Having a bike at Oberlin will turn your whole day around. I write this blog entry from the perspective of someone who spent three desolate weeks with no bike, dragging my legs from one building to the next and arriving late to every appointment, class, and meeting. Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, and it is. But having a bike really makes all the difference. This semester I live in Tank, and though it is a wonderful Victorian mansion full of warmth and people I love and really good food, it’s also a 12 minute walk away from any of my classes this semester. My routine before class became getting dressed quickly, layering every sweater available to me, filling my pockets with granola for a mobile breakfast and heading out into the cold. I’ll note now that three weeks later, when I did secure a bike, I was under the impression I wouldn't be as cold on the way to class because the trip to and from Tank would be shorter on a bike. I’m here to tell you that even though the trip is shorter, I move faster and therefore the wind is even more bitingly cold. Regardless, the immense amount of walking I was doing between work, school, rugby and Tank was definitely beginning to wear me down. My inability to show up anywhere on time simply because work was too far away from North Fields or Tank was too far from class was becoming equally painful.
When the beautiful, glowing bike co-op email announcing bike rental appeared in my email, I signed up immediately. The reason I write this blog is not only to reflect on my own profound appreciation for my own bike this semester, but to shed some light on the fact that bikes are made extremely accessible to Oberlin students by the Bike Co-Op. The Co-op has a physical space behind Keep, just beyond the parking lot behind Stevie. It’s marked by a litter of old bikes propped up all around the building, some strewn and rusting, now unusable, and others propped up carefully along the walls. Inside, the walls are lined with tools and music is usually playing. Though there are bikes everywhere, it’s clear they are being cared for carefully and repaired. At the beginning of each semester the entirely student-run Bike Co-op hosts bike rental, where a selection of bikes is rented out to students who sign up for $15 with a $20 deposit that will be reimbursed when the bike is returned at the end of the semester. Choosing one out is always exciting; you find one that you think might fit and carry it out for a test ride like a car at a really fancy car dealership. After a couple laps around the parking lot and a holler or a shriek of joy at the prospect of having a bike (for good measure) you continue the process of choosing and testing a couple more times until you find one that’s just right.
After choosing out my bike, digging around for a bike lock and taking it home, I looked down to realize that there were no gears on the back wheel. The bike seemed to be set to the lowest gear possible, and I wasn't sure how to change that, but I knew where to go for help. Later in the week, with the moral support of a few friends with equal bike confusion, we returned to the bike co-op. Usually, a few students stay in the co-op to run office hours, and switch out throughout the day. All these students are really well versed in bike composition, and generally know how to use the hundreds of tools that line the walls. As I explained my predicament, the co-opers quickly explained that my bike was a newer model, and the gears were simply hidden on the inside of the frame of the bike. In a matter of minutes, the bike was mounted upside down, and with a couple wrenches we were taking apart the back wheel section. The final, most important piece of information about the bike co-op is that when you leave, you will have a much deeper understanding of how your bike works compared to when you first arrive. The students who fix the bikes do not simply take your bike in and tinker away while you sit at the sidelines. Instead, they encourage you to use the tools and fix the bike parts yourself. Very patiently, the co-oper I was working with explained the inner workings of bike gears. Together, we cut a new, longer rod for the inside of my gear shifts and reassembled the back wheel portion of my beloved bike. As someone who knows almost nothing about how bikes work, now when the chain comes undone or the gears of my bike change on their own, I can understand why.
Though physically going to the bike co-op is always a good experience, I write this appreciative bike-co-op blog because it’s through them that I have a bike on campus, and therefore through them that I am able to spend time at the bike path. Oberlin has a semi-famous bike path that snakes miles in two directions. Eventually, the path leads to other towns, and it’s easy to make a day out of an incredibly long, not too arduous, beautiful day of biking. The path is long and flat, sometimes shrouded in a canopy of trees and other times expansive as it opens into Ohio countryside. There is something really peaceful and wonderful about having a long road in front of you, with no cars or sometimes even other people. Though I don’t spend as much time biking along the bike path as I'd like, when I find the time, the sheer amount of nature and fresh air always make me feel as if I have much more time in the day than I really do. Surrounded by fall trees, tuning bright yellow, and speeding along an open path offers a kind of peace that is difficult to find elsewhere.
In short, all the long bike rides, my punctuality in class and my limited understanding of the inner workings of a bike can all be attributed to the bike co-op, and I hope this small blog was not only a reflection on my appreciation for a bike at Oberlin, but also some kind of encouragement to explore the bike path, stop by the bike co-op, or start going to class on time.