A Two-Wheeled Tank

The star of New York’s bike-share program is all about strength — not speed

By Keenan Mayo

PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN STEELE FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK; GETTY IMAGES (5)

In July a fleet of 10,000 “Citibikes” will be released on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. They’re part of a new public bike-share program funded jointly by Citibank and Mastercard, who paid $41 million and $6.5 million, respectively. The bikes are manufactured by Quebec-based PBSC Urban Solutions — also known as Bixi — which provided the vehicles for 10 similar programs in cities including Melbourne, Boston, and London. They were conceived by industrial designer Michel Dallaire and engineers at the bicycle maker Devinci. Together they set out to create a virtually indestructible machine, capable of surviving the hydra-headed assault of neglect and vandalism. “This bike is too strong for one person only,” says Bruno Gauthier, chief engineer at Devinci. “It’s like a Hummer. It’s too much power. This bicycle is built for the urban jungle.”

Saddle

The ideal height for riding the one-size-fits-all Citibike is 5′10″, according to Gauthier. But the saddle rises and lowers to accommodate people from 4′10″ to 6′5″.

Frame

The frame is so strong that when tested for integrity it broke Devinci’s test bench. It survived a force that “was probably more than a car,” says Gauthier.

Rack

Bixi shunned the basket. “You’ll find that your bag doesn’t fit in [a basket],” says Dallaire. “And they get filled with garbage. By using a rack you have more flexibility.”

Form

“I tried to make it very elegant,” says Dallaire. “The frame is a boomerang. This movement gives the bike a visual sturdiness and effective sturdiness.”

Crank

The crankshaft is protected. “It’s a Shimano device designed for a privately owned bike,” says Dallaire. “We had to make sure that nobody will kick it.”

Structure

The aluminum frame weighs 15 lbs. “There is no corrosion,” says Dallaire. Devinci avoided steel. “When rust attacks [steel], the welding becomes fragile.”

Tires

The tires will be filled with nitrogen for longer inflation. “Many people say big tires will be more difficult to pedal,” says Dallaire. “Well, these big tires will prevent flats.”

Gearshift

The bike will have three speeds. Asked how fast it can go, Gauthier demurred. “It’s not a race bike. [That’s] like comparing a Porsche to a family car.”

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