Cultural Experience | New York City

How to Use Citi Bike In New York City

Grab a bike, take the ride.

By Jessica Smith, College of William and Mary

This past weekend, I had one of my closest friends, Chloe, visit… all the way from South Africa. The last time we saw each other was the summer after my high school graduation (2010!!) when I visited her in Cape Town for one of my first times traveling alone outside of the country – really the trip that made me fall in love with #livinglikealocal. But that’s another story. She was visiting her aunt and uncle, who live in DC, and took a Bolt Bus all the way to The Big Apple to see me and a few other friends. Once she saw those racks of blue bikes on nearly every corner, her mind was set. We were doing it. Despite all my failed attempts of trying to get out of it, there we were, me swiping my debit card for 2 bikes and she paying me for it.

And I must say. It rocked.

Citi bike locations travel NYC image

You might be able to find one.

How It Works

  • First, you check out your options. You can do either a 24-hr pass for $9.95, a seven-day pass for $25, or an annual membership for $95 (which apparently works out to $0.26 cents a day… seriously, pocket change!). If I wasn’t going back to school in August and somehow became a bona fide NYer overnight, I would definitely consider the year-long gig. Once you experience how easy this whole thing is, you’ll understand why too.
  • You have to hit “accept” and “yes” on a bunch of screens, but finally, after paying, you receive a small piece of paper with a code on it. It’s always a combination of the numbers 1, 2, and 3, and this code will expire in five minutes. Time to find your bike.
  • Usually, there are tons of bikes at every station, but I have read a few blogs where no bikes could be found. Solution: download the Citi Bike app. Not only will it tell you the closest station to you (if you’re not already at one), but it will tell you how many bikes are at each particular station at any given moment – that way you’re not roaming around all day. At least not on foot.
  • Find a bike that doesn’t already have a red light glowing on it. I’ve gathered this means that the bike is out of service. Once you pick your personal mode of travel, check out the pressure of its tires – just to make sure.
  • Enter your code. The yellow light should light up for a few seconds, and once it has turned green, you’re ready to ride. Adjust your seat (I’m 5’2, so I always have to make an adjustment), and get to riding. You have 30 minutes until you need to swap out bikes at another Citi Bike station.
  • When returning the bikes (which can be done at ANY Citi Bike station), simply push the front wheel into the rack until the yellow light appears. Once it has turned red, the bike should be locked into place. Give it a tug to double-check.
  • To get another bike, simply go to the screen, select “Request New Ride Code,” swipe the same credit card you already used, and you’ll receive a new bike NYC student travel image

We took our Citi Bikes to Central Park from my apartment (Midtown East), swapping them as soon as we got there, and once more on the way back. While you can’t actually ride bikes through Central Park’s paths, there are plenty of bike lanes around it and very few cars. Later that night, I decided I wanted to go again (especially knowing I had paid for all 24 hours), so we took a midnight cruise to Times Square – reracked there, walked through the mania of TS, and found new bikes to ride back home. I got at least 2.5 hours worth of biking in during my 24-hr window.

Additional Tips

  • Obviously, go with the flow of traffic. This was my biggest fear, but I soon got over it. So many people ride bikes and some business depends on couriers, so bikes are a common thing in NYC. The cabs and the cars know you exist. 
  • When breaking for red lights, ride up to the curb. Maybe it’s just me, but I hadn’t done too much city biking before Citi Bike (see what I did there?), so I didn’t know little tricks like these. The curb will help you push off and go right when the light turns green (and it also helps shorties like me!). You can also watch the Walk/Do Not Walk signs to gauge when it’s your turn.
  • Do take a night ride. The outer streets, especially those surrounding heavy traffic areas, were pretty empty, making it easier to ride. Your Citi Bike will have a flashing light on the front of it at night, but also wear white/brighter colors to help the cars around you. Also, the sight is incredible. Try biking up to Grand Central late at night; the lights change the whole way you view the city.



Pros: way better than walking (ask my blisters), different way to see the city, easy to use and quite accessible (stations all nearly every corner), fairly cheap (a one-way subway/bus ride is $2.50 vs. $9.95 all day), it’s fun!

Cons: walking is still cheaper, Citi Bike only accepts credit/debit cards, some stations appeared to be out of order (we had to ride to another station because one would not accept our bikes – but that was only a minute away), you have to swap them out every 30 minutes vs. using the same bike all day, not loved by all NYers (a doorman in Times Square affectionately sighed, “Those damn bikes.”)

Overall, I give this bike-share a 4/5, and I definitely plan on using it again. For me, the adrenaline from being in the middle of all the craziness made the whole thing addicting. If you’re smart about it, this is a the perfect way to do NYC.

citi bike NYC image

My new friends

Jessica Smith

College of William & Mary | 7 stories

Jessica is a rising senior at the College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, VA), studying English and Film Studies. In addition to writing for The College Tourist, she is interning in NYC for Rent The Runway. In 2012, she studied abroad with Semester at Sea, traveling to eight, different countries along the Mediterranean on the MV Explorer. Her favorites include iced coffee, live music, all forms of social media, and Mexican food.

One response to “How to Use Citi Bike In New York City”

  1. Kate says:

    Hi Jessica! Loved your article. I’m not from NYC but am spending the summer here and am amazed by the number of Citibike locations (as shown by your picture above). I have yet to try one out but should probably get on it! Also, JEALOUS of your Semester at Sea experience. Sounds incredible

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