Tagged: Citi Bike

The Inevitable Experience of Having Your Bike Stolen in New York

Earlier this week, my friend Danny had his bike stolen outside of his apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In broad daylight. And with a security camera recording the whole thing.

Danny bought this bike at the end of the summer and just a few months later had it stolen. He’s experienced both the joy and agony of owning a bicycle in New York City. A bicycle provides an unparalleled level of mobility if you live in certain (expensive!) parts of New York City. A bicycle makes getting around a lot quicker and more pleasant, which is odd considering that the first emotion you probably feel when you ride a bike in the city is heart-stopping terror.

But with the dizzying high that accompanies bicycle ownership, there is the crushing blow that we all experience: the agony of having that bicycle stolen. It’s a surprisingly deflating experience, something much worse than losing your phone. I’ve described the emotion of having your bicycle stolen as somewhere between losing your wallet and the death of a cherished pet.

Because he has surveillance footage of the theft, he has attracted some attention from the local media. But despite the minor celebrity Danny has become, I feel his pain and further empathize with him for a couple of reasons.

  1. He believed in the kindness of witnesses to stop the crime. After reviewing the video, he noticed that his mail carrier walked past the theft in progress. Casey and Van Neistat taught us, back in 2005, that nobody will stop a bike thief in progress. Nobody.

    I can attest to this as I had broken my bike key inside my lock some years ago, and I spent several hours picking the lock to remove the broken piece. I was on the corner of First Avenue and 61st Street, in front of the Bed Bath and Beyond store, where there was a lot of foot traffic. Only one person asked what I was doing. He accepted my explanation at face value and went on his business. No one else—not even the security guards at the store—took any action as I attempted to pick my bike lock.

    Casey Neistat recorded an updated video in 2012 and found that some witnesses would intervene. In his video, he found that the police did stop him from stealing his own bike but only after he used a conspicuous angle grinder for several minutes mere feet from several police officers at Union Square. The officers he spoke to admitted that none of them had ever stopped a bike theft-in-progress until Neistat all but screamed “hey, I’m stealing a bike!”

  2. He hopes that the police will catch the bike thief. NPR’s Planet Money did an enlightening story on bike theft in 2012. In the report, we learn that, on the streets, a bike is a form of currency. Cash, drugs, and sex are the others, and a bike can be exchanged for any of them. But unlike other crimes, bike theft carries no risk of being caught or punished. None.

As with death, taxes, and hard drive failures, having your bicycle stolen is sadly inevitable. One bicycling accessory entrepreneur claims that the ratio of bicycles sold to bicycles stolen is one-to-one.

And like all of us who have had a bike stolen, Danny has learned a hard lesson. Treat your bike like your wallet and your pet. Like your wallet, keep it within your control at all times. And, like your pet, and don’t keep it outside.

Or just sign up for the local bike share program.

Why I Renewed My Citibike Membership

Bike covered in snow

About a year and a half ago, I let my annual Citi Bike membership expire because the bikes never made it to Long Island City, where I lived at the time. Although I left the neighborhood for a different one on the banks of the Newtown Creek, it was more convenient to ride my own bike than participating in the bike share.

A lot has changed in the last eighteen months.

First, the bike share operation was acquired by another company, which has since invested a lot of money in the operation. The software was revamped and improved. Newer and better bikes started to appear at newer and farther flung stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and even Jersey City. After many delays, the bike share was finally available in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City, the neighborhoods where I spend the most time.

Those systemwide improvements were certainly reasons for my revisiting the local bike share, but there were two even more compelling reasons for actually renewing:

  1. As a member of the NYU Federal Credit Union, I am eligible for a $60 annual membership rate. Although the current annual rate of $149$155 is considerably higher than the launch-day rate of $95, it is still a great deal. This is especially true when you consider that a 30-day unlimited Metrocard costs $116.50 and that $150 is about what you’ll spend for a decent bike lock and tires that won’t go flat every week. But being able to renew at $60 per year was simply irresistible.
  2. The most compelling reason for joining the bike share was that I wanted a “winter bike.” Each winter, I have to decide whether to continue cycling or to wedge himself into a crowded subway car or bus. Continuing to ride requires some modifications to my bike, including adding some fenders and installing fatter tires, to navigate the wet and slushy roads during this time of year. Sadly, my single-speed frame won’t accept those modifications too easily. The bike and I end up caked in salt and road mush after a few short miles. To avoid this, some riders go as far as getting a dedicated winter bike, and although I considered doing that, I remembered my own advice for using the bike share as your first bike. Citi Bike could be my first second third bike.

