Spontaneous Fun With Citibikes

Last Saturday, my wife and I were in Long Island City. We wanted to head to Central Park to get some exercise, so I opened Google Maps to plan out our route. I noticed that there was a nearby bridge and I thought to myself that walking into Manhattan could be great exercise. I ran the idea by my wife and she agreed, so we started making our way towards the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge via Queens Boulevard. Near the base of the bridge, I noticed that the path indicated on the map is a bike path and there is a Citibike stand nearby.

Citibike bicycle stand on the Queens side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Citibike bicycle stand on the Queens side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

I don’t know why, but I was suddenly very interested in the idea of riding a bicycle over the bridge. I hadn’t been on a bike in about 9 years. The last time I rode one was when I was living in Singapore. Every so often, my wife and I will take a walk in Central Park and we’ll see people riding their bicycles and we’ll talk briefly about buying bicycles for ourselves to use for fun and exercise, but we never quite make it into a store. Standing there, looking at those bicycles and the bike path and the bridge ahead of us, I think everything sort of just clicked and we decided to stop thinking about riding bicycles again and to just do it instead.

Figuring out the process for renting a Citibike wasn’t too hard. The instructions are clearly printed on the machines that take payment and provide access codes to unlock the bicycles from the stands. Once you take the bike out, you’re responsible for bringing it back. Each one has a unique identifying number. Failing to return the bike would result in a huge fine. I think it is about $1000.00. You also have to put a $101.00 deposit down on the rental that is charged against the card you use. It sits there as a pending purchase for a few days. The most annoying part about renting a Citibike is that you have to dock it at the same or another station within 30 minutes of checking it out or you incur additional charges. That can be challenging if you haven’t memorized where all of the Citibike locations are. Thankfully, there are apps like Citymapper for Android that help out with that problem.

As for actually riding the bicycle? I thought I was going to die, pedaling my way up that bridge. I felt cramps in muscles I didn’t realize I had. I regretted all the desserts I’d recently eaten and all the times I put off starting up an exercise routine again. Hitting the downhill side of the bridge, where it crests over Roosevelt Island and descends into Manhattan, was a relief. It was also a bit dangerous though because the path is narrow and I had to share it with pedestrians and other cyclists going in both directions. There’s also a really dangerous U-turn at the bottom of the ramp. I can’t imagine there haven’t been accidents there.

Once we got into Manhattan, we were a little nervous. Riding a bicycle over a bridge is one thing, but riding a bicycle on New York City streets is on a whole other level. There were Citibike racks nearby, so we could have just parked the bicycles and moved on, but we had paid for 24-hour access. We wanted our money’s worth and we also wanted more than just a little taste of the thrill of speeding around on a bicycle. I suggested we continue to Central Park so we could use the bicycle paths there. My wife agreed, so off we went up 1st Avenue.

Looking at Google Maps now, we should have followed 1st Avenue to 70th or 71st Street and then used the cross-town bicycle path to head towards Central Park but by the time we hit 66th Street, I had begun to wonder if there were any nearby cross-town paths. I was trying to juggle finding the next Citibike station to dock our bicycles with figuring out where the bicycle paths are. I didn’t notice a way to turn on bicycle paths in the mobile Google Maps app, though it must be there because I can see it on desktop, so I gave up and we rode crosstown on 66th. Maybe Citibike should consider posting maps of nearby bicycle routes on bicycle stand kiosks?

When we hit the park at 5th Avenue, we walked our bicycles along the sidewalk until we found an entrance that could get us to East Drive. I think we were the only ones following the rules. It’s illegal to ride bicycles on the sidewalks and on most of the paths in Central Park, but everyone else I saw was doing it anyway. I don’t want to be the one that gets a ticket, though, so I did the right thing anyway and walked the bicycle where I was supposed to walk it. I also walked my Citibike in places where most people were riding, namely up some of the steeper hills along East Drive and West Drive. The Citibikes seem kind of heavy. That along with the fact that I’m not a seasoned cyclist wore me down pretty quickly. I still had a blast though.

Here I am, rolling through Central Park, struggling a bit near the crest of a hill.
Here I am, rolling through Central Park, struggling a bit near the crest of a hill.

We rode those Citibikes around Central Park for about 2.5 hours, checking them in here and there at the Citibike stations along the edges of the park on 5th Avenue and Central Park West. It was an amazing workout and it was good fun. It redoubled our interest in purchasing bicycles of our own to use, even if we have to throw out our couch to make room for them in our apartment.

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