Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My First Bike Share Experience (in Chicago)

I'm in Chicago for a conference, and yesterday I decided to use a bike share for the first time.

Chicago is an ideal city for a bike share. It's dense, urbanized, and flat. My hotel and the conference hotel are both north of the Chicago River, with the hotel near the lake front and my hotel near the Chicago brown line station. I took the bike share home after I was done with the conference.

The idea, for those unfamiliar, is that you grab a bike at any station (after unlocking it) and bike it for 30 minutes. When you're done, you find a vacant spot at another station and lock it in. With the Divvy bikes that you get in Chicago, you buy a 24 hour pass for $7, which lets you use the bikes for that 24 hour period. The catch is you get them for 30 minutes at a time, at which point you get additional charges if you haven't returned it yet. You are given a 5 digit code, which you type in on any lock to unlock a bike.

Not everything went smoothly. The screen had a different code on it than my receipt did (unless I had pulled out somebody else's receipt that had been left there, but I don't think that was it). It was the code on the screen that unlocked the bike. I tried again this morning, but neither code worked. I later learned that you have to swipe your credit card again to get a new car - if I had realized this at the time I would have been able to make it to my first presentation of the day on time!

On the other hand, the bikes are sturdy, simple, and easy to ride. They are three speed bikes, though I couldn't figure out how to shift gears. Since Chicago is flat, there are no terrain issues.

I started to wonder about our impending bike share in Seattle. Parts of the city will be very well suited for bike share, but Seattle has some pretty gnarly hills that even seasoned bike riders avoid (biking up Queen Anne Ave, for example, is not for the faint of heart - or biking down it, for that matter). At any rate, hills are going to be a way of life for any frequent biker, whether they own their bike or not. It's important to make sure that the bikes we end up getting are able to handle the hills while still being sturdy and useful.

Regardless, I'm overall pretty positive about my bike share experience, the hiccups in the process notwithstanding. I'll have more on Chicago in a future post, focusing more on their transit system.

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