Citi Bike Start Here to Get Rolling with Citi Bike

by Kara Cutruzzula | May 24, 2018

Imagine transforming your crawling subway commute into a scenic cruise. Or riding on top of the world — because that’s how it feels as you crest over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Or rolling up to meet your friends at that new brunch spot — you know, instead of hustling 23 blocks on foot. And here’s the biggest Citi Bike secret: Cycling through New York can not only cut down on commuting costs, it also opens up an entirely new way to explore the city. In fact, it may have you falling in love with NYC all over again.

Your guides

If you’ve never pedaled through the boroughs, don’t be intimidated. Citi Bike enthusiasts who have been there and rode that share key Citi Bike tips.

Nathan Geddie, a digital producer and Citi Bike rider since the program launched in 2013, first hopped on when a docking station was installed outside his office in Chelsea. Five years on, he still regularly bikes to and from his home in downtown Brooklyn to his Manhattan office. “When I bike to work, I walk into the office in a better mood. I feel refreshed because it reminds me of where I live,” Geddie says. “You’re not just going under these beautiful neighborhoods in New York as you do on the subway, but you actually get to see them.”

Julianne Simson used to buy three-day passes when visiting her boyfriend, Ian, in New York. But she enjoyed biking so much that ahead of her relocating to the city in September 2017, she signed up for an annual membership so her key fob would arrive by the time she moved. Simson, who lives in the East Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn and works on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, says she’s on a blue two-wheeler at least once a day now.

When I bike to work, I walk into the office in a better mood. I feel refreshed.
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What to bring and wear

Don’t overstuff your pockets — just take the essentials (credit card, keys, phone). Each bike is outfitted with a metal rack in front of the handlebars that easily fits a messenger bag, tote, purse or slim backpack (bring an elastic bungee-type cord to secure it in the basket).

Simson says “having water is really helpful,” as is head protection. According to a global study, bike helmets can reduce head injury by nearly 70% (but you’ll need to bring your own).

As for how to dress, embrace whatever’s comfortable. You’ll notice other cyclists wearing anything from sundresses to head-to-toe racing gear. “But you don’t have to change into workout attire,” says Simson. “It's a bike. You just pedal it. As long as you have shoes that aren’t high heels, you can do it.” Women can wear bike shorts under dresses in the summer. Simson also often opts for linen pants.

Take the seasons into consideration. In the summer, sunglasses are key, and if you'll be out for a long haul, don't forget the sunscreen. Wear what you would for a long walk. And in the winter, a pair of gloves and layers are important — you'll warm up faster than you think, but it helps to have a light jacket you can remove.

friends at a citibike dock

Planning your route

Protected bike lanes allow cyclists to ride between parked cars and blocks them from oncoming traffic. “Definitely map out your route to get a sense of where you’re going,” says Geddie, since streets you typically drive might not be the most bike-friendly.

Simson’s first ride was on Manhattan’s protected East River Greenway where “the biggest danger is you might run over a puddle,” she says. The 11-mile Hudson River Greenway, on the west side of the island, is separated from cars and also provides a prime route for new riders. On Google Maps, an all-green route signifies a protected lane, while a dotted line means it’s a shared lane used by both cyclists and motorists. With an app like Strava you can track and map your route (as well as routes your friends use), and you can search and log popular routes using tools such as MapMyRide.

One of Simson’s favorite routes is to take Columbus Avenue all the way south to Bleecker Street, which turns east all the way to Bowery, and is then five minutes to the Williamsburg Bridge. “I don’t have to turn or anything until I get to Bowery,” she says, yet she still gets to experience several neighborhoods.

The bridges are exciting to bike over, but if you're hitting up Brooklyn Bridge, go as early as possible — photo-snapping pedestrians share the same narrow path with cyclists and runners.

friends in central park on Citibikes

Docking, adjusting and securing

The Citi Bike app shows nearby bikes and docks (you can also use it to track your trips, including miles biked and calories burned). There are more than 750 docking stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and across the river in Jersey City, so you’re never far from one.

“If you’re going to a crowded location, it’s important to check the Citi Bike app to make sure there’s a place to dock your bike when you get there,” Geddie says. If it’s packed, you can request additional time at the kiosk to find an alternative location. Docks near major hubs like Penn Station or Bryant Park tend to be busier than most, but check a few blocks north or south and you should be able to find some space.

