A Saturday Well Spent at the 2023 Southeastern Appalachian Bike Swap

Happenstance saw Hailey Moore traveling through Knoxville, Tennessee over the weekend of the second annual Southeastern Appalachian Bike Swap (SABS), hosted by the local shop, non-profit and community hub, Two Bikes. Scroll on for her photo-heavy recap of the gear swap, Goldsprint roller-bike race bracket, and bike show good times that went down last weekend at YeeHaw Brewing Co.—good things comin’ out of the Southeast right now!

I’ve always wondered at folks’ ability in the south to get somewhere and stay there. Whether they’ve been conditioned by all-day barbecues or long Sunday visits with family, tailgating for football games or ever-lengthening bleacher butt-planted marathons above baseball diamonds, I’ve noticed that people in this part of the country are pros at gathering. And while I’m from North Carolina myself, it’s never been easy for me to sit still, shoot-the-shit, chew-the-fat—etc., etc.—while generally measuring time by ice melted in a sweating glass parked on a porch railing. Just ask my partner, Tony, as I try not to squirm while writing this, on what is now our second cross-country drive in the last year. I like to move more than mingle.

So, while the recent second annual Southeastern Appalachian Bike Swap (SABS) was a mingling-minded affair, moving through the event’s convivial crowds and outdoor bike showroom with a camera in-tow was my kind of gathering. And with all the beautiful bicycles around, there were plenty of conversation starters to choose from.

Cars lined the street and a steady stream of coldbeer seekers filtered into YeeHaw Brewing Co. as we made several circles around the oblong lot in north Knoxville, looking for a place to park before finally submitting to a paid lot. Shit, it’s crowded, I thought. The sweet bouncing rhythm of 60s hits wrapped the entire block as we drew towards the music’s source.

Inside the fenced perimeter of YeeHaw’s impressive terraced and turf-lined patio, we found the SABS festivities in full swing: up front, bike and gear swap vendors displayed tables of their parts bin wares beneath a semi-covered corridor; an open-air bar anchored the lawn’s far right corner; clusters of weekend-happy people lined the short steps below which sprawled builds entered in the bike show’s wide range of categories (vintage road, vintage mountain, modern road, modern mountain, alt-bike, and neo-retro); and, finally, in the back were two shining metal frames sitting ready atop roller wheels—gleaming near-white in the midday sun—backed by a giant screen fit for a small stadium.

As Tony sauntered off towards a table boasting a few Thomson parts, I cruised around until I bumped into Mitchell Connell, president of the event’s organizing shop and non-profit, Two Bikes, and general MC of the day. As a non-profit, Two Bikes keeps donated frames from landfills and repurposes them in the community through refurbishment, re-sell, and donation. The organization is also dedicated to equipping Knoxville’s youth, and resident-base at large, with bike maintenance know-how and industry skills through educational programs. And, as was being made evident from my brief time thus far at SABS, the whole Two Bikes team is passionate about bringing people together to celebrate the craft of well-built bikes, along with the joy of riding them.

I had a hunch that the acronym was a riff on other bike shows and Mitchell’s response to my query about where the idea for the swap originated seemed to confirm this:

“The Southeastern Appalachian Bike Swap was Matt [Zingg]’s idea. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him because Matt [Two Bikes Founding Member and Operations Director] loves nice bike parts, and he’s spent many years in New York and Baltimore where swaps are much more common than in the Southeast. Plus we both loved the idea of creating an event that would draw our friends from around the region to Knoxville. I think there’s a groundswell of community cycling happening in the Southeast right now, and I’m thrilled that we can get our friends together once a year to ride bikes, look at stuff you usually only get to see on the internet, and just have fun.”

As Mitchell hurried off to attend to announcing the Goldsprints—which, I might add would go on to award a $1,000 cash purse to the winner of each category (Male, Female, Non-Binary)—I walked the aisles of the Alt Bike Met Gala where there were indeed plenty of builds that might make our week here at The Radavist as internet exhibits. Somewhere amongst the Chumbas and Crusts, I met Travis Jolly, Two Bikes’ Service Manager, and we shared stories from Ozark Gravel DOOM, which he had recently rode in the Grand Depart this year, finishing Third in the Singlespeed Category. It’s easy to rag on Instagram and social media but it’s these interactions that make individual and distanced niche communities feel tight-knit and collective.

