But after a few months, and the summer almost gone, it's hard not to see the program as a success.
Citi Bike is already the biggest bike-share program in the country. It has more than 64,000 registered members who are making use of thousands of nikes and hundreds of docking stations. Riders have traveled more than four million miles and made more than two million trips on these bikes. To put that in perspective: on busy days that's more than 40,000 trips taken.
Are there still glitches being worked out? Sure. The goal was to have 7,000 bikes in use by now, and the program is a bit shy of that as it works out software problems with the system. Some riders complain that the racks can be stubborn about receiving the bike when a rider is done. Others say those who are complaining just need to pay attention, suck it up and put some muscle into it.
The bike sharing system is not always convenient, even for the most ardent cycling fan. Consider that you are going to a Midtown meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m. You ride up from Greenwich Village and arrive near the location by 1:15, but can't find a docking station to check your bike in. It's tantamount to pulling up to your destination in a car and not being able to find a parking spot.
The way the system works is that you check a bike out at one docking station and then check it into another of the hundreds of stations sprinkled around the city--Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can't just lock the bike up anywhere without incurring extra charges.
Annual members can take the bikes for a 45 minute ride before overtime charges begin. Short-term members have 30 minutes before overtime charges kick in. The system is not meant for an afternoon of joyriding, but rather an alternative to a cab or subway.
During two trips to New York City over the summer, we availed ourselves of the Citibikes, and had no complaints. We did not run into full docks, but imagine a regular rider would encounter that issue sooner or later.
Bloggers in New York City have certainly chronicled frustrated people whose weekend cycling plans have been spoiled: kiosks that would not take credit cards; malfunctioning codes; missing pedals, and so on.
We admit to romanticizing cycling a bit. Traveling to Berlin, Munich, Paris, Minneapolis, Portland, Washington D.C.--all cities with bike sharing programs--we remain steadfast in our belief that cycling is absolutely the best way to digest and experience a city. It's faster than walking, but you see pretty much all the little things that would escape notice in a cab or, worse, a tour bus. And the exercise is a bonus. We have seldom felt better, or more at peace, than when riding a bicycle.
The Citibike system has advantages over European sharing programs, which, annoyingly, require credit cards issued in that country. In Berlin and France, for example, you can only use the system at the public kiosks with a German or French issued credit card. Without it, there is a bunch of rigmarole to navigate on non-English websites.
In New York, as in Paris, the biggest issue is traffic. Only a fool would ride a bike without a helmet, especially in NYC. But even helmeted, cycling in a busy city is not for the faint of constitution. Cars, lights on every corner, jaywalkers, clogged intersections, and kamikaze bike messengers with fixed-gear brakeless bikes.
It's an adventure, but one we recommend for people in good enough physical shape and with sufficient reflexes to come out unbroken.
David Kiley is Editor-in-Chief at AOL Autos.