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Bikes of Oberlin (And the People Who Own Them)

By Maya Denkmire


Now that it’s getting warmer, it feels like there are more bikes than people on this campus sometimes. Whether they are resting beneath a tarp behind the Bike Co-op, lined up and gleaming in front of Mudd, or weaving wildly around pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk, bikes are a staple of Oberlin’s community. Seeing all of these bikes around got me thinking about the special connection one can have with their bike. What kind of stories do the bikes of Oberlin hold? In this piece, I’d like to introduce you to some of them!

Maya Miller’s bike runs in their family. When I asked them if their bike had a story, they leaned closer to me as if imparting a great secret.

Maya: My bike was my grandmother’s; my grandmother who I never met because she died before I was born. Before she got sick, she rode on it all the way across the country with my grandfather. Then my grandfather kept it in his garage for forty years. When I was going to college I was like “I think I might want a bi

ke at Oberlin,” and he was like [here, Maya put on a gruff voice, reminiscent of a fairytale troll] “I have one for you!’ He brought it out, we fixed it up together, and I put it on the roof of my car and we drove it to Oberlin from Connecticut.

It was in the middle of a Keep meal that Ilana McNamara approached me to ask if I was still looking for stories about peoples’ bikes. When I told her that I absolutely was, we ventured off into a quieter corner to talk. They commented that the interview felt very official, and made sure to state their name and our location before beginning their tale.

Ilana: When I was a first year, which was before Covid, I was like oh, I want a bike. I live in J-House, I wanna be able to bike. So I was like oh I’m gonna check out this thing called the Bike Co-op, that sounds fun. So I came to the basement of Keep, crazy, and I was just talking to the people that were involved in the Bike Co-op; I

was like so what’s the deal, what do you guys do? And they were like “we rent bikes! You can also build your own bike.” I was like what’s…what is that. How would I build my own bike? And the person that was helping me was like oh, well, actually, I can just show you right now, you wanna see? And I was like sure, I guess…and so we went back into the depths of the Bike Co-op, all the way back here where we’re sitting on top of, but underneath. They were just kinda rummaging around and they were like “and sometimes…” they were talking to me, and whatever, “and sometimes you find, like, a whole bike basically already made for you, like…THIS!” And there was this kid’s red bike and basically the only issue was that it didn’t have a seat, so we just put a seat on it and then they were like okay, you made your own bike! ‘Cause we just found it in the back of all of these dead bike parts. And so I got a bike, basically. And the chain was awful, like it would crank every single time I pedaled. . .I felt like I was gonna fall off. But it worked!

Lili Clarke’s bike story, told to me as we both walked to class, details the trials and tribulations but mostly rewards that come from the journey of trying to obtain a bike from the Greater Oberlin Area.

Lili: Okay, so I was on Craigslist searching far and wide for a bike under 200 dollars, basically, and by far and wide I mean in Lorain County. Or Cuyahoga county. And I came across this bike. It was 130 bucks or something and it had a basket, a water bottle holder, all that. All the bells and whistles! But then I was like wait…I don’t want to meet a random man by myself, so I brought resident man of Keep Cottage, Avi Moses, to Cleveland to go get my bike. And we kind of just pulled up to this random Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and the guy gave me the bike.

I had been trying to track down June Curtis for quite a few days to interview her about her bike’s story because I had heard it was an excellent one. When I finally did, she was sprawled on the floor of the Keep lounge, her legs kicking in the air above her.

June: So the story about my bike…is that…[giggles] well, I left it outside Warner one time and I went in to do my dance class and I got back and it was gone, because I left it unlocked. The one time I left it unlocked, someone stole it! And I was like okay, well, guess I don’t have a bike anymore. Two months later, I find it, outside De

cafe. . . locked up! With my lock! So someone knew my combination, or someone like, ‘cause I left my lock unlocked, they knew what combination it was and they had been riding it around. so I was like that’s mine now! I took it back to Keep. A week later, it’s gone again! I find it outside Mudd, locked up. I bring it back to Keep. Another week later, someone took it again! I found it outside Mudd again! And I was like alright now, this is getting really silly, and I said to myself I have to change the lock. But I haven’t done it yet.

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