Henry’s Motorcycle

Jun 23, 2012 View Comments by

Earlier this spring, Yates put the finishing touches on his Norton Commando. It runs like a top and looks beautiful, as a Norton Commando should. He’s been riding it to work on a regular basis. The poor guy has a 20-plus mile commute to work, most of which is down a windy country road that is all but traffic free. Still, he’s been making noise that a more substantial trip may be in order, “just to see if anything breaks”. And usually, when we discuss a day trip on our bikes, it involves a stop at Henry’s in Kingsport, TN.

Henry’s Motorcycle (yes, it’s written singular on the window) is a must-see for anyone interested in anything motorcycle related that occurred (mostly) before fuel injection and isn’t American made. The shop is located smack-dab in the middle of downtown Kingsport amidst antique shops, restaurants, and burgeoning boutiques. The winds of change may be whistling across East Tennessee, but they have yet to rustle a hair on Henry’s head. When we visit, we park our bikes on the sidewalk; our host wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s his sidewalk, after all, and I pity any police officer brave enough to discuss such matters with the proprietor.

Yates and Henry worked together at Jim’s Motorcycle Sales back in the ‘70s, so they go way back, “Ol’ Henry fired me… several times”, Yates is fond of recounting. It isn’t long after our arrival that the stories start flying faster than the bikes they helped build for legendary racer and shop owner Jim Hayes. Today, Jim’s Motorcycle Sales has become a modern dealership while Henry’s is just the opposite. The floors, walls, and shelves are cluttered with used parts, NOS pieces and just, well, stuff. There’s a pool table, prowling cats, and a TV that’s usually showing racing of some sort. Just the posters and banners on the walls are enough to make us old farts drool. All sorts of machines are for sale, at a price. You see, Henry isn’t in a hurry to sell anything; his price is his price, though it never hurts to ask. He told us that the scouts for American Pickers approached him to appear in a segment. Henry didn’t want to be on TV.

And while the “sales floor” is interesting in its own right, the inner sanctum of the upstairs is where the real fun begins. Because we were looking for a particular racing carburetor and with Yates being a former firee and all, we got VIP access. Sure enough, we found what we were looking for and a bunch of stuff we weren’t.

Henry’s place is a breath of oil-scented fresh air. It’s as much history as it is a motorcycle shop. In other words, it’s just plain cool. In an era of multi-line dealerships that covet mirrors, loud music, and pushy sales types, it’s refreshing to visit a shop where the owner can identify a BSA rear brake pedal while telling a story about David Aldana’s fondness for beer and the local gals. I have a feeling that vintage flat tracker we’re working on will likely require a couple more visits to Kingsport.

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About the author

At 16, I got my motorcycle license and cut my street teeth aboard a Honda MT250 dual sport. I quickly discovered that motorcycle touring was an excellent antidote for acute wanderlust.