Annual members unlock bikes using a key fob, while those with a day pass enter a code on the bike. Undocking the bike is easy—you lift the back of the seat and pull the bike away from the dock. (This quick video can show you how.) When you're through with your ride, you dock the bike by lining up the triangle on the front of the bike with the dock station and inserting the bike firmly.

Check the air in the tires, make sure the handlebars are aligned and move the seat, which accommodates riders ranging from 4’8” to 6’8”. Geddie says, “Get adjusted to the seat before jumping into traffic,” and memorize your seat height — your next ride will be that much quicker. If something goes wrong with your bike during a ride, all you have to do is find the nearest station to dock and press the wrench symbol, which won’t allow others to remove the bike until it’s fixed.

young woman undocking a citibike

Safety first

It’s illegal to ride on sidewalks or against traffic. Riding at least three feet away from cars is recommended. “Be hyper-aware of people parking their cars and opening their doors,” Geddie says.

When she first started biking, Simson and her boyfriend went to a Citi Bike station near Prospect Park in Brooklyn so she could work on merging safely into traffic and emergency stopping. Most people know how to stop by slowly decreasing their speed and coming to a gentle stop, but Simson recommends practicing hard starts and stops in an uncrowded area to prepare for busy, unpredictable New York streets. “Now if there’s something going on in the road, I feel more in control and able to deal with anything that happens around me,” she says.

Even if a bike ride seems like the perfect time to blast your personal soundtrack, think twice. “I never listen to music while biking so I can pay attention to what’s going on,” Geddie says.

I never listen to music while biking so I can pay attention to what’s going on.
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Proper riding etiquette

Remember, you’re sharing the road with drivers, fellow cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional pretzel cart. Be clear with your directions. If you’re turning right, put your hand out and signal so the car behind you knows where you’re going. When you stop at an intersection, line up behind other riders.

Ding the bell if you need to signal that you’re approaching. Lights also flash on the front and back of the bike, making nighttime cycling safe. One of the biggest mistakes rookies make is not being clear about their movements. While you’re passing someone say “on your right” or “on your left.” Simson says being vocal is better than being passive.

Cyclists also have to obey all traffic laws. In addition to sticking to streets (never the sidewalks!) and going with (not against) traffic, be mindful of all lights and stop signs. Police will enforce these laws — and cyclists should know that running a red light could end up costing them hundreds of dollars.

couple riding citibikes

The benefits

When the weather cooperates, Simson often bikes over seven miles home from work. “It’s a good way of being in control of your commute,” she says. She stops midway to re-dock, and uses those few minutes to drink water and check her phone.

Biking even inspires date ideas for Simson and her avid cyclist boyfriend. During a rare sunny day in January, they made their own challenge and biked from Brooklyn to Queens, then crossed over the Triborough Bridge, then pedaled to the west side in Manhattan.

Geddie rides to meet friends throughout Brooklyn for brunch on Sundays, or uses a bike to head to a workout class since he’s already in gym clothes. There are also cycling-friendly spots with minimal car traffic. “There are docks right on the corner of Central Park, so I’ve done loops in there and you don’t have to worry about cars,” she says.

The cost

An annual pass will run you $169 per year (or $14.95 per month), and includes unlimited 45-minute trips and $2.50 for each additional 15 minutes. A 24-hour day pass costs $12 and includes unlimited 30-minute trips, while a three-day pass costs $24. Single rides are a sweet $3 apiece. Just be aware that if you keep a bike longer than 30 minutes, it's an extra $4 for each additional 15 minutes.

For all of us who are trying to do something small to reduce our footprint on the world, becoming a cyclist is probably the best thing you can do.
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The next step

If you want to take your biking to the next level, check the Citi Bike site for local events, classes and popular rides. Sometimes biking with friends can be more fun than a solo ride — so tap a fellow newbie and plot a route for the weekend.

As a newcomer to New York, Simson has found biking to be immensely rewarding. “One of the things I value most about the city is the history and architecture. Every neighborhood has its own story, and it’s something you really can’t experience when you’re on the subway,” she notes. “I love biking greenways, but when I actually get to bike in the street, I feel like I’m a part of the city. For all of us who are trying to do something small to reduce our footprint on the world, becoming a cyclist is probably the best thing you can do.”

So, hop on — and don’t forget to look around at the city you call home.

Kara Cutruzzula

thinks one of the greatest views in the world comes from traveling over the Manhattan Bridge. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Vulture and other venues.