Divvy Glitch Sends International Visitors Eager To Rent Bikes On Hunt

Chicago is one of our country’s best cities for biking, so does its bike share system need to make renting bikes easier, especially for International visitors?

Charlotte and Jan tried to rent Divvy bikes. [Chicago Pipeline/Alisa Hauser]

WICKER PARK — I was walking my dog in Wicker Park’s namesake park on Thursday morning when a woman asked if I knew where she and her husband could rent bicycles.

Charlotte and Jan Erdbrink — who arrived last night from Amsterdam, Netherlands and are staying at an airbnb in Wicker Park — said they wanted to explore Chicago by bike.

I was happy to proselytize our city’s bike sharing system Divvy with these friendly visitors. Back in 2013 I’d written about Netherland’s Ambassador Rudolf Bekink, who described the Dutch mentality on biking as “biking everywhere.”

At Damen and Pierce, the nearest Divvy station to the park, the Erdbrinks decided on Divvy’s newish Explorer Pass option, which allows for unlimited 3-hour trips for $15 a day.

Jan took out his credit card to buy the Explorer Pass. Charlotte asked, “But how do you lock it up if you stop somewhere?”

“You need to dock it at a station to lock it, there are a lot of stations,” I replied.

I told Charlotte she could find the stations closest to her if she downloads the Transit app (Divvy also unveiled a new Divvy app last week too, though I haven’t tried it yet).

Charlotte and Jan don’t have Internet on their phones because of roaming fees, so they couldn’t download either app and would have to take a photo of the map of nearby stations displayed at the kiosk.

The digital screen at Divvy’s Damen and Pierce station.

The apps were a moot point because Jan’s MasterCard was declined. After two attempts with two different cards, he suspected the digital reader was unable to accept his International credit card.

They asked if I knew of anywhere that rents bikes. I recalled that The Robey hotel, 2018 W. North Ave. has a fleet of bikes for hotel guests and wondered if the hotel would be able to rent two of its bikes to non-guests.

From the railing in front of Starbucks, with morning bike commuters breezing by, Charlotte politely expressed her frustration over trying to rent a Divvy bike and the prohibitive 3-hour trip limit (if only she knew it used to be 30 minutes!).

The couple headed to The Robey to continue their quest. The dog and I went home.

I was curious if they’d been able to rent bikes, so I called the hotel. Will Foley, a worker at The Robey’s reception desk, confirmed the couple had stopped in to ask about renting bikes.

“I wasn’t able to help them as much as I would have liked. The bikes are just for hotel guests and there is too much liability to rent to non guests,” Foley said.

Foley says The Robey has six Tokyo bikes available for free to hotel guests.

After I tweeted about the issue, Jacob Peters wrote, “This is yet another reason that we need registered @VentraChicago cards to allow transit value to be used to rent @DivvyBikes. It eliminates a barrier for the unbanked (which is what an international tourist becomes if their card is declined).”

A spokesperson for Divvy was not immediately available for comment on whether Divvy accepts International credit cards, or if not, how can tourists from other countries use Divvy? In a TripAdvisor review of Divvy from 2014, another Divvy user with a non-U.S. credit card also was unable to rent a bike.

Back in 2014, Divvy received a federal grant to integrate Ventra Chicago payments with Divvy but the city is still testing that, according to a 2017 Curbed report.

A Google search on “bike rentals Wicker Park” led me to a page on Ray’s Bucktown Bed & Breakfast that suggested a few places to rent bikes, including BFF Bikes at 2113 W. Armitage Ave. in Bucktown and Quick Release Bike Shop, 1527 N. Ashland Ave. in Wicker Park. I emailed the list to Charlotte.

This is a developing story.