Considering Citi Bike as Your First City Bike

As the weather warms up, I always get questions about buying a bike. The first thing I tell people is that unless you’re willing to spend $500, you’re going to get a disposable bike and should not even bother. Some people continue to solicit advice, but others balk at the price and don’t want to know anymore. They go to K-Mart, and I never see them ride their new bike.

With the launching of the bike share program in New York, I have been advising people to consider it if a bike station is available where they live, work, and play. The yearly membership costs $95 plus tax, a little more than a $103 per year, and it is a good deal for most people who are getting into biking for the first time. I have a pretty solid track bike I use for the city. It runs great. And although I have learned over the years to do my own repairs, I still shell out a lot of money to maintain my city bike. There are still a few things I can’t do, such as truing wheels and replacing a bottom bracket or freewheel hub. And that’s not even getting replacing into consumables, such ragged tires, punctured tubes, broken spokes, stretched chains, and worn chainrings and cogs. If there was an option that would take care of my repairs for a little more than $100 per year, I’d jump on it in a second.

And if I was starting from scratch, $100 per year would be a bargain. Because to buy a new bike for getting around the city, you’re going to need:

  1. A bike. That’ll cost you at least $500 to get something that won’t break down within a couple of months, weigh 40 lbs, and will make you abandon it after one too many miserable rides.
  2. A lock or two. Citi Bike racks are their own locking stations. A decent Kryptonite lock will set you back at least $70 for either a U-Lock or a more versatile chain you can wear around your waist. I also recommend an accessory cable to the front wheel to use in tandem with the U-Lock or chain. (I use the heavy lock to secure the rear wheel and frame.)
  3. A bell. It’s the law around here, and since I’ve installed a bell, I can ride faster. How? I can ride and ding it once or twice to get someone’s attention and keep them from veering into my lane. It works for other bicyclists and pedestrians alike, but not always. Citi Bikes come with a bell.
  4. Lights. I have spent well over $200 on lights over the years. I used to use a version of Sigma Micro lights, but you have to replace the batteries every few weeks. And they’re not very bright. They’re easy to remove, but that means they’re easy to steal, which happened to me a few times, but I’ve learned my lesson and take them off every time. I switched to these USB lights by Blackburn. They’re really bright, they’re rechargable, and easy to remove. Once you learn how to manage the charging cycles, you get a lot out of it. Citi Bikes come with front and rear LED lights.
  5. Helmet. No matter what you’re going to need a helmet. I’m relieved that bike shares don’t issue helmets because that would be a pretty unsanitary practice. But helmets are not expensive. You can get one a decent one for about $40, and if you see expensive ones, it’s because they’re lighter and better at ventilating your head, not because they’re better at protecting your head.
  6. A floor pump. No one believes me that you’re going to need floor pump for home. You need to pump your tires almost every day. Otherwise, you’re begging for premature tire wear and flat tires, not to mention harder rides. Sure bike shops offer free air, but they’re not open when you leave for work in the morning, and they’re not always on your route. Get a stylish pump with a handle made of something other than plastic (those break). Citi Bikes are maintained.

The initial costs of buying a bike make considering Citi Bike worthwhile. And I haven’t even covered repairs. Once the network reaches places like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City and even Astoria, it’ll be a much more compelling option because that’s where I usually go and Citi Bike is not around.

Of course, having your own bike allows you to go wherever you want for as long as you want and ride as fast as your body and bike will go, but if you’re just commuting, the bike share is not a bad way to go.

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