Spencer and I have been riding bikes together for 15 years. Since then, Spencer developed a career building and repairing guitars in Nashville, Tennessee. Back when we were younger, we spent a lot of time hanging around our local bike shop, Halcyon, and working on our bikes on their community stands. His bikes are deeply practical, very unique, and kind of clapped out. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, but I wish more people built and rode bikes like Spencer. Recently I went to Nashville, and I took some time to document his bikes and ask him a few questions about his builds. Below, let’s check out what he had to say…
I remember when Spencer found some Paul thumbies for a great deal, but they were the wrong clamp diameter. He solved the problem by cutting a strip from a sheet of copper and wrapping it around his bars like he was covering a burrito with aluminum foil. The shifters could slide around a little bit, but it never bothered him much. The copper looked sick too.
Spencer maintains his bikes exactly as much as they need and no more. Nothing on his bikes is precious to him, but everything is deeply practical and really good-looking. He painstakingly mounted vintage Raleigh fenders to his Velo Orange Polyvalent and custom-mounted his dynamo light on the front of it. Internally routed dynamo lighting? Absolutely not.
What’s the first bike that you acquired in your current lineup?
The Velo Orange Polyvalent, a beautiful bike. Pumpkin themed.
What year did you buy it?
Something like 14 to 15 years ago – something to that tune – maybe 2008.
Has it stayed the same over the years?
The initial build was for a tour down the Natchez Trace. It had Porteur bars with inverted levers at the end that were very cool. It was very old-fashioned which is kind of where Velo Orange started. Really traditional french-looking bikes. Now it’s still a really upright bike, still a fender build, so it’s not wildly different. It’s probably had ten different builds between then and now.
What bars are on it right now?
The Nitto North Road bars. They’re very narrow, swept-back, upright bars on a Nitto Technomic stem. They’re like Albatross bars, but skinnier and with more rise.
Who built the bike up?
All of my bikes are homebuilt. The mountain bike has required me to go to the bike shop more for repairs because I don’t like working on hydraulic brakes. Rim brakes or death. All of my bikes I’ve built myself, as both a mechanical project and a kooky art piece.
Where do you wrench on bikes?
When I was young I would wrench on my bikes at Halcyon Bike Shop in Nashville. They had a super supportive bike community and stands where people could work on their own bike. Now I have a little spot where I can wrench on a stand that’s attached to my fence.
How did the community stands at Halcyon contribute to the bike scene in Nashville back then? I guess between 2008 and 2011.
Behind the bike shop there were three or four stands that were attached to the wall. It was outside, so it was separate from the actual bike shop which sort of took pressure off trying to learn how to work on your own bike. And there were always people building freak bikes – tall bikes and choppers – and there were people building jammers and fixies. It was kind of the end of the fixie craze. Then there were weirdos like me, building touring bikes and commuter bikes. In 2008 or 2009 that felt like a newer thing. You’ve got to remember, in 2009 the Path Less Pedaled folks were around but there wasn’t a big adventure cycling scene yet. And the Polyvalent was 650B. It had to be one of the first 650B production bikes available in the US.
What’s the next bike that you purchased/built/acquired?
The second bike I bought was my white whale, my Rivendell Atlantis. When I was 16, and I was building up my Velo Orange, I thought that the Rivendell Atlantis was the most beautiful bike. There’s something about the paint job, the lugs, the beautiful head badge, and a gorgeous everyday geometry that was really appealing to me as a kid and just as appealing to me now.
When I had the opportunity to buy one with a dent in the top tube and paint chips for about $1000, I jumped at the opportunity. I immediately rebuilt it really similar to my first bike. I’ve always been really committed to swept-back bars, Brooks saddles, and touring racks. It’s my go-to bike now with Gravel King tires, and man, I never thought I’d own one. It’s the dream bike, and I’ll never sell it.
Can you tell me a little more about how you built it?
As someone who isn’t a bicycle mechanic, and as someone who likes to tinker with things, the build kit was easy to decide on. I ran friction shifters and linear-pull brakes because it’s all really easy to work on. Working on the Atlantis is really accessible.
Any closing thoughts on your Rivendell?
It’s my white whale and I’ll never get rid of it. I love the early Rivendells way more than the newer ones. If I wanted a tandem, I would buy one. Scoot those rear wheels in, Grant (Peterson).
So you don’t like the modern Rivendells?
They look crazy (both laugh). If I wanted a boat, I wouldn’t buy a pontoon either.
Tell me about your mountain bike?
I bought my mountain bike from Zach Small, who runs Amigo Frameworks. Zach was hanging out at the pump track that Oasis built in North Nashville. I was jamming on the Atlantis, trying to clear some doubles. He rolled up on a Surly mountain bike with a Paul stem, and I complimented his build.
We got to talking between sessions, and he told me he was building himself a mountain bike and was almost done. He said he’d be willing to sell it to me if I was interested. This was during the early days of the pandemic when mountain bikes were nearly impossible to buy, so when Zach offered to sell the bike to me, I immediately said yes. Zach cut me a great deal because I think he saw that I really appreciated his build, and I think it helped that I was out hitting jumps on a Rivendell.
How do you use the Surly?
When Zach sold it to me, he also sold me the rigid fork, so I can use it as a bikepacking bike. I mostly use it to ride the pumptrack, but I also ride a decent amount of singletrack around Nashville. It’s a super practical mountain bike. I’m not a person with a really deep catalog of bikes, so I needed something that would be versatile, and the Surly Krampus does that for me. Honestly, I mostly use it as a way to hang out with my friends and hit jumps.
Do you have any bikes you’re looking to add to your fleet?
I’m happy to say no. Like, my bikes cover all of my bases. I have a bar bike, a touring bike, and a mountain bike. Honestly, I’m a party-pace rider. It’d be cool to have a rando bike, but realistically, I don’t need it. I’m straight chilling when I ride bikes, I don’t want anything that’s fast.
If you’re in Nashville make sure to stop by the Watkins Pump Track where you’ll probably find Spencer and his friends nostalgically talking about their favorite food truck, Jamaican Me Hungry (which allegedly gave away free beer until about 2019). If you need to get your guitars fixed, stop by Spencer Connell Guitar Repair where you’ll probably spot at least one of his bikes laying around. Finally, make sure you stop by Halcyon Bike Shop where the staff has been working hard to keep the Nashville cycling scene alive and full of jammers since I was a kid.