Harvard has a relatively small, flat campus.
The bulk of Harvard University (including the graduate schools, the athletic facilities, and all the random buildings I’ve never been to) fits in a relatively flat rectangle less than a third of a square mile in area. I have a friend who goes to school in California and every time I visit him, as I literally hike up and down these near-vertical stairs between his dorm and the dining hall, I mutter curses under my breath to the person who had the audacity to build an entire university on the side of a coastal mountain range.
It is for this reason that you will hear many people extol the joys of walking at Harvard. “It’s great exercise!” “I love having time to think!” “It’s so nice to be able to appreciate the scenery!” These are all fair, well-reasoned arguments, for sure, and I have been to few more walkable campuses than Harvard’s.
But I’m still not convinced.
There are many reasons I dislike walking. The main one is that I’m just a lazy, exercise-averse person.
If there is a way to avoid physical exertion, I will take it. To quote the great Ron Swanson, “Normally, if given the choice between doing something and nothing, I’d choose to do nothing.” One time, in my sophomore year of high school, I broke my left middle finger and managed to talk my way out of having to run the mile in PE for an entire week.
But also, efficiency! Walking is slow! Even if I did nothing but go to and from class every day, that’d be 10 minutes of walking x 2 times per day x 5 days a week x 10-ish weeks in a semester = 1,000 minutes of walking! Plus, when you add the morning multiplier™ (the empirical phenomenon that the extra minutes of sleep you get immediately before waking up are worth ten times the value of regular minutes), that’s like 10,000 minutes! That’s so many minutes!
And so, in the opening weeks of my first-year fall—faced with this daunting realization that I would be spending hundreds of hours of my college years trudging through the snow-covered sidewalks of Cambridge—I made a decision.
I got a scooter.
Now, as much as I’m sure you’d like to hear how this decision changed my life—how, essentially overnight, I became the most popular and fuel-efficient first-year in Oak Yard—I think what might be more helpful for you, my hesitant reader, would be for me to walk through my decision-making process for you.
Below, you will find the questions that I asked myself in the days before I made my purchase, and again before I got a bike in sophomore year. Granted, this happened a while ago and my old, wrinkly rising junior brain might’ve forgotten some things. But hopefully, there’s enough here to convince you that you don’t have to settle for a plebeian existence of walking—that there is, indeed, another way!
I don’t know if I can afford a scooter/bike?
Fear not, broke college student! You can find them for super cheap on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. I bought my scooter for $30 off of a grad student at MIT and my bike for $50 off a guy who lives by the Quad. Plus, the Undergraduate Council has a bike grant that helps you pay for a bike/scooter/skateboard if you’re on financial aid!
I’ve heard scootering/biking in Cambridge is dangerous, and I’m not a very coordinated person. How do I not get hit by a car?
This is a fair concern. Obviously, safety is super important and you should only do whatever you feel comfortable doing. That being said, I’m a very uncoordinated person (I, to this day, am unable to balance on one foot for more than ten seconds) and I feel pretty safe riding around. Scootering is great because you can stay on sidewalks, and there are tons of designated paths on the side of the street for biking!
Is scootering/biking a good form of exercise?
Yes! I think? I’m assuming scootering/biking burns more calories than walking. I’m actually not exactly sure how this works because if you’re moving your body the same distance in less time, you’re still doing the same amount of work (work as in the product of force and displacement), I think? I’m an English concentrator; cut me some slack.
Won’t I look like a doofus scootering around everywhere?
I mean, possibly. But who cares? (Also, there’s a pretty solid contingent of scooter-riding Harvard students, so you’ll be in good company!)
Won’t I miss walking?
Where am I even going to put my bike/scooter?
Harvard is actually a super bike-friendly campus! There are bike racks in front of almost every dorm and classroom building. As for scooters, it’s kind of hard to lock/park a scooter, but luckily, they’re compact enough to fold up and take inside with you. Plus, eventually you become really good at folding/unfolding the scooter in one swift motion which just makes you look very cool.
In conclusion, get a scooter. Or a bike.
Yes, it’s not going to save you hours every day or prevent you from being late to class or help you get an A in Organic Chemistry. Again, Harvard is a small, relatively walkable campus.
But I will say that waking up at 10:20am for a 10:30am class on the other side of campus is a seldom-enjoyed luxury, and I wouldn’t trade the adrenaline rush that comes with biking from DeWolfe to William James Hall in under 5 minutes for anything.