On a warm Saturday afternoon in July of 1970, Tracy Schooler and his parents went to a Honda dealership where they purchased a Honda CT70 minibike.
“That’s what started all my childhood memories,” Schooler says.
As a little boy, he and his family spent their weekends on Raccoon Lake, where Schooler rode up and down the trails on his cool ride. He also zoomed around the family’s farm in Jamestown, Indiana, on his CT70.
“I have so many great memories of my time on that bike,” he says.
Fast forward 40 years, and after enduring a bitter divorce in the early 2000s, Schooler relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, to reinvent himself as a PGA golf instructor. Following a decade of teaching folks how to swing and putt in the Charleston and Hilton Head areas, in 2016 he moved back to the Hoosier state, settling in Zionsville. He taught at Wolf Run and later at Hickory Stick in Greenwood, but became tired of the long commute and decided to retire from the golfing business.
He began tinkering in his garage, working on minibikes – mainly Hondas and Yamahas. One day he was asked to restore a friend’s 1971 Honda Z50. Around this same time, his wife Kellie showed him a photo of her as a child riding a minibike, and a feeling of nostalgia welled up in his soul. From there, an idea began to take root.
“I thought, ‘What if I could rebuild and restore memories for people?’” Schooler says.
The concept was to rebuild and/or refurbish these little minibikes to resurrect a slice of someone’s childhood. Hence, in August of 2018 Lil’ Bikes Restoration was born.
Schooler’s bikes made their way to Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auctions. As a result, his name began to circulate across the county. Customers found him from all over, including Seattle, Beverly Hills, Corpus Christi, Miami, Nantucket Island, Puerto Rico and Canada. Next thing he knew, he had celebrities and those in the race world like Tony George calling him to request rebuilds for their childhood bikes. Schooler was shocked by the demand.
“I had no idea the way it would take off,” says Schooler, who produces three to four bikes per week.
He has some part-time independent contractors work for him. He has a man in Pittsboro and another in Baton Rouge building him engines. Paint is done locally in Indianapolis, chroming in Fort Worth, and zinc plating in Oshkosh.
“It’s all brought into this plant in Brownsburg – we do all assembly right here,” says Schooler, who this summer was featured in Hemmings Motor News, a monthly magazine that caters to traders and collectors of antique, classic and exotic sports cars.
Though he caters to all demographics, mostly he hears from those who are 55 and older, and have a little money socked away. Usually their parents are no longer living, and they are looking to have a tangible childhood memory right there in their home.
Sometimes people still have their childhood bike and just need it spiffed up. Other times they tell Schooler about a bike they used to have. In those cases, Schooler will get as many details from the customer as possible, playing detective in an effort to determine which minibike they once owned.
“They’ll say, ‘I know it was green, and I think it was a ’70 and had two tires on it,’” Schooler says. “He or she gives me enough information that I can put the pieces of the puzzle together and they’ll say, ‘Yes, build that for me.’”
Some customers may have originally had plans of riding their treasured bikes again, but they usually abandon those plans once they see the flawless paint and unparalleled craftsmanship of Lil’ Bikes Restoration.
It’s not at all unusual for people to collect these iconic bikes with vivid colors and make them into garage jewelry or man-cave art.
“People keep them in their home museums,” Schooler says. “I’ve also put them in the showroom of many automobile dealerships because they make great conversation pieces.”
Men will come by the shop and want to rebuild their own memory, but they suspect their spouse may give them a hard time about doing it, so they sell that spouse on it by suggesting that their grandkids would enjoy having the bike one day.
Schooler does not tackle every single model. Lil’ Bikes Restoration works on models including the CT70, the C50 (between 1968 and 1978), the CT70 K0 and K1, and the SL70 K0.
“I try to add a model every year, but these models and those years are what I do now and it keeps us swamped,” says Schooler, noting that at any given time, they are usually booked nine months out. Currently, they are booking jobs for late spring of 2022.
They fully restore approximately 18 bikes per month, or about 220 bikes per year. Sometimes customers will ask Schooler to put on tires or change oil, but he reminds them that they are purely a restoration business – not a shop that does service work.
“What drives me every single day is making people smile,” Schooler says. “Helping people relive their childhood – there is no greater satisfaction in all the world.”
Lil’ Bikes Restoration is located at 1654 East Northfield Drive, Suite 300 in Brownsburg. For more information, call 843-475-8222 or visit lil-bikesrestoration.com.