A couple months ago, some new faces showed up for our Sunday Moto Club ride to Los Gatos for lunch. Akie was riding a stripped-down, blacked-out Suzuki DR-Z400SM with a ‘metal militia’ decal on her swingarm. Because I’m always at the front, I didn’t see much of her bike until we arrived at the restaurant. The following Sunday, we crossed paths again during another ride in San Francisco; this time I rode next to or behind her, getting the full effect of a supermoto in motion.
This got me thinking about maximizing my riding pleasure on the Bay Area twisties. The R1150RT is great for commuting and touring, but a bit beastly on the tight stuff. The DR650SE street scrambler has large-block Shinko knobbies with some torque, but the jetting is off and my confidence doesn’t equal my objective on the pavement. The CB750 sounds great, looks fantastic and handles well enough, but it’s a vintage bike with vintage brakes and 1976 technology, so it gets noticed but doesn’t handle the twisties so well.
The idea of adding a sumo to the fleet since laying eyes on Akie’s Suzuki led me to Spencer Parr’s website. He builds bikes in his Avon, Indiana garage, and his retro-moto provided the final bit of inspiration to pursue sumo inventory on San Francisco’s Craigslist.
As I discovered talking to Barry Weatherall recently, sometimes the best bikes come from shared family experiences. In Spencer’s case, growing up around gas-powered playthings made building motorcycles a natural extension of his interests and skill set. This led to an interview to learn more about his path to building bikes for others.
Spencer, I love that in your current build photos I spy a framed photo of Valentino Rossi just behind a John Deere riding lawn mower. Tell me a bit about your current neighborhood, where you grew up, and the family you have now.
I live in a town just west of Indianapolis named Avon, a very standard Midwest town with nothing but neighborhoods and a few good restaurants.
Best part of my town is living a mile from Lucas Oil Raceway and about 10 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There’s also a bunch of cool motorcycle shops ranging from vintage bike shops to custom V-twin/bagger shops. The culture in our area is racing all the way, with a whole strip of race shops to include John Force Racing and Vance & Hines.
I grew up in Illinois and moved to Indiana when I was about 7. Lived in Peoria and Springfield IL, so I used to venture to the Springfield Mile occasionally. Once I moved to Indiana, I started racing go karts. During that time everything with a motor is what my family was all about. Every weekend we would load up the camper and trailer and go racing. After winning a couple championships in go karts, I wanted to start racing GNCC. Life soon took hold and I got myself a job and never raced again.
Your retro-mod sumo, scrambler and tracker are tight and clean. How much time do you invest in pre-stylizing your builds? Do you sketch or use computer software to play around with ideas?
I don't have any special CAD software or anything that fancy. Going into a build, I usually just take the bike down to its frame and just look at it. Things I consider are the shape of the backbone of the frame and the angles/look of the rear subframe.
Microsoft Paint is about as far as I go with sketching. Most of the time I just think of an idea and build it. If I don't like something, I’ll change it. I have an idea of what the bike should look like in my head, and I just try to build that.
Your career path was thwarted when ocular cancer took your sight in one eye, prompting you to resign from the police force. How does that curve ball affect your daily life, and how did you initially cope with it?
Out of everything I’ve seen and experienced as an officer, nothing was scarier and life-changing than the day I was told I had cancer. I can’t even explain the feeling.
Right after being diagnosed, I had a couple surgeries and still had my eyesight. During that time, I was still on the road as an officer. My eye began to lose vision and soon after, I completely lost my eyesight in the left eye. There were a couple safety concerns, like people coming up to my window and not being able to see them.
The final straw was my last call before I threw in the towel. It was an armed barricaded subject in the attic who would not come out. I was the officer who had to pop my head in the attic to see if he was in there. After that, I decided to leave the police force all together.
Obviously, it was a big decision to leave because I trained to become an officer. During that time, I also built motorcycles. Nothing drastic like today's builds, but I could not get enough of building a bike that showcased my personality and style.
The turning point was watching two videos repeatedly on YouTube. One was by Max Hazan going over his Royal Enfield Bullet 500 he had just built. I was so fascinated by the craftsmanship, style, and overall design that Max brought to the table:
The other video was about the Nash Motorcycle Co and how life hit the owner and his family hard at one point and motorcycles brought them back to normalcy.
From there I created a logo, and with the push from my wife, created Parr Motorcycles. I resigned as a police officer, got a desk job, and now build bikes at night.
My eye affects me everyday for sure. Other than being self-conscious of it sometimes, some things are harder to do for sure. I cannot really throw a football/baseball because my depth perception is off. When it comes to building bikes, the only thing I have noticed is making sure things are straight. I usually ask my wife to make sure things are straight, like sub frames and fenders.
What’s the average price of your custom bikes, and how long does it take to deliver a bike from initial consultation to a happy riding customer?
The average price of my bikes is around $15-$20k. Since I started officially building bikes in 2018, most of the time it has been for myself. I have not really been taking on customer projects until recently. The latest build, a 2017 BMW R NineT, is my first customer project. I recently completed it after eight months of long nights and early mornings to get it done.
I’m super busy between having a full-time job and being a dad, so those eight months have gone by fast. The BMW has been the most challenging project yet for sure. It’s a project that’s not in my wheelhouse, but it’s been fun to learn and challenge myself.
My normal single-cylinder projects take around six to eight months. I really want to produce a product where every piece has been thought out and designed to fit the overall design of the bike; so if it takes longer, I’m okay with that.
You mentioned a future expansion. When and where?
Pre-COVID I was going to expand operations and possibly hire some help in Brownsburg, a town just north of me. Now that the world is slowly reopening, I may look into it more this year. I currently work out of my home garage so sometimes it gets cramped, and possibilities are limited. My goal is to open a shop of my own.