“A part of riding a motorcycle is fixing it, I think. Knowing about it, getting your hands dirty a little bit.”
This is what has driven Mike Henneberry for more than 20 years as the owner and operator of Sump Motorcycle. His purpose? To “fix your broke junk.”
Located to the east of the historic Soulard Market in St. Louis, the shop and dealership is stocked with parts for Harley-Davidson V-Twin engine and transmission service and restoration. Henneberry typically has his hands deep in grease as he makes a nearly scrapped motorcycle see the light of day once again.
“I always wanted my own shop,” he notes. “The older you get, the more you think, ‘I hope I get to do this before I die.’ And at some point, you’ve just got to take the leap.”
And leap he did. On a regular business day, he can be seen restoring a Harley-Davidson Panhead V-twin motorcycle, a classic ride that was a major part of the post-war motorcycle boom and known for its pan-shaped rocker arm covers.
“They’re not the fastest, they’re not the most reliable, but God, they’re pretty,” Henneberry says of the model, which was originally manufactured between 1948 and 1965. “I think they have more class. They got some soul to them. All the clichés. They’re neat motorcycles.”
Henneberry jokingly admits that he doesn’t have the mind of an artist — that side of his brain just doesn’t work, he says — and he’s not looking to invent something new. But even if he’s not aiming for museum quality, there’s still something creative about how Henneberry solves the puzzles that older bikes present.
“If it looks cool, great. But if it doesn’t work, it’s ridiculous,” he says. “Having my motorcycle in the Guggenheim is not my ultimate goal. Having it sit in front of that tavern down the street and some guy gets to go ride it around on the weekend — that’s my goal.
“I’d like it to be me, that guy,” he adds, smiling.
Henneberry has helped many area riders be “that guy.” With a large number of gear outfitters dotting the region, friendly drag races happening in many neighborhoods and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway hosting events in the Metro East, motorcycle culture already enjoys a fairly hefty following in St. Louis. And many local riders keep returning to Henneberry because he’s the only mechanic they trust to work on their most meaningful piece of transportation and freedom.
“I don’t want to come off as some kind of saint that’s trying to save the world one motorcycle at a time. I mean, my whole reputation is based on the product that I push out the door, so I have to do a good job,” Henneberry says.
But at the end of the day, what captivates Henneberry about his milieu is what has spurred thousands of film characters and buddy road trips.
“It’s probably what inspired me. I’d seen some guy riding a motorcycle and thought ‘That is cool.’ Little kids can see it, old ladies can see it. It’s just cool! It looks like fun!” Henneberry says. “I’m sure I look like I’m having fun. Sometimes I can’t wipe the grin off my face for days.”