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Flywheel: Lessons from Running Citi Bike - Pt. 2 w/ Laura Fox | Vehicles from Co-op, n+, Trek, Pedego, & Kuberg
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 Part 2 of 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 a compact utility bike, two high-performance road/hybrid ebikes, a fat-tire off-roader, and a mountain bike/dirt bike-style escooter.
Observation of the Week
Please welcome back Laura Fox, the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Streetlife Ventures and the former GM of Lyft’s Citi Bike. She is returning as a guest columnist on this week’s Flywheel for her two part series reflecting on her tenure leading the Citi Bike program in NYC. Last week’s Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found below:
10 lessons from running one of the world’s largest micromobility systems, on its 10-year anniversary - Part 2 by Laura Fox
Hello again everyone. As a reminder, my name is Laura Fox and I led Citi Bike at Lyft for four years from 2019 - 2023. In last week’s Part 1, we talked about the first 5 lessons that crystallized for me during my tenure at Citi Bike:
In this week’s Part 2, let’s dig into the remaining 5 lessons I learned while running the Citi Bike program:
Lesson 6: The “war for the curb” is never over
People often assume that after the Daily Show skewered initial protests against Citi Bike – comparing the program to the Taliban, or claiming the efforts of a mysterious “all powerful bike lobby” – that the expansion and operation of the program was smooth sailing.
Unfortunately, it remains a “war for the curb” across the city. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker to NIMBYs in Brooklyn Heights want stations moved, and City Council members with questionable role models try to prevent any expansion into their neighborhoods to preserve spaces for parking. This all starts to feel especially crazy when presented with added facts: Citi Bike occupies less than 1% of the curb in its service area, facilitates ~27X more trips per parking space per day, and pales in comparison to the spaces given to cars in a city where the majority of people don’t drive (e.g., NYC has 3M free parking spaces, enough to create another 13 Central Parks).
For anyone looking to understand the American psyche around car ownership and parking, I’d strongly recommend Henry Grabar’s new book, “Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World.” And, I’d like to shout out transportation advocates in cities around the world (with a special thanks to Danny Harris and Transportation Alternatives in NYC) for helping make space (literally) for anything that isn’t a car in our cities.
Lesson 7: The micromobility business model is one of the most complex that I’ve ever run (or advised on)
Prior to leading Citi Bike, I had long been an urbanist and a business person – and had led urban diligence across sectors at Sidewalk Labs, launched new mobility startups, advised CEOs on P&L strategy at BCG, mentored and advised dozens of urban startups, etc.
I quickly realized though that Citi Bike (and micromobility, more broadly) was a whole new world – heavy assets / infrastructure (fixed stations, bikes), 24/7 operations, multiple layers of software, complex top-line revenue growth (including B2C, B2B, B2B2C, advertising and sponsors), critical government, political, and community relationships, and more – all of which made it endlessly interesting and a challenge (in the best of ways). I came out of it feeling bulletproof – across business verticals and the intricacies of how cities get things done, and fired up about large-scale change because I knew that it was possible (and that I could do it).
So, for anyone looking for a mission-driven, urban business bootcamp – this space is for you :).
Lesson 8: A great team will get you through the toughest days
Over the years, I’ve optimized hiring processes to target not only talented people who are great at their roles (or who have the potential to be), but who are also passionate about the space overall (and bring a sense of humor to the day to day).
“Being in the trenches together” is always true when running an intensive operational business, and the culture that we developed on the Citi Bike team is one that I will cherish across my entire career. Outside of core development processes and regular feedback structures, we set up and iterated on team systems that kept us continuously anchored to our excitement for the mission, even on the toughest of days. In every Monday morning team meeting, a team member presented – and led a discussion on – an “Article of the Week” on a big urban or mobility issue. We did team events to interesting infrastructure sites (like DSNY’s Treasures in the Trash Collection, or the NYPL’s Picture Collection for bike ephemera), tried new restaurants in new expansion areas, joined community rides, etc. We actively debated articles and ideas in our team Slack channel, and brought in outside speakers and book authors.
“Mission” is an amorphous, tenuous word – but can be brought to life in how a team works together, and thinks critically together about the challenges, opportunities, and joy embedded in their day to day.
