Divvy: Chicago’s Public Bike Program Divides and Shares

Why does it sometimes take so long to travel two to four miles in our fair city by public transportation?

The city is hoping part of the solution to this question is Divvy, the new bike sharing program.

“Divide and Share” is more than a slogan. The new bike share makes the public transportation pie bigger by adding more capacity — whether those seats are on a bus, train, or the saddles of 4,000 bikes.

Divvy is best for short trips that can be accomplished in under 30 minutes of biking. If your route is longer – or if you’d just like to keep the same bike for longer than 30 minutes without an additional fee – you can check it in at a Divvy station, and then check it back out. I’ve heard some people say that they don’t like the 30-minute limit, but it’s there to ensure there are enough bikes for everyone to use with as much distribution as possible. Sharing is caring, you selfish, heartless, good-for-nothings.

How to Divvy

Naturally, having advocated riding bikes while traveling and having done so in Paris and Amsterdam, I was very, very excited when I heard about Divvy, Chicago’s bike share program. I have my own bicycle but I like Divvys (what is the plural for Divvy?) for commuting because I don’t have to worry about thieves preying on my little Trek as it sits all day at the Metra station or locked up downtown outside. Fool me once…

You will need:

  1. A credit or debit card for the rental. If you lose or ditch the bike, it’ll cost you $1200. $1200 bike, Divvy price if lost
  2. A helmet. It’s actually not strictly required, but I would highly recommend protecting your noggin.
  3. Rudimentary knowledge of Illinois’ rules of the road and willingness to follow them. Again this is not strictly required, but useful for keeping safe and playing nice with the drivers you’ll be sharing the road with. Basic rules, Divvy, Chicago bike share
  4. A cell phone and the Divvy toll-free phone number if you can’t find a station: 855-553-4889 or 855-55-DIVVY if that is easier to remember! Phone number on handlebars, Divvy. Call me maybe!
  5. A clock. You have T minus 30 minutes!

Riders can choose two options for a Divvy ride: a 24-hour rental or an annual subscription. I probably won’t buy a year subscription until I move back to the city (fingers crossed). But here’s a quick how-to for a $7, 24-hour rental:

  1. Plan the trip.
    • Find a Divvy station with the Chicago Bike Map or the online Divvy station map. Online station map shows the number of bikes and slots available.
    • Find your destination and look for Divvy stations near it. Divvy station, Franklin and Chicago Avenue, Chicago
    • Plan a bike friendly route either using Chicago Bike Map (available free at bike shops, mailed to you by online request, or online PDF) or Google bike maps.
    • If your trip will be longer than 30 minutes, find interim Divvy stations to dock and check back out.
    • Got all that? Go to the your starting Divvy station.
  2. At a Divvy station, select a bike in good working order:
    • Test the bike’s rear and forward brakes (left and right hand brakes). Lift the rear wheel up, spin it and squeeze the right hand brake to test.
    • Adjust the saddle. The right height for the saddle is approximately at your hip. Pull the clamp out to loosen, then move the seat up or down and push the clamp back at the right height to tighten. Or just look for one that’s already set at the right height.
    • Lift the seat to see if the chain moves freely when pedaled forward or backward. While that’s happening, test the gear shift near the right-hand grip by turning the black rubber grip. The transition from first, second and third and back should be smooth.
    • LED lights for visibility, especially in the dark.
    • If the bike is in need of repair, hit the red button with the wrench on it.
  3. Using your credit or debit card, follow the instructions on the touch-screen terminal. You have to use the same card in that 24 hours to check out another bike (or re-check out the same bike). To do that, hit “Get another bike code.”
  4. Memorize the five digit code (only using the numbers 1, 2 or 3) or grab the printed receipt. Quickly, now — punch that code into the terminal for the bike you want. The code is only valid for five minutes. Old Divvy printed codes, Chicago
  5. Lift the saddle and pull the bike out.
  6. When you find your destination station, look for an empty dock. Line up the front wheel to pass through the slot. Look for the green light and listen for the beep to know you’ve returned the bike correctly (don’t want to get that $1200 fine!).

How Divvy Can Be Divine

First off, Divvy is already awesome. The station terminals are relatively easy to follow in English, and other language options are offered. The maps of closest Divvy stations and instructions at the stations are helpful, too. The bikes are easy to dock and un-dock — much less fussy than the Parisian Velib. The bikes, while not as fast as road bikes obviously by design, are a comfortable and easy-to-operate ride. Certainly the price points are very attractive, and a year’s subscription will pay for itself in 10 days’ usage. But there are a few things that Divvy can do to make it even better….

