Divvy bikes at Clinton and Washington were full by morning, nearly empty by afternoon on day one, the day of the Blackhawks parade and rally. Tina Sfondeles~Sun-Times
Updated: July 26, 2013 5:55PM
It is against the law to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in Chicago. For adults; kids are OK. I did not know that. One of the many rules learned while preparing for my debut ride on the new Divvy bike share program, which the city rolled out in early July.
To be honest, the idea of trying a communal bike would never have crossed my mind. I walk, or train, or cab. The whole shared bike thing has a distinct European odor to it. Something they do in France. Not here. We Americans, we own things, we do not share things. That’s socialism.
Whoops, did I say that out loud? Must be getting old. No, no, sharing is good. Learned that in kindergarten. Actually, what tempted me to ride one of the bikes was pure fate. I looked out the window of our office and saw, directly across Orleans, a rack of robin’s egg blue Divvy bikes. It hadn’t been there before. And now it was: a challenge. Life sometimes serves up these go-to-Nineveh moments, and when it does, you better get yourself to Nineveh. Otherwise, you end up in a whale.
So I began planning a bike excursion downtown. I read up on the Divvy system. The web site is very friendly, with a map of bike docking stations, and brief helpful videos, explaining how to pay, how to unhook the bikes from their moorings. And only $7 for 24 hours, provided you break that into 30 minute rides, returning the bike before your half hour is over. Longer trips add up.
I asked a bicyclist pal of mine for extra advice. I’ve ridden a bike downtown exactly once in the past 25 years — in 2000, when we were about to move from East Lake View. It was a pleasant spin on my lumbering black one speed Schwinn balloon tire cruiser, down the lakeshore bike path, a trip that didn’t turn slightly terrifying until I left the lakefront and pedaled west toward 401 N. Wabash, the newspaper’s old home.
My pal’s suggestion: be alert at all times.
“Head on a swivel,” his reply began. “I have a three part routine: look ahead at traffic/ground conditions (potholes), then at the parked cars for potential doorings, then in the rear view mirror for what’s coming up behind me. Then front, side, rear, repeat perpetually. I’ve actually rewired my damn brain doing this.”
He wasn’t done. “And go slow,” he warned. ”Most people I know who get doored were going fast and so did not have time to stop.” Not an issue for me; slow is what I do.
If “door” as a verb is unfamiliar to you, it refers to a bicyclist riding into a flung open car door. Bicyclists get killed that way.
Despite this chilling advice, I decided I was still going to try. On Thursday. Even though it was nearly 100 degrees. I can be determined, when I choose to be, and I’ve always thought that scuttling plans due to mere unfavorable weather is for the elderly and the weak. Besides, I had a goal in mind to prod me on: Skrine Chops, at 400 S. Financial. I would ride my loaner bike across the Loop and eat lunch at Skrine. Believe me, it’s a pork chop worth risking your life for.
But I didn’t want to risk my life for it any more than was absolutely necessary. Before leaving for work in the morning, I went into the garage and dug out my old Bell helmet, covered in dust and cobwebs. At first it seemed like a lot of bother, to bring a bike helmet downtown. But the phrase, “not as much bother as learning to type with a stick held in your mouth” formed in mind, and that decided it. I tucked the Bell in my briefcase.
Just before lunch, I stood up, a look of steely determination in my eye, snatched the helmet off my desk and descended to the street. On my way, I felt something unexpected: fear. Honest fear. I was afraid to ride a bike downtown. I stiff-armed the anxiety. It’s always speeding bike messengers who buy the ranch; amateurs plod away under a lucky star. Or so I hoped. I presented myself to the cheery blue-faced Divvy pylon. Clicked through various screens, dipping my credit card, giving my phone number and ZIP code, agreeing that if I lose the $1,200 bike I’m on the hook. (I assume that’s what the fine print said — I couldn’t bring myself to actually read it). All I had to do now was wait to receive a receipt that would give me a five-digit code to punch in and remove my bike.
I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together, anticipating the slip of paper.
“We’re sorry,” the screen said. “We cannot process your request at this time.”
Oh. I stood there a moment. No explanation. I considered starting the process all over again. No; I had worked up a sweat just clicking through the screens. Maybe riding across the Loop at midday in this heat was a Bad Idea. If fate had nudged me here, perhaps fate was now directing me back upstairs. Saved. Okay then. I retreated to the cool of the office, not without a sense of relief. I will definitely try Divvy. I am committed. Some day soon. When the system is operational. When the fates decree the time apt for adventure. And when it’s a lot cooler.