across the street from my job, and it dawned on me I would save $5.50 per day on commuting, compounded by the value of an extra morning workout. Not needing to lock a bike is a huge advantage to cycling in New York City, since avoiding bike theft usually entails carrying at least one, preferably two, heavy-duty locks.

Since it launched in 2013, annual membership has risen from 80,000 to 255,407 in 2017. A yearly membership gets you a fob to attach to your keychain for access to unlimited bike rides for 45 minutes a ride. (See below.) Daily and weekly riders use codes generated by signing in at a kiosk with a credit card. Subscribers can track miles ridden, reduced carbon imprint, even saved gas. Since I started pedaling in June 2013, I’m proud to report that I’ve ridden 4,463.7 miles (almost round-trip to California!), taken 3,392 trips and spent about 597 hours on a Citi Bike. Not to mention reducing my carbon footprint by 3,625.4 pounds!

The docking racks, where riders can pick up and drop off cycles, have expanded from a smattering in lower Manhattan at the outset of the program to 760 docking stations throughout the five NYC boroughs and part of New Jersey: The program has more than doubled to 12,000 bikes and 60 neighborhoods. The bikes are sturdy and have three speeds, a diminutive bell (I also use a whistle and occasionally yell if necessary), and a comfortable, adjustable seat.

Now that I’m used to it, I find riding, especially to and from work, meditative. Even more than walking, cycling forces you to watch the road without distraction and clears your head (though some reckless riders talk on the phone while riding). Like snorkeling and scuba diving, other activities I enjoy, there’s an unusual mix of meditative flow, especially when you know your way, mixed with a tinge of adrenaline as you navigate around pedestrians and cars and negotiate potholes and assorted detritus in the street.

Caution (and a well-fitted helmet) is crucial. Like defensive driving in a car, city cyclists have to be hyper-aware of cars turning, and, most unpredictable of all, jaywalking pedestrians transfixed by cell phones. Quick reflexes and remaining calm are key, but there will be issues: When a pedestrian jaywalked in front of me, I screamed “Watch it!” and I thought he responded using the “F” word, to which I yelled, “Screw you!” in return.

But beware: The problem with bike road rage is that a pedestrian can catch up to you at the stoplight, and this one did. “Did you just say ‘Screw you’ to me?” he demanded. “Yes, but only because you said ‘F you!’” “No I didn’t, I said, ‘Thank you,’” he retorted, appropriately disgusted. I apologized profusely, but he wasn’t in a forgiving mood. Lesson learned: Stay cool and don’t scream something confrontational.

For me, the many bike-sharing plusses include speedy transport, extra exercise and fresh air, the luxury of clearing your mind on the way to work—and winding down on the way home.

The Details

Prices in NYC’s program are $163 for a year of unlimited (45-minute) rides, $24 for a three-day pass and $12 for 24 hours (the latter two are for 30-minute rides; there are surcharges if a rider exceeds the 30- or 45-minute time limit).

Bike-sharing is also a great way to tour other cities: Washington D.C., for example, has a well-established program, with protected bike lanes on many of the city’s major thoroughfares, including Pennsylvania Avenue. Capital Bikeshare offers one-day passes for $8 and a one-trip option for $2.

Other cities with successful programs include Chicago, Austin, Boston, San Francisco and Charlotte. Dockless share programs are the newest trend in Silicon Valley and other countries like China, which are going dockless. Unlike many other programs where you dock your bike at a stand, these programs allow you to leave bikes in designated spots like parking lots, and you can find bikes via smartphone apps.

The Equipment

Getting the proper equipment—most importantly, a quality helmet—is essential to safe and comfortable cycling. Get a helmet properly fitted; the fit should be snug, with the triangular straps circling your ears and the chin strap clipping the helmet firmly in place—not cocked to the side beret style or too far forward or back.

Competitively priced, quality websites for clothing—neoprene arm warmers and a tight fleece/spandex cap that fits under your helmet are especially useful for cooler temps—include Nashbar and Performance.

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