Divvy Bikes – The DIY way to get around Chicago

Chicago Divvy Bike

Chicago Divvy BikeDivvy bikes – they are my favorite DIY way to get around Chicago.  If you’re site seeing in Chicago, you can easily travel from Lincoln Park Zoo all the way to Museum Campus on a Divvy bike.  Almost your entire ride is along lakeshore drive, with the cool blue lake on one side and the sparkling skyline on the other.  As you pedal through the warm summer breeze, whizzing past a sea of red brake lights, a grin will appear on your face as you pass by all the people sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.  Divvy – it’s the best way to travel.  It feels so much better to travel by Divvy.  You feel healthier, it’s better for the environment, you don’t have to sit in traffic and you don’t have to pay cab/uber prices to get from one place to another.

Divvy is a bike sharing program with thousands of bikes located at stations all around the city.  It works like this….you buy a pass, check out a bike at any one of the hundreds of Divvy stations, ride it wherever you want to and then return it to any Divvy station that is closest to you.

If your visiting Chicago, I bet the whole trip here you kept saying to yourself, “I feel like I forgot something”.  Then upon reaching your hotel and unpacking your suitcase, you slap yourself on the forehead when you realize you forgot to pack your bike.  No problem, Divvy to the rescue!

Divvy LogoHow it works

You can purchase either an annual pass or a 24 hour pass (as of this writing – $99.95 and $9.95 respectively).  Unless you are planning to ride a bike for at least 10 days, the 24 hour pass makes the most sense for you.  An annual pass gives you a key fob which you slide into a slot next to the bike you want, while a 24 hour pass grants you a ride code which you key in to retrieve the bike.  Because the key fob is mailed to you, it is really meant more for someone who is a resident.  However, you can still purchase an annual pass even if you are a visitor by using the Transit App, but more about that later.

With your annual membership/24 hour pass you get unlimited 30 minute bike rides.  If you go over 30 minutes, there are additional charges.  To prevent accruing additional charges, simply check in your Divvy bike every 30 minutes or less at any Divvy station.  It might sound difficult to check in a bike every 30 minutes, but there are soooo many stations around the city that it really isn’t a problem at all.  On the plus side, you can check out the same exact bike immediately after checking it in, and be on your merry way once again.

Whether you want to immediately check that same bike out again, or you wont need another bike until later in the day, you will need a new ride code for the next bike ride.  To get a new ride code you either swipe your credit card at the kiosk (there are no additional charges, this is just to identify the pass you purchased) or you can get a ride code from the app.

Get an App

You don’t need an app to use the Divvy bikes, but your life will probably be a lot easier if you have one.

Chi Bikes AppWhile you can use the “Nearby Stations” option on the Divvy kiosk touchscreen to check the real-time availability of bikes at nearby stations, if there is a line at the kiosk you will end up waiting for this info.  With the app you have this information at your fingertips.  If you want an easy to understand, free Divvy app, I recommend Chicago Bikes.  A screenshot of the app is located on the right.  The dark blue dot shows your current location.  The blue bubbles with bikes in them show all the Divvy stations.  If you click on a blue bubble to get info for a particular station, it turns orange and then at the bottom right of your screen you will see the relevant info for that station.  In this case, the orange station located at Fairbanks Ct. & Grand Ave. currently has 4 bikes available and 10 open docks.  You can click on any of the stations to get their bike and open dock counts.  This is useful for when you want to pick up a bike or check one back in.  Rather than walking to a station only to find out they do not have any bikes there, you can determine ahead of time which station is the best one to walk to for a bike.  Alternatively if you are nearing your destination and need to check in your bike, this app will show you how many open docks are available to check in your bike rather than riding from one dock to another looking for an open slot.  Should you arrive at a station to check in your bike and your 30 minutes are almost up and there are no open docks, you can go to the kiosk and request an additional 15 minutes to get to another station to turn in your bike.  If you have requested this extension before your 30 minutes are up, you will not receive any additional charges.

Transit App Screenshot
Transit App

Another free app which is a little more complex but has additional useful features is the Transit App.  The transit app is the official app for Divvy.  The reason it’s more complex is due to the fact that the transit app covers all forms of transit options for Chicago, from subways/trains to buses to Divvy bikes.  If you not a big app user to begin with, then you probably want to stick with the Chicago Bikes app, but if apps are a regular part of your life then the Transit App would be the way to go, especially if your planning to use a bike for more than a single 30 minute trip.

While the 24 hour Divvy pass can be purchased at any Divvy kiosk, the process can be lengthy.  There are quite a few questions to answer and just around the time you think it’s about to ask you for your first-born child, you finally finish. I would say all in all, for a newbie, the process takes 3-5 minutes.  Generally this is not a big deal.  It does however become a big deal when, either you are planning to bike with a large group or there is a long line at the kiosk.  If there are 5 people in line ahead of you, and they each take 5 minutes to purchase their pass, you’re waiting in line for 25 minutes.  With the Transit App, you can purchase a 24 hour pass right from your phone, no waiting in line.  Alternatively, maybe there is no one in line but you are traveling with a group of 6.  You can check out a maximum of 2 bikes with 1 credit card on a 24 hour pass.  Assuming you do this (have 3 people each check out 2 bikes, as opposed to 6 people each checking out their own bike), you still have 3 people at ~5 minutes each, for a total of 15 minutes to purchase passes.  Because the time limit is 30 minutes per ride, you have already eaten up almost 15 of those minutes in purchasing passes for the group.  This is because once you receive your pass you must check out a bike within 5 minutes, otherwise you have to obtain a new ride code from the kiosk.  So it’s not as if everyone can purchase passes and then all check out bikes at the same time and your 30 minutes starts from there.  By purchasing a pass on the app, all members of your party can do it simultaneously.  Additionally, with the 24 hour pass, each time you check in your bike you have to go to the kiosk to request a new ride code to check another bike (or the same bike) out.  This only takes 1-2 minutes (if there is no line), but still it would be much faster through the app.  Here you can view a step by step guide on using the Transit App.  Another plus side to using the app… let’s say there are 4 bikes at a particular station and you see 4 people in line at the kiosk.  Clearly once they have purchased their passes there will not be a bike left for you.  If you have the transit app, you can purchase a pass, or get a new ride code (if you  previously purchased a 24 hour pass) very quickly, beating out the third or fourth person in line, allowing you to get one of those remaining 4 bikes.

In trying to prepare you for worst-case scenarios I hope I have not scared you away from using the Divvy bike system.  It really is a great program, but like any program there are always some areas that could be improved upon.  In the case of Divvy bikes, it would be waiting in line for a pass or a new ride code during busy times.  Downloading the app solves this problem, it’s like purchasing a front-of-the-line pass at an amusement park. While there will be a learning curve associated with the first time you purchase the pass, once you have done it, it will be a piece of cake from there on out and you’ll wonder how you ever lived your life before without a Divvy bike.

You can visit the official Divvy website for more information on pricing or FAQs.