Campus News

This Week in Photos: Bike Culture at Oberlin

September 8, 2021

Yvonne Gay

A small group of students stand next to a bicycle sign while holding their bikes.
A photo taken in the 1960s of students standing under the iconic bike caution sign in Oberlin.
Photo credit: Oberlin College Archives

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.

A late 19th century photo showing a line of men with high wheel bicycles.
The college’s High Bicycle Club in 1890. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin Archives
A girl holds a cycling club sign while riding a bike.
A member of the Cycling Club in Tappan Square. Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83
Bikes parked in front of a building in the snow,
Winter is no match for cycling in Oberlin. Photo credit: Dale Preston '83
A long row of bikes parked in front of a dorm.
Bikes parked in front of South Hall. Photo credit: Yvonne Gay
A girl wrenches on a bike.
A student works on a bike at Oberlin’s Bike Co-Op. Photo Credit: Matthew Lester
Students ride bikes while dressed in costumes.
Bikes are often featured in Oberlin’s annual Big Parade. Photo credit: John Seyfried, 2018
Two professors in graduations gowns ride bikes.
Professors on their way to morning graduation last May. Photo credit: McKinley Wiley


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