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A man-woman team, this year's only tandem entry, had the crowd at the top of the hill near frenzy as it approached the crest, but just short of the top it ran afoul of an immovable photographer and was forced to a standstill.
A "recumbent" bike caused a brief flurry at the starting line. It had a small front wheel and an attachment on the rear that looked like the training wheel for a child's two-wheeler. Because the rider's position was nearly supine, the contraption seemed to have solved the pervasive problem of loss of rear traction, but the complete potential of recumbents went unexplored as this one came to a halt and began to roll backward some 15 feet past the start.
One of the day's real heroes was Bill Harris, a 55-year-old American Airlines mechanic. He was among the early starters, but as he was getting underway his chain came off after a few feet. With dozens of people close by, but none close enough to catch him, he fell to the ground. He got up smiling, though, and disappeared back into the crowd to work on his bike. On his second try he made it to the top.
Harris began riding after a trip to Austria in 1964. He had marveled there at how many people rode bicycles for transportation, "even 80-year-old women," and he decided to try it himself. When he got home to California he bought an old bike and began riding five miles to work every day, an act of courage for which he says driving a Volkswagen had prepared him. "Everybody looks like a Mack truck to a VW."
Just a few days ago, Harris experienced a moment of rare enlightenment. "I was driving my car on a freeway and looking in the rearview mirror when I suddenly realized I was scared. I feel more natural on a bike now." So Harris rides between 100 and 200 miles a week, 50 of them to work and the rest on weekends, on Saturdays with a group of young hotshots and with "a touring bunch of oldtimers" on Sundays.
On Fargo Sunday, after the climb, Harris sat on the terrace of an Olvera Street restaurant, alone at a table for two, still wearing his black leather crash helmet and eating enchiladas and refried beans. A marimba band played under nearby olive trees, and Wheelmen milled around on foot with the Sunday tourists. "It's all leverage," Harris said. "I asked the boys in the bike shop to give me the lowest gear ratio they could put on my machine. I'm embarrassed to say, I don't know what it was. But it's like the guy said, 'Give me a lever and I can move the world.' "
In the case of a man who has conquered Fargo Street, the idea does not seem so farfetched.