Citi Bikes Are Not Fixies, and Most People Will Be Happy With That

Citi Bike isn't enough of an adrenaline rush for Simone Weichselbaum. This bodes well for its success. Photos: Daily News (##http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/daily-news-reporter-simone-weichselbaum-wins-national-award-article-1.1329978##left##, ##http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/news-reporter-rides-citibike-article-1.1342004?localLinksEnabled=false##right##)

Daily News reporter Simone Weichselbaum likes her bikes light and fast. The self-proclaimed “proud bike snob who is rarely without her SE Draft steel-frame fixie” said in 2009 that “biking here can be a death sentence,” and that bike lanes are “battle zones.”

So it’s no surprise that Citi Bike — featuring a 45-pound three-speed with balloon tires and a low center of gravity — wasn’t her cup of tea. What she intended as a scathing review of the bike-share two-wheelers might turn out to be their best endorsement yet.

“The seat is wide and spongy. The handlebars are extra wide. The tires are fat,” Weischelbaum wrote, as if it were a bad thing. If even the Daily News’s resident bike daredevil couldn’t manage to do much beyond an easy pedal on a Citi Bike, it’s hard to see how the unfounded nightmare visions of “hell on wheels” conjured by the paper’s editorial board could come true.

To be fair, Weichselbaum did run into a common problem when she tried to take the bike out of its dock, but only because she was doing it the wrong way. “The thing wouldn’t move. I kept yanking on the handlebars. Nothing,” she wrote. If she had followed instructions printed on the bike and lifted by the seat instead of the handlebars, she could have saved herself the trouble.

Bicycling should be for everyone, not just people who keep a fixie in their apartment for a high-speed, high-stakes experience. For those just looking to get around town safely, cheaply and quickly, Weichselbaum’s review shows that Citi Bike should be exactly what they need.

  • Anonymous

    I got fooled into buying an SE Draft (non fixed, just ss) when I was curious about ss a few years back. This thing started falling apart literally on the first ride from the bike shop: pedal fell apart and I broke a spoke. Within few weeks I broke several more spokes, broke the chain, bottom bracket fell apart. It was cheap at $250, but I owned Huffy bikes that lasted longer than that. The frame itself wasn’t so bad, it was the rock bottom components. I think the frame was made by Fuji. I ended up spending another few hundred bucks on upgrades so in the end it turned out OK. I sold it eventually, wasn’t thrilled with ss. SE apparently improved the Draft (and increased the price) in the recent years, but I’d never consider SE a reliable brand. On the bright side, it was one of several reasons why I learned to build and maintain my bikes.

  • Anonymous

    3 speeds are enough for city riding and the solid tires are horrible.

  • Anonymous

    Agree. Very few people can actually maintain 20mph for more than a few blocks even on a fast bike. People like to talk and brag but 20mph is actually pretty fast for an average bike. 10-15mph is plenty enough for riding around the city.

  • Anonymous

    61mph? With all respect, I really doubt your statement. On my carbon road bike with slick 120psi tires I could not go faster 45mph on a long, steep, smooth downhill in Harriman State Park. Tour de France speed record is something like 75mph.

  • ADN

    I don’t know about NYC’s software, because it’s new and slightly different than what is used in Boston, D.C. and Montreal but, man, the Bixi system that is being used for Citibike is really fantastic. I think it is outstanding industrial design and technology. The bikes are beautifully built, sturdy and easy to ride for many different body types. The stations are easy to use and, I think, attractive and unobtrusive as public street furniture (except for the ads, of course). Last year, Alta Bikeshare made more than 100 small design improvements on the bikes. They are constantly tweaking and improving the technology as they discover problems. I ride regularly in a city that is not NYC and I am impressed.

  • Joe R.

    This was on a day there was a freakish tailwind of at least 25 mph. You’re correct that on a normal day there’s no way you’re doing 61 mph descending the QB or any other bridge. This wasn’t a normal day. FYI, I’ve hit 45 mph on level roads a couple of times on days when we had sustained tailwinds of 30+ mph. Very rare, but it does happen.

