When Baton Rougeans toss their inoperable lawn equipment out of frustration, 21-year-old Austin Smith and his friends benefit.
The Prairieville auto technician by day is equal parts environmentalist, mechanic and artist in his time off.
He refurbishes broken lawn equipment and bicycles, and puts them together to create customized motorized bicycles — faster, and less sweaty, than a regular bike and much more fuel efficient than a motorcycle or vehicle.
Smith sold his first one to Jacob Boudreaux, who used the bike to get around campus at LSU.
Not only was it a novelty on campus, Boudreaux said, it was convenient.
“I use to have two housemates that used the bike as well,” Boudreaux said in an e-mailed response. “They used it for everything. It was the beer mobile for picking up a six pack at the Circle K. It is also funny to see people’s heads turn when you ride around on a custom bike. People can’t get enough of it.”
Boudreaux lived off Brightside Drive and used the bike to get to campus for classes.
“It was super fun to cruise along the levee in the morning.... His bike saved me from waking up early to wait for a bus, finding a parking spot, and having to hustle across campus for a class. All-in-all one of the best purchases I’ve ever made and will be ever-associated with my college stories.”
The vast majority of Smith’s parts he acquires for free — off the side of Baton Rouge roads in neighborhoods like Magnolia Woods, where his father grew up and his grandmother still lives.
“You wouldn’t believe what people just throw away,” he said. “And most of the time, I can have them running again for $10. As long as the motor has compression, I can use it.”
It’s an odd hobby, he admits, but his friends aren’t complaining.
“I’ve known Austin for a while now, and he is someone that puts a lot of passion into his projects. Each one of his creations is carefully thought out and has dependability in mind,” Boudreaux said. “I know this because I got to help with my bike and see first hand the skill he possesses. His bikes are made with better parts than any kit bike you can purchase off the internet and cheaper.”
Smith isn’t complaining, either.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’ve had. I can have the worst day, and when I walk into the shop, it all goes away,” Smith said.
It takes a unique way of looking at the world to repurpose to the degree Smith can.
“I look for old metal bed frames to build the mounts. I could go buy the same stuff at the hardware store, but I never need to,” he said.
When he and a friend built their first motorized bike in high school in Destin, Florida — he was 15 or 16 at the time — the two couldn’t afford a welding machine, so they made one using two old microwaves.
“I think my buddy’s still got that thing,” he said.
He’s been repurposing everything around him ever since.
He designs and welds the motor mounts himself and uses repurposed springs from car trunks and old door hinges to build what essentially acts as a clutch on the hybrids.
That means riders can disengage the motor, if they need to, and power it with the pedals. If they run out of gas. They get about 100 miles to the gallon.
He’s clocked his machines going up to 40 mph, he said, though the speed ultimately depends on the bike and the motor.
Just about anything with a single-cylinder motor would work.
All he needs is a bike — “any kind, BMX, scooter, beach cruiser” — and any kind of motor — “leaf blowers, weed eaters, chainsaws” — and he can do the rest, he said.
“When I get the parts, I can envision what it will look like,” he said. Also, he hates seeing things go to waste. For that reason, he can usually produce a machine for less than $300.
“I made one for a friend of mine when he was going to LSU, and he used it to get around campus,” he said, adding that the hybrids are a great, low-cost option for smaller, bike-friendly areas like campuses.
For information on Smith, his machines and how to request a customized motorized bicycle, send Smith a message through his shop’s — Single Cylinder Custom — Facebook page, or e-mail Smith at email@example.com.