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It's 2013, and bike sharing has finally made it to New York City. Of course, the branded cruisers aren't the most speedy bikes on the road. They weigh a whopping 45 pounds, and their third gear - their lowest gear - isn't nearly low enough, making pedaling down even a slight slope practically useless.

Still, you can get moving if you pedal furiously... and if you pick out the right bike.

During a test conducted by New York Magazine, bike messenger Danny Koniowski hit a top speed of 27.5 mph on a Citi Bike. He did so only after picking out a choice bike.

After inspecting and rejecting the first two Citi Bikes he came across at a Citi Bike station on Canal Street near Sixth Avenue — one for having misaligned tires and the other for being, in Danny’s professional opinion, “a piece of shit” — our test-rider finally settled on a suitable specimen.

I squeeze the tires before I choose a bike, but what more should I do? How can I quickly inspect my next Citi Bike to make sure I've picked a well-tuned cruising machine? Or at the very least, a bike that's not "a piece of shit"?

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What is your exact question? Do you want to know A) how to pick a well tuned bike to ride fast or B) how to check quickly if the bike is ok and safe to ride? A will take longer, B will be more quick. Both at the same time will be difficult. Maybe you could edit your question and remove the information which is not needed. –  Uooo Jun 18 '13 at 7:05
    
They could really save themselves a bit of trouble if they would put a pump at the docking station. If the tires aren't inflated properly, the tires are going to wear out faster, and the wheels may undergo additional strain if the pressure is too low as well. Flats can be more frequent, and there can also be a danger of the wheel coming off the rim if there is not sufficient air pressure. The pump, assuming people used it, would more than cover the cost of incidental problems caused by improperly inflated tires. –  Kibbee Jun 18 '13 at 15:10
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@w4rumy I included the speed test anecdote to demonstrate that, apparently, not all Citi Bikes are equal. I'm looking for an efficient way to find an optimized bike at the dock station. –  SamtheBrand Jun 18 '13 at 15:57
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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are some good answers here, but none describes a pre-ride check that is both quick and covers the main problem points encountered with Citi Bikes. These cruisers are special. They are extremely heavy, they can only be ridden in short spurts, there is nearly always a dock within a 10-minute walk, and the bikes are used and abused by riders and passersby that don't give a snot about them. As I've come to discover, there's a special way to give these special bikes a once-over.

  1. Choose the right seat position - Citi Bike is all about convenient, quick rides. Save time by choosing a bike that's pre-adjusted for you (you'll be able to eye the right seat height after just a couple rides). And don't pick a bike if its seat is twisted around backwards. That's a sign that a previous rider found the bike busted.

  2. Check tires for air - The official pre-ride check tells Citi Bike riders to spin wheels and check tires for cuts and bulges. No doubt a few rare riders will jump on bikes with noticeably misaligned wheels and burst tires, but that hasn't happened to me. And if one day it does, then I'll just drop off that broken, but still kind of ridable bike at the nearest station (twist the seat) and pick up a new one. The official guidelines are overkill. More important than the precise condition of the tires & wheels is that you choose a bike that's pumped up with sufficient air. A quick tire squeeze will do. This is without a doubt the most important thing you can do before undocking a Citi Bike.

  3. Check pedals for damage - I've come across a few Citi Bikes that have sustained torn pedal treads. Sometimes these treads flop of fly, causing a minor inconvenience. But if a pedal tread is damaged in just the right way, who knows, maybe it could get caught in your chain and ruin your week. Don't pick the bike with that perfect storm of a torn pedal tread -- or any Citi Bike with noticeably damaged pedals.

  4. Check handlebars & seat for scum - Citi Bikes are public bikes. This is New York City. Give your seat and handlebars a quick once-over before you go for a ride.

Follow these rules and you'll give yourself a pretty good chance of finding one of the Citi Bikes at the station that's not "a piece of shit." Follow the official pre-ride guidelines or a list that's a page long, and you're probably defeating the purpose of these heavy, comfy, sticky and slow public bikes: convenience.

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Typically you would want to do an ABC Quick Check - the information below came originally from the League of American Bicyclists site.

A = air

  • Inflate tires to rated pressure as listed on the sidewall of the tire.
  • Use a pressure gauge to insure proper pressure.
  • Check for damage to tire tread and sidewall; replace if damaged.