    Here’s a bicycle speed-power calculator:

    http://www.kreuzotter.de/english/espeed.htm

    Use racing bike (hands on drops) for the bike type, 165 lbs for my weight, 30 lbs for the bicycle weight. Put in -5% for the gradient and -30 mph for the wind speed. If I use 200 watts for the power, I come up with 62.8 mph. Note that 200 watts is what I can sustain for an hour now. Back when I did this I was 25 years younger, so my one hour rate was probably closer to 250 watts. And also note that I could easily do more than that for a few minutes. If you put in 400 watts for the power, that’s 65 mph. Without the tailwind, I’d be lucky to do 40 mph according to the calculator. I don’t know the exact downgrade on the QB, but it’s easily at least 5%. For more fun, look at the number that comes up with a 30 mph tailwind, 0% grade, and 400 watts for the power. Yep, 48 mph on a level road.

  • Joe R.

    Have you ever bothered to try solid tires, or are you using the Sheldon Brown’s dated opinion of them? They’re tolerable even using the thin 700c x 20 tires. Fatter airless tires would be just fine, especially at the speeds a Citibike could reach. If they want to pay people to fix flats, it’s they’re choice but I’ll bet they eventually switch to airless tires just to keep down costs.

  • Joe R.

    It depends how far you need to go. A mile or two, 10-15 mph is OK. A longer ride not really. As for maintaining 20 mph for extended distances, here’s a speed plot from one on my rides last year which I made from the GPS log. Nothing special, just a typical ride for me. Overall average speed was 15.7 mph. Note how many times I needed to slow down for various things, mostly coasting up to red lights, or the average would have been maybe 1 or 2 mph higher. Oh, and this was on airless tires (those probably knocked another 1 mph off my average). I was a few months short of my 50th birthday. I’m also a good 25 pounds overweight. If I can do this, so can probably half the population. A lot of people ride might have trouble maintaining 20 mph because they’re on POS bikes, not for any other reason.

  • guestnyc

    Wouldn’t social bikes all end up in certain areas and be harder to collect/redistribute?

  • Ridgewoodian

    My primary bike is a Surly Disc Trucker, so perhaps my perception as to what constitutes a “heavy bike” is a little skewed. I rode the Capital Bikeshare a month or so ago and it was a blast. Would I have wanted to do a century on it? Maybe not. But for zipping around town it was great. And I did see a pod of CitiBikes in the 5 Boro two weekends ago, so maybe a century ISN’T out of the question!

    (By the way, I know a lot of people object to calling them “Citi” bikes. Yes, CitiBank is evil, etc. So might I suggest, a la London’s Boris Bikes, the “Mike Bike?”)

  • carma

    my primary bike is a hybrid gary fisher on 25mm road tires. smooth ride with suspension to handle tough nyc roads but with narrow enough tires for enough speed. not a grand bike but gets the job done. yet why do i find myself still signing up for bikeshare. because its awesome to know that your bike will not get stolen and you dont need to drag your bike everywhere.

  • carma

    huffy’s will last forever. its built and weighs like a tank

  • carma

    15mph only? girl dont know how to ride. i can do 15mph uphill on the ed koch bridge with full mountain knobby tires if i tried.

    now i know not to take this chic seriously.

  • carma

    15mph only? girl dont know how to ride. i can do 15mph uphill on the ed koch bridge with full mountain knobby tires if i tried.

    now i know not to take this chic seriously.

