Electric bikes have returned to Citi Bike, after a braking malfunction led to their temporary removal from the nation’s largest bike-share system.
Starting this week, Citi Bike will begin adding “several thousand” e-bikes to its network of 900 stations in New York City. The rollout will increase gradually over the next several months, with operators hoping to have a promised 4,000 e-bikes as part of the fleet by the end of the year.
Citi Bike, which is owned by Lyft, was forced to remove hundreds of pedal assist e-bikes last April after dozens of people were injured due to malfunctioning brakes. E-bikes were also removed from Lyft-owned bike-share systems in Washington, DC and San Francisco — though battery fires were to blame for the removal from San Francisco. (Lyft-owned Bay Wheels reintroduced its e-bikes late last year.)
Citi Bike described the issue as “stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel,” though later the problem was attributed to the absence of a power modulator on the electric Citi Bikes.
Some customers were reported to have flipped over the front handlebars after a braking problem caused the front wheel to lock up, according to multiple reports. One rider told AM New York that he broke his hip after flying off an electric Citi Bike. The New York Times reports that there have been “dozens” of injuries reported. Some of those injured have filed claims against Lyft.
Uber, Lyft’s ride-share rival, said it dealt with a similar problem with Shimano brakes on its electric Jump bikes last year. The Washington Post reported that Uber, which offers electric share bikes under the Jump brand, replaced bikes with the Shimano brakes with new models — though not before some Jump customers reported being injured, too.
Amid the controversy last year, Shimano pointed a finger at the operators for failing to follow its requirements when assembling the front brakes. The company released a statement saying “the specification requires the use of a power modulator for this brake. It appears this specification was not followed by manufacturers of some of the bicycles in question.”
Citi Bike and Lyft both declined to comment on why the power modulator was missing from the first version of the bike, but Citi Bike general manager Laura Fox said the bike has been “completely redesigned,” including new wheels, a new braking system, and new batteries — everything except the familiar, blue step-through frame.
“We wanted to be like sustainability forward, which is our perspective in terms of keeping the frame,” Fox said. “But everything else on the bike is actually different.”
Lyft put this new bike through “exhaustive testing,” including modeling and simulation, said Gary Shambat, a product manager at the ride-hailing company who oversaw the process. Lyft employees also road the bikes in real conditions to ensure there weren’t any lingering problems.
The e-bikes operate with a rear-hub motor that runs on a battery attached to the frame. Whereas the previous version required customers to push a button to activate the motor, this e-bike will always be on. The battery provides about 30 miles of range, and Lyft will take a bike offline before its battery is fully drained in order to prevent riders from getting stranded without power.
The bikes aren’t light — each weighs around 60 pounds — but are still lighter than the “hybrid” e-bikes used in San Francisco by sister operator Bay Wheels, which include integrated locking mechanisms. But to maximize their use, Lyft revamped the pricing, getting rid of the flat fee in favor of a per-minute charge. The bikes’ top speed is 18 mph, which is fine for biking up hills or over bridges, but is less than most throttle-powered e-bikes used by food delivery workers.
Last year, Citi Bike outlined its plans to expand into the Bronx, as well as deeper into the outer boroughs. Fox said that it is Lyft’s hope that, with the return of e-bikes, more people will consider using an electric bike to travel between boroughs.
“We already know that regular bikes are faster than taxis and other modes in places like Midtown during rush hour,” she said. “I think that we’re going to see more people willing to take on an e-bike longer distances.”