In the same way that Virginia is for lovers, Oberlin is for bikers. It's flat, full of drivers that are almost eerily patient and nice, and has enough bike lanes, paths, and other two-wheel-friendly spaces to satisfy all but the most high-maintenance cyclists. A lot of college students come to Oberlin already full of bike frenzy, and still more are converted during their time here.
I am most assuredly not a biker. The number of things my classmates can do while biking (wearing a dress, taking a phone call, eating breakfast, and so on) fills me with awe, and the amount of time it takes my biker friends to get around fills me with jealousy, but I've never joined their ranks. I went on my first Oberlin bike ride this week, however, and that more than anything else is a source of temptation to saddle up.
My motivation to go on a bike ride was a common reason that Obies give for breaks in their routine: it was an insanely nice day. I left a Frisbee-tossing session on WIlder Bowl with every intention of going for a run, but the closer I got to the gym, the less that option appealed to me. Due to an injury, any long runs that I go on should happen on a machine. Outside was balmy, blanketed in a still-summer sun that hadn't even thought about setting yet, and abandoning that to go run on a machine was unthinkable. I walked along, torn, until the rows of metal chariots outside every building I passed made me realize that there was a better option. Not having a bike was hardly an obstacle - one phone call, and I was ready to go.
I ended up borrowing my friend Kye's bike that day. It was kind of him to lend it to me, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but in order to get a full sense of the experience you have to understand a few things about this bike.
There are certain vessels of transportation - living and non - that have set themselves entirely against their intended purpose. Reasons for this obstinacy usually fall into two categories. The first is a contrary personality - anyone who tells you that machines don't have personalities has only driven nice cars - and the second is the kind of weary defiance that only comes from having done something for a very, very long time.
In the case of this bike, it was spades of both. I'm not the steadiest biker, and the combination of a loose front tire and brakes that can most charitably be described as "temperamental" made for a kind of bucking-bronco experience. Once I cleared downtown, though, Florence + The Machine drowned out the squeaks that accompanied my slowing and stopping, and my steed and I reached some kind of understanding. I was flying.
If you've never been on the bike path that runs all the way through Oberlin, you really should, and if you've only been on it on foot, you really should bike it. Once you get going fast enough, the trees blur into a green tunnel, and whatever music you're listening to feels like the soundtrack to a movie about a deep and important person. It's a beautiful, flat ride, with views of the Arb, the Oberlin cemetery, and one of Oberlin's golf courses.
I rode for about an hour, until some road work and confusing signage foiled my path. It was fun to see a part of Oberlin I'd never been in before - highlights included a bunny hopping across the road, an amazing sunset, and some truly splendidly dressed members of Oberlin's elderly community tearing it up on the green. I rode until it got dark and I realized that dinner would probably be a good idea, and then I took my time on the way back. I wanted the ride to last.
Beyond the scenery and the endorphins, my bike ride gave me a chance to do something that can be rare in college: spend some quality time by myself. Living with my friends is far and away one of the best things about my college experience as far as I'm concerned, but being able to keep your own company is important too. At Oberlin, where everything from homework to brushing your teeth can be a social activity, you have to take your alone time when you can find it. I didn't do any intense introspecting or answer any big questions - being a student forces me to do that enough. I just rode, and I hung out with myself for a while. I came back excited to hang out with my friends, but also reminded that I should make time to be alone when I can - on a bike or not.