- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) - Just one bike, and Cameron Austin was hooked.

The 23-year-old Logansport man is a mechanic by day, but there’s no classic car in his garage. Instead, he’s got 20 - maybe more - vintage bicycles.

“I love classic cars, but they’re expensive,” Austin explained. “Bikes are the next thing. They’re just as cool.”

Cameron Austin and his brother, 18-year-old Tanner Austen, grew up riding bikes around their neighborhood and now own around 30 bikes between them, spanning styles from nearly a century and a half.

They’ve rescued some of them from a scrapyard destiny and restored them, doing everything from replacing parts, remaking the seat upholstery, sandblasting and painting the bike frame and reapplying decals or painting those details straight onto the frame.

“I’ve found basically all of them on Craigslist,” Cameron Austin said. He checks the website regularly - “sometimes daily” - and keeps an eye out especially for “tank-style” bicycles like those popular in the 1950s, with their balloon tires and wide fenders.

As they work on bikes, they’ll occasionally sift through one of the 17 crates they keep on hand full of spare parts and extra bike saddles.

But not every bike they own is vintage. One hanging in the garage is a modern lime-green bicycle from a Regions Insurance giveaway.

“I like the stuff that’s different,” Cameron Austin said. “You don’t see it all the time.”

It all started with a 1955 Huffy bicycle three years ago. He’s proud of the accurate restoration he’s carried out, right down to hand-painting the distinctive markings along the tank. “It’s all correct, just how it should be,” Cameron Austin said.

He entered the Huffy into a bicycle show in Lebanon in 2013, where it earned first place in the restored bicycle class, he said. The brothers have since entered other bikes, and won more awards, at shows in Lebanon and Benton Harbor.

But the bikes aren’t just for show. Cameron and Tanner Austin take one or another of the bikes on the roads nearly every day when weather permits.

“I have ridden every bike in here - well, except for that one,” Cameron Austin said, gesturing toward a well-worn 1903 Monarch brand bike without its tires, hanging up above the brothers’ work bench.

But he’s definitely been out on the vintage replica with a 4-foot front wheel.

It’s modeled after an 1875 Penny-Farthing “high-wheeler” bicycle. In comparison, its 16-inch back wheel is tiny, and it has no brakes. Anyone riding it has to set one foot on a peg near the back of the bike frame, then get the bike going by hopping along as if riding a scooter. Once it’s rolling, the rider swings up onto the bike saddle using the peg as a launch.

On the bike, Cameron Austin sits about 7 feet off the ground. When he takes a spin in the Logansport Memorial Hospital parking lot, his head nearly hits the maximum-height bar at the entrance to the parking garage.

It feels a little like riding a unicycle, he said.

“The first time I rode it, I was riding it in an alley and I flipped over the handlebars,” Cameron Austin said. “A really long fall.”

Tanner Austin, who’s currently learning welding at Century Career Center, said he’s put that skill to use working on some of the bikes he’s acquired. He prefers bikes whose wheels are smaller and set farther apart than on standard bikes, leaving the rider seated lower to the ground.

“I was always real crazy about low-rider bikes,” Tanner Austin said. “I saw that bike” - pointing at a 2005 bicycle with shining chrome accents - “at Bickel’s one day, and my heart dropped. ‘I gotta have it.’”

The brothers sometimes buy vintage bikes from Gene F. Lewellen, owner and operator at Bickel’s Bike Shop in downtown Logansport. Lewellen sells parts, too, including hard-to-find ones for vintage models.

“I’ve got a collection of parts that go back 50 years,” Lewellen, 73, said. He’s worked at Bickel’s since his sophomore year in high school and has also been collecting bikes for about 40 years.

The hobby “keeps you off the couch,” he said.

He knows the Austins’ interest in 1950s bikes or ones needing work.

“They see something that’s back in the ‘40s, or ‘50s bikes, they get ahold of them,” Lewellen said. “I’ve sold them a couple of vintage bikes that I had, that needed a lot of work, they kind of restored them and brought them back to life. I don’t have the time to do that, with the shop and all.”

The brothers enjoy seeing people’s reactions to their bikes when they’re out and about and sometimes can’t resist adding to the collection when they’re at a show or come across a bargain online.

Cameron Austin estimates he buys one or two more bikes each year.

“It’s an addiction,” he said. “But it’s a good one.”

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Source: Logansport Pharos-Tribune, https://bit.ly/1Jfjl5i

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Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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