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Oak Park Divvy review

In late February 2015, I wrote on this blog about the process of selecting sites in Oak Park that would welcome Divvy bike share. Well, they're here! With free rides this past weekend (system-wide), I took my first spin and offer up a few thoughts.

I started off by walking down the street to the nearest Divvy station at the end of our block. You have a couple of choices here...you can download an app on your phone to unlock bikes or you can follow the prompts on the Divvy vending machine. If you go with the machine at the station, as I did, you need to know that it uses a credit card to validate your identity. And the touch screen doesn't work well. Other early morning advice: bring a towel to dry off the seat if there has been condensation overnight. If you have a "code" for any reason it applies as a discount with the payment screen as a promo. There's lots of numbers going on so don't make the mistake of thinking that you already have a "pass" if you do not. That's if you have already purchased a day pass.

Each bike locked to the rack in a holder has a 3-number keypad to the left side. If you're at the main vending machine for the station, you have the option of either remembering your unlock code or receiving a printout in the receipt bin at the bottom of the machine. Super helpful advice: make adjustments to your bike BEFORE you unlock it. Between the generation of the unlock code and the expiration to unlock any bike at that Divvy station, you have 5 minutes. Use that time to browse the available bikes at the rack. Some are in better shape than others. I'd pay special attention to the seat height because Divvy uses a lever called a quick release (most cyclists are very familiar) that requires some turning, pushing, and muscle force to clamp. You don't want to take a bike only to have to return it for another immediately if you can't get the seat to the height you want. Note that there are numbers on the seat post to remember what seat height you like.

Divvy bikes have built-in flashing lights and are a very solid, step-through style that can be hard to get used to if you regularly ride another type of bicycle. It's steady to ride, handles potholes well, and turns easily. Complaints I have, however, include varying levels of brake force needed to stop, drive trains in need of minor repair for smoothness, and a shifting system that is neither intuitive nor explained well on the bike. It's actually a fairly common (Shimano, I believe) shifting system, but if you are new to bikes...it's on the right side and essentially a piece of the handlebar that rotates to one of 3 speeds. These bikes are made for "easy." Read that as "slow." The 1st and 2nd gears are some very fast spinning and the bikes are geared so that the easiest gears on my road bike are the hardest gears on Divvy. You have 30 minutes to get to your destination, but do not expect to simply pedal faster...you're only going to go as fast as those easy gears will get there.

I took my first ride to a park and found that the docking process couldn't be easier. Use a little force and push the bike into a docking station. The light will turn green and you're done. I sat in the park for a few minutes checking my e-mail and deciding where to go next. I opted for a ride to the other station near our home--a CTA Green Line station 2 blocks from our front door. Once you've already purchased your day pass, it's actually pretty easy to get another unlock code. You dip your credit card for validation of your identity and it generates the unlock code without much typing on the screen. This time, yes, I did have a pass...now I get it! Riding through the streets of Oak Park I had another minor piece of feedback--the sign on the front of the bike could have easily been a basket for cargo or a bag or purse. It's more that the Divvy sign on the front makes an unintentional (or is it intentional?) cradle. You could put something there, but I would hesitate. When I arrived at my destination I decided that I have an opinion about the location of the Divvy location. This one is on the sidewalk rather than in the street where a parking place would be...and it isn't always obvious where you should ride your Divvy up onto the sidewalk to get to the station. That leaves riders possibly pulling over and having to lift their Divvy bike over the curb at odd angles. The other side is that you're pulling over in traffic and partially blocking the travel lane to insert your bike back into the dock at some locations. In the big picture, I'd give the advice that you should be aware what block your destination's docking station will be on so that you can get out of the street at a crosswalk or maybe approaching the Divvy location from a good angle. Do some research. I can think of a couple of locations either way that wouldn't be pleasant to try to dock or rent at rush hour.

Everything considered, it was a lot of fun to try out Chicago's bike share for the first time. I'd gotten a coupon for a discount on an annual pass and would definitely consider it more if I was a daily commuter. Perfect scenario in my head is you ride Divvy to the L station to work when it's sunny. If it rains and you don't want to bike home from the train in the rain you don't have to worry about retrieving your bike from the train station somehow. Same with perhaps a ride to dinner in the city but you plan on ride share or a taxi home. I can think of handy situations. It's not the kind of casual cyclist I am, but it's a nice thing to have in the local transportation network. $10 is perhaps a little steep for 24 hours of access. And I'd love to see some ability to integrate it with CTA or Metra so that one pass could pay for my entire day of transportation around Chicago. I can totally see people using the train to get downtown then Divvy filling in some of the long post-Metra hikes I took as a college student. Best of all, Chicago now has the road infrastructure to better handle biking, too!

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