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Flywheel: Lessons from Running Citi Bike - Pt. 1 w/ Laura Fox | Vehicles from Evelo, Tern, Oyama, Buzz, & Johnny Loco
Exploring Laura Fox's lessons from running Citi Bike & featuring the top 5 vehicles of the week
Welcome to Flywheel, a weekly exploration of the owned and used micromobility. Each newsletter will highlight an observation of trends emerging in the industry and feature five of the most interesting used vehicles being sold in the secondary market.
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The observation of the week is a guest column by my friend Laura Fox, the Managing Partner of Streetlife Ventures and the former GM of Lyft’s Citi Bike, reflecting on her tenure leading the Citi Bike program. This week’s featured vehicles are an ultra-smooth step-through commuter, a compact longtail cargo bike, two folding ebikes, and a cargo box etrike.
Observation of the Week
I’m super excited to introduce my friend Laura Fox, the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Streetlife Ventures and the former GM of Lyft’s Citi Bike. She will be joining us as a guest columnist on Flywheel for a two part series reflecting on her tenure leading the Citi Bike program in NYC. The series will feature 10 lessons she learned from her Citi Bike experience. Part 1 can be found below and will cover the first 5 lessons. Part 2 will be released next week and will cover the remaining 5 lessons. Please welcome Laura:
10 lessons from running one of the world’s largest micromobility systems, on its 10-year anniversary - Part 1 by Laura Fox
I led Citi Bike at Lyft for four years from 2019 - 2023, and it was the most meaningful role of my career to date. It’s exceptionally rare to work on something where you have an impact on cities and climate in such a tangible way, every day. Not to mention, with a product that you and millions of others love, and use to get from point A to B for trips ranging from commutes to meeting friends or going on a simple urban joyride.
Over my tenure, a number of lessons crystallized, and thank you Puneeth for inviting me to share a few of them here.
Lesson 1: Public private partnerships are core to making an urban mobility program successful
Many startups tell me that they want to take the approach of Uber in entering a city. While that strategy worked at the time for a business like Uber (no assets, software platform, marketplace that engaged riders and drivers as advocates), it’s not a repeatable playbook for future urban climate startups as: the majority of city officials learned their lesson and have actively blocked later startups from following a similar strategy (think of the early days of scooters), and it’s not feasible for startups utilizing hardware, B2B strategies, etc. given the inherent network effects that strategy deployed. Instead, accelerating the decarbonizing of our cities requires engaging cities as active partners, rather than putting them in defensive positions to block the impact of new technologies.
Citi Bike is a great example of how a successful public-private partnership makes both the public and private sector players successful. The former Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner, Janette Sadik Khan, made it clear publicly that alternative transportation was a priority of her administration, and even helped secure the first sponsor for the system (Citibank). To this day, the NYCDOT has the largest alternative transportation team in the country, and plays an active integral role in the partnership – ensuring that the Citi Bike network is dense, reliable, and has added capacity near transit hubs to ensure multi-modal transportation access (the reason that 90% of Citi Bike riders have used the system to access public transit). As a result, Citi Bike is not only the largest micromobility program in the country, but also one of the largest transportation networks (which includes buses, subways, etc.).
Lesson 2: A little can unlock alot for our streets (and cities like London and Paris are demonstrating the possibilities if we do more)
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has one of the most extensive studies on the use of street space that I’ve found globally, highlighting that less than 1% of streetspace in NYC is dedicated to bus and bike lanes (with 75% allocated to cars / parking, and 25% to sidewalks).
Over the course of my tenure at Citi Bike, we grew unique riders from less than 500,000 to more than 1.5M riders, most of whom are local (2022). And, Citi Bike ridership is a fraction of the broader NYC micromobility ecosystem. Despite this obvious hunger for alternatives (even given the limited street space), I've frequently been greeted with skepticism on panels and city leadership discussions for suggesting that NYC could ever have a majority of its people riding as part of their weekly options. For example, during a NYC Mayoral COVID Recovery Taskforce meeting, the head of a NYC-based trucking coalition told me that I needed to stop proposing “unrealistic” options when I suggested that the best investments that the city could be making in surface transport included bike lanes.
We found continuously when analyzing Citi Bike data that the largest driver of ridership was proximity to bike lanes, nearly double the correlation compared to residential or commercial density.
London and Paris made those investments (bike lanes, low emissions zones, etc.), and their transportation mode share (and decreasing transportation emissions) confirm the outcomes: in London, 40% of commute-hour trips are now made by bike, and in Paris - with its wide boulevards designed for cars - car trips have decreased nearly 60% over the last 20 years.
Imagine what American cities like NYC, Boston, Chicago, and SF could look like by employing the same strategies.
