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Free rides: Hop aboard New York City’s Citi Bikes, the largest bike share program in NorthAmerica.

By Erik Torkells

New York City prides itself on being the first at everything, so it burns a bit that so many cities — even U.S. ones! — have successfully instituted “bikeshare” programs. Well, the Big Apple is about to catch up in a major way: Citi Bike debuts in August with 7,000 bikes at 420 stations, with those numbers eventually growing to 10,000 bikes at 600 stations. Is it a good option for travelers? Yes and no …

The stations: At the beginning, the stations will be below Central Park in Manhattan and in the northwest neighborhoods of Brooklyn and a little chunk of southwest Queens. Those parts of Brooklyn and Queens were presumably chosen because they’re accessible via East River bridges.

The bikes: The seats are adjustable, and the bikes have a bell, automatic lights, and a rack to strap a bag on; helmets, however, are not included. The bikes are heavy and not particularly attractive — chunky-looking and plastered with the logos of a sponsor, Citibank — which will theoretically make them unappealing to thieves. (The parts are unique, so they’re not worth stripping.) The $1,000 stolen-bike fee is waived if you file a police report.

What it costs: You have to buy a membership, either for 24 hours ($10), seven days ($25), or a year ($95); the first two can be bought at the stations, while the latter is only available online. Then you can take a bike for 30 minutes (if you bought a 24-hour or seven-day membership) or 45 minutes (if you bought an annual membership). Keep the bike too long and you’ll be charged a fee that starts at $2.50 for the first half hour (for annual members) or $4 (for everyone else)—and then goes way up as time goes on.

Who can participate: Anyone 16 and older. You’ll need a credit or debit card to pay.

Where to go: Cycling on city streets — what with all the drivers and the pedestrians — can be stressful, to say the least, despite the recent addition of many miles of bike lanes. When indoubt, novices will want to stick to the parts of Manhattan without cars. There are bike paths along the Hudson and East rivers and around Battery Park, as well as in Central Park (although cars are allowed there during rush hours). The Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro bridges are also terrific options — you’re more likely to find calmer streets once you leave Manhattan, although you may have to explore a bit.

The alternatives: Anyone looking to make a day of biking around the city will be better off renting from a bike-rental company or simply staying at a hotel that loans out bikes to guests, such as the Tribeca Grand, The James New York in Soho, the Hotel Americano in Chelsea, or the Element New York Times Square West.

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Formerly the editor of Budget Travel magazine, Erik Torkells has written for many other publications, including Travel + Leisure, the New York Times and T Magazine. He has appeared on MSNBC, HLN, and “Good Morning America” on Orbitz’s behalf.

Tagged: Family time, New York

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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