Monday, October 14, 2013

Divvy first impressions

Club member Julie Sherman shares her impressions after trying Divvy for the first time.

I finally tried the new Chicago Bike Share Divvy program yesterday to mixed thoughts. While I am very excited this program exists and think it is brilliant, I have not used it to date because the 99% of the time I need a bike, I am already on one of my own.

For those who have been living on planet Xeron and do not know about Divvy, it is a bike rental program open to anyone. If you are a member ($75.00 annual fee - not transferable to other cities that have a Divvy-type program) or a single day user ($7.00 for a 24 hour pass), the idea is that you rent a bike to use for a singular 30 minute period. You can re-dock the bike at any station within those 30 minutes and then recheck out another bike in less than one minute without incurring additional fees and restarting the clock. If you keep the bike out for more than 30 minutes, you will be charged a per minute overage fee. There is no limit to how many times you can ride, re-dock and check out another bike.

If I was working closer to areas where there were Divvys rather than Evanston, I could see myself using the bike program all the time. Because rain was in the forecast, I decided to Divvy it rather than ride my own bike down to Daley Plaza. After swiping my credit card for the $7.00 one day fee, and following the online instructions and safety notices, I received a one-time use code to release a bike from the station.  The system uses the Divvy symbol >> to progress at the kiosk instead of the word “Next”.

Note that you only have 5 minutes to remove a bike, so don’t dither around.  At the bottom of each kiosk there is a place to receive a copy of this one time code, however because I did run into one machine that was out of paper you should memorize the code.

Select a bike, any bike, and enter the 5 digit code into the bike stand to release the bike. It took me a few tries to get the bike out of the stand, you really have to pull up in the back and angle the front wheel down and out to release. Once you  adjust the seat for your height, the seat tube is clearly numbered to help you set up any future rides, you are ready to roll.

The first thing I noticed was how much more narrow the handlebars were over what I am used to. The bikes are 3-speed with narrow shifting on the right hand side. The shifting was counter to what I am used to with my mountain bike, I kept shifting into gear 1 instead of 3.

I liked that the bikes flash in front and back while in motion, it’s a nice little extra safety measure.

When you dock the bike back at any open spot at any station, do make sure to stay until you get the yellow then green light. It also took me a few tries each time to get the front wheel just “so” into the docking station. If you walk away from an improperly docked bike, you could be in for some shocking overage charges on your credit card.

After my ride in I returned hours later to get another bike. I keyed in that initial code I received when I first signed up in the morning. After repeatedly getting a red light, I called Divvy to find out why my code was not working, I mean it’s an all day code right? Wrong! Using the same credit card as I used initially at the Kiosk I selected Get New Code. D’oh, that was item 4 on the instruction panel that I read in the morning.

A new code is issued without charging your credit card. Use that code to get a new bike. Because at this point I had accumulated a lot of packages, not all of which fit into my backpack (recommended for Divvy riding), I first got them onto the bike using the bungee cord to sort of secure them. My biggest gripe I would have to say, which is not a huge deal, is that there are no baskets or racks on the bike. There is an open space in the front to secure things with a thick bungee cord. I found that my packages slipped a bit as I rode and one package was a tad too wide, so it went on the handle bars where it hit my knee a few times while riding.

Thoughts? Well it’s still a great program. I would recommend using a back pack to carry items, as the front carrier is very limited. There are some free apps (i.e. CycleFinder or Chi Bike) to not only find a Divvy station but to set a timer to help keep you within the 30 minute single use time limit. Stations are popping up all over the place, so there is bound to be one in the city near you in the future.  A one day pass breaks even at about 3 separate CTA trips. Overall, I’m happy it’s here and would love to see more cities implement the program.

    - Julie Sherman


  1. Interesting idea. It sounds good overall, but there might be some logistical hiccups. Like what if the station you ride to has a bike in ALL the lockers? Would you have to sprint to the nearest empty station and hope it had an empty locker and pay overages?

  2. I've found the CycleFinder app very helpful for this kind of situation. If I'm riding to a location where I think this may be an issue, I check the app to see if my desired station and nearby station have open docks. The FAQ page on the Divvy web site has more info.