Citi Bike’s New Electric Bike Is Exciting For Riders (If They Live Near Citi Bike, Of Course) Yet No Help to Deliverymen

Only 200 e-bikes will join the 12,000-bike system.

Citi Bike has gone electric! But unlike when Bob Dylan did it in the 1960s, this one is a success. Photos: Gersh Kuntzman
Citi Bike has gone electric! But unlike when Bob Dylan did it in the 1960s, this one is a success. Photos: Gersh Kuntzman

They’re going to have to start calling this company Motor-vate.

Citi Bike officials unveiled the company’s latest improvement on Monday — a game-changing, battery-powered, pedal-assisted bicycle that will slowly (but not abundantly) be showing up soon at a dock near you.

“This is the best bike-share system in the world — and today, it is getting even better,” said Jay Walder, CEO of the Citi Bike parent company, Motivate, after he rode one of the 200 new e-Citi Bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Department of Transportation staffers.

“There are two types of people in the world,” Walder continued. “People who have never tried a pedal-assist bike and people who won’t shut up about them.”

There’s actually a third group, several reporters pointed out: Hundreds of New York City deliverymen and women who use e-bikes that are still illegal in the city — and subject to confiscation and fines. Last month, city rules went into effect legalizing e-bikes that are controlled by pedaling, while maintaining the ban on the cheaper, throttle-controlled e-bikes that delivery workers use. (Reporters were invited to test-ride the bikes; read a full account of my ride from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Windsor Terrace here.)

Motivate CEO Jay Walter (far right) led a group of Citi Bike staffers and DOT officials on a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Motivate CEO Jay Walter (far right) led a group of Citi Bike staffers and DOT officials on a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge.

From January 1 to July 29 of this year, 654 e-bikes were confiscated by the NYPD, the department told Streetsblog. That number, while still high according to advocates for delivery workers, is down from 772 over the same period last year.

Walder declined to answer the question about mayor priorities — he didn’t make the law, after all — so Adams jumped in.

“I don’t believe e-bikes should be illegal,” he said. “The city must find a way to make all e-bikes legal.” (After publication of this story, a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio responded. “In order to increase the transportation options for New Yorkers, including delivery workers, the mayor clarified DOT rules that pedal-assist bikes are legal in the city,” said the spokesman, Seth Stein. “The Administration is currently considering additional actions to help delivery workers transition their throttle e-bikes to peddle-assist.”)

The Citi Bike app now shows locations of e-bikes.
The Citi Bike app now shows locations of e-bikes.

The 200 new battery-powered bikes will make their way into Citi Bike’s 12,000-bike, 750-dock system, with 1,000 more coming online during the L-train shutdown, which begins in April. The new e-Citi Bikes resemble existing cycles, except they feature a battery pack on the frame. A Citi Bike worker must replace the battery for recharging every 30 miles or so. Walder said that maintenance work would be done by existing Citi Bike crews.

“If they have to replace a flat tire at one station, they can also swap out a battery if it’s low,” Walder said.

The bike’s additional power, pick-up and hill-conquering torque could make Citi Bike a city-wide force…if Motivate and DOT officials would only expand the range beyond Manhattan, several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the westernmost strip of Queens. Commuters in Jackson Heights, Crown Heights and Bay Ridge would use Citi Bike if it was available — even more so if more electric bikes were in the mix.

Walder declined to explore the politics and economics that have blocked Citi Bike’s expansion, saying only, “We’d like to expand.”

The story was updated to include a comment from the mayor’s office.

  • Manually replacing batteries is so ineffective. Citibike is a docked system, which is something they should take advantage of. The bikes should be able to charge when docked

  • Danny G

    They might need to make the solar panels a little bigger to do that.

  • Just a note that uptown Manhattan (most of Harlem and all of Washington Heights and Inwood) has no Citibike, which represents a big area in terms of both geography and population; as a resident of Washington Heights, I think it’s important not to give more credit than is due to the lackluster expansion by saying or implying that Manhattan has complete coverage, which is very far from the truth.

  • I might be over the hill now but I still got some leg strength and I rather use that to power my bike. And no, I don’t like arriving at work all sweaty either. That’s why I don’t pedal all hard or stand up out of the seat, if I’m not trying to exercise. Biking on flat terrain is actually less energy expensive than walking, plus you get a bit of a cooling breeze. I don’t understand this sweatiness argument. Battery power is totally unnecessary for the majority of people in my opinion. Don’t come at me talking about the disabled either, because that’s not relevant when we are talking about a city-wide bikeshare network. Motor power for most people’s trips is not going to save time (we are still bound by traffic light signals) and if anything will lead to more irresponsible use of speed. Bikeshare users are already are prone to irresponsible riding as it is. (Yes I know that all cyclists are prone to it, but bikeshare and bike ownership are quite different mindsets, from what I’ve seen out there in the real world.)