Lesson 9: Even if the IRA and Infrastructure Bill excluded micromobilty, there’s lots that cities can do to divert benefits to this space
There’s been much written on the pros and cons of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) as it relates to non-car mobility (IRA example from Yonah Freemark, BIL example from Streetsblog).
I’ve always been interested in how states and cities can take those federal allocations, and layer on local requirements to create programs that fit dense urban environments better. For example, with all of the incentives flowing for electric vehicle charger installations in cities (via programs like Make Ready, and via the IRA and BIL), cities could create local mandates than any EV charge point along public right of way should be made available for multiple other uses beneficial to the city (essentially a “trench once” policy). This also makes sense from a cost perspective, given a standard trench in American cities is >$100,000 (to make the number even more confounding, I’ve heard from folks at Transport for London (TfL) that the equivalent in London is £2,000).
Transit and alternative mobility options could then leverage this infrastructure – from electrified kiosks at bus stops, to new Oonee secure bike parking hubs, battery charging kiosks for delivery workers, and electrified bikeshare stations. At Citi Bike, we found that electrifying just 20% of Citi Bike stations would reduce 80-90% of battery swaps (and therefore operational emissions).
Lesson 10: Bike “share” is truly about sharing
One of the toughest challenges in any shared mobility program is matching the supply of 50-70 pound bulky “assets” with rider demand, when and where they want them. There’s been much written on this topic over the years, from the algorithms and data challenges of this work to placing new stations and dock capacity where riders newly demand them (and parking battles). And, when we interviewed new staff to Citi Bike, our take-home “case study” focused on a rebalancing data set and problem solving.
In a shared mobility system, your actions directly impact those of the next person – whether you leave handlebars sticky, discard waste in a basket, or take a one-way trip into a busy area and then don’t bike home. The Bike Angels program (and its thousands of dedicated participants who move millions of bikes per year) is one small example of a more collective, shared sense of how we support others in our cities. We’re not Japan, but it gives me hope :).
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 Co-op Cycles Gen e1.1 is a class-1 compact utility ebike from outdoor gear retailer REI’s ebike brand. Co-op’s Gen e line is designed for utility-minded riders, and is a continuation of their efforts to create urban-optimized ebikes based on their learnings selling bikes from traditional OEMs like Cannondale and Electra. Compared to Co-op’s previous CTY line, the Gen e ebikes have smaller 20” wheels, a lower step-through frame, and an integrated rear rack. The Gen e1.1’s powertrain features an 80Nm Bafang rear hub motor and a 417Wh removable and lockable battery pack. Additionally, features like a front suspension fork and a memory foam saddle add comfort when riding on rougher roads. Co-op Cycles is an interesting blend of a D2C and a dealer-network brand. Their vehicles are affordable and sell online through a well recognized brand like REI, yet also have a massive service network due to REI’s vast retail store footprint. Some riders have complained that the Gen e1.1 can be hard to pedal beyond ~16mph and that it often feels geared quite low. While a throttle would solve this issue and be nice for a utility ebike like the Gen e1.1, it’s hard to beat this vehicle’s affordability and the excellent customer service and maintenance network that comes with the REI brand. For those looking for a bit more cargo utility, consider Co-op’s Gen e1.2 which comes with a larger battery, a rigid fork, and an integrated front rack. This listing is virtually new with <7mi ridden, was tuned just last week, and comes with proof of new purchase from REI. It also comes with REI’s “Coast to Coast Support”, which includes 1 year of free adjustments and discounted maintenance at over 170+ REI stores nationwide. Listing can be found here.
The n+ Mercedes-Benz EQ Champion Edition is a powerful dual-motor and dual-battery class-3 road ebike. Bike company n+ and automotive OEM Mercedes have developed a joint venture over the past few years to create ebikes inspired by Mercedes’s ultra successful motorsports pedigree, and the Championship Edition is their highest performance ebike commemorating the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team. Its powertrain features a 130Nm dual hub motor system and a dual battery pack with a total capacity of ~684Wh. The vehicle comes with a front suspension fork and large 29” wheels to help tame bumpy roads, and there’s also a Gates CDX Carbon belt drive, hydraulic disc brakes, and semi-slick tires to give the vehicle extremely sensitive handling. Furthermore, the vehicle display and computer is inspired by Mercedes-EQ’s automotive displays, and comes with integrated safety and anti-theft features. While the ebike is not light by any means (weighs 64lbs), its slick rideability makes it reminiscent of the motorsports vehicles it’s inspired by. The Championship Edition is sold out online, so this listing for a like-new condition vehicle (Flywheel Estimated Mileage of <200mi) that is less than a year old is a rare find. Learn more here.
