How About Some More Carrying Capacity on Divvy Bikes?

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An Indiana Pacers Bikeshare vehicle on the Cultural Trail. Photo: Indiana Pacers Bikeshare

With Divvy slated to expand by 175 stations this year, there’s an unprecedented opportunity to increase bike ridership in Chicago. There’s also an opportunity to rethink the Divvy bike design.

A shortcoming I’ve noticed about Divvy, and other systems that use bicycles supplied by Bixi, is the lack of carrying capacity. The bikes feature a narrow front rack, useful for carrying a purse, briefcase, or messenger bag. However, transporting anything larger is inconvenient at best, and a dangerous balancing act at worst. I know how perilous a Divvy journey can be when you’re trying to carry large items or multiple parcels, based on my experiences hauling luggage and grocery bags.

Chicago can do better. Indianapolis’s new Indiana Pacers Bikeshare, for instance, is much more convenient for transporting cargo. The system, run by B-Cycle, which operates bike-share in a number of smaller U.S. cities, features bikes with a large, enclosed front basket, as well as a rear rack and basket. Kevin Kastner, who runs the blog UrbanIndy, has seen people use the baskets to carry groceries, jackets, water bottles, and more.

The current Divvy rack design was chosen to discourage people from using the baskets as trash receptacles. Rear racks may also be seen as a liability, because users might try to use them to carry passengers.

Kastner speculates that since stations are relatively close in Indianapolis, and there are only 250 bikes, compared to Chicago’s 3,000, keeping the bikes garbage-free may be “an easier issue to solve than in other places.” However, the design of the Indianapolis front baskets, which lack sidewalls, helps prevent the bikes-as-trash-cans problem.

The Indianapolis rear racks do feature mesh sidewalls, but using a similar design as the front baskets, or simply having a rack in back, which would allow members to bring their own panniers, would prevent garbage build-up. As for concerns about the rear rack being used to transport human cargo, I am sure a design solution can be devised which would discourage this behavior.

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A Madison B-Cycle cargo trike. Photo: Madison B-Cycle

Madison, Wisconsin, is another city with a system run by B-Cycle. Although the standard Madison bikes lack rear racks, they do feature a spacious, enclosed front basket. “It’s pretty nice compared to other models I’ve seen,” says University of Wisconsin med student Matthew Kutz. “I have no problem fitting everything I would carry on my back into the rack.” He has also used Divvy, but found the front rack to be less useful. “You can’t go grocery shopping with an open rack.” The Madison system also includes adult tricycles with large rear baskets, which can handle serious cargo hauling and are also useful to folks with mobility issues.

Providing more cargo capacity might help address Divvy’s gender disparity — 79 percent of member trips are made by men. “One of the comments I’ve heard a number of times, more from women than men, is that they wish Divvy had a somewhat larger rack or basket up front for shopping trips,” said bike advocate and Streetsblog Chicago contributor Anne Alt.

Asked about the possibility of altering the Divvy design, Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel said he “does not see that happening” any time in the near future. However, the coming expansion is a golden opportunity to improve the bikes. Providing bike-share vehicles that are useful for more types of trips could be an important step toward making cycling an attractive replacement for driving and achieving the city’s mode-share targets.

  • Alex_H

    “I am sure a design solution can be devised which would discourage this behavior.” Why are you sure?

  • Doesn’t seem like rocket science to put a few knobby protrusions on the rack to make it uncomfortable to sit on. I’m sure the same designers who made CTA bus shelter benches nearly impossible to sleep on (and not particularly comfortable to sit on) could tackle this challenge.

  • If you don’t buy a ton of groceries, you can fit a bag in there – but the problem is that the bungee cord presses into the bag and can rip it open (if it’s paper). I liked the baskets on Velib; they’re big enough for a bag of groceries, but they definitely can’t carry a person.

  • Fred

    I too would love to see multiple bike types. My top would be 1) something with more carrying capacity and 2) something geared higher for those of us who aren’t lowest common denominator users.

  • Seattle’s new bike-share cycles feature 7-speed hubs, appropriate since that town has some massive hills.

  • Fred

    Are they Alta/Bixi?

  • rohmen

    And that would be the question I have regrading the need for a redesign–at least with regards to the front rack.

    It seems like the Divvy front rack already has the capacity to carry a single grocery bag (and if paper rips, I’d suggest a person grabbing a reusable grocery bag, which costs a buck and is something most people really should be using anyway), and I don’t see much more capacity than being able to carry a single grocery bag with the Indy bike’s front rack anyway.

    Maybe a rear rack is a good idea, but I doubt it’s a make it or break it type of thing for the system to work. I’d personally rather see Divvy eventually add a certain amount of cargo trikes into the system to satisfy the people who want to use bike share to carry large loads.

