Monday, July 20, 2015

See Chicago on $7/Day on Divvy Bikes

I added to my zoo "collection" with a visit to Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the country's oldest (note - it's free!) I checked out my favorites - the big cats (though I'm not a fan of house cats) and the monkeys and apes.  

Visit to one of the country's oldest zoos- Lincoln Park Zoo

As I walked a few blocks to the Old Town section, I noticed everyone on bikes, especially the same baby blue model. These were the rental bikes that are popping up in different cities, including New York and DC, and some city-suburbs. The concept: pay a fee to rent a bike from a stand, ride it to or close to your destination, park it at another stand, and go about your business. Chicago's brand is Divvy Bikes.

The rental fee for Divvy Bikes is $7 for 24 hours, as many rides as you want, under 30 minutes each. Over 30 minutes, its a couple dollars more per ride.

Find a stand with blue Divvy bikes & ride!
At first I thought - do I want to ride a bike seeing as I didn't really know where I was going? But then I reasoned: I didn't know where I was going anyway, so at least on a bike, I'd get there faster.  

I grabbed a bike and breezed through the city. (Apparently, there's no helmet law in Chicago, which all my Maryland friends asked.) Chicago, surprisingly for being such a busy city, turned out to be an easy biking city. The landscape is pretty flat, there are clearly marked bike lanes, and where there aren't, drivers are pretty good at giving bikes the right of way, or at least not running bikers off the road - though they will honk if you don't move when the light turns green.

I road from Old Town through downtown to Millenium Park, about a 2 mile distance, according to Googlemaps. The fun part - traveling faster, I definitely went further than planned and came upon some entertaining surprises. There was a running waiters race on one square and a soft-serve ice cream truck on another.  I wandered through the park, checking off some of the Chicago landmarks, like "The Bean," and caught a little bit of Edward Scissorhands as the movie being shown out on the lawn. I picked up another bike, then rode back to the hotel, the Hyatt Regency, where there was a bike stand a few feet from the door.

How do you know where you can get a bike? There's an app! (But you knew that, right?) This came useful when I was ready for dinner - I read a review for BellyQ, an Asian fusion restaurant that was a few miles from the hotel in the Old Loop. Looked on the Divvy site at the map and ta-da there was a bike stand a block from the restaurant. Perfect. I picked up a bike a block from the hotel and rode straight to the other end of town in about 15-20 minutes.

Dinner by the way, was quite delicious. I had Crab Rangoon, Coconut Grits, and Hamachi (ceviche). And a drink called "Kill Bill." So.... I took a cab back to the hotel. Don't drink & ride!

I got a bike again another day, taking my own riverside and city tour. I saw a book at the Art Institute, Chicago Then & Now, about the architecture and history of Chicago. A read through something like this is useful to develop your own tour through the city.
Interesting look at the architecture of Chicago pre-Chicago fire and since.
There are a few drawbacks to rental bikes (like own-your-own bikes):
  • Rain. I was going to get bikes one day with friends, but it was unpredictably raining and what we didn’t want to do was get caught in a downpour with bikes.
  • Broken bike. One of the bikes I got, I couldn’t adjust the seat. And I didn’t want to go thru the process of getting a new code for a new bike, so I rode it, with the seat lower than I would like. Then I understood why other’s adjusted the seat before getting the bike.
  • Empty bike rack. Every now and then, there’s a bike rack with no bikes on it. Walking a couple blocks to the next bike rack can throw a wrench in your plans, if you’re on some kind of schedule. Otherwise, it’s a minor annoyance. 

The rental bikes are fun, inexpensive, and flexible. I could see them being a quite useful mode of travel in your home city, and it’s a great way to see the city on vacation.

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