  • Anonymous

    My ride is about 8 miles, from Maspeth to 1st/34th. On a good day I can ride 20+mph from 14th street up to 34th along First Avenue, if there is no tailwind and I make the lights and ride with the traffic. But that doesn’t make a big difference in the end. Most of the time there are no really good conditions to pick up that kind of speed and do it safely. I ride Surly Disc Trucker which is a nice bike but definitely not fast (700×28 tires). I rode my roadie a couple of times to work, and yeah, it was fast. I made it to work in 25 minutes as opposed to 40 minutes, but it was pretty scary, borderline reckless IMHO. On that bike at those speeds I would have little chances to stop quickly in a real emergency situation. That’s why a prefer slower bike but with more grip and more breaking power for my commute. Now, if your commute is somewhere upstate, longer blocks, fewer lights, less traffic and greater distances the a faster bike would make more sense. For my commute it doesn’t really matter if my ride is 20 minutes or 40 minutes. I advocate careful riding and leaving early enough so you don’t have to rush. If you have to rush then you’re not much different from a regular morning commuter 😀

  • Anonymous

    My ride is about 8 miles, from Maspeth to 1st/34th. On a good day I can ride 20+mph from 14th street up to 34th along First Avenue, if there is no tailwind and I make the lights and ride with the traffic. But that doesn’t make a big difference in the end. Most of the time there are no really good conditions to pick up that kind of speed and do it safely. I ride Surly Disc Trucker which is a nice bike but definitely not fast (700×28 tires). I rode my roadie a couple of times to work, and yeah, it was fast. I made it to work in 25 minutes as opposed to 40 minutes, but it was pretty scary, borderline reckless IMHO. On that bike at those speeds I would have little chances to stop quickly in a real emergency situation. That’s why a prefer slower bike but with more grip and more breaking power for my commute. Now, if your commute is somewhere upstate, longer blocks, fewer lights, less traffic and greater distances the a faster bike would make more sense. For my commute it doesn’t really matter if my ride is 20 minutes or 40 minutes. I advocate careful riding and leaving early enough so you don’t have to rush. If you have to rush then you’re not much different from a regular morning commuter 😀

  • Anonymous

    I own several bikes and ride one to work every day but I still signed up for City Bike. The reason is that I would sometimes like to ride a quick errand during the day but that means taking my bike out (I’m lucky to keep my bike inside my workplace) and then worry about locking it up somewhere. There will be two Citi Bike stations next to my workplace so it’ll be so much easier.

  • carma

    i also did a test of these bikes. yes, they are heavy. yes they dont have a racing profile. but its not supposed to be. its a utilitarian hauler. and VERY surprisingly, these bikes are actually quite nimble. i was able to get good speed on these bikes along with some handy maneuvering in the limited space at the bike show. i dont see a problem hitting 15mph+ on these bikes.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Surly Disc Trucker here too 🙂 Sweet ride IMHO.

  • Ridgewoodian

    Mine’s actually pretty new – only got it in February so I only have a couple hundred miles on it. Once I swapped the stock saddle for a Brooks Flyer it officially became the smoothest ride ever. Now if I can just get the placement of the handlebars totally figured out it’ll be sweet as sugar. Heavy, though. Heavy as heck.

  • Ridgewoodian

    My thoughts exactly. Waiting for my Founding Member fob.

  • Anonymous

    I built my own last year, just bough the frame, and wheels. I’ve put extra gel padding on the bars. I think the way Surly ships them the hoods are too low. I like when the sides of the handlebar are parallel to the ground and hoods are slightly up.

    Enjoy the ride!

  • Ridgewoodian

    Yeah, I think you’re right. When I first got it I could barely reach the tops, let alone the hoods. I’ve had it adjusted some, shortened the stem, and it’s much better but I still think someone, somewhere is under the impression this is a racing bike and it would be a good idea to ride it in a racing posture.

    I got photos of myself the other day from the 5 Boro and noticed I was gripping the bars kind of awkwardly. So, more adjustments are in the future. I’m even toying with the idea of replacing the drop bars entirely and trying trekking bars or maybe even H bars, though I’ve never actually ridden either so maybe that’s a bad idea….

    Anyway, I figured this summer was going to be one long shakedown cruise. Next year, fingers crossed – RAGBRAI.

  • Anonymous

    I am surprised no one has yet pointed out that Simone’s SE draft bike is NOT a fixie.

  • Anonymous

    She doesn’t have a fixie.

  • Anonymous

    You can have multiple gears on a fixed gear bike.

