Don't Worry, You're Not Too Heavy to Ride New York City's New Bikes

No matter what the New York Post would have you believe.

If you weigh more than 260 lbs. you technically (the Department of Transportation won't "strictly" enforce this) aren't allowed to use one of New York City's nifty new shared bikes. Cue the outrage, cries of discrimination and, of course, a shameless New York Post picture of a very large man on a tiny bike. 

At right is how The Post is covering the story online. In the print edition, they went with the headline "Apple Snubs Chubs" and we guess that's supposed to make you laugh. The Post's photo editors' intentions aside, the crux of this story is that riders are supposed to sign a contract which has a weight limit built in. The Post's three-person team of  David Seifman, Reuven Fenton, and Natalie O'Neill write: 

Everyone who signs up for the program has to agree to a contract, which states users "must not exceed maximum weight limit (260 pounds)" because the bikes can’t hold that much heft.

There are a couple things though that the Post glosses over and seemingly failed to mention to the people they interviewed who seem to be very steamed about the weight limit. The first is that the Department of Transportation WILL NOT be enforcing the limit. This detail comes after the bulk of the story: 

But Department of Transportation policy director Jon Orcutt said the city won’t strictly enforce the weight limit.

"I think people will be self-selecting, practical and safe," he said. He added the provision was inked for legal reasons at the manufacturer’s recommendation.

The other thing is that though this limit may seem hypocritical to ban obese people (or really tall people) from physical activity in a city where Mayor Bloomberg flagrantly stresses healthy living, small sodas, and monitoring sodium intake, the limit is also part of bike-shares in Boston, and London, the Post adds.

What they also don't tell you and what we don't know how many New Yorkers this would affect. There aren't any clear statistics of how many New Yorkers weighing over 260 pounds want to participate in bike-sharing, nor are there any clear statistics of how many New Yorkers are over 260 pounds. Though, according to the the New York Knicks's roster, every single player including 7'1" Tyson Chandler would be able to meet the weight limit for the bikes. For the New York Giants, 30 of the 77 players on their current roster can't ride the new bikes.

But back to reality: the U.S. has a terrible obesity problem—we know this. But according to the Centers for Disease Control's study in 2011, New York is one of the healthier states in this unhealthy country and is about on par with California and D.C. when it comes to the prevalence of self-reported obesity and the percentage of people with Body Mass Indexes over 30 (though it's proven that BMI is faulty). A New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study study from 2005 found that 53 percent of adult New Yorkers are obese and 44 percent were at a healthy weight, but people's heights and sizes vary. And, it isn't clear how many or what percentage New Yorkers this 260-pound weight limit (which wouldn't be enforced strictly) would directly affect.

The final whiff that The Post and the New York City government fail to address is that these bikes' prime goals aren't exercise driven. Lance Armstrong or SoulCycle these things are not: 

Image courtesy of NYC.gov

Yet, one the big selling points in selling bike-share to the city was the amount of exercise it can bring to New Yorkers, the majority of which have been failing to meet exercise standards. Here's a shot directly from the NYC.GOV study on bike-share:

Having had experience with bike-share in D.C., those clunky bikes are built for safety, not speed. (I once saw a bike-share biker get "doored" by a cab, simply bounce off and continue on his way, but that's neither here nor there.) And the New York City Citi-Bike ones clock in at around 40 pounds says The Post.

And therein lies the gist: these bikes are made primarily for transportation in the city not exercise or leisurely rides. That same New York City study (above) of bike-share even states: "designed specificially to augment public transportation offerings, bike-share programs are defined by their low cost, the high concentration of their bike-stations over the program area, and their easy, 24 hour operations." Essentially, they're made to get you to and from short distances, hence the close proximity of many of the stations.

That said, if people over 260 lbs. want to ride these beasts around the city, it appears nothing, not even the people whose job it is to enforce the weight limit will stop them and the city even encourages it (memberships start at $9.95 per day). Though, if they or anyone of any weight are looking for a workout, they might be better off bench-pressing these bad boys, or you know, buying a real bike, instead of riding these things to the next station.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.

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