Citi Bike pulls 1,000-fleet of e-bikes due to front brake issues

Motivate said it is working with its suppliers to analyze the braking system on the pedal-assisted model.
Motivate said it is working with its suppliers to analyze the braking system on the pedal-assisted model. Photo Credit: I Love Panzerotti

Citi Bike is temporarily pulling its pedal-assist fleet from service in New York City over problems with the bikes’ front brakes, its operators announced Sunday morning.

Motivate, the bike share operator, made the decision out of an “abundance of caution” after receiving “a small number of reports from riders who experienced stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel,” according to a blog post that was sent out to members.

It was not immediately clear when the bikes will make their return or why the strength in braking was uncomfortable among riders. Aggressive braking on the front wheel may cause riders to lurch forward. 

There were roughly 1,000 of the pedal-assist e-bikes in the fleet at the time of Sunday’s announcement, which motivate is working to replace with regular pedal bikes to avoid a significant dip in availability, according to a spokeswoman for the company.

The e-bikes debuted last August as part of a 200-bike launch and were generally popular among riders. They allowed cyclists to take longer trips and traverse steeper slopes while exerting less energy. In February, Motivate announced a massive expansion of its e-bikes — with the goal of bringing the fleet up to 4,000 — but that came with a new $2 charge for anyone looking to take the bikes for a spin.

“We know this is disappointing to the many people who love the current experience — but reliability and safety come first,” Motivate wrote in its post.

The bikes appear to have been involved in at least one significant injury. Bill Somers, who lives near Columbus Circle, said he broke his hip after flying head-over-handlebars when he lightly tapped the front brake on his pedal-assist Citi Bike. Somers said he has regularly ridden a bike since he was a child and was a Citi Bike member for years, who had experience with its pedal-assist bikes before the March 17 incident. 

“I literally touched [the brake] with two of my fingers and it locked up,” said Somers, who described attempting to brake while biking along Central Park West and noticing a car edge out onto the road from the intersection with 61st Street.

The brake responded differently than on previous rides, Somers said. 

“I actually wasn’t going that fast, although those bikes can get going fast … I touched the front brake and I flipped in the air, my back wheel went up, and I went flying,” said Somers, who added that he spent four days in the hospital after the incident.

“It was a disaster,” he continued. “I actually had my hip replaced six months prior, and I fell right on that same hip.”

Somers said he has not fully thought out whether to pursue a lawsuit. 

A spokeswoman for Motivate, which is owned by Lyft, did not comment on Somers’ story. The spokeswoman said in an email earlier Sunday that there were no changes to the bikes since they rolled out last summer and that the braking issue had become more apparent — though only through a small number of complaints — as the company added bikes to its fleet. The company would not comment on how many complaints it received or when they were filed.

Riders collectively completed 1.7 million rides on this bike model in the areas where Motivate had stocked it: New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco’s Bay Area, according to the company. The firm said it is working with its suppliers to analyze the braking system, but in the interim, the model will be pulled in all three markets.

Motivate tried to temper the bad news by noting in its post that another pedal-assist bike is in the works, which would be more easily accessible via QR, though there was not a set timeline for that launch, either.