  • J

    There is an issue with distribution. Also, the bikes could get taken to places outside the zone, and you have to have a smart phone to look up where to find one. One of the perks, though, is that you don’t need to find a station when you’re done. This type of system is used a lot in Germany, created by the train operator to help people get from stations to their destination..

  • Joe R.

    I’m a 100% recreational rider, so I pick and choose the roads and times when it’s most comfortable for me. Just in case you wanted to know, the ride above was as follows:

    1) my place (near 166th and Jewel Ave) to Union Turnpike
    2) Union Turnpike east past city limits until it turns in Marcus Avenue, and then intersects Hillside Avenue (25A)
    3) 25A to Glen Cove Road
    4) Glen Cove Road to NY25 west (Jamaica Avenue/Jericho Turnpike)-I’m on this for 9.1 miles
    5) Turn off Jamaica Avenue at 181st, take that to Hillside, cross Hillside and take Midland Parkway/Surrey Place to Union Turnpike

    6) Union Turnpike to 164th Street to Jewel Avenue and home.

    1-6 is a big circle of about 23 miles. I “padded” on a few extra miles before coming home.

    Where you go is a bit more congested than the route above. In December I rode from my place to a friend’s house near Coney Island, 35 miles round trip. I only ended up averaging 13 mph on account of the congestion in places and a headwind, despite the fact 8 miles was on the Belt Parkway Greenway.

    I advocate riding whatever is comfortable. I always prefer a good road bike no matter where I’m riding because you use less effort for any given speed.

    And 8 miles in 25 minutes on your road bike is pretty good if you ask me, especially for that area. I’ve little doubt you could keep my pace. I did 10 miles in 25 minutes once back in college, but this was in suburban NJ along US Route 1 where I didn’t need to stop at all. It’s rare I average much over 16 mph in the city, even where I ride, on account of lights/congestion/road conditions.

  • Joe R.

    My third bike is a Huffy I’ve had since college. The frames last forever but Huffys always come with crap components. Now it has the alloy wheels from my Raleigh and I installed a bottom bracket adapter so I could use a seal bearing. The entire drivetrain uses modern parts, including 8-speed indexed shifting. I also have Amerityres on it (those are airless). The Huffy will be my utility bike if/when my area ever starts getting bike parking so I can bike more for errands.

  • Joe R.

    Based on my limited experience with similar bikes, that’s what I was thinking-slow acceleration due to the weight but otherwise no problem getting to ~15 mph or so. I found her claim of 7 mph to be suspiciously low.

  • Eddie

    Why can’t you lock your bike up to a signpost or pole? No one is going to steal a locked Huffy.

  • Joe R.

    They’ll steal this one. It’s actually pretty nice for a Huffy. My brother had 3 bikes stolen, and I guess that colored my thinking. Then again, this was in the 1980s when crime levels were generally higher.

  • Daniel Winks

    Why bother? Quite a bit of testing was done by Bicycle Quarterly on the effects of air pressure and rolling resistance and the only results found were that too high of pressure makes a bike slower. Lower pressure than ideal had such a little effect on speed as to be within the noise of the test. Reducing the pressure by 20-30 PSI below ideal had almost not effect on speed. This held true across all tires they tested.

    Too low a pressure will increase the chances of a pinch flat, and if the rim is narrow, the tire will roll to the side on the rim, making high-speed cornering a bit wonky (not an issue on these bikes, as they’ll never be ridden at such high speeds).

    Higher pressure = SLOWER, pretty much in all cases.

  • Daniel Winks

    Pay people to fix flats? I’ve had like 1 flat in many many thousands of miles of riding on my puncture resistant tires.

    Solid tires suck, period. They do nothing to absorb high-frequency vibration that pneumatic tires can. Even the highest quality suspension system on a $20,000 bike (Moulton) cannot make up for the lack of the pneumatic suspension a tire provides. “Road buzz” absorbs rider energy. Any up-down movement of the bike/rider requires energy that USED to be forward momentum. Such losses account for the MAJORITY of losses at less than 20 MPH of speed, far far far overshadowing any losses from rolling resistance or air drag. This is why solid tires suck.

