Sharing Is Caring

The New York Times recently published an article about the increased use of bicycles in the city. A year ago, I became one of those riders, subscribing to the Citibike bike sharing program.

I had watched for a couple of years while bike stands popped up with increasing frequency, their rows of cheerful royal blue bikes standing ready to accommodate active commuters. Then I started a new job, with a casual attire policy (after years of business and business casual), a few blocks from a scenic bike path. In a burst of enthusiasm for new beginnings, I signed up for a thirteen-month subscription.

I rode enough in that first year that the cost per ride averaged out well below the cost of subway fare, and I recently re-upped my subscription for another year. While riding adds a few minutes to my already-lengthy commute, on some days, it is the only way I can fit in a little exercise. (On others, it ends up being the second leg of a swim-bike-work momathlon.)

Bike sharing has become more popular in cities across the U.S., with programs now existing in numerous major cities in the U.S. The way bike sharing programs are counted can vary, and reports issued earlier this year by different sources giving numbers from fifty-five to 119 bike share programs nationwide. If you are considering a bike share program, here are a few tips.

  • The Attire. As I mentioned, a switch to casual attire prompted my Citibike adventures, but you can wear just about anything aside from pencil skirts (and it’s easy enough to throw on a pair of shorts in the morning and change once you get to the office). The New York bikes come equipped with the world’s largest fender, so there’s no danger of flowy skirts and dresses getting caught in the spokes. (Motivate, the company that runs the NY program, also operates programs in a number of cities including Boston; Washington, DC; and the Bay Area.)  I ride year-round. In summer months, I just take it a little easier on hot days. During the winter, I ride in a down coat, which might need to be zipped down for ventilation once I get moving.
  • The Gear. Wear a helmet, for the love! There are low-profile helmets that can be strapped to your bag when not in use. Other than that, the only equipment I need is a stick of deodorant and a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. A hair elastic also wouldn’t hurt.
  • Planning. The main bike-sharing programs in the U.S. offer bikes in specific docking stations throughout the city. I just go to the dock, insert my key (a two-inch-long scannable plastic fob), and off I go. The problem? Distribution. Like many commuters, I want to grab a bike at a major transportation hub during peak hours. In theory, bikes are redistributed during these times, with trailers of bikes being moved from lower-demand spots. In practice, I check my the Citibike app as soon as I hop off the bus. If there is a bike at my stop, I rush out to get it. For a while, I would walk to another nearby station, but I frequently found myself wandering ten to fifteen minutes out of my way before I even saddled up. Simply waiting a few minutes at my regular station seems to work better, though sometimes I just give up and hit the subway instead.
  • Try It Out. If you think you might be interested, see if your city has a short-term pass. I tried it for three days (presumably a tourist option) before I committed to the year. Monthly subscriptions are available for lower commitment, though the annual subscription is the best average cost. Make sure to map out your route and try familiar streets if urban biking is new to you. In Manhattan where I ride, there are miles and miles of bike lanes, and the Citibike app helps plan my route.

For enjoying my otherwise rather unpleasant commute, there’s no competition between the subway and my Citibike. (As you can see, the view from the bike path is a lot better than the view on the subway.) I encourage all the other commuter girls (and guys) to give it a try.

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