  1. Need more street signage. As in SIGNAGE AT ALL. I know Chicago pretty well, but if I want to make an unplanned stop, say, for ice cream, if I detour, I don’t know where to find the closest Divvy station unless I call their phone number or I happen to see one. Perhaps as I use the system more, I’ll get to know the locations better. But imagine if I were a visitor! And if the Divvy station is on the other side of a busy six-point intersection, well — I won’t know when to look for it, and if there’s no sign, I’ll easily miss it as I’m dodging buses, car doors and other hazards to my safety on any normal bike ride. I wanna see the signs, Divvy. Show me the signs.
  2. Get helmets on those tourists and other casual bikers. If the low price, cute colors, Chicago stars and high visibility can get more people to bike, I’m for that. But if these folks are likewise inexperienced bikers, don’t know Chicago well and are without proper safety equipment and playing in traffic or on sidewalks, that’s just a recipe for carnage. Currently only annual subscribers get a 20% discount at On The Route bike shops. 24-hour users don’t get any discount.
  3. They’re not like Starbucks, yet. Along the Ravenswood-downtown route I took last week, there are six stations ‘coming soon’. They’re not quite everywhere yet, but when they are, as the Velib stations are in Paris, that will be great. More stations are popping up, as shown by their Facebook page updates. And I hope they install stations farther north than Montrose and Clark. PLEASE, SOON! MORE THAN ONE!
  4. Brighter lights. I haven’t ridden Divvy in the dark, but I’m not convinced at all these lil’ LED buttons alone are gonna help me be seen or help me see very well. I’m a safety girl if you haven’t already noticed!
  5. Divvy’s 800-number staffers should be well versed in Chicago’s streets. Their operators should also ideally be from, near or located in Chicago. (They’re in Montreal.) When I was on my Divvy trip last week, I was visiting a client in Ravenswood. As my starting Divvy station was several miles south, the map displayed didn’t go that far north. I called the Divvy number. I told the operator I was biking to Wilson and Ravenswood. The operator said they didn’t have any stations near there. Here’s our conversation:

Me: “Are there any stations on Wilson?”

Divvy Operator: “Let me look that up. There’s one at Wilson and Belmont.”

Me: “That’s impossible. Wilson and Belmont both run east-west, parallel, they don’t cross.”

DO: “Well, that’s what the map shows right here.”

Me: *blergh* “Ok, whatever.”

In the end I found out he was talking about Wilton — so I blame that on my crappy iPhone 3GS — but still. I think a local would have known I meant WilSon before I shut down into ‘whatever’ mode.

What’s going to happen in Winter? (Yes, Winter in Chicago deserves a capital letter ‘W’.) Can these Divvy bikes bear down when the Chicago elements rage through? Will anyone be crazy enough to ride them? Am I going to finally buckle down and buy lobster gloves and a balaclava (aka ninja mask)?

I don’t know the answers yet. But I can’t wait to find out. What are your thoughts/feelings on Divvy?

Please let me know if you’ve used the app… I don’t have a great data plan on my supposed smartphone, so I haven’t tried it. Thanks in advance for the input!


9 thoughts on “Divvy: Chicago’s Public Bike Program Divides and Shares

  1. Not to harp on the inequity of Chicago as it has always been there. But seeing as how there are no stations south of 63rd Street or west of Central Park Avenue. Altogether, black West Side neighborhoods like North Lawndale, East and West Garfield Park, Austin, and West Humboldt Park will have just two of the 400 planned bike-sharing stations. I can’t help but to cry foul. Rahm is blatantly “building a new Chicago” and rather than building a new, less divisive Chicago, it seems like business as usual but worse.

    45M USD private roadway for politicians and conventioneers to get from McCormick to Columbus and Wacker

    50M USD private arena for NCAA basketball

    65M USD for Bike share program (Which wasn’t the lowest bid from their RFP) That’s $9,600 per bike.

    But I am getting letters about how CPS budget short fall has not only caused layoffs (as usual) and can’t afford textbooks (as usual) but now they’re asking for parents to bring TOILET PAPER as they don’t have budget for it??!?!?! A world class city like Chicago?! Where is the protest, the news, the unrest? No one cares. The agenda is obvious, and disgusting. I am an “old Chicagoan” and I’m leaving.