  • Daniel Winks

    She’s probably got stupid high-pressure narrow tires on her fixie (which are actually slower than wider, softer, lower pressure tires, based on quite a bit of recent testing). High pressure tires transmit more road vibration and bumps to the rider. More speed also increases the vibration and bumps, so for the most part, bumpier and rougher means faster. As such, a wider, softer tire FEELS slower when it’s not slower. If she is basing her speed purely on ‘feel’, then she would indeed rate the citibike much slower than it actually is.

  • Joe R.

    All I know is I have over 8600 miles on skinny solid tires and they’re just fine. I’ve noticed a minor loss of speed of about 1.5 mph but that wouldn’t even be a concern for most people. There are some tires using high-rebound elastometer which roll and ride as well as pneumatics. I haven’t tried them yet because they’re not currently available in the size I use, but they are available in the size tire used on the Citibikes.

    As for flats, I used to get rear flats pretty much every week. That alone made finding an alternative worthwhile. It remains to be seen if flats will be a major problem on these bikes, but if so, I’ll strongly suggest they move to airless tires.

    And if airless tires suck, why is at least one bike share bike system using them?

    http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/long-beach-announces-bike-sharing-plans-2500-bikes-be-installed.html

    http://wp.bikenationusa.com/bike-nation-unveils-second-generation-made-in-the-usa-bike/

  • Daniel Winks

    Losing 1.5 MPH is pretty substantial when an reasonable average pace is only 12-14, at most. I’ve had 1 flat in about the last 5,000 miles on tires that are, as you say, 1.5 MPH faster than yours (which probably isn’t the case, since I ride wider tires, which have been proven to be significantly faster than narrow ones, so it’s probably more like 2-3 MPH difference). I think a better question is why are pretty much every other bike share NOT using them.

  • Joe R.

    I’m pretty aware of bicycle physics and your statement that wider tires are faster than narrower ones is not always true. Wider tires can achieve a given coefficient of rolling resistance with less pressure than a narrower tire. And in general for any given tire rolling resistance decreases with pressure up to a point, after which further increases in pressure may have the opposite effect. However, crr varies quite widely even for tires of a similar size. It depends upon type of tread, type of rubber, type of casing, etc. Look here for example at the wide ranges of crr: http://www.biketechreview.com/forum/1-general-discussion/9761-the-definitive-rolling-resistance-thread

    All that said, here’s some interesting testing: http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/03/bikes-and-tech/technical-faq/tech-faq-again-bigger-tires-roll-faster_209888

    Wider tires roll better according to the tests, but the differences aren’t huge compared to narrower tires. It looks like a difference in crr of 0.00082 from narrowest to widest. If we assume rider plus bike weighs 100 kg, then that’s a difference of 7.1 watts in power at 20 mph (and proportionately less at lower speeds). Or put another another way, this translates into a speed gain of only 0.3 mph. This is of course neglecting the great aerodynamic drag from the wider tire. If we go from 20 mm to 23 mm tires, then overall the lower rolling resistance cancels the extra drag. If we go to 25 mm, then we lose speed despite the even lower rolling resistance of a 25 mm tire compared to a 20 mm tire. Bottom line, you’re NOT gaining much if any speed going with a wider tire. You will be getting a better ride on a wider tire inflated to a lower pressure, that much I can’t argue with, but you won’t be much faster. Based on the data I’ve seen, it looks like 23 mm might be the best size overall, so maybe I’m losing a few tenths of an mph with 20 mm tires (assuming we’re talking air tires with similar construction).

    Getting back to airless tires, yes, the ones I have are costing me roughly 1.5 mph at 20 mph (and proportionately less at lower speeds), but as I said better ones now exist. My tires are 5 years old, and based on ~15 year old technology. The newest airless tires with high-rebound elastomer are testing out at crrs similar to better airless tires. They also ride similarly. And then you have this which is in prototype phase: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9SWIsY8rzQ

    They actually claim a lower crr than air tires.