  • Nope, they’re supplied by this French company: http://arcadecycles.eu

  • skyrefuge

    I still haven’t had the time to reverse-engineer the Divvy gear ratios, but I did do some qualitative testing since the last Divvy-gearing discussion here. In 3rd gear, at something close to my normal cadence (90-100rpm), I can get a Divvy moving at what feels like something close to 18mph (I need to turn on a GPS app next time to determine actual speed). That’s a speed I can maintain somewhat comfortably on my own bike, but on a Divvy, the weight and wind-resistance prevent me from pedaling at that intensity for more than a minute at a time. So from my perspective, the high gear is already higher than it needs to be. Someone with a slower cadence might not find it as excessive, but I still think it’s difficult to make an argument that it actually needs to be higher.

    And it is WAY slower/harder to start from a stop in 2nd gear than in 1st gear. If I grabbed a Divvy that couldn’t downshift to 1st, I’d probably swap it for another. I’ve actually started to think that if people knew how to use their gears properly (or weren’t riding single-speeds), there would be less red-light/stop-sign running going on, since the cost of re-starting, while annoying, isn’t nearly as great if you know how to use your gears.

  • David Altenburg

    The San Francisco bike share is Alta, and I believe they have 7-gear hubs (which may not even be enough for some of those hills!)

  • skyrefuge

    7-speed hubs don’t necessarily imply a wider gear range than 3-speed hubs; they’re more likely to just result in a smaller spacing between gears. Divvy’s 1st gear is already quite low and would be suitable for some pretty steep hill-climbing. It’s possible that Seattle’s 1st gear may be even lower, but that’s certainly not a given. I definitely wouldn’t mind closer gear-spacing on Divvy though!

  • Fred

    Why shouldn’t I be able to ride at 18mph sustained on a Divvy bike? Certainly a higher gear wouldn’t be usable for everyone, but it would be for many. I am currently limited by the speed I can physically make my legs go round.

    1st gear is useful to me for exactly 1/3 of a revolution. If I am at a stop and pull the pedal so it is at 2 o’clock, when I start out I can crank it from 2 o’clock to 6 o’clock, then I’m out. I don’t even bother with 1st any more.

    I own 20 and 27 speed bikes and use many of the gears on both. A bike with higher gearing would be intended for people like me who are experienced riders, not hobby hipster single speed/fixie riders.

  • ohsweetnothing

    As someone who’s seriously been considering buying a cargo bike but lives on the upper floors of a walk up apartment, I gotta say cargo divvy bikes would make me instantly buy a membership. I’d even pay a higher annual fee to access increased capacity or cargostyle divvys.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Maybe I’m severely underestimating what the demand for an experienced rider divvy bike (call it Divvy+!!), but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of business sense to me. Wouldn’t more experienced riders be more likely to just a) deal with the lower gear ratios or b)ride their own bikes around?
    Not really a criticism, I guess I’m thinking out loud…

  • skyrefuge

    Google tells me that the League of American Bicyclists apparently recommends a cadence of 75-95rpm. My belief is that if you are pedaling in this range, the rolling/wind resistance of the bike will become the limiting factor on your top speed, not the gearing.

    Increasing your cadence is something you can learn through practice, and not only will it make you more-compatible with Divvy, it will also increase your efficiency and reduce knee strain. Maybe you’re already pedaling in that range, and you’re just a really powerful cyclist. In that case, I think you just have to live with being one of the outliers that Divvy can’t easily accommodate, just as it can’t accommodate 4-footers and 7-footers.

    I originally estimated that I did 2-3 strokes in 1st gear before upshifting, but when I actually counted, it’s more like 5-6 strokes, or most of the way across an intersection.

  • Personally, my weekly grocery trip is on my own bike with its carrying capacity. Spontaneous trips are by Divvy, and I don’t want to keep buying 99 cent bags every time – have enough at home :) I think it’d be cool to have some bikes an actual basket, because the straps are the worst.

  • Fred

    In all honesty, I have no idea if enough people would be interested in a higher geared bike for it to make business sense. It seems like several people on this blog have mentioned interest.

    I am an experienced rider with 2 bicycles and have been Divvying to/from work since I got my membership a few weeks ago. Divvy offers a few advantages my own bikes don’t: 1) flexibility. Maybe I only want to Divvy one way due to other factors such as plans or appointments. 2) if I ride my own bike, I have to lock it up and worry about it all day. A Divvy I just throw in the dock behind my office and forget about it. Saves time not having to go down to the basement bike room or worry about leaving it on the street. On Saturday I Divvied to meet my wife who was out with friends. I was able to ride there, ditch the bike, then walk home with her. It was nice.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Good points. My second point didn’t make much sense in hindsight. But if Divvy is going to err in any direction, I imagine it’s still easier for us experienced riders to “deal” with low ratios than the alternative.