In short, I renewed because, for sixty bucks, I now have access to a winter bike for riding on wet or slushy roads. I have saved myself the trouble of buying overpriced, ill-fitting fenders for my single-speed bike, I will ride with better traction due to the wider tires, and I will keep my drivetrain relatively clean. I’m also hoping that bikes will be actually be available, especially in my neck of the woods, as ridership presumably decreases during the colder months.

Of course, this solution has its limits. This past weekend’s historic storm shut down the bike share for five days, and I don’t feel comfortable riding any bike on icy roads in the city.

For those days, I will have to make do with the G train and a Metrocard.

Sign up, and we each get a free month

Update: Citi Bike will raise its annual membership rate to $155, effective March 1, 2016. Also, it’s “Citi Bike,” not “Citibike.”

  1. Or at least in the more gentrified parts of those boroughs. ↩

Why I’m Not Renewing Citi Bike…Not Now

Update: I renewed my membership in January 2016.

Today, marks the one-year anniversary of my joining New York City’s bike-share program, better known as Citi Bike. Because I signed up for the $95 annual membership, I am supposed to renew today. But I am not going to renew. At least not yet.

Citi Bikes need rides, too.

Citi Bikes need rides, too.

Last year, I was really excited about the program. I recommended it as a good alternative to buying a bike if you just wanted something to get around town. You could save yourself hundreds of dollars in buying a bike and ride it only when you needed it. You also never had to worry about it getting stolen because you never parked it for an extended period because it started to rain or you had too many adult beverages. You just found another way to get home.

With a Citi Bike, I can transport a "silk" screen.

With a Citi Bike, I can transport a “silk” screen.

Some people who signed up for the program saw it as a great utility. Dan Frommer emphatically wrote that Citi Bike was as useful as an iPhone, and that it changed how he moved around the city. Citi Bike for me was a great alternative to taking the subway. For days when I needed to make a series of short trips around the city, Citi Bike moved me from place-to-place, with unmatched economy, that hasn’t been possible since the days of the unlimited one-day Metrocard, affectionately known as the “Fun Pass.”

After my Citi Bike fob broke, I now have a wallet-sized card, which has the same dimension as a Metrocard.

After my Citi Bike fob broke, I now have a wallet-sized card, which has the same dimension as a Metrocard.

There was something that “Fun Pass” could do in its day that Citi Bike still cannot do: Citi Bike cannot get me home. Citi Bike was supposed to come to my section of Long Island City in the first phase of the program. But because of Sandy and the financial and technological difficulties the program has faced, it has not expanded beyond the sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn it has served since launch day.

With Citi Bike, I'm a stereotype on wheels. I can transport my $11 salad on a Citi Bike.

With Citi Bike, I’m a stereotype on wheels. I can transport my $11 salad on a Citi Bike.

Ideally, for someone who already owns two bikes, the bike-share program would fill in for those days when I can’t ride my own bike. Today, for example, it rained in the morning so I couldn’t ride to NYU. Instead, I rode the subway into Manhattan. In the afternoon, the rain had stopped, and I could have biked somewhere else, if not home then to meet a friend or whatever. But at the end of the day, I have to either ride the subway or take a bus to get home. In this scenario, which is pretty common because it rains about once every three days in New York City, I may was well not even have a Citi Bike membership.

Because it can’t supplement my own bike or our city’s developed mass transit, I am not renewing my membership. There are however a couple of factors that might change my mind:

  1. I open a bank deposit account at a credit union. Credit union members get a discounted, annual membership for $60 plus tax. If I pay with a Citibank-branded card, I also get a $15 statement credit. A yearly membership, with these discounts, would cost a little more than $50. That’s a bargain.
  2. They expand to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City. It’s still incredible to me that Citi Bike is not available in Williamsburg north of Metropolitan Avenue and nowhere in Greenpoint where residents rely on G train or a few bus lines. Expanding to Long Island City and these parts of Brooklyn would mean I could take Citi Bike to where I normally live, work, and play. In this case, Citi Bike could actually be as useful as an iPhone.

In the meantime, however, I’m sticking to pedalling my own bike and, on occasion, swiping a Metrocard.

Red… Yellow… What?

A red and yellow status light on a Citi Bike Station

Of all the complaints that the Citi Bike software has received, such as bikes not being checked in with a reassuring green light or your entire trip history disappearing, the combination of yellow and red lights appearing at the same time was new to me.

I first saw the red light appear when I docked a bike at 21st St and 6th Ave, in Chelsea. What does that mean? I tried to remove the bike from the dock, but it would not come loose. I tried to checkout the bike, but the red light came on and would not let me take it. Was the bike just now totally unavailable?

My gone-yesterday-here-today-gone-tomorrow list of trips shows that the bikes I borrowed yesterday were returned. Maybe this particular station is buggy. Who knows?