  • Patricia Geri Russell

    Horrible news today! Pedal assist Citi Bike‘s going 18 miles an hour in bike lanes with idiot bicyclists, horrible! Fought traffic nightmares on my bike in this city since 1984 And advocated for safer bicycling infrastructure. Finally bike lanes arrived and now some idiot is very likely going to sideswipe me while they try to text and ride!

  • Joe R.

    Motor power for most people’s trips is not going to save time (we are still bound by traffic light signals) and if anything will lead to more irresponsible use of speed.

    Yes, going faster, whether manually or with electric assist, saves lots of time. I made a spreadsheet to figure out average travel speeds with a given light timing. If we assume traffic signals are timed for the speed limit of 25 mph, total cycle time is 60 seconds, green time is 30 seconds, and you have 20 blocks to the mile you get the following average speeds (assuming you wait the full cycle at all red lights)

    1) Cruising speed 10 mph, average speed 6.6 mph (66% of cruising speed)
    2) Cruising speed 12 mph, average speed 8.1 mph (56% of cruising speed)
    3) Cruising speed 15 mph, average speed 11.4 mph (76% of cruising speed)
    4) Cruising speed 18 mph, average speed 14.3 mph (79% of cruising speed)
    5) Cruising speed 20 mph, average speed 16.8 mph (84% of cruising speed)
    6) Cruising speed 22 mph, average speed 19.7 mph (90% of cruising speed)

    As you go faster, not only does your average speed increase, but your average travel speed as a percentage of your cruising speed increases.

    As for “irresponsible use of speed” funny we say this about e-bikes where any assist shuts off at about 20 mph, but not about motor vehicles which can go well in excess of 100 mph. There’s a concept where the operator controls the speed according to the conditions. Besides that, 20 mph is 5 mph under the legal speed limit. There are few scenarios where running an e-bike even full tilt is dangerous. Additionally, strong riders can easily exceed 20 mph without any assist. Back in my prime I could hit 35 mph for a few blocks on level roads. I can still reach about 30 mph, give or take, in short bursts on level roads. Of course, I didn’t do this that often as it was really exhausting. However, I did ride at 20 to 25 mph. I still ride in the 18 to 23 mph band most of the time. That’s solidly in the e-bike speed range. Nothing dangerous or inappropriate about it.

    And please tell me how all cyclists are prone to “irresponsible riding”? Cyclists have skin in the game. As a result, they’re very unlikely to do anything which might hurt them, including colliding with pedestrians. How exactly do you define irresponsible riding?

  • Call me old fashioned but I believe people are generally more judicious about speed when they have to generate it with their own muscles vis a vis a throttle.

    Good for you, you can reach 35 mph. That’s too fast for me, and the vast majority of people. So IMO not relevant to the discussion.

    I’ve done my own observations about riding full tilt vs at a moderate pace. For my trip I might get ahead by one or two light cycles–which amounts to a matter of 2-4 minutes. Just not worth it in my balance sheet. Not looking to generate sweat or adrenaline. Just transportation for me. Not a pushover though. I’ll still meet you face to face for a fist fight, if that’s what you’re looking for, Joe.

    I see a lot of what I consider irresponsible riding. Notice I didn’t equate it with dangerous riding. When a rider cuts off a group of pedestrians who have the light for instance. That is not necessarily dangerous, but it is rude and pisses people off. It contributes to cyclists’ and bicycling’s bad image. Thus irresponsible.

  • Joe R.

    The time savings depends on the trip length. On a trip of 20 miles, riding faster can easily save you 30 minutes or more. That’s a full hour on the round trip. You’re falling into the trap of thinking everyone on a bike is only going a mile or two. In NYC you have a fair number of people bike commuting 5 to 10 miles each way. Increasing average speed from 8 to 15 mph on a 5 mile trip saves 35 minutes on the round trip. It saves nearly 3 hours in a 5-day work week. That’s a substantial amount of time.

