Setback for Citi Bike as Entire E-Bike Fleet is Grounded

Citi Bike's electric fleet will not return until the fall at the earliest. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Citi Bike's electric fleet will not return until the fall at the earliest. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s an e-saster.

Citi Bike announced early Sunday that it would pull all its popular pedal-assist bikes off the road after reports that some riders had experienced “stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel.”

The bikes started disappearing off the Citi Bike map earlier this weekend, but the Lyft-owned company issued a “service update” to its 150,000 members on Sunday at 5 a.m. after Streetsblog inquired about the missing electric-assist bikes late Saturday night.

“After a small number of reports and out of an abundance of caution, we are proactively pausing our electric bikes from service,” spokeswoman Julie Wood said. “Safety always comes first.”

Citi Bike was expected to deploy 4,000 of the speedsters by June, but said only about 1,000 of the bikes had made it to the streets. Those bikes will be replaced by non-pedal assist bikes, which Citi Bike refers to as the “classic” model.

When the company announced the expansion, it justified the additional $2-per-ride cost of a pedal assist bike due to the increased maintenance effort of swapping out batteries. Annual members were able to take out electric Citi Bikes for no additional charge until April 27, though Wood said that the date may be extended after all the e-bikes return to the street.

Citi Bike announced in November that it would expand its 12,000-bike fleet to 40,000 bikes over the next five years. It is unclear how that expansion is going. No neighborhoods have been named as the lucky recipients of the new e-bikes or “classic” Citi Bikes. Currently, the system operates only in Manhattan below 130th Street, a thin strip of Western Queens and a crescent of Brooklyn from Greenpoint through Downtown to Park Slope.

The city does not provide any subsidy to Citi Bike, unlike any other form of public transportation. The system carries far more riders than the mayor’s ferry system, for example, which gets millions in city support. Each ride on an NYC Ferry costs riders $2.75, but costs taxpayers more than $10. On an average day, Citi Bike serves tens of thousands of riders.

Also on Sunday, other Lyft-owned systems — such as in DC and the San Francisco bay area — withdrew their e-bikes. Capital Bikeshare only charged $1 per e-ride on a pedal-assist bike — free for members. But the membership charge was about to kick in on Monday. San Francisco’s Ford GoBike system was about to launch a new bike type. It is unclear if that will happen on schedule.

This is a breaking story — and a braking story — so check back for updates. For now, here is the full statement from Citi Bike. (Capital Bikeshare and GoBike put out essentially the same statement):

Since Citi Bike first deployed pedal-assist bikes last year, riders have taken hundreds of thousands of rides and shared with us incredibly helpful and overwhelmingly positive feedback.

However, we recently received a small number of reports from riders who experienced stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel. Out of an abundance of caution, we are proactively removing the pedal-assist bikes from service for the time being. We know this is disappointing to the many people who love the current experience — but reliability and safety come first.

We have been hard at work on a new pedal-assist bike, and are excited to bring that to you soon. The new bike model will be accessible just by scanning a QR code and overall will be more fun to ride. In the meantime, we will quickly replace the pedal-assist bikes with classic pedal bikes.

Thank you for being a member of our community.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I’m sorry, Citibikes are dead. Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of inner city youths on bed stuy at willoughby street just destroying the ebikes with such force. They basically sit on the bikes. try to yank them out as hard as they can and enter codes all day until they can get them out. This is why Citibikes all over the city are breaking down. The faces on them are full of pure hatred. I was going to take a picture of them but I didn’t want to get killed. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • perfect trolling, 11/10

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    it’s not trolling. It’s 100% true. go to willoughby and stake it out. It’s done. It’s like when they found out how to scam the subway by folding the cards. you can hack the citibikes.

  • walks bikes drives

    Stronger than expected braking force? Does that mean the brakes work? 80% or so of your braking force is on the front wheel. It’s supposed to be strong. If people are complaining that a rim brake bike has stronger than expected braking force, I can only imagine that it has to do with the fact that they were traveling faster than they were comfortable and braking harder. I had zero issues with the pedal assist bikes and they have no where near the braking force of my road bike which has 160mm hydros.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    and what is this gonna do? they can’t afford surveillance and they aren’t gonna have armed guards at citibike stations.

  • No, they will not have armed guards watching over BICYCLES to make sure the CHILDREN don’t take any. Good lord

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    yeah. that’s why citibike is over cause they are gonna fuck up all the citibikes.

  • Joe R.

    Right, sounds to me more like rider inexperience or incompetence than any problem with the bike. Also, if you’re trying to decelerate rapidly enough, your weight balance shifts to the point where the front brake is providing ALL your braking force. That’s how I do a full on stop, basically modulate the front brake to the point the rear wheel is just starting to lift off the ground. Obviously when that happens the rear brake can’t contribute any braking force.

  • johnnieutah

    citibike has been operational for 5+ years. I think it can withstand a little youthful vandalism.

  • johnnieutah

    also if you’ve ever used citibike you’d know that merely punching in random codes isn’t enough to get a bike out

  • Joe R.

    Kids being kids. Move along, nothing to see here. I did worse when I was that age, and I had a fairly good upbringing. It’s just youthful exuberance combined with peer pressure. They’ll grow out of it.

  • Andrew

    Come on, it’s ?????????, can’t you read?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Apparently the cables come undone and the brake fails closed. https://twitter.com/miradu/status/1112737630074998784

  • redbike

    I’ve got to disagree with you.

    a rim brake bike has stronger than expected braking force

    Citibike bikes use drum brakes. One up-side is they work equally well dry or wet. Further, and much more important, across the fleet, braking response and behavior was, for the most part, consistent. No surprises. Until the pedal-assist bikes were introduced.

