As I pedaled down Fullerton Avenue last weekend, I noticed head after head turning to check out my out-of-towner co-pilot. “Oh great, what’s The Moms doing now?” I wondered, expecting to look back and find her blatantly breaking some unspoken city biking rule. Making sure there were no potholes in my immediate path, I turned back to check. Everything seemed to be going all right, so I disregarded the stares and led our journey onward. As we approached the Lincoln Park Zoo, at last I uncovered the source of the attention. “Oh yeah, it’s like the Zipcar for bikes,” a guy loudly explained to his girlfriend as he pointed at my mom and her borrowed blue Divvy bike.
Divvy is Chicago’s brand-spankin’-new bike-sharing program, launched just two weeks ago on June 28. The concept is simple: Stop by one of dozens of stations around the city, swipe your debit card, grab a bike and you’re on your way. Simply return the bike at the station closest to your destination, and there you have it: a healthy, eco-friendly and affordable commute without the usual Blue Line shenanigans.
As far as payments go, there are two options to get on a bike. If you want to try things out first (new stuff is scary!), you can grab a bike without committing to a membership using the 24-hour pass option. Walk up to a Divvy station, purchase a pass for $7 (the steps are really easy, I promise). Now type in your five-digit code, grab the bike and you’ll have it for up to 30 minutes with no additional cost. If your ride is longer, you’ll be charged $2 extra for 30-60 minutes, $6 extra for 60-90 minutes, and after 90 minutes, you’ll incur another $8 for each additional 30 minutes. As you can see, the bikes are intended for quick commutes rather than leisurely rides.
If you’re ready to commit to a membership, you’ll benefit from some savings. An annual membership will cost you $75, which comes with a special member key sent in the mail and unlimited 30-minute rides for the whole year. Fees kick in if you exceed the 30-minute limit, but if you can realistically commute to work in 30 minutes, it’s not a bad deal, especially considering that a monthly CTA pass will cost you $100 per month.
About the Bikes
Let’s be honest. The bikes are hefty and a bit grandma-esque compared to the fancy-schmancy hipster whips you see on every intersection in Logan Square. The big blue bicycles weigh about 45 pounds, with wide handlebars and a step-through frame. However, it feels like a safe ride, and you have the added bonus of front and rear flashing LEDs, fat tires, a front basket and three gear options.
Speaking of safety, as you complete your order at the kiosk, a message flashes across the screen reminding you not to forget your helmet. But let’s be real: most non-bike owners aren’t walking around helmet-in-hand, just in case a spontaneous biking excursion presents itself.
According to Elliot Greenberger, director of marketing at Divvy, there currently are no plans to add helmet options. “While we encourage helmets, we don’t provide them,” Greenberg says. “At the moment, there are no plans to incorporate helmets into the program.” There are, however, a few futuristic rays of hope including this helmet vending machine prototype and this disposable helmet design.
But alas, what good is a bike-sharing program if there’s no point A to your point B? Divvy currently has stations set up in dozens of locations around the city, as far south as Cermak, as far north as the Diversey, and as far west as Damen. Unfortunately that means the stations have yet to appear in Logan Square, but never fear—they’re on their way.
Bike hubs are planned for the intersections of Kedzie and Milwaukee, Albany and Fullerton, Kedzie and Palmer, California and Lyndale, Rockwell and Milwaukee, California and Armitage, Stave and Armitage, California and Bloomingdale and Cortland and Western near the Western Blue Line station. As for timing, Greenberg says that Divvy “Will have 300 stations by the end of the summer and will be announcing the next phase of stations shortly.”
Divvy & The 606
As noted above, one of the planned stations will land at California and Bloomingdale, which is in close proximity to the forthcoming 606 bike trail.
I asked Peter Scales, Director of Public Affairs with the Chicago Department of Transportation about any possible harmony between the two city-supported programs. “We certainly expect Chicagoans and visitors to utilize Divvy to ride along the trail, both for leisure and as part of their daily commutes. The four closest stations (at Walsh Park, Damen, Leavitt and California) will be in place by the end of this summer.”
As I mentioned above, I gave Divvy a try with my mom when she visited Chicago over the holiday weekend. It was an all around easy and affordable experience, minus the minor inconvenience of having to wait for an empty docking spot at the unsurprisingly popular lakefront station near Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
As fresh as this program is, we couldn’t make it three feet without hearing someone comment on the “cool new Zipcar bike.” Mom was flattered, and we managed to make our way around the city without waiting on the snail-paced #73 bus.