    The very point of e-bikes isn’t just to save a few minutes on very short trips. Rather, it’s to enable longer trips which people might not be able to do on their own. Or put another way, e-bikes can seriously cut into car trips, particularly in the outer boroughs where typical trips often exceed the length people are willing or able to ride under their own power. So it really boils down to would you rather have a person riding an e-bike or driving a car? Even driving legally harms people due to the exhaust.

    I personally don’t see much riding of the type you mention other than delivery cyclists. Delivery cyclists unfortunately have a financial incentive to ride the way they do. NYC could fix the problem by having more nonstop bicycle infrastructure. Such infrastructure also happens to be safer. Unfortunately, we refuse to spend the money because we don’t have mainstream support for it. This is where I think e-bikes could be a game changer. An average person who might never consider a 5 or 10 mile trip on a regular bike will suddenly see bike infrastructure to safely enable such trips as something useful to them if they have ready access to an e-bike. End result is we’ll get better infrastructure which eliminates conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians. Most of the bad behavior I see from all three groups in this city—motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, is due to awful infrastructure which virtually encourages it.

  • Who’s making 20 mile trips on a Citibike?

  • Joe R.

    I’m talking about e-bikes in general.

  • Well Joe I am talking about electric Citibikes, in my community, (central Manhattan) and why I am opposed. If individuals such as you describe want to use their own private e-bikes to cover long or tiring commutes, I am actually for that. What I see on Citibikes in my locality, is considerable use by tourists, interlopers, newcomers, etc. The inexperienced, to put it politely. Biking is a responsibility; bikeshare is much less of a responsibility, to put it politely. As an everyday bicyclist, I welcomed Citibike initially. After living with it for a few years, I now have my doubts about bikeshare. And now they have added motors, naturally my doubts have deepened.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, if we strive to make cycling mainstream, eventually that’s what you’re going to have—the inexperienced, interlopers, newcomers, and so forth. It happened with motoring also. Back in the early days of automobiles drivers actually prided themselves on their driving skills. Once driving became a purview of the masses the average motor vehicle was piloted by an incompetent idiot. We’ve since done all we can to try and safely accommodate less than stellar driving skills, with mostly poor results. Or to think of a more recent phenomenon, a fair number of people say the Internet went downhill once AOL enabled idiots to go online. It’s the usual falling to the level of the least common denominator which happens whenever the masses get into something. At least cycling is an activity which doesn’t require a huge amount of skill to do at least semi-competently. I’d much rather have a clueless moron on a Citibike than behind the wheel of a car.

    Sure, I wish we could go back to the days when only the brave and strong rode bikes in NYC. In many ways things were better for us. The more skilled riders seldom did things stupid enough to annoy motorists. As a result, motorists in general treated cyclists better. The small number of bikes weren’t enough to generate a critical mass of complaints, so the police generally left us alone. I used to ride on the sidewalks in downtown Flushing right in front of cops and they never even said anything to me. Overall if you’re a skilled cyclist, things were generally better for you back then, except for the lack of bicycle infrastructure in key places. I didn’t care that there were/are no bike lanes on, say, Union Turnpike, but on some trips you had no choice but to mix it up with cars doing very high speeds. There wasn’t a critical mass of cyclists to get infrastructure built, even in the few places where skilled cyclists might need it.

    Fast forward to today. Do I like to deal with inexperienced riders when I’m riding? To be honest, no I don’t. They often get in my way, slow me down, and otherwise behave unpredictably. Fortunately, I don’t have such encounters often enough to make much difference. I’ll gladly trade off a few negative experiences with novice riders if it means I can get good bike infrastructure in places where it benefits me, more bike parking, and the option to rent a bike if I don’t want to use my own.

    I absolutely wish every rider out there could match or exceed my skill levels. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. However, now that cycling is starting to get real mainstream appeal that’s not going to happen. Not everyone will ride enough to get really good at it. Not everyone will have the power to cruise at 18, 20, 23 mph. For what it’s worth I see e-bikes, Citibike or otherwise, as mostly a good thing. Yes, they may be operated incompetently sometimes. However, e-bikes can solve one of my pet peeves. Much of NYC’s bicycle infrastructure lacks room for safe passing. As a result, at busy times everyone ends up riding at the speed of the slowest cyclist. E-bikes can function to equalize speeds between strong and weak riders. This makes things safer in that it reduces the amount of passing. It also should eventually normalize the speed in bike lanes to 18 or 20 mph. That would be fast enough so the faster riders don’t ride outside the bike lane (with the resultant plethora of complaints from motorists). It will also help to keep pedestrians out of bike lanes. Right now bike lanes seem like safe places to walk only because a lot of riders mope along at 10 mph. They won’t once average speeds are twice that. I’ve even noted this myself. If I’m coasting alone really slowly, people think nothing of walking practically right out in front of me. When I’m doing 20 mph, pedestrians treat me the same way they treat motor vehicles.

  • KeNYC2030

    Ahem, Gersh, but Bob Dylan’s switch to an electric band in ’65 was wildly successful. Sure, there was a little booing at Newport and on the ’66 world tour, but “Like a Rolling Stone” hit #2 on the Billboard charts and his first electric single, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” topped out at #6. Bob never looked back, so to speak.

  • AnoNYC

    It’s totally possible to become drenched bicycling at a slow pace, especially up a hill. And there’s also those of us with longer commutes.

    Direct your hating towards behavior that puts others in danger, not a mode of transport that makes sense.

  • AnoNYC

    This is good but the city’s misguided offense against throttled controlled electric bicycles continues.

  • A tale of two cities extends to the usage of electric motor bikes. Or as they are commonly known, motorcycles. Really, this city is just plain and brazenly unfair. I don’t condone the usage of unlicensed motorcycles by app delivery workers but it’s absurd and discriminatory that they will continue to be harassed and have their livelihoods threatened and ruin while wealthier people will be allowed to ride the same type of bikes around with impunity

  • Larry Littlefield

    “As they are commonly known, motorcycles.”

    The issue is speed and weight. That is what determines the extent of risk to pedestrians and cyclists. And that is what determines how different modes of transport and their users should be regulated, and where they should be allowed on a public right of way.

    E-bikes should be thought about and regulated on that basis.

    Same with SUVs and parkways.

  • Nice false dichotomy, you moron. Stop arguing with me, you don’t know enough of what you speak.

  • Canonchet

    18 mph is fast, maybe too fast for narrow protected urban bike lanes – 5mph+ faster than average speeds of most non-electrified cyclists …

  • vbtwo31984

    I see tons of Citibikes being used to bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back. An E-bike can easily save you a few minutes each way just crossing the bridge, as you can easily now go about 15mph on the way up instead of the 7-8 mph that I see people doing on the current citibikes. I have my own ebike and on the way up I pass almost every other biker without breaking a sweat.

    My 13 mile commute with a bike became significantly faster after I got an ebike. Now I can bike in less time than it would take me to take a subway and bus.

  • Joe R.

    If it’s within the weight range of a pedal bike and rider, and has a similar speed range, then it should be regulated as a bicycle. Just to throw some numbers around, a fat person on a heavy bike might weigh upwards of 300 pounds. A skinny person on a very heavy 100 pound e-bike might weigh 225 pounds. Hard to say exactly what the cutoff should be but I’d say if the bike itself weighs less than 75 pounds, it easily meets the weight criteria. I might even go all the way to 100 pounds.

    On the speed, you need to look at the highest speeds which can be reached on a pedal bike by a strong rider. You don’t have to look at super athletes who can sustain 33 mph and sprint at close to 50. Just look at what those who ride regularly are capable of. Based on my own observations, strong riders can typically sustain at least 20 mph, and can go as fast as 30 mph in bursts. So 20 mph should be the lower end of what you might consider “bicycle” speed range, but really when you consider burst speeds and hills most cyclists can go faster than that. I personally think the 45 kph (28 mph) top speed of high-end e-bikes seems about right. Any more and you should start thinking of it as a moped or motorcycle. 28 mph is also enough to keep up with motor traffic if you need to leave the bike lane because it’s not designed for higher speeds. The current 20 mph is occasionally too fast for bike lanes but not fast enough to keep up with most urban traffic.

  • AMH

    E-CitiBikes would do wonders for making the hills of upper Manhattan rideable for average folk.

  • AMH

    Most delivery-‘men’ are men, but there are definitely women as well. While I was ordering a sandwich the other day, a female delivery cyclist picked up an order and was addressed as “sir”.

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Streetsblog Editor Gersh Kuntzman gives the thumbs up to Citi Bike's new battery-powered bike, though similar models remain illegal for deliverymen, who use throttle-controlled e-bikes. Photo: Ben Kuntzman

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I have seen the future — make that my future — and it is pedal-assisted. You’re going to be reading a lot of positive reviews of Citi Bike’s new pedal-assist e-bikes in the next few days. Believe me, they’re not positive enough. The new battery pack on the frame turns your everyday Citi Bike into […]