What Citi Bike Taught Me About Sticking to Good Habits

Tangible rewards are the key to staying motivated. Fun, a feeling of accomplishment, and money all do the trick for me.

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Jul 5 2018, 3:03pm

I’ve pedaled through the swankiest streets in Soho and Tribeca, braved Midtown traffic at rush hour, and docked Citi Bikes everywhere from Brooklyn to Harlem. I tell my friends I do it for the exercise—and to escape the crowded New York City subway—but I have a hidden motivation as well.

In a word: money. I’m what’s known as a Bike Angel, someone who moves bikes from full docks to empty ones in pursuit of points. Each time I move one, I earn up to eight points depending on how generous the bike share program is with doling them out on any given day. 20 points earn you a free, one-week extension on your membership, and I’ve earned six free weeks since April. With annual memberships costing $169 right now, that works out to about $20—not much really—but it’s enough to keep me going.

You can earn a free extension on your Citi Bike membership just by moving bikes around.

The secret to sticking to a good habit

My new hobby got me thinking about what it takes for a good habit to stick. For me, it really comes down to three things: it has to be fun, it can’t take too much time, and it has to give me tangible rewards.

It’s the same reason why I use a rewards credit card that earns two percent cash back, track my spending in a basic Excel spreadsheet, and shop at Trader Joe’s more often these days. While each required a small behavior change—using a credit card to buy everything, always asking for a receipt, and walking to a different grocery store—the changes have stuck because the habits are fun and they’ve all saved me money.

Contrast this to the other habits I’ve tried and dropped: running (too hard/boring), making all my meals from scratch (rewarding, but takes too long), and growing my own herbs (fun, but I kept forgetting to water them, and they died). It's pretty clear why I failed at those.

Finding the right balance to stay motivated

At times the lengths I will go for a few points far outstrip the financial rewards. The other night I Citi Biked to three different grocery stores, not only to get all the items on my shopping list, but also so I could dock at different stations and rack up enough points for a free week, which is worth about $3.25.

It's amazing how even the smallest financial incentive—in this case earning points toward a free extension of my Citi Bike membership—can keep you motivated.

I also realize that I’m just a small fry in the Bike Angel universe. I’ve only taken about 300 rides in the past year or so, while top riders take thousands. If I was more determined I could earn some cold hard cash in addition to the money I save by skipping the subway ($2.75 per ride) and the free extension of my annual membership. The rider with the highest number of points each month gets $100. Not bad.

But gunning for that many points would almost certainly kill the fun for me. My favorite rides up the bike path along the Hudson river and across the Williamsburg bridge after work usually don’t earn me a single point. But more often than not, they’re the best part of my day. Points be damned.

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