UPDATE: NYC Biketrain is on hiatus as of January, 2015. Check back for updates or e-mail us at info AT nycbiketrain.org. Or, use the info here to start your own commuter biketrain route — we’re happy to give you tips on starting up and running your own!
What is a biketrain?
A biketrain is a lot like a car pool for bike commuters, but without the car, the cost, the gas, or the traffic jams.
A biketrain is a group of cyclists who meet up on a regular schedule to commute via a predetermined route, enjoying safety in numbers. Biketrains are designed for newer cyclists who would like to gain skills, confidence, and local knowledge from the friendly, experienced urban commuter conductors who lead the rides. As of April 2014, five routes run in three boroughs.
NYC Biketrain runs on a lot of volunteers, a little sweat equity, and a few in-kind donations.
I haven’t ridden a bike in years, and I’m really nervous. Can I join the biketrain?
By all means, yes! Biketrain was created for you. Take four easy steps before you “board” a biketrain:
1. Visit your local bike shop to make sure your bike’s brakes, gears, and wheels are in good working condition. (Don’t have a bike? Keep reading for tips on finding one.) Although not required by law, helmets are strongly recommended; if you don’t have one, now’s a good time to get one. You can get one for free through NYC DOT.
2. Check out Transportation Alternatives’ Biking Rules for tips on how to ride legally and safely, and other helpful advice.
3. Go on a couple of easy weekend rides. Earlier weekend hours in parks or on greenways tend to be a little quieter and less crowded. This will let you get comfortable on your bike and practice a few simple habits that will help make cycling even more safe and enjoyable.
4. Sign our waiver; you’ll receive instructions to confirm your e-mail, and then we’ll follow up to say “Hi!” and connect you to your route’s conductor(s).
If you’re still not sure you’re ready for the road, or you just like the idea of something a little more formal, check out the Bicycling Basics, Bike Path Cruise, or Street Skills classes offered by Bike New York.
I’d like to start commuting on a biketrain, but I don’t ride very fast. Will I be able to keep up?
Yes. Our first priority is making sure new commuters are comfortable and supported on the road. That means riding at speeds that are comfortable for you and other newer riders. The more you ride, the more stamina you’ll develop, and with experience, your commute will get faster (if you want it to). But there’s no rush.
Who will I be riding with?
You’ll be riding with one or two volunteer conductors, who are friendly, experienced urban commuter cyclists, and up to four or five others. Sometimes, you might be the only new commuter in the bunch. Other times, there may be several newer riders. Many people ride because they enjoy the company of other like-minded commuters. Whoever you ride with, you will always be in good hands.
What kind of bike do I need to ride the biketrain?
Any bike that you feel comfortable riding and can control easily is suitable for commuting. You can get very good deals on used bikes, especially at great places like Recycle-A-Bicycle.
New riders often get advice that they need a really lightweight, fast, expensive bike with lots of fancy features. You don’t! You just need to make sure the bike is the right size and the seat is adjusted for your height, and is comfortable for you to ride, and you’ll be fine. Find tips on bike fit here. If you want a faster or fancier ride later on, you can always trade up.
Do I need to memorize all the rules of the road before I ride the biketrain?
Well, there’s no quiz! But we strongly recommend that you check out Biking Rules. Importantly, learning and putting to use good cycling habits makes for a safer ride, and other cyclists will appreciate your consideration and predictability.
I think I’m ready to ride! Anything else I should know?
Just a few basics. A bell is essential, and New York law requires reflectors at all times and front and rear lights at night.
If your workplace doesn’t allow bikes inside, invest in a good lock like Kryptonite or TiGr. The price is well worth the lower likelihood of finding your bike stolen and having to take the time and money to replace it. Tips for locking up are here.
Nonessentials you may want to consider: fenders are helpful for keeping you and your bike clean, especially for post-rain rides. Racks and panniers also come in handy for toting work essentials and make that grocery stop on the way home even more convenient.
Are there other benefits to riding with the biketrain besides safety in numbers and the social aspect?
Yes! One is local knowledge. When you ride with people who already know the route, they can point out all the perks and pitfalls along the way: whether it’s that great bike shop or cafe along the route or that annoying stretch where potholes lurk in the shadows.
Another benefit is that you’ll learn good riding habits. When you ride with experienced cyclists, you pick up their habits and techniques – how to use a mixing zone on First Avenue’s protected lanes, where the lane goes straight but drivers are preparing to turn left, for example, or riding on the left side of a one-way street to maximize your visibility to drivers.
All the biketrain schedules are in the morning. How do I get home at the end of the day?
People’s evening schedules vary a lot more than their morning schedules, either due to their work hours or after-work commitments and errands. To offer consistent biketrains in the evening, we’ll need greater volume, and we’re not there yet. In the meantime, chat with your conductor and other experienced riders in the morning to see if anyone is going your way home at the end of the day – usually they are more than happy to meet up if their schedule allows. The MTA allows bikes on subways 24 hours a day. If you live and work in or near the Citi Bike service area, consider a bikeshare membership, which would allow you to ride to work in the morning and take the train home in the evening. Have a non-traditional commuting schedule? Check back with us — we’re compiling tools to locate bike buddies who can ride with you.
Great. Any other helpful tips?
Yes! Check out these great resources for bicycling commuting, or just riding: