Updated 28 May, 2013: While it took 10 months longer than expected, New York City has launched the first phase of its bike-share programme, with 6,000 bikes at 333 stations in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn – fewer than the initial forecast of 7,000 bicycles and 420 stations, which would also have spread across parts of Queens. BBC News has the full update.

According to the Department of Transportation, half of New York City’s all daily commutes are less than two miles. Citi Bike, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, will make these short commutes more expedient while eschewing many of the inconveniences of personal bike ownership, including maintenance, theft, vandalism and the ever toilsome task of lugging a bike on and off the subway platform. While New York City has one of the most extensive public transport systems in the world, there are still pockets of the city where you can feel marooned; ask anyone who has ever ventured west of Manhattan’s 8th Avenue, met a friend for drinks in Alphabet City or tried to make a trip from south to north Brooklyn.

Bike docking stations will vary in size; those near areas with heavy foot traffic, like Grand Central station, will host more than a hundred bikes, while residential areas might have docks with fewer than 25 bikes. Each station will have a touch-screen kiosk for easy payment (credit card only) and a map of the system. You can also download the app SpotCycle to get real time updates about bike availability and station vacancy.

The bikes themselves are like armoured, high-tech velocipede drones; outfitted with GPS for trip tracking, front and rear lights that glow upon pedalling, heavy-duty tyres and a thick frame, riding a Citi Bike will be like cruising the city in an open-air Humvee. And with mechanical titanium locks to secure them at docking stations, theft is a non-issue – you might find more success uprooting a fire hydrant with a plastic spoon.

In such a frenetic city, saturating the roads with cyclists could be viewed as risky. But according to a 1993 study by the New York city-based advocacy organisation Transportation Alternatives, the dangers of cycling in New York are misconceived, and cycling accidents are much less common than those involving pedestrians or motor vehicles. Furthermore, the recent expansion of bike lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn give cyclists a more secure place on the road and, as purported in a 2010 study by New York City’s Department of Transportation, bike lanes have a “traffic calming effect” and help lower speeds and increase driver attention.

An annual Citi Bike membership costs $95, a seven-day membership is $25 and a 24-hour membership is $9.95. No deposit is required, and members can make as many daily trips as they want, as long as they keep each trip within the time limits (annual members must return bikes to a dock within 45 minutes of pick up; weekly and daily members have 30 minutes to re-dock). Those who exceed the time limits will pay additional fees which start at $2.50 for the first 30 minutes but increase exponentially thereafter (remember: the idea is to share the bikes, not monopolise them).