Harvard Bicyclists Break Away From the Rules

Harvard students are generally law-abiding, respectful citizens, but something about biking brings out the rebel in many of them.

Despite a University prohibition on riding bicycles in Harvard Yard and constant calls from the guards on duty, two roommates in Mather House say they hold timed bicycle races through the walled-in area.

Michael L. Wechsler '89 and Kris Kobach '88 say that if the guard yells at them, they get off their bikes until he or she walks away, then they remount the bikes and continue their contest.

Kobach and Wechsler are not alone. Most Harvard bicyclists agree that the ban on biking in the Yard is one of the most frequently broken Harvard prohibitions.

"I think it's an unjust law," says Kobach. "If a person rides courteously, there's really no danger. The Yard rule is discrimination against people who are late to class. It's like racing on the highway. It's a rule that was made to be broken."

And most student bike-riders admit they break other rules of the road as well.

"I consider myself a rule-breaker. I've only been hit by one car in three years," says Wechsler, who admits to riding without a helmet, going up one-way streets and riding through traffic lights.

"I don't wear a helmet because I don't plan to fall," says Eli Kazhdan '91.

Tatiana Zomopoulos '90 says she thinks the rules are made simply for safety, so she can disobey them. "I've never hit anybody or anything, so I just do it," she says.

College regulations, multiple satety precautions, and Cambridge traffic--even Boston's icy weather--may deter ordinary bikers, but Harvard's bicyclists persist, riding their bikes around Cambridge in all kinds of traffic and in all kinds of weather.

Most students and faculty members who own bikes say they use their vehicles primarily for afternoon rides along the River and weekend escapes from the city. But hard-core cyclists say the best reason to have a bicycle on campus is for transportation--not to and from the city, or vacations in the country, but to and from class.

"I'm always late everywhere, and if I wouldn't ride my bike, I'd be that much later," says Wechsler.

"It's hard to ride for enjoyment, except by the River," says Deborah J. Slotnick '90, who lives in Radcliffe Quad. "And there's not always time to just ride for fun."

Biking often gives its devotees a distinct advantage. "In Cambridge, you can actually go faster than the cars if you're biking," says Kris Kobach. "It's probably the fastest means of transportation here."

"It saves the parking problem," says Professor of Astronomy and History of Science Owen J. Gingerich.