KENT JACKSON / STAFF PHOTO Anthony Cook holds his dirt jumper, one of the bicycles that he makes, alongside the BMX track in Hazleton recently. Cook, who grew up in a family of sprint car builders and raced BMX bicycles as a teenager, now makes bikes in Conyngham.

Anthony Cook built his first bicycle for a graduation project at Hazleton Area High School.

Born into a family of sprint car makers, he designed the frames, welded the steel and selected components for five or 10 other bicycles, most of which he sold to friends.

But as he went to college, got a job and married, he stopped making and racing bikes.

A chance encounter led him back to the craft.

While Cook was camping at the Lockn’ Music Festival in Arlington, Virginia, last year, a man in the next campsite noticed Cook’s bicycle and they started talking.

Cook learned the man’s name, Michael Weintrob, renowned for making photographs of musicians, including a series called instrument heads in which, for example, a guitar covers a guitarist’s face.

“He said, ‘Quit your job. You’re an artist. Build bikes,’” recalled Cook, now 34 and a resident of Conyngham.

While he hasn’t quit his day job as a mechanic, Cook hopes his bicycle making effort takes off to where he could think about building them full time.

“I love cycling. I always had,” he said after taking a few turns around the BMX track at Hazleton’s City View Park during an exhibition that preceded the city’s fireworks display on July 3.

One bike he brought to the exhibition bears the No. 1 placard he once held in the Tangent Redline Cup.

He won the East Coast Championship for his age group and skill level in 2001 and 2002.

Racing BMX gave him incentive to build bikes as a teenager.

“Everybody had real high-end bikes, and I wanted to have something that no one else had. Your bike surely is your bike,” he said.

On each bike, he puts the insignia of a dog paw with the lettering “I AM COOK,” the same emblem stamped on the sprint cars of Ben Cook Racing, an enterprise started by his great-grandfather that continues into the fourth generation in Conyngham.

“I grew up in Ben Cook Racing race car shop. I never went to day care,” Cook joked. “Watching my uncles do stuff … watching everybody do their craft, rubbed off on me at a young age.”

His newest bicycle, a taller black model, his dirt-jumper, contains a feature he hasn’t seen on other bikes: a hydraulic brake line welded into the frame. Cables protruding from fittings lead to the brake lever and the rear brake.

“The thing has soul,” Cook said, “I put my soul into it.”

Contact Anthony Cook on Facebook at IamCook.bicycles.

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