NEW YORK CITY — Time is running out.
It's my first experience using Citi Bike, the new New York City bike share program, and I've made a terrible mistake, I've lost track of time and now it looks like I won't get my bike back to a docking station in time to avoid paying a late fee.
Primarily sponsored by Citigroup, Citi Bike premiered in May. As part of the program about 6,000 bicycles have been made available to New Yorkers and tourists at hundreds of stations across the city. Bikers, whether you live in the city or are visiting from Europe, pay a yearly fee of $95, or $25 for a week pass and $9.95 for a day pass. This program is geared more for commuters than tourists, designed for short rides between point A and point B rather than long treks or exploring. Therefore your time is limited, allowing you to borrow a bike for 45 minutes if you purchase a year pass, and 30 minutes with a day or week pass. But once you've docked your bike you can get a new bike. One more catch: There are late fees. If you don't dock your bike within the allotted amount of time you'll be charged $4 for the first 30 minutes you're late if you have a day pass.
So why use this service?
Citi Bike can be a godsend for cyclists who want to get from point A to point B without lugging their own bike to the city, but if you'd like to do some two-wheeled wandering and go where the wind takes you, you're better off bringing a bike or renting from a traditional bike store. If you're not careful Citi Bike can have you racing desperately against the clock as you search in vain for a nearby docking station. A few times I started to feel like a character in bad action movie, I could almost hear the stereotypical villain taunting me "if you don't dock your bike within 30 minutes, I will start destroying your bank account."
After my first mishap filled attempt I found that the key to successfully using Citi Bike is planning. Since that first trip I've mapped out several routes that let me cycle my way across the city in 30 minute increments while enjoying some of my favorite spots in the city along the way.
My trips generally begin at Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. I pick up my bike from one of two docking stations located outside the main entrance of the terminal. It's important to remember before getting a bike to have a station in mind that you're going to return it to. To do this I recommend downloading the official Citi Bike app for your phone. This app will tell you where bike docking stations are and how many bikes are available.
My favorite places to bike in the city are along the designated bike paths along the East River on the East Side of the city and the Hudson River on the West Side. Hitting both sides in a day is ambitious, so I generally choose one side or the other.
There's an entrance to the bike path along the East River on 34th Street. I like to leave the bike path in Alphabet City and head to Ninth Street Espresso on 9th street and Avenue C. Ninth Street is one of my favorite coffee shops and there's a docking station right across the street. The shop's owner, Ken Nye, was dubbed the "Coffee Nazi" by New York City press when he first opened in 2001, but I've been going there regularly for years and have found the staff to be friendly and helpful. Unlike other artisan coffee shops, Ninth Street is a no-nonsense place that will serve you great coffee without you feeling out of place for not wearing a beret, or talking about your favorite impressionist painter.
From Ninth Street I like to head towards the tip of lower Manhattan. You can do that by either getting back on the bike path on the East River or taking city streets downtown. The next stop on my culinary bike tour is usually Kossar's Bialys at 367 Grand St. This is the oldest Bialy bakery in the country and one of the few places where the art of authentic bialy making survives. There's a Citi Bike docking station right nearby on the intersection of Grand and Clinton Street.
Great Views and Beer
Moving further towards the tip of lower Manhattan there are some sites you won't want to miss including Battery Park which offers views of the Statue of Liberty. From Battery Park I usually head back uptown and I stop once again at the docking station on 9th Street and Avenue C. Two blocks away, on the corner of Avenue C and 7th Street, is the German bar Zum Schneider. Zum Schneider features a sampling of German beers offered in cartoonishly big 1 liter mugs. These jumbo sized glassed will let you drown your sorrows one delicious sip at a time, but will make getting back on your bike an ill-advised decision.
Across town while biking on the Hudson River Park Bikeway on the West Side some of my favorite spots include Intelligentsia Coffee, a small, no-nonsense coffee bar located in the lobby of the High Line Hotel on 10th Avenue and 20th Street. At Intelligentsia you're across the street from the High Line, a unique vertical public park built atop a historic freight rail line. There are no bikes allowed up to the park but part of the beauty of Citi Bike is that at any point during your trip you can abandon your bike at a docking station without worrying about it.
Another favorite West Side spot of mine is an outdoor waterside bar that is officially called Pier 66 Maritime Bar and Grill but is known by locals as the Frying Pan. The bar is located on a floating railroad barge that is securely docked at Pier 66. The Lightship Frying Pan and the John J. Harvey Fireboat are moored alongside and seating is available in both boats. Though it's getting chilly, Pier 66 is a great place to come on warm autumn nights. Here you can witness a dazzling light show as the lights of the New York City skyline are reflected in the dark waters of the Hudson.
As my biking excursion comes to end I often stop by the Grand Central Oyster Bar which is located inside Grand Central Terminal. Built in 1913 this bar and seafood restaurant is a New York City classic that brims with old school Bogart and Bacall charm. It's a wonderful place to down a quick nightcap as your day in the city comes to a close.