It was a return to the bike for Ari Silverstein. Once a regular cyclist, he’d largely transitioned to car. But on Tuesday, he was one of various New Yorkers getting used to the new green or white-and-blue “dockless” bikes that have popped up since last week, when Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a new pilot bikeshare program in the Rockaways.
It started for Silverstein when the 37-year-old noticed the two men in suits on the Rockaways-bound ferry last week. Silverstein works in real estate and says he tries to get to the beach whenever he can, between appointments. The men in suits stood out on the boat, often filled with beachgoers or joy riders. One of them had a bike pin on his lapel. There was a little missionary zeal.
When they got off, Silverstein saw the men setting up a bunch of bikes. They explained the new dockless system, where bikes could be unlocked by cellphone and then simply left wherever you happened to stop. Pace, one of the two companies piloting bikes by the beach, requires you to latch onto something physical. The other company, Lime, allows you to lock wheels anywhere, the subject of much concern among some bikeshare opponents (the companies technically say you have to park somewhere reasonable). The regular bikes cost a dollar for 30 minutes.
The professionals turned missionaries gave Silverstein a coupon. Silverstein was happy to give it a try on Tuesday. It brought back memories of past biking days for the Forest Hills native, who said he once worked as a bike messenger and delivery worker. He used to bike to the beach too, before the windy bridge crossings became too much for him.
But now, there were dozens of bikes available for cheap rental and a casual boardwalk ride, no bridge crossings or bike-in-car-trunk necessary. Silverstein availed himself. “I’m the model of an unhealthy New Yorker getting exercise through this thing,” he joked, his button-down shirt decorated with small tacos unbuttoned in the heat.
After a ride to the eastern end of the boardwalk, he was a little confused about where he was allowed to leave the bike — literally anywhere? — but all in all, he enjoyed the experience.
Like Silverstein, plenty of residents and visitors to the Rockaways are feeling their way forward with the growing bike system. Lime and Pace have committed to having a couple hundred total bikes in the area by the end of the week.
Both employ people who try to keep the bikes in relatively orderly places, crucial during this early trial period. Pictures of alleged bikeshare chaos and bikes caught in strange places are already circulating on social media.
Orlando Martino, 35, out for a Lime ride with his son, remembered seeing one in front of his son’s high school. There are packs of the bikes neatly parked in front of boardwalk entrances and popular spots like Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Some can be found on residential streets next to parked cars, such as one on Beach 98th standing a few doors down from a driveway with a “Parking for Italians Only” sign. For bike parking, no novelty signs needed.
On the commercial strip of Rockaway Beach Boulevard, another lone Lime bike was waiting next to a bike post where bike owners typically lock up. The bike drew some interested bystanders checking out the two-wheeler marooned between Rockaway Commons and a construction zone.
Shamecca Way, 39, nodded approvingly at the sign on the seat that said rides cost a dollar. The price was right, and she had heard the bikes ride well. A lifelong resident, she had her own bike and used it to go up and down the peninsula, but the new bikes might be helpful for those without. Or say you miss a bus but can grab a bike to get to the train. You’d have to get lucky, but at least it was another option.
“We need stuff like this out in Rockaway,” she said.