The Trek Verve+ 3 is a class-1 hybrid ebike and arguably the best hybrid ebike on the market. With a powertrain featuring a 50Nm Bosch Active Line Plus mid-drive motor and a 500Wh Bosch PowerTube battery pack sleekly integrated into the frame, the Verve+ 3 is equally competent for commuting, cruising, or sport riding. You can even extend the vehicle’s range via its Bosch Range-boost accessory, which lets users mount an additional 500Wh Bosch PowerPack. The pedal assistance is controlled by a sensitive torque sensor which further improves the intuitive, natural extension-of-the-legs feel of a mid-drive ebike, and a set of hydraulic brakes and a suspension seat post help make the rideability and comfort of the Verve+ 3 even better. Additionally, unlike other dealer-network ebikes, the Verve+ 3 even comes standard with lights, fenders, and a rear rack so that it is commuting-ready right out of the box. Trek is a brand that doesn’t need much introduction. It’s one of the big 3 manufacturers in the bike industry, and has a massive network of bike shops for riders to get their vehicles serviced at. One thing I appreciate about this listing is that it makes several comparisons between the Verve+ 3 and an electric Citi Bike, both with side-by-side pictures as well as a comparison on performance. Particularly in NYC where many people are already familiar with Citi Bikes, this provides excellent context for how to think about this listing if you’re unfamiliar with Trek or owned ebikes in general. This listing has a mileage of 1,225mi and is being resold for the second time. Listing can be found here.
The Pedego Element is a class-2 budget fat-tire ebike from Pedego best suited for recreational cruising. Pedego is a dealer-network brand whose vehicles normally sell for $3K-$6K, so the Element is their attempt of building an ebike for the mass market. Its powertrain features a 45Nm custom Pedego geared rear hub motor and a 500Wh UL 2850 certified battery pack. The Element is great for off-roading or cruising. Its 20” by 4” fat tires help make up for the vehicle’s lack of suspension, and its motor is powerful enough to quickly hit 20mph on all sorts of road surfaces. However, given the less-than-perfect cadence-based pedal assist and a rider positioning that encourages throttle usage, the range of the vehicle is quite low. While the Element is cheap for a dealer-network brand, it doesn’t come with a number of necessary urban accessories (i.e. lights, rack, fenders, horn, a software system to track/tune performance metrics) that many cheaper yet similarly performing D2C ebikes (i.e. Lectric’s XP line) come standard with. That being said, Pedego comes with a service network of ~219 bike shops that’s hard to ignore. This listing has a mileage of 775.8mi and has minor cosmetic damage. Listing can be found here.
The Kuberg Freerider is a mountain bike/dirt bike-style escooter. Although most of the vehicle’s componentry comes from the mountain and dirt biking supply chain, the Freerider is technically an escooter because it has no pedals and can only be controlled by its twist throttle. Its powertrain features an 8kW motor mounted in the middle of the frame and a 1065.6Wh trapezoidal battery pack that sits under the seat, giving riders a max speed of 34mph. To give riders adequate control over that max speed, the Freerider also includes a front suspension fork, rear shocks, and hydraulic brakes. Additionally, a useful safety feature that Kuberg made sure to add is a magnetic kill switch, which cuts motor power when the bike detects that it has tipped over. The Freerider is quite narrow and light for a “dirt bike” (weighs <79lbs), which leads to an extremely agile maneuverability. This listing is in like-new condition (Flywheel Estimated Mileage of <200mi) and comes with an upgraded 12kW motor controller that allows riders to hit a max speed of 55mph. While it’s obviously not a great candidate for urban riding since it’s not even street-legal, the Freerider is an extremely fun off-roader for recreational speed demons. 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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