What Every New Divvy Rider Needs to Know

Before you take your first bike share ride, read this primer. You’ll get where you’re going, avoid an extra charge, and won’t be a menace to the streets of Chicago.

Photo: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

Attorney Bill Choslovsky prepped his trouser leg for a Divvy ride on LaSalle near Madison last Friday. 

Divvy, Chicago’s first large-scale bike share program, has come a long way since it opened to the public in June. Early naysayers have changed their tune as the system has netted 150,000 rides, 5,000 annual memberships, and 37,000 single-day passes. Divvy riders have logged more than 458,000 miles on trips averaging about 18 minutes, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Those who Divvy are often rookie riders, though, and they do make mistakes. The system is designed for quick trips over short distances, and riders with limited knowledge of Divvy’s rules—and city biking in general—have had plenty of problems in the last two months. 

As the system continues to grow, riders will no doubt improve. To help everyone out in the meantime, Chicago got in touch with Streetsblog Chicago writer Steve Vance to find out how new riders can ride the right way—or well enough, at least, to avoid ending up in a post about dumb Divvy mistakes.

Here’s what Vance had to say: 

Keep rides short. This seems to be where most people get tripped up, Vance says. Divvy offers a $75 annual membership and a $7 24-hour pass. But the system is intended for short trips, meaning both options require you to dock your bike every 30 minutes. 

Overtime fees start at $2 and increase every half hour. You could keep the bike for an hour and still only pay $9, which isn’t so bad, but the next half hour would cost you an additional $4. Tack on $8 for every 30 minutes after that, and you’re looking at nearly 40 bucks for a three-hour trip.

You could theoretically keep mobile for the full 24 hours by checking in frequently, but that doesn’t make for a very leisurely cruise. If you want to ride around all day, you’d be better off renting from a bike shop. 

Use a map. “Chicago has a really low connectivity network, where not all bike lanes hook up with other bike lanes,” Vance says. Some areas, like Madison Street in the Loop, have bike lanes going west but none for eastbound travel.

A paper map, Google Maps, or a phone app like Vance’s Chicago Bike Guide can help you find the best routes. Plan ahead and mark the Divvy docks along your path to ensure you don’t rack up overtime charges hunting down a place to check in.

Get off the sidewalks! Although Divvy instructs riders to walk their bikes on sidewalks, many people (especially tourists) are a little uneasy about riding on the street. The fear is understandable given the animosity between drivers and bicyclists in the U.S. But riding on a busy sidewalk could be just as dangerous if you hit a pedestrian or get knocked into traffic. There’s almost always a way to take a less vehicle-heavy side street to get where you’re going.

Ride like you would drive. Acclimating to biking on the road isn’t so hard once you realize the rules are pretty much the same as driving a car. You don’t have a huge metal frame or airbag system to protect you in a crash, but that just means you should take extra care to anticipate stop lights and signal turns. (Stick your left arm straight out to signal a left turn, or angle your left forearm upward to make a right.) And don’t blow through stop signs.

“As far as safety goes, stick to the bike lanes and stop at all the stop lights,” Vance says. “Imagine that you were driving a car. Which rules would you be following?”



11 months ago
Posted by hsgold

"You could theoretically keep mobile for the full 24 hours by checking in frequently, but that doesn't make for a very leisurely cruise." --- I checked in my Divvy bike every 25 minutes with my 24 hr. pass, but after 4 check-ins (only 2 hours into the day), the machine told me I'd exceeded the number of bikes I could check out! I guess I got a lot of thinking done on my 3-mile walk back home though...

11 months ago
Posted by Bubbles420

Just another Rahm Scam.

11 months ago
Posted by kjakola

@HSGOLD Contact Divvy! I couldn't confirm this before the post went up, but supposedly they've been open to talking with customers about refunds if they have an issue or misunderstand the rules their first couple of times using the service.

11 months ago
Posted by coolrider

Is divvy planning a helmet sharing program? I'm surprised to see such inexperienced riders exposing themselves to greater risk.

11 months ago
Posted by Nowruz Parade

One thing every DIVVY user needs to know is that if a bike is stolen from divvy station, and if you have used that bike any time before the theft they blame you for the lost bike.

11 months ago
Posted by Thunder Snow

HSGOLD: You should have been able to do as many as 48 half hour trips in one 24-hour period. I'm guessing that the system incorrectly sensed that you had more than one bike out at a time, which could have been easily fixed on the spot with a quick cell phone call to Divvy's customer service number, which is in big text on every docking station. You had to walk three miles? You were wandering around the city without bus or taxi fare in your pocket for emergencies? Seriously?

Nowruz: No, once you've docked your bike, it's no longer your responsibility. Just watch for the green light on the docking bollard when docking your bike after riding, then give a quick tug upward on the seat to make sure it's really locked. Once you've done that, you can walk away and know it's no longer yours. If you just jam your bike in the general direction of a docking station, it doesn't lock and someone else grabs it--yeah, it's on you.

Coolrider: No bike sharing program anywhere in the world has solved the problem of helmets. As a rider, keep a helmet in your backpack or messenger bag for spur-of-the-moment Divvy rides. Or ride helmetless, as many do. You will make a lot of money if you're the first one to come up with an ultra-cheap (cardboard?) helmet that can pop out of a vending machine, or a folding/inflatatable helmet that you can easily carry in your briefcase. Until then, if a helmet is essential to you, you've got to carry your own. Helmet sharing? Bedbugs, head lice, somebody else's sweat or hair care products...ewww. No thank you.

11 months ago
Posted by Fire470

It seems to me like the system is designed to create extra or 'overage' fees. Having to stop every 30 minutes and 'redock' your bike is prelude to a ripoff. By the time you get comfortable riding and determine where you're going to go, it's time to 'redock' then, god forbid you want to stop and have lunch or go for a leisurely ride along the lake...REDOCK OR BE CHARGED EXTRA!

Stop with the nickel and dime BS "Divvy" and just charge people $10 an hour and be done with it. This is just another tourist trap scam. The bike shops in town should band together and compete.

11 months ago
Posted by stevevance

Regarding overtime fees... The average trip taken on Divvy bikes is only 18 minutes long. That coincides with the average trip distances Americans and Cook County residents take.

The Southern California Association of Governments, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the nation's largest regional planning area, found that 80% of trips residents in that region were less than 2 miles long. This matches what the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the local MPO, found for Cook County: the average trip distance was 3.0 miles and the median trip distance was 2.3 miles. All of the distances I've stated are doable in 18 minutes.

11 months ago
Posted by Stakhanov

I've signed up, but unless you're Greg Lemond, there's almost no way to get from Lakeview to the Loop or Streetville within a half hour without running red lights or stop signs. The NYC system has $95 memberships, but the first 45 minutes are included, which seems far better. Otherwise, anyone commuting will need to re-dock (lame), bike recklessly, or just not use the system for their commute (silly, since that was what it was meant for partially, right)?

Submit your comment