    Bottom line-airless tires aren’t on every bike share bike yet, but I’ve little doubt the way they’re headed they’ll be on every bike, period, within a decade.

  • Daniel Winks

    “You will be getting a better ride on a wider tire inflated to a lower pressure”. This is exactly my point. Rolling resistance is a rather small part of the energy it takes to cycle below about 18 MPH, with aerodynamic drag and ‘suspension losses’ making up the bulk of the energy needed. Above 18 MPH, aerodynamics dominates most other things, while suspension losses still takes a fairly large amount of the energy.

    Whenever a tire encounters a bump, be it as small as a the textures of the road surface or something like a pot hole or bulge in the road (like from a root or a poorly patched section of road), the entire bike and rider get pushed upward. Jan Heine did testing and found that the ‘suspension losses’ from riding on a rather rough surface (the rumble strips on the side of a highway) accounted for around 2/3rds of the energy he needed to maintain speed.

    Yes, wider tires have less rolling resistance, but that’s basically (as you showed) such as small difference as to be fairly easily ignored. Wider tires also have MUCH MUCH less suspension losses. Wider, lower pressure tires are able to deflect and rebound on bumps, even tiny bumps like those on the texture of the road. Even on freshly paved asphalt, suspension losses are one of the largest sources of energy use on a bike, exceeding aerodynamic drag at speeds around 10-13 MPH.

    The differences between supple casing tires and stiff casing tires is enough to account for a 10-20% difference in total speed between the slowest pneumatic tires and the fastest. Airless tires are (and probably always will be) even worse than the worst tires when it comes to reducing suspension losses. The more comfortable the ride, the FASTER the ride. The increase in comfort is precisely from lower suspension losses (energy lost from vibrating the bike and rider, mostly the rider, as a human is a big fleshy bag and a LOT of energy can be dissipated shaking a human body).

  • Joe R.

    I do note that there are some pretty hefty speed losses riding on roads which are cut in preparation for repaving. That’s probably similar in texture to a rumble strip. And of course, rougher pavement is slower, often not just because of suspension losses, but for the simple reason I often slow down just to keep from being bounced around too much. That said, I’ve gone pretty fast over rough stuff on my airless tires, including 20+ mph on Hillside Avenue. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Hillside Avenue, but parts of it resemble the lunar surface. At ~20 mph it feels pretty much like being on a bucking bronco. And it felt that way even when I had air tires on my bike.

    Regarding airless tires, the ones with high-rebound elastomer as good as many pneumatics. And the Energy Return Wheel concept looks very interesting. It looks like that hollow structure is performing the same function as the air in a pneumatic tire. Remember also the airless tires don’t necessarily have to be better than all pneumatic tires, but merely “good enough”. If they reach the point where maybe they’re midway between the best and worst air tires in terms of rolling resistance and ride quality, many people will use them. Actually, they’re already close enough for many people to seriously consider them. I’m relatively happy with my Nu-Teck tires but wanting to try something a little better. These look like they’ll fit the bill when they come out: http://www.airlesstiresnow.com/AirLyte_ep_41-1.html

    The bottom line is airless tires will never be mainstream unless some people are willing to at least give them a try. If they were really that awful, I wouldn’t be using them.

  • Shinji

    You can’t drag the shared bike everywhere, can you? That is, your trip is limited from one station to another. Isn’t it a better idea to put many secure bike racks throughout downtown for private bikes, like Dutch or Danish cities are doing?

  • Anonymous

    The Citi Bike is amazing cause its built in Canada. lol A great design perfect for short commutes in a city. It will be so popular that the main complaint will be lack of bikes or of empty slots.

  • asdkj

    That’s not how physics works. Larger diameter + less rolling resistance = faster

  • asdkj

    No you can’t

  • Anonymous
  • Daniel Winks

    Narrow, high pressure tires have MORE rolling resistance than wider, softer ones. Not less.

  • Wow nice post.

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