Lesson 3: Diverse leaders create more diversity in this industry
Prior to starting at Citi Bike, urbanist friends warned me that Citi Bike had a reputation as being a “sweaty white man thing,” and – on my first day at Citi Bike – the only female member of my leadership team said, “thank God, finally, another woman.”
As the first female General Manager for Citi Bike, and a long-time urban cyclist, it was a top priority for me to adapt both my leadership team and to make riding a bike an option for many more people. By the time that I left in early April of this year, ~80% of the Citi Bike leadership team qualified as diverse (gender, race, sexual orientation), the share of trips taken by women grew from 28% to more than 40%, and more than 50% of riders identified as BIPOC.
From hiring practices like the Rooney Rule to specific outreach tactics, I could talk about this topic for hours. On the hiring side – Yes, there are qualified candidates out there. Yes, it really makes a difference. Yes, it is absolutely worth the extra effort. The only real obstacle is an unwillingness to change.
Lesson 4: “Community” orientation can drive a business, and doesn’t need to be in conflict with it
“Community” to many business leaders can be viewed as a cost center, and a drag on resources. I’ve always viewed community – when done right – as one of the most critical aspects of a company, especially when you’re not only building a business but trying to stimulate a larger movement.
For example, Citi Bike aimed to have every person believe that they could be a bike person, and to fight some of the long-held beliefs about the system (see above). So, we set up programs targeted towards getting women on a bike for the first time, gave hundreds of thousands of free rides to Justice Rides in 2020 and 2021, launched critical worker programs during the pandemic with millions of free rides, and more. And last year, the Citi Bike Community and Equity team (led by Inbar Kishoni) hosted 250+ events in neighborhoods across the city to help people learn how to ride, with nearly 500 planned for this year.
As a result, we’ve seen those same people not only ride, but also show up to community board meetings to advocate for bike lanes and added stations, write to their local representative about funding for alternative transportation, become school “bike bus” leaders, and more. Investing in “community” can drive a business and a longer-term ecosystem.
Lesson 5: As a surprise to no one who reads this newsletter, ebikes truly are a game changer
The first time that I rode an ebike was on a 6-day biking vacation in the Swiss Alps (the Herzroute) in 2017. I had read a New York Times article years earlier, and convinced my husband that ‘biking the Swiss Alps” wouldn’t be nearly as hard as it sounded. And, it wasn’t - we laughed while biking up hills, and gasped at the views (rather than desperately for air). It felt like joy in a bottle.
After trying every ebike that I could for three years, we designed and launched ebikes in the Citi Bike system in 2020, not sure yet how the shared ebike experience would play out. Ebike utilization immediately jumped to more than 3-4X that of pedal bikes, and has remained that high as more and more ebikes joined the system. We saw that riders took trips ~50% longer on ebikes, and that more than 60% of trips in hilly neighborhoods and across bridges took place on an ebike; and that when presented with both an ebike and pedal bike, people preferred an ebike over a pedal bike more than 65% of the time. Countless people also told me about how it allowed them to not show up to work sweaty, to feel safe in traffic, to ride even with knee or hip issues, etc. Plus, in almost every conversation, people mentioned “and also it was just so fun.”
At a climate gathering in Reykjavik recently, an attendee stood up and proclaimed that we needed to “stop trying to force feed people [climate] broccoli, and instead give them [climate] ice cream.” To me, ebikes are the ice cream of the mobility space - full of delight, and with 92% less emissions than a car trip.
To be continued on next week’s Flywheel…
For more observations and resources on owned and used micromobility, check out rideflywheel.com/resources.
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Top 5 Vehicles of the Week
The Evelo Aurora Limited is a class-2 (with a class-3 off-road mode) hybrid step-through commuter optimized for smooth riding. Evelo has made a name for itself making ultra smooth ebikes, and the Aurora Limited is a culmination of all their experience making ebikes feel like an intuitive extension of a rider’s legs. Its powertrain features a 105Nm Dapu mid-drive motor and a 696Wh battery pack, and is combined with the one-two punch of an Enviolo N380 Automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. Many OEMs have tried to incorporate the Enviolo CVT into their vehicles, typically by combining it with a Bosch mid-drive. However, these systems often struggle to gel together without frequently stalling. Moreover, the complexity of these systems, and mid-drives in general, means that they rarely have a throttle. Evelo manages to seamlessly integrate the Enviolo hub with a powerful mid-drive and a throttle by building a custom motor and motor controls on top of the Dapu mid-drive platform. This gives riders the best of both worlds, combining the buttery-smooth riding of a mid-drive with the maximized vehicle utility only possible with a throttle. There’s even a front suspension to further soften the vehicle’s ride. As Electrek’s Mikey G puts it, the Aurora Limited “pedals better than an $8,000 German e-bike.“ Despite costing less than half of its competitors from the likes of Riese & Müller, the Aurora Limited might just be the smoothest and most intuitive riding ebike on the market. This listing has a moderately high mileage of 1507mi, but comes with a spare battery. Listing can be found here.