B = brakes

  • Inspect pads for wear; replace is there is less than ¼" of pad left.
  • Check pad adjustment; make sure they do not rub tire or dive into spokes.
  • Check brake level travel; at least 1" between bar and lever when applied.

C = cranks, chain and cassette

  • Make sure that your crank bolts are tight; lube the threads only, nothing else.
  • Check your chain for wear; 12 links should measure no more than 12 1/8 inches.
  • If your chain skips on your cassette, you might need a new one or just an adjustment. Note - most of these bikes use Nexus type internal hubs, so just a visual check of the chain and a quick test ride should let you know what the condition is.

Quick = quick releases

  • Hubs need to be tight in the frame; your quick release should engage at 90°.
  • Your hub quick release should point back to insure that nothing catches on it.
  • Inspect brake quick releases to insure that they have been re-engaged.

Check = check it over

  • Take a quick ride to check if derailleurs and brakes are working properly.
  • Inspect the bike for loose or broken parts; tighten, replace or fix them.
  • Pay extra attention to your bike during the first few miles of the ride.

Edit: The comments seem to indicate that some people think this list if overkill. However, take a step back and remember... You are picking out a bike that doesn't belong to you, that you don't maintain and that really you know nothing about. True, you probably aren't going to measure the chain, or have a pressure gauge in your pocket, but I would spend MORE time inspecting a citibike before I ride off than I would a bike of my own. I am certainly going to look fairly close to see if anything is loose, broken, or way out of adjustment, and the mnemonic ABC Quick Check is an easy way to remember what to look for.

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This is definitely a comprehensive answer, but I'm not sure how practical it is for a very specific type of bike (and dock) that will be used on a ride that will last no longer than 30 min (time limit). Looking for something quick and easy -- maybe even just eye test instructions. –  SamtheBrand Jun 17 '13 at 22:42
    
Clearly you aren't going to lube a bikeshare bike, or replace tires, but if you are in the habit of doing an ABC Quick Check on your own bikes, you do this in about 30-45 seconds. Eg. you pinch test and spin the tires while looking at the wheel for true, tires for bulges and then checking the brakes when you squeeze to stop the wheel. –  Gary.Ray Jun 18 '13 at 12:31
    
I'm fairly sure that taking a quick ride isn't an option in this case. Or is it? –  Neil Fein Jun 18 '13 at 16:39
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Most citibike programs I have encountered have stands located not many blocks apart, so you could actually swap one out pretty quick normally. –  Gary.Ray Jun 18 '13 at 22:24
    
Swapping bikes is easy, so long as the stations are functional. There was one unfortunate ride I took where I had to swap bikes twice, then hunt through three stations to find a functional one, all during a downpour. –  Alan Gerber Jun 18 '13 at 22:53
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I'd check the following:

Quick Visual Inspection

Look for obvious signs of damage. In particular look at the wheels, tyres, handlebars and pedals. Really you're just checking that everything is pointing the right way. If anything doesn't look right, pick a different bike.

As You Get On

Stand next to the bike, grab the handlebars, and push the bike forwards as you walk alongside it. Check both wheels rotate freely and listen for any unusual sounds (rubbing, grinding). Pull each brake lever in turn and check that the brakes operate correctly (you should be able to lock the wheel). Spin the pedals backwards and check that they rotate freely, listen for any unusual sounds.

Straddle the bike. With one foot on the floor, put most of your weight on the bike and check the tyres for underinflation (look for bulges at the bottom of the tyre). Start cycling slowly, check the brakes again. Check the gears operate smoothly. Off you go...

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These seem like prudent instructions, though I would say it's more convenient to check tire inflation before undocking the bike. That is one of the few things one can do while the bike is docked. You cannot, for instance, spin the wheels while docked to check for proper alignment. –  SamtheBrand Jun 21 '13 at 19:03
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So far, I've come across one bike with a broken pedal, and one with a seatpost stuck at minimum height. So eyeball the pedals.

In other cities, it's apparently become conventional to put the seat backwards on broken bikes. I've seen it occasionally here, as well.

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Eyeballing the pedals seems like a good start, but just a start. –  SamtheBrand Jun 21 '13 at 19:01
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