5 Lessons to Avoid a Near-Death Experience on NYC CitiBike

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Today was the first day after a long frozen winter that NYC weather was finally above 70 degrees F and sunny. Perfect weather for a bike ride. I had scheduled a class through ClassPass.com (10 classes at boutique fitness studios around the city for $100 a month…considering these classes usually go for $30+ a pop a la carte it’s a “steal”) at the Fhitting Room, a high-intensity interval studio on the upper east side. Getting there from our apartment in Chelsea is a pain (either walk 15 minutes to the 6 train, sweat for 20 minutes on the platform, cram like tuna into a car full of tourists headed to Central Park. OR, I rationalized, hop on a CitiBike, get some fresh air and warm up my legs, and be at the studio in 26 minutes door to door. Wrong. I not only missed my class (though I gave myself 40 minutes, I arrived 5 minutes late: “no one allowed in after the warmup starts!” the front desk girl chirped as I sucked in air, beet red with my bike by my side). But I nearly became road kill on the way there. And learned a few valuable lessons about CitiBiking in NYC:

1) Everyone hates you. Other REAL bikers (the guys in full-body latex) hate you because you’re slow and you clog up the lane (no matter how fast you spin your little legs you can’t compete with a lithium road bike). If you’re lucky, they’ll scream “on your left!” in your ear as they speed by, or, more likely, “GET OUT OF THE WAY!!” — which is usually what I hear when I’m on the road. Delivery guys hate you for pretty much the same reason: Unlike the bikers, they’re not frantically trying to get in a workout, but they are trying to make a dollar, holler, and YOU, CitiBiker, have no idea what you’re doing or how to get there. Pedestrians hate you because you come out of nowhere and almost bowl them over as they’re trying to jaywalk a red light. And cars, of course, hate you when they get stuck behind you on a street with no bike lanes. Which leads me to lesson #2.

2) NYC is not made for bikers. Despite all of the press about NYC becoming a bike-friendly city when CitiBike was launched a year ago, NYC is not made for bikers. When you’re lucky, your path takes you on a street that has a bike lane:

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Yet even if you start your trip on a bike lane it WILL end within 10-15 blocks, and you end up on a street where you squeeze between cars: Parked ones, where you’re waiting to face-plant as a passenger-side door swings open as you pass by; moving cars, which get stuck behind you and lay into the horn as they wait to get into the next lane over. Google “bike lane NYC” and the third most related search is “bike lane NYC dangerous”, plus this guy’s website, who (after deciding to ditch public transportation for biking) chronicles trash, people, animals and vehicles (often cop cars) blocking bike lanes:

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In fact as I was biking I was stopped by a dude who asked how much it cost to have a CitiBike pass, and I told him $100 for a full year — cheaper than a $112/month subway pass, but…

3) Don’t EVER use it as transport. The three times I’ve used CitiBike, I’ve checked GoogleMaps first — and between blocked bike lanes and other bikers/walkers cutting you off, it always takes nearly twice as long to get where you’re going as Google says (and always longer than it would take to hop on a subway).

4) Don’t rely on Google, actually. I love Google for pretty much everything else. Walking directions? My go-to. Subway directions? Love it. The symptoms of pneumonia when I have a really bad cough and am feeling neurotic? Perfect. But biking directions? Granted Google does warn you that they’re “beta” and may not always give you the best route. But in my case, it was probably the worst possible path. This time it took me from the 20s up 8th ave, where there is a clearly defined bike lane…great, I’m thinking. Until I got to 57th street. Bye bye bike lane. Then as I crossed 58th street, the route suggested by Google maps — no more bike lane. And the worst: Up Madison avenue, where not only is there no bike lane, it’s the main drag for BUS lanes. After I crossed the street to try to get to what I thought there was a bike lane, I realized I was head-on with a bus; at this point the traffic was going, and I was sandwiched on the striped white line between a giant commuter bus and two lanes of car traffic on my left. I learned lesson #1 the hard way as cars and bus on both sides slammed into their horns and screamed out the window at me (meanwhile, not able to stop until the traffic did, I screamed my head off the whole way up five streets until the light went red and I finally got to the sidewalk, where I walked my bike the rest of the way to the class). Thanks, Google.

5) Don’t take your valuables. A nice laid-back ride through the city? Perfect time to pack my cute new Bermuda bag I got a couple of weekends ago at a friend’s wedding:

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Except that as I was biking along, guts getting sloshed as I bump-bump-bumped over potholes, the contents of my bag were popping like popcorn, up and over the side of my bag. Over onto the street went both my keys and  my phone — fortunately I noticed them and they didn’t break, but these bikes are not really meant to carry bags either:

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All of that said, I do love the fact that I live in a city where clean public transportation is affordable and pretty easily accessible (IF you live in Manhattan and below 60th street…which means peeps in Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx who could actually use a program like this the most are SOL…I digress…). I just won’t be using CitiBike for anything other than a weekend cruise on the cozy bike lanes of the West Side Highway anytime soon.

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