Divvy conquers

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The alleged four blocks of Illinois Street that connect Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier are to regular city blocks what the stretch limousine is to the Mini Cooper, what the Lebron James model human being is to the Verne Troyer.

Google Maps puts the distance at 1.3 miles and, on foot, 27 minutes. For comparison, the four-and-a-half blocks of North Michigan between The Gap and Neiman Marcus check in at .3 miles and 6 minutes. That's what "four blocks" should mean. A toddler — a very fashion-forward toddler, mind you — could easily handle that one.

To beat this forced march to Navy Pier, you can wait for one of the trolleys that ride occasionally along Illinois Street. You can pay a taxi $9 or so to get there, and it'll take between 5 and 12 minutes, depending on traffic.

Or you can Divvy. My Sept. 20 ride from the Cityfront Plaza station between the Tribune and NBC Tower to the Navy Pier station took me 4 minutes and 33 seconds (a nice side benefit to the annual membership is that you can look up all your rides).

Add a walk of less than 2 minutes to get to and from the stations, and you've done the whole thing in about eight minutes.

And then you are at Navy Pier. Congratulations.

The Longest Rides

How does the 30-minute time limit work in practice? In my experience, it's been pretty easy to do what I want and need to do around Chicago within that time.

You just have to think of biking a little differently. Instead of reaching a destination and locking up your specific bike (and worrying about it, by the way), you find a station and drop off a shared bike. When you're ready to move again, you just grab another shared bike.

My longest ride, in terms of distance, was a perfect example of how useful Divvy can be and how much ground you can cover in half an hour.

One late summer day, none of my early-morning golf partners was heading downtown after our quick nine holes at the lakefront course we still call "Waveland."

I called up the app on my Android phone (more on those elsewhere) and learned there is a Divvy station right at Irving Park Road and Pine Grove Ave. with bikes available.

Instead of getting downtown via a costly cab or hopping a bus, which would have taken at least as long, I got a nice ride along the lakefront.

And although the bike I took that morning kept slipping gears under duress — dropping maddeningly from third to second when I pedaled hard — I still made the 5.7 mile trip in 26:48. (The gear slippage has happened twice with Divvy bikes I've used. Not enough to call it a trend, but something to watch for.)

For another trip I decided to Divvy to the Bridgeport neighborhood for an interview there. That's a 6-mile trip, and with only about half of it lakefront riding, it took about 32 minutes.

But I avoided overage fees by planning well. Figuring I should leave myself time to get lost on this new route, I had decided to restart the 30 minute clock at about the halfway point, the Museum Campus Divvy station immediately southeast of the Field Museum.

The conclusion is that you can cover up to, say, 5 miles pretty comfortably in 30 minutes, and with the growing number of stations, you can hopscotch your way to longer trips.

Word of caution, though: You will work harder to cover the same ground on the Divvy bikes — one observer compared them, aptly, to Clydesdales — than you would on most road bikes, hybrids or even mountain bikes. So you may arrive with a slight glow, as we genteel people call sweat.

Pro Tips

1. Know your seat height, and set it before you engage the bicycle. The seatposts have handy markings along the side. I move the seat to 9-1/4 and make sure it is straight and tight. If you don't tighten the quick-release levers enough, it'll wobble on you. Do this first so you don't spend any of your 30 minutes adjusting.

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