The Blue Behemoth

An In-Depth Review of the Revived NYC Citi Bike

August 7, 2015 Reviews By Photo by Henry Phillips
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After many delays and criticisms, New York’s Citi Bike became operational in May of 2013. The bikes then were mediocre (if functional) — they clunked along, like big beach cruisers set loose on city streets. Now, a few years in, New York has begun to deploy an updated fleet — similar in stature, but with improved weight efficiency and less sticky grips. Citi hasn’t jumped from penny-farthings to carbon road, but they’ve upped the ante a touch. We deemed these new pothole dodging, bump-defying scalpels of the hard streets deserving of a test ride, so we saddled up and took to the bike lanes.

Manufactured by the same company that produces performance mountain and road bikes, Quebec-based Cycles Devinci, the new Citi Bike features a front light integrated into the basket (similar to the previous model) and a rear light integrated into the fender (an upgrade from the dull, nearly road-level lights of Citi Bikes past). The new lights come with a lumen upgrade, upping your chances of being seen to “marginally plausible”, from “atrociously unlikely”. The basket received a half-assed update, ditching the perforated metal for a solid construction and a bulked-up handlebar to add some support in the back. But it still exhibits the same flaws of the old basket; the weak bungee cord may keep a briefcase or backpack safe, but anything smaller or bigger still topples out the sides. Notably, residents of Brooklyn have seen that the basket holds Whole Foods bags exceptionally well, so if your cargo is free-range eggs and patchouli oil, Citi Bike has you covered.

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The pedals remain unchanged and are attached to cranks that feel way too short to really get any speed going, but consider this a benefit rather than a detriment. Your inner Cavendish should remain at bay, as death-defying traffic dodging shouldn’t be practiced on these blue beacons of practicality. If you do choose to thread the needle, the upright positioning and wide-sweeping bars allow for decent handling and the weight of the bike adds stability. With 45 pounds under you, you’re more of an ocean liner than cigarette boat, and in the dimpled and pocked bike lanes of NYC, this heft comes in handy.

Citi Bike does boast internal cable routing, meaning that it shares yet another trait with your $10k road bike (beyond having two wheels). The swept-back handle bars help maneuverability, add classic styling and hide the cables from the shifters and brakes to deter vandalism. The new grips are slightly smaller and more comfortable compared to the potatoes-as-bar-grips of former Citi Bikes, and for the time being haven’t turned into rubber mush.

It’s leaner, more practical, and still provides the comfortable, accessible, medium-performance ride we’ve come to love.

In the cockpit, one finds supreme comfort. There’s no carbon fiber molded saddle, aero handlebar with integrated stem, or dropper post — all detriments to cruising comfort. What you will find is civic design. The new seat post features large numbers so that you can easily adjust and remember your seat height setting, and for now, most clamps still hold the seat in place. The vinyl seat is comfortable and designed to fit a wide range of body types, and it features a new cut-out hole in the middle section so the seat doesn’t collect water when it rains (progress!). There’s also a new two-footed kick stand, if anyone uses that.

The internal drum brakes are responsive and do a shockingly good job of bringing the 45-pound behemoth to a careening halt. The angle of the brake lever can be uncomfortable for some, but the important factor here is that the brakes do function. A new, integrated rear geared hub helps power the bike and features three speeds connected to a Shimano Nexus twist-to-shift mechanism on the handlebar (it’s leaner, though similar to the former model). The integrated sealed hub makes for low maintenance, and a built-in chain guard keeps chain grime off your pant legs. The tires are designed with a subtle tread pattern to provide low rolling resistance while still providing grip in corners. They’re made using a heavy-duty compound to avoid punctures and pinch flats and are filled with nitrogen to better maintain tire pressure over longer periods of use.

The new Citi Bike does what it was designed to do initially, just better. It’s leaner, more practical, and still provides the comfortable, accessible, medium-performance ride we’ve come to love. The new fleet has been released in small numbers in early June, and will slowly phase out the old model. It’s most easily identified by the new rear fender (with integrated light), so if you’re heading out for a spin, grab one — it’s far from perfect, but it’s clearly progress (on a municipal scale).