River Front

Since the first 75 Divvy bike racks became operational on June 28, 2013, the city of Chicago announced that the Divvy program is the biggest in the country based on the percentage of bikes used. Over 50,000 trips were taken in the first month. Why not take advantage of the 300 plus stations already in place by taking this short tour of Chicago's north loop and riverfront. This tour will show you how to rent a Divvy bike as well as keep you in protected bike lanes and away from heavy traffic. 

The Route & Getting Started

Divvy Bike

Start your tour in the Theatre District near the Chicago Theatre Marquee and end at Daley Plaza near the Picasso sculpture. You will need a valid debit or credit card to rent a bike. Follow the on-screen instructions:

  • Select the number of bikes you want (up to two at a time), and agree to the terms and conditions.
  • A key code will be displayed on the screen and a receipt will print out with that code on it.
  • Take the receipt and enter the number into the small keypad next to any available bike.
  • When the green light turns on and you hear a tone, pull the bike as hard as you can from the magnetic dock.
  • Make sure to check the fill of the tires with your foot and test the breaks before leaving.
  • You can also adjust the seat height so that your legs fully extend when you ride.

My recommendation is to download the "CycleFinder" application for your smart phone and set the timer on the app for 15 minutes. It will give you a five-minute warning. That way you can keep track of your time as well as locate other bike stations in the vicinity based on your smart phone's GPS. Divvy also provides a helpful guide for getting started.

Chicago Theatre District

Chicago Theater

Pick up your Divvy bike at State & Randolph and head west along Randolph Street toward Dearborn. You are riding through the historic Theatre District where vaudeville shows and movies have attracted Chicagoans since 1921. The city officially designated Randolph St. between Michigan Ave. and Wells as The Theatre District and installed signage on light posts.

There are five Broadway in Chicago for-profit theaters in the city, and three of them are on this street. When you turn north on Dearborn toward the river, you will see the Goodman Theatre, recipient of the Special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and has featured Nathan Lane, Diane Lane, and Brian Dennehy and premiered plays by David Mamet and Tennessee Williams. 

Chicago's First Traffic Lights for Bikes

Cyclists in Chicago now have to look out for their own traffic lights on Dearborn St. where the city installed the first traffic lights exclusively for cyclists. Just remember that on Dearborn, as opposed to every other street, you must ride only in the protected bike lane on the left-hand side of the street. This one bike lane accommodates both directions of bike traffic. Go across the river and then turn west on Kinzie toward the Merchandise Mart. We can look forward to many more traffic lights considering we now have thousands more bikes on the streets everyday since Divvy was unveiled.

Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse

Al Capone's enforcer, Frank Nitti, operated out of what is now Harry Carry's Tavern. Inside this 1895 Henry Ives Cobb building designed for Chicago Varnish Company, you will find a vault that was uncovered behind a wall and a secret black book of names and numbers of Chicago gangsters from the gangster era. Enjoy the memorabilia and news clippings from Capone's illustrious reign. 

Old Kinzie Street Bridge & Chicago and Galena Railroad

Kinzie Street Bridge

The Chicago & Galena railway was the first railway originating from Chicago in 1848. As you peddle under the Metra Electric viaduct, notice the old railway tracks, which transported newsprint directly from the Chicago Sun Times building by rail. At that time, the tracks led over the old Kinzie St. bridge, which is still standing along the north branch of the river where the main branch bends north. It was decommissioned and replaced by a pedestrian and vehicular bridge that you are crossing. 

Blommer's Chocolate Factory

Look out for local celebrities as you enter the Fulton District and pass by East Bank Club, the upscale athletic club where Oprah Winfrey frequented when she was a resident of Chicago. Also, enjoy the scent of baking chocolate as you pass by Fulton River Park Blommer's Chocolate Factory founded in 1939 by brothers Henry, Al and Bernard Blommer. While the factory primarily produces chocolate for other candy conglomerates, you can buy their signature chocolate at the factory store inside the building. They have an assortment of frozen treats and ice cream in addition their signature line of milk, dark, and white chocolates. The factory has been said to produce chocolate for Fannie May and Nabisco. 

Dock your bike at the Divvy station in front of the Jewel Osco at the top of the hill. Make sure that the bike locks into the magnetic station. At this point, you will have to go up to the kiosk and select "Request a new ride code." Once you receive your new code, repeat the steps for checking out a bike. 

Erie Park & Cafe

Erie Park

After you renewed your time with a new ride code, bike north on Des Plaines St. toward Grand Ave. Go East on Grand. Turn North on Franklin. Then, turn West on Erie st. Continue West toward the north branch of the Chicago River until you see the Divvy Station. Dock your bike and take a walk down to the river's edge through Erie park. Take a seat on a bench or sunbath in the grass. Bask in the views of the river when you look toward the point where the main branch of the river breaks off into the north and south branches. Admire one of the 52 Trunnion Bascule movable bridges. If it's a Wednesday or Saturday in the Spring, you'll see the bridges lifting. For a light refreshment, have a cool drink at Erie Cafe on the park. The former meatpacking facility still retains its meat locker door in the back of the building near the restrooms. Take a seat at the bar, relax your muscles, and enjoy the fact that you are surrounded by Chicago's riverfront shipping history.

After you renew your time again with a new ride code, you are ready to return to the Loop. I recommend riding on Erie St., going East toward Clark. Then take Clark street south to Washington St. at Daley Plaza. Dock your bike at the Divvy station.

The Picasso

Picasso

This is the most recognizable icon in Chicago, second to Cloud Gate. Former Richard J. Daley administration courted Picasso with Chicago sports jerseys and other gifts until the artist agreed to send an old drawing he had done. The artist never stepped foot in Chicago, let alone the United States. The sculpture is made of corten steel, same material as the Daley Civic Center behind the sculpture.

Installed in 1967, two years after the Civic Center opened. It is truly a cubist structure, a style exemplified by Picasso's figurative paintings and fellow artist George Braque's still life work. The key element of cubism is the multiple perspectives: from the front, most agree, you can see a dog. From the back, at a 45° angle, you can see the face of woman. Look for the lips, and the rest of the image falls into place.

Happy riding!