Inevitably, there were some technological snafu’s in getting the Goldsprint big screen display up and running, so I used this time to browse the swap aisles, making note of the OG randonneuring contingency in one corner with early-days MTB fans in another.

As MC, Mitchell adroitly wielded the power of the megaphone, hyping up the crowd while also soaking up the energy they reflected back. And, the sun, initially acting as a fierce spotlight, decided to cut the riders a break and eventually slipped behind a welcome veil of clouds. The day was still hot enough without it.

The most exciting of the Goldsprint matches, for me, may have been the framebuilder face-off, with Zack from Amigo Frameworks going up against a relative unknown from North Carolina, Charles Thompson of Fine Bikes. While perusing the rows of bike show builds, I’d noticed not one but three of Charles’ bikes and, upon hearing that he’s based in Raleigh, decided to catch up with him after he’d caught his breath.

A Conversation With Fine Bicycles

Charles comes from a BMX family: he and his four brothers, along with both of his parents, all rode and raced BMX until most of the boys were in their teens. As Charles puts it, he then “did teenager stuff for a while then got back into bikes in my early 20s. Started racing again—cyclocross this time—and started working part-time at a bike shop. Part became full [time], left the first shop and started working at the current one, Oak City Cycling (in 2016 I think).”

On the types of bikes he makes and why he started Fine Bikes, Charles said “Nothing is anything; I did this so I could start saying yes.” The process really started from him about two-and-a-half years ago, when his time spent riding bikes piqued his interest in learning to build them. So, he took a framebuilding class in NC, taught by Steve Garn of Brew Bikes. Having raced BMX on a Brew, and knowing Steve from his childhood, brought the process for Charles full-circle. After completing the class, Charles has been gradually accumulating the tools, knowledge, and other resources to give his framebuilding operation a real go of it. He credits Ken Metzger, owner of Oak City Cycling, for help getting the proverbial ball rolling and his friend, Andy Belcher who makes frames for himself, with answering innumerable questions. Charles also just finished a paint class with Carl Schlemowitz, of Vicious Cycles & Metal Guru, and his own mountain bike served as the canvas.

In his own words, Charles’ bike that I wanted to document is, “a fun hardtail for how I ride on the trails I frequent. Feels like a BMX on the way to the trail and a capable mtb once I get to the trail. The paint was inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. I loved Eddie’s DIY attitude and always thought the paint jobs and modifications he would do to his guitars were neat. Plus, you know, ‘Jump’!”

Thus far, Charles has built 16 frames in the two years and change that he’s been at it while working full-time at Oak City, but Fine Bikes is picking up steam. “[It’s] finally at a point where it needs more of my time and I’m starting to shift my hours that way (slowly). Thankfully balance has been possible with the help of my partner, Adeline. She makes sure I eat, acts as a sounding board, and puts up with the long hours through it all.”

I love the parity that an event like SABS gives to builders like Charles who are still growing their business, where their frames can stand against more established brands and the viewers’ vote on their favorites. I’m also excited to hear more about the framebuilding scene in my home state and can’t wait to see where Fine Bikes goes from here!

In Closing

I could still hear Mitchell calling the Goldsprint rounds on the megaphone as I parted ways with Charles and headed back towards the van; we still had a long drive ahead. The venue was a hopping scene: mixed in with us cycling enthusiasts were plenty of SABS-unsuspecting Saturday brewery-goers. It felt like being the host of a party that’s gotten so big you’re like, “I don’t even know half these people but we’re all here having a grand ‘ol time, so who cares!”

The ideator behind SABS, Matt from Two Bikes simply described his inspiration for the event, “Two Bikes has always been about gathering folks around the things we love—riding bikes and good times. The cycling scene in Knoxville and the rest of the Southeast is vibrant and growing, maybe even a tad overlooked, and we wanted to contribute something unique to that community. We started the swap because it’s something we wanted to see happen, and it’s our way of saying, ‘hey, you like bikes and I like bikes, let’s hang out.’”

It’s debatable whether the scene here is indeed overlooked, but with events like these, it certainly shouldn’t be and won’t be for long. Two Bikes, and the community at large, is really onto something special here and I’m already looking forward to my next visit to the Southeast. I’m getting better at these gathering things!