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GGW on the road: Chicago's "Unicorn bike"

How can you generate publicity for a new bikesharing system? Chicago's newly launched fleet of pale blue bikeshares includes one "unicorn bike": a bright red bike, dubbed #Divvyred, that Chicagoans are chasing all around the Windy City.

Photo by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Chicago's bikesharing system, Divvy, launched this summer with a fleet of pale blue bikes. Except one. As a clever marketing tool, one of the Divvy's 3,000 bikes is painted bright red. Chicagoans who spot the bike can post photos of it on Twitter using the hashtag #DivvyRed to be eligible for daily prize drawings. In addition, the 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th, 200th, and 300th riders get free memberships.

Installing what Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein calls a "unicorn bike" is an inexpensive and fun way to generate publicity for this new city service. Photos of the elusive #Divvyred are slowly appearing on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The random node-to-node transfer path of bikesharing ensures the bike will eventually make its way all around the city, appearing at Wrigley Field one day and in Bronzeville the next.

If Capital Bikeshare added its own unicorn, what might it look like? As we've learned, bright red is a striking color. Few colors, except maybe gold, can outshine red in conspicuousness and mystique. Popular stories prize elusive golden items, from the golden ticket to the golden fleece, so why not add #theGoldenCaBi to the list?

Image by the author.
Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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more than just color could be added: LEDs, bling, streamers, could all be added to make it stand out.

by Richard B on Aug 7, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

I was just in Montreal, where they have a few bikes from other Alta systems in the fleet. We saw a woman on a CaBi and flipped out. I think I almost scared her off the bike. We saw Ontario, Melbourne, and Minneapolis bikes too.

I think having bikes from different systems is more interesting than just a different color bike. But either way, it does feel like a scavenger hunt. After 3 days of hunting I found the CaBi and much tweeting and Facebooking was done.

by Jeslett on Aug 7, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

@Jeslett: Love that idea of bikes from other systems.

by Brent Bolin on Aug 7, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

I'm hearing Shirley Bassey singing "Goldbiker."

by aces on Aug 7, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

What a cool marketing gimmick

by Dave Murphy on Aug 7, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

HA! I was wondering why my ex who NEVER tweets posted up a photo of his partner on a red Chicago bikeshare bike. Thanks for the explanation.

by Circle Thomas on Aug 7, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Boston has a black bike (vs silver)

by JJJJJJ on Aug 7, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

Whomever rides the golden bikeshare to the maintenance facility gets a free tour.

Just watch out for the facility manager... and trust him when he says not to touch anything. ESPECIALLY the experimental blueberry bicycle.

by Bossi on Aug 7, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

People in Chicago are similarly obsessed with catching a ride on the taxi with medallion number 1.

by Hadur on Aug 7, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

Silver would stand out well against the red. Though bikes from other systems would be cool, too.

by GMB on Aug 7, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

I've seen a few "liveries" around Montreal, too -- but only other Canadian Bixi colours, never CaBi. PBS/Bixi brought bikes from a bunch of cities to last year's Velo-City conference, and I nearly shoved someone aside in pursuit of a CaBi on offer:

far from home

(It's spooky seeing a happy CaBi imperiled by those vicious skyscraper shadows!!!!!)

by Payton on Aug 7, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Boston just added an unicorn bike too in celebration of their 1 millionth ride.

Seeing how we already launched the system, it could be a nice surprise to add to a milestone celebration too.

by Marc T on Aug 7, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

Why not have each system honor members from other systems? For example, your DC Bike Share membership would be good in with New York City's Citi Bike system and vice versa. This could be expanded so all the systems honor each other's members.

by DaveG on Aug 7, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

@DaveG think that would be a great idea. I'm sure there a lot of folks who visit at least two cities on a regular basis. Mine are DC and Chicago, but especially with New York, DC, Boston, etc.

by Todd on Aug 7, 2013 6:31 pm • linkreport

@DaveG: so everyone would join up in the city with the lowest annual rate and...what's in it for everyone else, again? I can see an argument for being able to link keys to multiple accounts, just so there's less stuff to carry, but I don't see how giving people free rides is viable.

by Mike on Aug 8, 2013 7:21 am • linkreport

If any of these bike share systems get federal funding, wouldn't that make it even more imperative to explore honoring each other's memberships?

by DaveG on Aug 8, 2013 9:00 am • linkreport

Why not yellow with red lettering?
Though I'd rather the focus be on building more stations not unicorns.

by andy2 on Aug 8, 2013 9:04 am • linkreport

Mike hits part of the problem - different pricing.

But, it would be nice if I could buy a one-day membership in NYC and have it connected to my key so that I wouldn't have to use the code everytime I wanted a bike.

Of course, they've been upgrading the keys. I think the new ones have a hard clear plastic shell, so they may not be compatible.

by David C on Aug 8, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

"so everyone would join up in the city with the lowest annual rate and...what's in it for everyone else, again? I can see an argument for being able to link keys to multiple accounts, just so there's less stuff to carry, but I don't see how giving people free rides is viable. "

If I pay $75, I get a DC only membership. If I want an all cities membership, I pay the highest annual fee - or even the highest annual fee plus a premium.

Thats a simple model. A better one would be - I buy a $75 DC only membership. I find myself in Park Slope and take a Citibike out. The systems automatically deducts the NYC premium from my linked account. Im not sure how hard it would be to set up such a system. I do note that in the early days of EZpass all the states had different systems, and eventually a way was found to link them all up. Clearly the benefits of linkage are lower for bike share, but I am not convinced a way could not be found.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 8, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

@Marc: the original unicorn bike in Boston was a Hubway bike sponsored by Mayor Menino. It became a twitter game to use it and post its location.

by Omri on Aug 8, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

I'd be happy with allowing other cities' keys to enroll in the "Daily Key" program. That way, no card swipes, one billing statement, agreements can be agreed to online in advance.

Not sure if the different billing software systems are compatible, though. B-Cycle doesn't have that problem.

by Payton on Aug 8, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

Seems like either a system where using your key from another system signs you up for a daily pass (maybe at a discount) or charges you a smaller fee for every ride (rather than free 30 minute trips) would be good.

Alternatively, you just have the contract people sign say that you have to primarily use the system you signed up for, and then make everything else just work normally. The bikeshare system can track where you use bikes, if you buy a DC membership but are primarily using NYC bikes then they call you up and charge you the NYC membership price.

by MLD on Aug 8, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

Early adopters to cabi got a limited-edition black key fob. I think one black-on-red cabi bike would look pretty sleek!

by JTS on Aug 8, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

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