Tagged: winter

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. ↩

Party Like It’s 1888

Telegraph and electrical lines dangle dangerously overhead during the Blizzard of 1888.

Telegraph and electrical lines dangle dangerously overhead during the Blizzard of 1888, the blizzard by which all others blizzards are compared.

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, snow fell on New York City. I was out late, and it snowed enough that I had to ditch my bike in a friend’s basement for the weekend. By Saturday morning, there was a nice layer of snow covering the streets. It was just enough to hide the grit and grime of the city streets, but not enough to cripple the city. Many people I spoke to on Saturday rhapsodized about waking up with snow on the ground. To these shiny happy people, I offered these two thoughts:

  • Sure it’s nice to wake up with snow on the ground on a weekend. Snow on the ground isn’t so lovely on a weekday when you have to schlep to work.
  • Wait until Tuesday.

By Saturday, only the most fervent weather watchers were aware that we were expecting significant snowfall starting on Monday. I knew there was something coming but couldn’t believe that we were in store for about two feet of snow over a two day period with hurricane force winds. Today, it seems, the blizzard is all we can talk about. Will we get an early dismissal? Will our classes be cancelled? Is the city actually shutting down the streets tonight at 11:00 PM?

The answer to all these questions is yes.

The awning of a grocery store is damaged from the weight of the snow during the blizzard of 1888 in New York City.  The blizzard on March 12-14 paralyzed the city with about 40" of snow and winds that reached up to 60 miles per hour, creating drifts as high as fifty feet.  (AP Photo)

The awning of a grocery store is damaged from the weight of the snow during the blizzard of 1888 in New York City. The blizzard on March 12-14 paralyzed the city with about 40″ of snow and winds that reached up to 60 miles per hour, creating drifts as high as fifty feet. (AP Photo)

Although it’s worrisome that the usually dispassionate NOAA warning has qualified this storm as “potentially historic,” my attitude towards these things is pretty blazé. I learned long ago that I couldn’t control the weather, and that it was fairly pointless to fret about rain, snow, cold, heat, hurricanes, etc. Instead of sweating these uncontrollable climatological events, it’s more productive to find a few things to do to occupy my time.

  • Be thankful it’s not 1888. The Blizzard of 1888 is one of those weather events that led to at least two major infrastructural changes. Power and telegraph lines were moved underground because they dangled dangerous over the street: icicles were like daggers waiting to come down onto an unsuspecting pedestrians. Similarly, elevated train lines and streetcars were crippled by the fifty-foot-high snowdrifts, leading to move mass transit underground and the construction of the first subways systems in Boston and New York. The Bowery Boys have a great written summary and podcast about this storm. Another extraordinary fact about the Blizzard of 1888 was that it was a “superstorm,” not unlike Sandy. The major difference is that it happened in the winter: imagine all the flooding from Sandy, but instead of water which can recede fairly quickly, it was snow that has melt or be cleared.
  • Make chili. During our many storms together, from hurricanes to blizzards, Sarah would make us a huge pot of chili and leave it out on the stove. We would scoop out a bowl at a time over the course of several days. But these days, I’m making my own chili. Dan Nosowitz argues that the essence of chili is the spices and suggests you make chili without meat. This is consistent with my thinking about Mexican pozole and Japanese ramen being more similar than different: their essence lies with the broth, not the meat, noodles, or hominy.
  • Take photos with your nice camera. Writing for The Verge, Chris Plante argues that you should buy and use a nice camera instead of your phone to capture your life’s memories. In this spirit, I’ve packed my SLR and will be carrying it around in the event I come across some worthwhile photo opportunities from this blizzard. I doubt any of my photos will be as impactful at the one above from 1888 with the dangling power lines threatening New Yorkers below, but maybe your photos will.
  • Do something. And because a blizzard of this magnitude usually closes roads, schools, and some offices, we get the luxury of time. This is a good time to write something or clean the bikes.

By Wednesday, we’ll all be back to fighting our fellow humans and the elements to get to work. And some of us will be rethinking how nice it is to wake up to snow on the ground.

Oh, Hello Winter… It’s Been a While

Back on April 16, snow fell on New York City and deposited enough of the white stuff to leave a measurable accumulation. It was the latest day for measurable spring snowfall in Central Park. The snowfall kind of ruined my commute the next morning. The Queensboro Bridge was covered in slush, and I had to walk my bike across the bridge to safely cross the East River.

Slush on the Queensboro Bridge

Today: deja vu!

Although I don’t take the Queensboro Bridge as often as I once did, the usually reliable Williamsburg Bridge was covered in snow, ice, and slush.

Slush on the Williamsburg Bridge

I managed to get to the top of the first incline, but after that, my wheels kept spinning in the ice. At that point, I gave up on pedaling and decided to walk across the remaining span.

I did notice quite a few intrepid cyclists ride the entire way. The Citi Bikes seemed to do the best on the slush. I suppose this is their reward for having to slowly lumber on three-inch–wide tires the rest of the year: they now get to cruise along slushy roads with relative ease. Most people with road bikes and treaded tires did well, too.

Slush on the Williamsburg Bridge

But to my surprise, I saw quite a few people on single-speeds or fixed-gears with thin, slick tires ride the entire span. There was even one guy with a kid in a bike carrier seat who rode past me. He was certainly braver than I was: he felt confident enough to carry his child on the bike while I was too scared to scratch or dent my five year–old MacBook Pro cradled in a padded sleeve inside my backpack.

As crazy as it seemed to me to ride across the entire bridge this morning, everyone apparently succeeded in getting over the bridge. There was not a pile of injured cyclist at the bottom of the bridge.

Despite some late-season rides I’ve been doing lately, perhaps, I really am just a fair-weather cyclist after all.

Update: It appears that the other vital East River crossings, including Manhattan, the Brooklyn, and the Queensboro bridges were all similarly covered in slush this morning. And if you read the comments section of this Streetsblog article, some cyclists did take some spills.