    Besides, any real Chicagoan has their own bike and wouldn’t be caught dead on a Divvy.

    • Ah I just looked and it makes sense, it isn’t a coincidence that Gabe Klein, Chicago’s Commissioner of Transportation, was a consultant for Alta before being appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011. Alta being the company with the inefficient, expensive bid ( i.e., Divvy) Somethings never change.

    • Moshin,

      Thank you for your thorough and knowledge-dropping comment. I share your feelings. And the money doesn’t lie. A public bike share should be public — as in, FOR EVERYONE. I’d wish something like bikes can bring us together instead of apart. I hope someone from Divvy will read this and would comment publicly about your/our concern. There’s definitely room for improvement. That would be the diplomatic way to say it.

      About the schools, it is awful. Any kid in this city should get a decent education. I know this is not the case for many. This has to be priority one, in word and in deed. What can we do, what kind of organizing is being led and by who?


    • The City of Chicago is a different entity from CPS, and is also different from the CTA and the Chicago Park District. Each entity has their own budget, their own funding, their own federal grants. And the thing about federal grant money is that the grant stipulates how that money can be spent. Taking federal money for roads and spending it on teachers, while admirable (and impossible based on what I said about different entities), results in forfeiture of the funds and getting kicked out of the grant program, resulting in even less money.

      • Thanks for the comment, RG. Good to learn about current systems and be reminded of how they work. I feel like a child for still wanting to ask why things are this way for our kids. But, why? (I don’t expect you to answer that, RG — just tossing it out there.)

  2. you found your helmet ?!

    this is a great write-up! was it a good quality bike ? and what happens when they are broken ? you did mention that there is a damage button, but do you know what actually happens?

    in general, i’m all for biking and bike-sharing. in reality, i stay as far away as i can from people riding these bikes when i’m on my own b/c they are not very city biking savvy . . . it’s great that it’s available, though, and perhaps as they expand beyond downtown/the loop/more touristy areas, there will be less tourists and perhaps more competent bikers . . . but maybe not.

    if you look at the map for where they expect to have divvy locations, there are going to be a lot north of montrose. expectedly, they won’t have as many on the south and west sides (though there are some).

    i think the LED lights are pretty bright. i usually notice them on when i’m riding my bike during daylight hours, so if that’s the case, they’re probably definitely visible at night. that said, i don’t know how much light they’d provide, however, i haven’t come across too many places in chicago that aren’t lit enough to see. they do exist, but you can definitely see someone else on those bikes . . .

    and yeah, that helmet thing. i guess a big concern i have about that is, especially for tourists, who’s just going to randomly have a bike helmet if you don’t have a bike? ESPECIALLY if you’re travelling? def an issue . . . and these non-city-biking folks are definitely the ones who need helmets (well, everyone does, but you know what I mean . . . )

    • Jenny,

      Thank you for the comment & compliment.

      I did not find the helmet. I plunked down some cash for a new one. Which is spiffy and has detachable/rechargeable lights. 🙂

      The bikes are great. They are brand-new, of course, and have not been through a Winter. I don’t know if Divvy is planning on keeping the bikes out past November.

      When the bike is damaged and still docked on the station, press that wrench button. One of those blue Divvy vans comes and fixes/picks them up.

      Should you crash on a bike, here’s what you should do, according to their FAQ:

      Call 911 immediately. You should also call the police precinct in which the crash took place and file a report with an officer. This will help assure all important information is documented.

      Within 24 hours of the incident, you must notify us of the facts of the crash by calling and speaking with a Customer Service Representative at 1-855-55-DIVVY (553-4889). We will provide you with a Divvy Crash Report to fill out. Remember, The bike remains your responsibility until it has been properly locked at a dock, or handed over to a Divvy representative.

      I hear what you’re saying about staying clear of new riders. Most of my riding has been in the neighborhoods… and I haven’t observed out and out stupid Divvy bikers. I hope this will get more riders to be safe and not do dumb things that will endanger themselves or motorists. And hopefully more motorists will try Divvy and be more sympathetic to sharing the road with bikers, any bikers. I know that’s idealistic.

      Will have to try the lights at night. I just don’t trust them, they seem very small. Parts of the lakefront are awesome to bike at night — as you very well know — but I don’t want to be out there in the dark. Especially for those unfamiliar with the curves, they may just bike right into the water! 😛 Will report back.

      Yes, HELMETS !!!


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