2. Get a helmet and use it. The big, dangerous flaw in the system is that it puts a lot of helmetless riders onto city streets, especially the congested ones of downtown. Whenever I'm tempted to think, "It's just a short ride, at relatively low speeds," I remember what the ER doctor told me after my one big bike wreck, a couple of decades ago. She said she had seen such gruesome bicycle-accident aftermaths in her job that she no longer rode in the city. So I bought a new helmet for my commute to work on my real bike, and I keep the old one at my desk, for Divvy trips. Bonus: It's blue, so it sort of matches.
3. Get one of the several available apps. Free of charge, these will tell you where stations are and how many bikes and docks they have available. The Divvy web page recommends the CycleFinder app for iPhone or Android. On my Android device, I've been using Divvy Bike Locator, with good results, and I just noticed that there's now one available called Chicago Bike, which looks like it's worth trying out, too.
4. Keep a spare backpack around. Divvy's storage rack, located on the handlebars, is modestly sized and the strap pulls so tight it would break eggs from a grocery run. A backpack will quadruple, or more, your safe carrying options.
The seats. Bike seats are a very personal matter, and I will say that, personally, I really do not like the Divvy seats. Not only are they so big and wide and squishy they feel more like a beanbag chair, but they tend to pitch me forward just enough to be annoying.
The bicycle redistribution. I've come upon stations I wanted to use with only one available dock, or one available spot, and I've come across empty stations or totally full stations. (I don't always check the app first, which is a mistake.) I did use the app before I tried to dock at Water Tower the other day, but the two available docks were, it turned out, both broken so I had to dock over at the Museum of Contemporary Art instead. Not a big deal, but if I had an appointment, it would have made me a late. I've seen the Divvy system trucks working to get bikes to and from the right places, but the system is far from perfect and if demand continutes to grow, it'll be harder to keep up.
The station locations. Right now the stations go only as far south as Hyde Park, as far west as Logan Square and as far north as Berwyn Avenue. The range will increase a little bit with the next round of stations, but just a little. Within the grid there are some oddities, too. It's strange that the main Museum Campus station, for instance, is southeast of the Field. I understand that they need to be near roads so the Divvy trucks can get there. But it's a pretty far walk to the Shedd Aquarium from there. At least there is a station further out, by the Adler Planetarium.
Hauling capacity. The lack of it does place a limit on the vehicles' utility, which was sort of the point, I thought. In the little handlebar rack, you can carry stuff roughly the size of briefcase and no more. The rest needs to go on your back or, in a challenge to your riding equilibrium, in your arms. I suppose a rear fender rack would make the bikes more expensive, but they'd also become much more useful for the intended purpose of short trips around town.
The bikes themselves. I understand they need to be simple and durable. And, really, all things considered they're fine. They roll okay and absorb jolts well on big, fat tires. The hub brakes have decent stopping power, even in wet weather. The pedals hold your feet okay. But I would really like just one extra gear for a little more pedaling power. What about mixing in a few moderately sleeker models in the next purchasing order? Pretty please? It would make the whole system more fun, too, as getting one of those bikes would be a bonus.
The short lesson here is never ride on a sidewalk, even an empty sidewalk. I was buzzing down to the Field Museum, and to make it easier to get past the garage entrances on Columbus Drive, I got on the sidewalk.
As I approached the light at Monroe Street, suddenly my bike started to go over. I hadn't seen the slight rise in sidewalk cement in one spot that put it a couple of inches higher than what was next to it. My wheel caught it just right and it was like a hand clamping down and pushing me over.
On a regular bike, I would have gone down pretty hard. But the Divvy architecture, with that giant step-through in the bike's center, let me kick both feet quickly to the same side of the vehicle, and I sort of stumble-saved myself as the bike hit sidewalk.
The only effect was a heel bruise that hurt for a few days. And the bike may have been scraped up a bit, too, but I didn't really check because, hey, it's a rental.
Some of the other places I've Divvyed to:
The Randolph Street Market area for a meal and concert. Lincoln Park Zoo. Kozy's Cyclery to grab a part for my real bike. The Green Line, to head home after my reporting assignment in Bridgeport. The Newberry Library, several times.
And here's the thing. It's now become my preference, even for longer trips. Like I said, it's usually not that much slower than a cab or public transportation. (Even my 9-mile, non-Divvy commute to work in the morning only takes a few more minutes by bike than by "L.")
I'm learning to think in Divvy transport terms which, sorry, colleagues, sometimes means schlumpier clothes around the office, or, in warmer weather, even shorts.
And you see so much more. Storefronts and homes you'd never notice in a motorized vehicle. The beautiful restored prairie park down by Bridgeport. And, these days, a whole lot of other converts to the cult of the powder-blue bicycle.