  • Peter

    offer a tandem…. :-)

  • Fred

    I can pedal fast enough in Divvy 3rd gear that I look like an idiot. I would imagine it is much faster than 95rpm. The gearing is my limitation.

    While I am no doubt stronger on a bike than a random average person walking down the street, I don’t believe I am stronger than the average experienced cyclist.

    None of the stats I have mentioned are speculation or exaggeration. I am only able to use 1st gear for 1/3 of a revolution, and I am speed limited by gearing.

    As mentioned below, there may only be a hand full of people interested in a taller gear so it might not make any business sense. I just got the impression from other posters on this blog that that is not the case.

  • Anne A

    I have a couple of those ripstop nylon tote bags. I typically use one in the Divvy basket (sometimes with a longer supplemental bungee cord if needed) and a second inside my backpack to make it quicker and easier to unload.

  • skyrefuge

    Ok, so either your cadence estimate is off, or you’re a much stronger cyclist than you realize (or I’m a much weaker one than *I* realize!) We can do a bit of reverse-calculating if we know your bike models (alternatively, with a timer, you can just count out your pedal rotations over a 15 second period and multiply by 4). Just making assumptions based on number of gears, a 95rpm cadence in top gear on one of your own bikes would likely put you somewhere near 30mph. If your actual speed is much slower than that, then there is room for you to increase your cadence. Otherwise you’re probably in the top 99% of all cyclists.

    Any faster cadence is going to initially feel goofy if you’ve been in the habit of spinning much more slowly. But once you get used to it, it looks (and feels) perfectly normal. Lance Armstrong spun at 120rpm, and looked just fine doing it.

  • Joseph E

    ” As for concerns about the rear rack being used to transport human cargo, I am sure a design solution can be devised which would discourage this behavior.”

    Yes, it would be easy to make a rack that fits panniers below the level of the fender, like this bike:

    http://www.bikesfortherestofus.com/2010/12/raleigh-detour-deluxe-2011.html

  • Joseph E

    The bike sharing system in the netherlands is different; it is mainly based at large railway stations, and is meant for longer-term rentals. But they already have bikes with front and rear racks, and e-bikes: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/OV-fiets#mediaviewer/Bestand:OV-fiets_electrische.jpg

  • Christine Price

    I used the Pacer’s bikeshare a couple weeks back (just a few days after they launched) since I was in town visiting a friend. And honestly, I was REALLY unimpressed with their carrying capacity. Yeah, there’s space in the front and back, but both are skinnier than Divvy’s front rack. The back was especially surprisingly small, and since one side of it is at a slope, you can hardly fit anything in. My friend had a medium sized purse that filled the front basket, and since she is pretty small, it was making steering hard. So we moved it to the back… and it filled that basket instead.

    Plus, the rack bars looked so wide that I don’t know if you could fit a regular pannier on there.

    I definitely would love it, though, if there was some sort of rear rack on Divvy, so I could attach things to it.

  • Chris Antonelli

    The BCycle racks come with their own set of problems. The large, heavy front rack makes the bike very unwieldy and prone to tipping over when parked with the included kickstand, especially when loaded. The stabilizing spring mounted to the fork gets rusty and squeeky. The mesh is steel which is both heavy and prone to rust. The Pacer bikes seem to have a redesigned front rack to reduce the weight, but now it appears to be too small for most cargo. Personally, I think the Divvy racks are much better from a maintenance perspective and handle a lot better when riding.

  • Fred

    I didn’t have a stopwatch so I’m not 100% sure, but I estimate I hit pretty close to 3 revolutions per second in third gear on my way home from work today. 150+ RPMs, easily. I guess I’m a biking 1%er.

  • Seattle’s forthcoming Pronto bikes have an overall style similar to Divvy but the front rack appears to me to be slightly deeper, which would be a nice improvement.

  • One advantage of providing slow bikes is that it reduces the likelihood and severity of crashes. Slow bikes work fine for Divvy’s intended purpose: short trips and errands, not training rides.

  • Fred

    That’s fair and true. If you are traveling faster than 18mph on a bicycle, you should probably have a helmet on.

    I clearly lose this debate. I’m out.

  • Harald

    Yeah, Trek obviously knows nothing about making a bike suited for transporting things in the front. The rack is heavy, sits very high and far out in the front, making riding with a load of groceries a very sketchy affair. The Velib bikes in Paris worked much better in that respect — but they do have the trash bin problem.