By Gavin Pugh | Assistant City Editor
His bicycle’s chain is rusted, the brakes are shot, and the seat is missing the screw that keeps it upright. The logo that once identified the bicycle as a Pure Fix is worn beyond recognition, yet his is arguably the best-known bike on Baylor campus.
“I call it my magic bike,” Dallas junior William Harkness said.
Sometimes carrying a hula hoop and always blaring hip hop, Harkness has made a reputation for himself as the guy who rides his bike with no hands.
“He takes you back, and then makes you talk about him,” Dallas senior Lauren Moore said. “It’s like a fleeting, whimsical, magical moment.”
Harkness can be seen cruising through campus shirtless, wearing overalls or pants stitched from multi-colored bandanas.
“It’s definitely like a long, long freestyle,” Harkness said about his style. “Some of it is chopped up just by me stopping and talking to people.”
He is known by many names, due in part to his many tricks: juggling and hula hooping in addition to the no-hands riding.
“People call me the ‘shirtless biker,’ ‘bandana pants’. I don’t know, people call me a bunch of different nicknames,” Harkness said.
And Harkness has had time to hone the collected, low-riding cycling students see today.
“I’ve been biking since I was 2 years old.” Harkness said. Growing up, he owned seven bikes at one time. But that’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of falls. In the seventh grade, he rode off a loading dock while cycling no-hands, and broke his arm.
“I approached this lady’s window, and knocked on her car door with my head. She was scared to death, so I did it again and I raised up my arm. And then she helped me,” Harkness said.
Cycling is only one of Harkness’s many interests. Awarded a ceramics scholarship to Baylor, Harkness also works as a sculptor and a painter. His art lines the walls and tables of his loft in the renovated church furniture factory L.L. Sams. One is a portrait of Snoop Dogg. Another is of a chimpanzee.
But in spite of the university’s recognition of his art, Harkness prefers for there to be no formality to when and how he creates.
“I’d rather paint on my own time than take a class with Baylor, [and have] them tell me what to do,” Harkness said. But his artwork doesn’t stop with sculpting and painting.
“I almost consider my no-hands bicycling an art,” Harkness said.
Riding without using the handlebars allows Harkness to express his creativity with his hands.
“It’s almost like a type of body language. I can use my hands to do other things like dance or shout out to people or just clap and make noise. You know, hands free is always better,” Harkness said.
While there is confusion surrounding Harkness’s antics, Moore compares him to actor and meta modernist Shia Labeouf.
“William does weird things to get people to talk about him, and then he creates his own sense of fame,” said Moore, who lives in the same apartment building as Harkness. “And much like Shia LaBeouf, the actions receive no monetary benefits. But his fame grows.”
The Social Butterfly
Regardless of people’s perceptions of Harkness, many want to know one thing: why?
“I’m really confused. I’m not annoyed by him, because he doesn’t do anything to bother me, but I just don’t understand why he’s doing it,” Houston sophomore Erica Thorpe said.
Some think he does it for attention. Harkness has his own speculations of what people think of him.
“Some people who are more serious see it as a risk. Some people see it as funny. Some people see it as almost like I’m taking it seriously, like ‘he’s just trying to exploit his skill.’ Some people probably just think I’m in the way,” Harkness said.
But because he is constantly moving, students might find it difficult to stop him and ask about his motives.
“He should invest in some signage and tell us what’s up,” Thorpe said.
But the noise making, no-hands riding, living enigma that is Harkness’s persona is simply a means for Harkness to meet people.
“That’s the goal, is to meet people through doing this. People approach me all the time and are just telling me I’m famous or everyone knows me. And that’s the goal, is to have as many friends and fans as possible,” Harkness said.
And he has received support from certain people. Oddly enough, some of the athletes have been Harkness’s greatest encouragement to continue his riding. Filming him when he rides by, Harkness said he will often show off for the players on his bike.
“I really like that aspect that it brings other people together — they can have something to talk about. People tell me when they see me on campus they smile,” Harkness said. “And that’s legit.”