It’s the 1960s, and a small group of students are standing with bicycles while a photographer takes their picture near a “caution 4,000 bikes in Oberlin” sign. This iconic photo is a tribute to Oberlin’s bike culture and serves as inspiration for this week’s photo series.
Soon after students arrive on campus in the fall, bicycles begin to sprout up around buildings and under shelters. This annual scene coincides with Oberlin’s long history of being a well travelled bike town, as documented in an October 14, 1953, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram article written by Carl Christman.
“Now that the college year is well underway, Oberlin once again comes into its own as Bike Town, USA. Day or night, in fair or rainy weather, the faithful two-wheeled steeds may be seen carrying students, professors, and Oberlin residents to their destinations on every street in town.”
Although the mass production of cars declined Oberlin's interest in cycling in the 1920s and 1930s, wrote Christman, gasoline rationing during WWII and the college’s discouragement of students bringing cars to campus brought newfound interest in bicycle transportation.
With the increase of bicycles in Oberlin—in 1945 there were 7,771 licensed in Oberlin—the city council enacted a regulatory ordinance in 1946, reported Christman.
Although the number of bicycles in Oberlin today cannot compare to those of yesteryear—according to Campus Safety there were an average of 160 newly registered bikes on campus from 2017 to 2020—bikes, skateboards, and unicycles still make it easy to traverse this 4.4-square mile community and 440-acre campus.
See more bike culture photos on Oberlin’s Flickr page.
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