The 2023 Tern HSD is a class-1 cargo line launched just two weeks ago and a compact crossover hybrid of a cargo bike and a commuter. Compared to its predecessors, the new 2023 Line’s most notable improvement is that it features a 75Nm Bosch Performance Line mid-drive motor vs. the previous 50Nm Bosch Active Line Plus set up. Additionally, the latest models also feature stiffer frames, which enable a more solid ride and a higher ~176lbs payload capacity on the rear rack. This stronger rack, upgraded from a ~132lbs payload capacity, now enables the HSD to be a competent two-person ebike. In fact, Tern even upgraded their Captain’s Chair passenger accessory to further lean into the two-passenger utility of the vehicle. Lastly, the 2023 HSD line also includes the Bosch Smart System display, which gives riders OTA updates, on-vehicle navigation, and built-in anti-theft features (alarm, GPS tracking, frame lock). Ultimately, the latest HSDs are great vehicles for urban riders, given their compact form factors, folding frames that are small enough to fit in the back of an SUV, ability to store them vertically on their rear, and UL 2849 certification. Tern is my favorite cargo bike maker in the market, and the 2023 HSD line provides an awesome amount of upgrades with a minimal price increase. Learn more here.
The Oyama CX E8D II is a premium-feeling class-1 folding ebike. Oyama has been building folding bikes for 30+ years, and the CX E8D line represents one of their initial forays into the ebike world. Most folding ebikes feel flimsy with poor performance because they tend to be budget ebikes with lower quality parts. However, the CX E8D II bucks this trend, and still retails at an affordable price point. Its powertrain features a 350W (~60Nm) Aikema rear geared hub motor and a 378Wh removable battery sleekly integrated into the frame. The 3 hinge folding mechanism makes the vehicle quick and intuitive to fold while still eliminating the frame flex that plagues a lot of folding ebikes. There’s even hydraulic disc brakes, an integrated rack and fenders, and a powerful headlight. Oyama no longer sells the CX E8D II new, so this listing for a CX E8D II with a Flywheel estimated mileage of ~575mi is an excellent option for those looking for a smooth and solid compact commuter. Listing can be found here.
The Charter is a budget class-1 ebike from affordability-focused D2C brand Buzz. Buzz sells several low-cost ebikes and etrikes, and the Charter is one of their first product lines. The Charter’s powertrain features a 250W (~30Nm) rear geared hub motor and a 288Wh battery pack that is packaged within the seat post. This is a convenient design because it allows you to easily take the battery and saddle with you when the vehicle is locked outside. The vehicle is also ultra compact, as a result of its folding frame, 20” wheels, and a light total weight of ~35lbs. In many ways, the Charter is a great ebike for NYC. Not only does it have a small form factor that is ideal for smaller city apartments, it also has a UL certified battery. The UL certification is particularly important since many apartment buildings in NYC are starting to mandate it if you want to store your vehicle indoors. That being said, the Charter’s powertrain performance is weak and its ride is bumpy. The vehicle also doesn’t come with standard accessories like lights or racks, and the brand doesn’t even offer compatible accessories on their website. While the Charter is adequate for shorter rides or cruises, its a challenging option for utility minded commuters with longer trip distances. This listing is in like-new condition with a Flywheel estimated mileage of ~197mi. Listing can be found here.
The Johnny Loco E-Cargo Cruiser 5.3 is a class-1 cargo box etrike designed for carrying children. Its large front box comes standard with a built in cushioned bench and seat belts sufficient for two children, and its larger rear wheel (26”) than front wheels (24”) help reduce the vehicle’s center of gravity when loaded. The Cruiser 5.3’s powertrain features a 60Nm Shimano STEPS E6100 mid-drive motor and a 418Wh battery pack, and is combined with an Enviolo continuously variable transmission that smoothens the ride and makes it easier to accelerate from a stop. At first glance, 3-wheel cargo bikes seem more balanced and easier to ride than 2-wheel cargo bikes. In reality however, they have worse handling and are dangerous when turning or cornering because they tend to tip over when riding faster than 13mph-15mph. That being said, for parents that are new to transporting children on cargo bikes and will mostly be riding on low-speed routes with good biking infrastructure, cargo box etrikes are a great gateway into the world of cargo bike minivan replacements. This listing has a mileage of 500mi and was imported from Europe. Listing can be found here.
That’s it for this edition. Thanks again for joining, see you next week!
- Puneeth Meruva
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