BY CLARISSA-JAN LIM | New Yorkers, albeit many of them grudgingly, are gradually getting used to more pedaling passengers on those blazing blue Citi Bikes.
But what about local bike shops? Is Citi Bike rolling up riders at their expense?
At Gotham Bikes in Tribeca, a manager who gave his name as “Ben W.” said the shop has seen an increase in its overall sales due to the bike-share program.
“It’s getting more people on the road, more people learning about the sport and getting involved,” he said.
An employee at Danny’s Cycles in Gramercy said Citi Bike is a good option for people to ease into biking in a city famed for its vehicular congestion and aggressive drivers.
“They can try out a bike without committing to buying one,” James Ryan said. “It makes a more comfortable biking environment in the city because there are a lot more bikes, too.”
Business at Danny’s Cycles has increased as well since the advent of bike-share.
“A lot of people come in for bike gear, and we’ve sold a lot of helmets,” he noted.
Rentals are not a big part of the business at either Gotham Bikes or Danny’s Cycles. But for Frank’s Bike Shop, a small business that has been at its current Lower East Side location on Grand St. since 1976, the bike-share program has been bad news. Owner Frank Arroyo said that his rental business has decreased by 90 percent since the Citi Bikes were rolled out last month.
Arroyo’s main rental customers are European tourists, a demographic that has since been drawn away by Citi Bikes. Initially, a bike-share station was sited a few doors away from Frank’s Bike Shop on the corner of Grand and Henry Sts. But a petition on moveon.org to relocate the bike station gathered more than 1,000 signatures. The Citi Bike dock was eventually removed — but only temporarily, according to the Citi Bike Twitter account, for utility construction in the street.
“I was grateful, and it was quite an honor to see how many people responded on my behalf,” Arroyo said of the petition effort. “It was really nice to see that people care. But they have flooded the place with them,” he said of the Department of Transportation, which installs the bike racks.
Removing one station does little since the area is overloaded with Citi Bike stations, said Arroyo.
“If you put it in front of a hotel, customers are going to walk of the hotel and use it,” he said.
However, Ben said the bike-share is good for bike sales at his shop.
“People have used the bike-share and realized how great it is to bike in the city, then decide that they want something nicer for themselves,” he noted.
Christian Farrell of Waterfront Bicycle Shop, on West St. just north of Christopher St., said initially he was concerned about bike-share, though, he admitted, “I was happy to see people on bikes.”
Consisting of equal parts tourists and locals, his customers get a better rental deal at his shop because, despite charging only $10 for a daily rental, the bike-share program requires cyclists to check their bikes in at a bike station every half hour. His store, on the other hand, charges $10 for the first hour, $5 for the second, and $2.50 per hour after that.
“Six hours with Waterfront Bicycle Shop will cost a customer $25,” he said. “With Citi Bike, a six-hour rental will cost $126 [if the rider doesn’t re-dock his or her bike at a station every half hour]. Our rentals always include a helmet, a basket and a lock.”
Several dozen rental bikes were lined up on Weehawken St. last Sunday behind the store. Benny, who was watching over them, said another advantage over the Citi Bikes is that Waterfront’s bikes are all in good working order.
Farrell’s early concerns were echoed by Andrew Crooks, owner of NYC Velo, at 64 Second Ave.
“It seemed like a great idea, but one that would be difficult to implement,” Crooks said of Citi Bike. He said he worried about inexperienced riders’ lack of awareness of biking rules and backlash from non-cyclists. However, he said, it’s still too early to tell if his business has been impacted.
The actual Citi Bikes themselves have been criticized as “heavy,” “clunky,” even “ugly.” In comparison, Crooks said NYC Velo has bikes that are “lighter, faster and tend to be more comfortable.” Farrell of Waterfront also said his bikes are of “better quality” than the bike-share two-wheelers.
While it’s possible bike-share will cause a drop in business in the long run, Crooks allowed that the idea, as a whole, is good for the city.
“I believe that the program is a positive step forward for New York City,” he said, “and will prove to benefit New York City cycling conditions — in terms of greater acceptance, safety and accessibility.”