- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Rik Smits was just a lad in the Netherlands when someone stole his grandfather’s motorcycle.

In the city of Eindhoven, motorcycles weren’t just a hobby; they were transportation. Bikes ruled the roads, not cars and trucks.

So Smits’ grandpa got himself a new one. After all, the stolen bike would surely never be seen again.

But it was. Barely recognizable, the Berini 50cc motorcycle was found, stripped and rebuilt into a dirt bike.

A perfect ride for the 7-year-old Smits. A perfect first bike.

And with that gift from his grandpa, the love, the obsession, the thrill would begin. Smits would ride that dirt bike everywhere.

“Five minutes and you were in the country,” Smits told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1EaIueD ). “Trails everywhere. I’d go ride a lot, hit the dirt roads.”

As a teenager he’d scrape money up for other motorcycles. He’d fix them, merge two models into a new creation. Trade them. Sell them.

Motorcycles were Smits’ passion.

But, of course, there was something else the 7-4 Smits was passionate about. He’d leave the Netherlands - and those bikes - behind for basketball at age 17. First at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, then a 12-year career with the Indiana Pacers.

Later, though, those motorcycles would come back in a big way, the way a childhood passion can come back when you’ve made millions as an NBA star.

Inside two massive garages behind Smits’ house on sprawling acres of land and trails in Zionsville are more than 100 motorcycles.

Smits’ latest acquisition is a beauty, though not visibly.

It’s a funny-looking concoction. Handmade with an art deco aluminum body built around a stripped Honda 80cc scooter.

It’s called a decopod. It’s a beauty, though, because it’s rare. There are only four in the world, made by an artist and builder named Randy Grubb from Oregon. Smits recently consigned the first one ever built. Two others are owned by Jay Leno. The fourth just sold at an auction for $25,000. Grubb, best known for taking an M47 Patton Tank and converting it into what is now known as Jay Leno’s Tank Car, said he will only make two more.

And so, it’s remarkable that this decopod will be for sale next month at a motorcycle auction put on by Smits in Lebanon at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Smits doesn’t expect it will garner that $25,000.

“But it’s not going to go cheap,” he said. “It’s a rare piece. It’s very unique. I’m not sure how many man-hours it took for him to make it, but it definitely took him a while.”

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other bikes will be at the auction March 8, many going for the highest bid. The decopod, however, will have a minimum selling price, or reserve, though Smits wouldn’t reveal what that is. Coinciding with the auction will be a vintage motorcycle swap meet on March 7. People nationwide will come to Lebanon to see what bikes and parts they can get their hands on.

Smits will be doing the opposite. He will be seeing what he can get off of his hands. He’d like to scale his bike collection down quite a bit.

“I have what you call a collecting disease,” Smits said.

The “disease” started in 2000 when Smits retired from the NBA. He’d fiddled and tinkered with classic cars while playing, but with basketball out of the picture and plenty of freedom, Smits decided it was time to go back to bikes.

He started collecting them again, this time with far more resources than he had as that teenager in the Netherlands. He built his stock of bikes up to 160.

And he wasn’t just collecting bikes, he raced them all over the country for eight years on the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association circuit.

But, not surprisingly, after banging up his body in the NBA and then racing motorcycles in his 40s, things started to need fixing.

And not the bikes.

“It was pretty rough on the body,” said Smits, who retired from the Pacers in 2000 due to foot and back injuries and had an intensive back surgery in 2007.

So like he had been forced to do before, Smits left another love behind, motorcycle racing.

That shifted his passion to collecting. Today, inside one of his garages, the 48-year-old Smits recalls how all these bikes surrounding him started innocently enough.

“I’m reliving my childhood,” he said.

He’s learned, however, there’s one piece of that idealized time in his life he’ll never recapture no matter how many bikes he owns: that Berini given to him by his grandfather.

“I wish,” he said of finding the bike that never made it to America. “But that was 41 years ago.”

___

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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