NYC Bike Share Vs Bike Shops

‘Our rental business was destroyed,’ says one bike shop manager
July 25, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013

NEW YORK—Bicycle shops around the city are beginning to feel the impact of the bike share program as demand for rentals continues to drop.

More than 60,000 people signed up for annual memberships since the bicycle share launched on May 27, an average of nearly 900 people per day.

The bike share offers savings to riders who don’t mind docking at 45-minute intervals (or 30-minute intervals for 1-day and 7-day pass holders.) If riders dock bikes before the time limit expires, a 24-hour Citi Bike pass costs less than an average 1-hour rental from a New York City bike rental shop, which the Epoch Times estimates at $10.16 using data from Bike New York, a nonprofit.

But cost is not the only factor, since the bike share beats having to lug a bike, foldable or not, to the office or the apartment closet. 

Bicycle rental stores closer to tourist hotspots, like Columbus Circle, have seen a significant drop in rental sales. Central Park Bicycle Shop used to rent out 400–500 bicycles on weekends and holidays. That number has now dropped to 100–350 bicycles.

“We were affected enormously,” Savas Sevil of Central Park Bicycle Shop said. “At the beginning we supported the program; Every big city has one.”

Sevil said that since many of the bike share stations are next to tourist hotspots, the program appears to be geared for profits rather than to provide a public service. The bike share’s daily and weekly passes, which are catered for tourists, are more expensive than in other big cities, both at face value and as a percentage of the cost of the annual membership.

Tourists who do not speak English are misled by the information on Citi Bike booths, Sevil added, leading to overtime fees. A three-hour ride on a Citi Bike for a tourist unaware of overtime fees would cost $62.95 plus tax for a 1-day pass holder, compared to an average of $22 at a New York City bike rental store.

“We welcome the competition, but the bike share is falsely advertising,” Sevil said.

Sevil’s business continues to do well with tourists going on rides in Central Park. The park doesn’t have any docks inside and would result in overtime fees for bike share riders who ride past the 30-minute limit. But some explanation is required, Sevil said, since many tourists think that Citi Bikes are cheaper.

The drop in rental bikes was somewhat assuaged by an increase in helmet sales.

“In the first three weeks our helmet sales tripled,” said Josh Temkin, manager at Ciel Bikes on the Upper East Side. “But then the sales dropped off. We are back to normal on our helmet sales.”

But as of last weekend, the rental business is beginning to disappear, he added.

“Our rental business was destroyed,” Temkin said. “We have about a dozen bikes and we rented them all out on weekends, but last week we rented just one or two.”

Temkin said that it must have taken New Yorkers a while to catch on with the bike share program. 

“Space is so tight in New York City,” Temkin said. “People will do anything not to have to store their bikes in their closets.”

Helmet sales increased at Landmark Vintage Bicycles on the Lower East Side as well.

“That gave us a little boost,” said Tyler Crawford, adding that the increase was “noticeable.”

Crawford said that there was a drop in business in June, but bad weather for most of the month is the most likely cause, rather than competition from the bike share program. As the weather improved last weekend, Landmark Vintage Bicycles rented out all of their 10 rental bicycles.

For John Keoshgerian of Zen Bikes the story is similar. Zen Bikes would rent out almost all of their 10 rentals every day before the bike share rolled out, but now rents out just one or two.

“It has absolutely affected us,” said Keoshgerian. 

Keoshgerian said there was an initial bump in helmet sales when the program rolled out. But the fact that the city decided against making helmets mandatory for bike share users was bad for business.

“They should have made it mandatory,” Keoshgerian said, adding that he has seen just two bike share riders in helmets since the program launched.

The bike share slashed the bike rental business fourfold at nearby Chelsea Bikes. The shop used to rent out 30–50 bikes on an average day and up to 100 bikes on peak days. After bike share launched, the business dwindled to an average of five rentals a day.

“We sold more helmets, but we had to give a discount, because with Citi Bike you get a coupon,” Victor Galvan, manager at Chelsea Bikes said.

To adjust for the drop in rentals Chelsea Bikes started to distribute coupons at local businesses, offering discounts, and comparing the rental prices at the shop to those of the bike share.

A Bummer for Some, a Boon for Others

While some stores suffer from a loss of rental business, others remain unaffected and see the program as a boon for the city’s cycling industry.

“They are two completely different products,” Chris Wogas, president of Bike and Roll, the largest bike rental company in the city, said. “Citi Bike is designed for shorter rides of 30 minutes or less. On our rentals, short rides cost less.”

Wogas added that anything that brings more people to cycling in general is a good thing for the industry. Because of the bike share, more people are now riding who wouldn’t normally do so, he said.

“Some people took a Citi Bike out for a couple of days and enjoyed it, so the next step is to go and look at a bike,” Dave Bush, manager at Sid’s Bikes in East Midtown, said. “Many people were under the impression that the bike share was bad for the business but it has been exactly the opposite.”

Bush said that in addition to selling bicycles to people enthused by the bike share, the store sold substantially more helmets since the program launched. Rentals at Sid’s have not been affected at all, Bush said.

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