Test Riding the New Citi Bike Electric Version

Battery-assisted bicycle is light years ahead of existing model — and could change bike-share forever.

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
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

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 a rocket ship. Stop at a red light? You’ll be back up to top speed in seconds. Need a quick jolt to get around an inevitably double-parked taxi in your bike lane? Just pedal a tiny bit harder and you race into safety. Riding up the aptly named Battle Hill in Prospect Park? You’ll conquer it faster than the Hessians sent George Washington into full retreat.

My normal DUMBO-to-Windsor Terrace commute home takes me about 35 minutes on a normal Citi Bike, thanks to the hills in Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. On a supercharged Citi Bike, it’s half that. In fact, you don’t even realize you’re on a heavy old Citi Bike because this thing moves so quickly.

(Full disclosure: I have long been a skeptic of Citi Bike and its parent company, Motivate. Its expansion of Citi Bike has been far too slow and too limited to create the city-wide constituency for cycling that would force the de Blasio administration to build more protected bike lanes and force the NYPD to crack down on motorists who kill and injure cyclists.

But, fuller disclosure: I’m getting up in years and as virile and muscular as my girlfriend considers me, she is also openly discussing our future as 70-year-olds who are still just as dedicated to cycling, but don’t have the muscle mass to get to the top of the Fresh Kills landfill during the Tour de Staten Island.)

At Monday’s unveiling, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined me in thinking that electric Citi Bikes will be a game-changer for seniors (not that he was calling me old).

“I’m going to go to the senior centers and tell people about this bike,” he said. “Many seniors believe that biking has left them behind, but this bike shows that it’s no longer the case.”

Adams described the e-Citi Bike as one would describe an airplane on auto-pilot.

“I felt like the bike was riding itself,” he said after coming off the Brooklyn Bridge.

On the road, the electric assist really kicks in at the lowest speeds, like when you’re starting up from a red light or pedaling extra hard on a big hill and need that extra torque. In both instances, the battery provides so much power that cycling is in no way a form of exertion. Yes, I was still pedaling, but I never lost momentum, even when I had to slow down going up a hill because of a construction crew.

There are only 200 e-Citi Bikes on the roads, with another 1,000 coming for the L-train shutdown. That’s not enough. But someday, when there are thousands of these on the roads, they will create a new generation of cyclists — all of whom will be a constituency for safer roadways, better NYPD enforcement and an ever-expanding bike-share network.

So, it’s a start.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also likes the new electric Citi Bike. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also likes the new electric Citi Bike. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

  • SteveVaccaro

    Sounds fun, but raise your seat, Gersh!

  • Larry Littlefield

    The E-bike thing could be even bigger in hilly cities.

  • LOL! Like about 75% of riders in NYC!

  • Having to manage your battery’s charge is in my experience one of the big downers of the electric pedal-assist bicycle, so an option in the shared-bike fleet like the one described here could be a big positive for riders who want the assist but don’t want to lug either a spare battery or a charger around with them everywhere.

  • Joe R.

    Eastern Queens is pretty hilly. For example, when you’re riding east on Union Turnpike your sea level elevation goes from 40 feet at Utopia Parkway to 181 feet at Springfield Boulevard. The part right after Francis Lewis Boulevard is the worst. And don’t get my started on going north from Hillside Avenue. Outside of Midland Parkway into Surrey Place, which seems to be one of the best kept secrets, it’s a really long, really steep climb.

    Most of my typical ~20 mile rides involve about 1000 feet of elevation gain. Might not sound like much but that means on average I’m either going up or down a 2% gradient. In truth, some of the riding is level, so the actual grades I encounter are typically worse than 2%.

    For now my two legs can still handle all this but I like the idea of electric assist if I’m still able to mount a bike when I’m 90 or 100.

  • AnoNYC

    The Central-West Bronx pilot area could use these. Right now I would 100% prefer a JUMP bike around there.

    This also helps to reduce sweating in the heat, and with longer trips.

  • AnoNYC

    I wonder how these compare to JUMP Bikes in build, comfort and performance.

  • William Lawson

    CitiBike will never get a big thumbs up from me until they deal with the bike/dock shortage problem, something they seem no closer to doing. My local docks are empty by 8am and full by 7pm. You need to take or bike a dock outside of those times and you’re essentially screwed. So they introduced a concierge service for a couple of months, and everything was great. You could get a bike in the morning and there was always a dock at night. I believe that’s what I pay for. And then without warning, they took the concierge away and everything’s shit again.

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