    From Motivate:

    a small number of reports from riders who experienced stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel

    Adding / offering no details, I’ll concur and confirm: some front brakes on pedal assist bikes had dramatically more braking power than others. Much more than expected.

    I’ll leave guessing to others and merely acknowledge Motivate’s caution in withdrawing the pedal assist bikes from service until this can be puzzled out.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    ok. then explain how they got all those citibikes then? I saw them basically punching in codes and furiously pulling them out and jiggling them until they got 5 bikes and they weren’t done. Maybe after so much wear and tear it is enough to get a bike out now.

  • Joe R.

    OK, that’s another thing entirely. That is very dangerous. Taking the bikes out of service is the right thing to do.

  • Sasha

    Saw the same thing near the projects in Chelsea, mid-day. They were vigorously shaking bikes in the docks trying to get them out. There’s probably a word out, whether it’s true or a fake rumor.

  • I like my bike. It’s totally analog, and old but still pretty fleet and fast. My point is, pedal power goes a long way, if you do it right. I know the argument is always about all those transit-underserved people in the outer reaches of the city. Ok, so those people need e-bikes. Here in the heart of the CBD, e-bikes are unnecessary.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    there’s an easy calculus that trumps all other things i feel as a cyclist: the more cyclists on the road, the safer we all are and the fewer shitty cars and drivers are out there. if e-bikes help that number – and there is evidence to support that – then there need to be 1000s more out there.

  • Seereous

    Many older riders are looking forward to ebikes, even in Manhattan.

  • William Lawson

    Yeah I see the same thing around mine – groups of kids sat on the bikes refusing to let people take them out, and shaking them to try and get them loose.

  • AMH

    Exactly, I’ve experienced “stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel” on plenty of standard CitiBikes, which I always assumed was from people using the rear brake more than the front.

  • AMH

    Oh wow, that is bad.

  • p_chazz

    How very ableist of you.

  • com63

    See the tweet above. When the brakes have a mechanical failure, they fail closed and lock up the wheel. Very dangerous and not operator error.

    https://twitter.com/miradu/status/1112737630074998784

  • crazyvag

    It’s not the brakes. It appears that the bike locking mechanism that locks the wheel somehow engages and completely seizes up the front wheel. Not sure if it’s the same model as in SF, but look at the mechanism in the photo in this tweet:
    https://twitter.com/miradu/status/1112737630074998784

  • 94110

    That link (“San Francisco’s Ford GoBike system was about to launch a new bike type.”) is a year old. Look for 2018 in that page.

    GoBike’s email did refer to a new version coming soon, but that doesn’t seem to be what that page is talking about.

  • Joe R.

    That’s just a bad design. If anything, when brakes fail, it should always be in the open position, like regular cable brakes. If one brake fails open, you’ll still have braking on the other wheel, but if brakes fail closed, it can caused an endover.

  • Stephen Simac

    I wonder if the yanking was how the brakes were damaged? If it was and the brakes locked up on the teens, would this be classified as restorative justice, or reparative? When my tenspeed’s cheap chain snapped while I was standing up and sprinting I did an endover as a teenager. Road rash is agonizing.

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  • David E

    those bikes were so east, best bike i ever tried. why did they did this!?!?!

  • D_Rod

    How much of this is an actual mechanical issue and ignoring to me what seems to be the obvious–handling a bike at 18mph is a lot more complicated than the ~10mph (or whatever) the typical person could manage before the electric assist?

    To be clear I don’t think this is a natural human ability, and this is far from victim blaming. But with a membership of 145,000 riders how many could you comfortably predict would know how to handle a 50lbs bike at 18mph in otherwise-challenging city riding? City riding is hard as it is, but Citi bikes have a great safety record _because_ they’re big and slow. Make them big and fast and that changes things.

  • Knut Torkelson

    What even is this comment? Citibikes are dead? I’m pretty sure the millions of trips taken every week beg to differ. Sorry you saw some teenagers being bad, I guess?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    it’s just the tip bro. I noticed a lot of citibikes have really fucked up back wheels and now I know why. this is like the first zombie. you know what happens after they bite other zombies right? you do know that citibike has been losing money because of repairs and that they are hemorrhaging all their capital and they aren’t subsidized? the writing is on the wall.

  • Kill Uber

    Is somebody going to concern-troll about “ableism” at every mention of non-electric bicycles? It’s ridiculous.

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  • p_chazz

    If you had physical impediments you wouldn’t say that.

  • Allison Blanchette

    Anxiously awaiting legislators to stop twiddling thumbs over other micro mobility options while cities are scooting by us. Where are the e-scooters?

  • Jack Hughes

    Some good perspective on this–it may be a maintenance problem.

    http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=7743

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  • david

    Womp womp. No empathy

  • Peter J. Field

    Of course, no one would ever begin or end a long ride downtown. Everyone knows that no one bikes from Brooklyn or Queens to Manhattan. Bike lanes on bridges are also superfluous.

  • Ronfreight

    I hate these citibikes. I work on 37th Street in nyc. I am 63 years old and have gotten clipped twice by these bikes, all I got was a sorry or. Watch out from the person who hit me. I had to see my doctor because of one of these hits. These. Riders Do not stay in bike lane and come from every direction.. I am. Much more afraid of these bikes than cabs. Also. I am deaf in right ear, these bikes have a little tiny bell and if the bike is coming from my right side. I don,t hear anything. These riders think they have right of way over people.

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