Can't ride in a long dress, you say? Courtesy of beautifullytold.com

Still worried that you can’t ride a Citi Bike in a long dress? Courtesy of beautifullytold.com

Citi Bike, New York’s much anticipated bike share system, will launch Memorial Day weekend and instantly become the biggest program in North America. But it has not come without controversy. Amid this contention, it’s time for us to clear the air and debunk some of the misconceptions for those who plan to use Citi Bike.

Myth #1: I’m too fat to use bike share.

Citi Bike made recent headlines over its so-called “fat ban” for users who weigh over 260 lbs. However, the Department of Transportation policy director Jon Orcutt stated that the weight limit will not be strictly enforced and thinks that “people will be self-selecting, practical and safe.” Per the bike manufacturer’s recommendation, Citi Bike had to include the stipulation for legal purposes. Also, Citi Bike is not the only bike share program with the weight provision–programs in Boston, DC, London, Montreal, Minneapolis, and Toronto all suggest that riders weigh under 260 pounds. (For the record, here’s London’s.)

Myth #2: I don’t feel comfortable riding on the street with cars, therefore, these bikes aren’t for me.

Most of the risk associated with cycling is actually perceived [PDF]. If you adhere to the local traffic laws and pay attention to your surroundings, biking can be no more dangerous than walking. What’s more, studies of crash rates show that bike share bicycles tend to be safer than privately-owned bikes mostly because of the bike’s low center of gravity and elements that keep the bike at relatively low speeds.

Still don’t feel safe?  Local bike organizations offer bike safety courses for those who feel unsure about riding on the street.  Bike New York is hosting weekly workshops on Citi Bike Street Skills, which covers essential street riding tips, as well as understanding bike share pricing and examining station locations. NYC Department of Transportation also developed a how-to-guide on cycling in the city. One useful tip from Citi Bike is to choose a route that suits your skill and comfort levels–you’ll feel much more confident on the road.

Myth #3: These bikes look lame and I don’t want to have to use a helmet.

Yes, these bikes are “lame.” But they’re comfy and very easy to ride–and what you lack in fashionability, you make up for in worldliness. And although riding with a helmet is encouraged by the program, the helmet law in New York City does not require cyclists over the age of 14 to wear one. If you do overcome your fear of not looking cool, Citi Bike is offering annual members a $10 manufacturer’s coupon off the purchase of a helmet at any NYC bike shop.

Myth #4: I can’t wear nice clothes or carry a briefcase and ride one of these bikes.

Bike share bikes are designed for urban riders who wear regular clothes and carry ordinary things. These bikes feature chain guards and fenders over tires to help keep clothes (and the bike’s components) clean from dirt or mud. An upright sitting position and step-through frame makes it easy to mount and dismount while cycling in a dress or skirt (see photo above). Each bicycle is also equipped with a front rack that is large enough to hold your belongings, such as a handbag, briefcase, or a bag of groceries.

Myth #5: Bike share stations will hurt local businesses and take away scarce parking.

While street vendors may be relocated down the block in some cases, bike share stations tend to bring more patrons and more revenue to local businesses than car parking spaces. A study of Nice Ride MN showed that businesses located near bike share stations saw increased revenue and that Nice Ride users spent over three million dollars in 2011 during their trips. In D.C., Capital Bikeshare manager Eric Gilliland has found that businesses are now requesting that bike share stations be put in nearby. On top of that, Citi Bike is expected to create 170 permanent jobs to service the program. The wages that will be spent and invested locally from these permanent positions will generate $36 million in annual economic activity.

In neighborhoods, bike share docks may take up some parking. But, as explained by Sommer Mathis in her piece for The Atlantic Cities, this program is being implemented to shift away from the car to a more sustainable transportation mode as New York’s population continues to grow. Some parking will be lost, yes–but so will some of the cars themselves as New Yorkers find the need for them reduced.

Myth #6: I get free unlimited bike share rides under 30 minutes.

That is if you purchase an access pass or membership. Here’s how the pricing structure works:

  • Infrequent riders can purchase a daily or weekly access pass at a kiosk for unlimited 30-minute trips. Pass holders will be given a code at the kiosk to unlock the bike.
  • Frequent riders can purchase an annual membership pass online for unlimited 45-minute trips. Only members with an annual membership will receive a key fob that can be used to unlock a bike without visiting a kiosk.

Are you going somewhere that is more than a 30-minute bike ride away? Simply find a station along your route, re-dock your bike, and check it or another bike back out and your timer will start over.

Bonus Myth: A Citi Bike membership is too expensive.

While $95 for an annual membership may be too expensive for some to pay all at once, compared to other forms of transportation, bike share is dirt cheap. A monthly pass to MTA can be between $56 and $112 dollars–annually, that’s anywhere from $672 to $1,344. And do we need to go into the average annual cost of owning a car? Hint: it’s about one hundred times more expensive than $95. Literally.

And, as Sommer Mathis wrote in her Atlantic Cities piece, “If a $95 annual membership replaces just one $10 taxi ride a week, it pays for itself in under three months.”