If you happen to be passing through The Shops at Quarry Lake in Pikesville at twilight on a warm Thursday evening, in between the bustle of cars and families you might catch the whiff of cigar smoke mingled with onion rings and pizza and find a group chatting and joking outside Pizza Blitz. Along the curb out front you may also find a few muscular, gleaming Harley Davidson Ultra Classics or Street Glides, Honda Gold Wings or even an Indian Roadmaster.
Or on a bright and breezy morning if you happen by Sam’s Bagels & Deli in Reisterstown and hear the distinctive throaty rumble of a dozen motorcycles piloted by the same bunch of men and women, now helmet-clad in head-to-toe leather and heading for the open road, you’ve found the Baltimore Chapter of the Lonsmen Motorcycle Club. And if you have a motorcycle, they’d like you to take a ride with them.
“We’re a motorcycle-riding club. That’s what people love about our club — we ride,” club president Ben “Doe-Slayer” Bark of Pikesville said. “I’d rather be on my bike than anything else.”
Founded in August 2008 by Steve “Scout” Gertz of Reisterstown, the club’s weekly, year-round Sunday rides sets them apart from other clubs. And even though they also meet each week for dinner and socializing, it’s the regularly scheduled rides that have kept old members coming back while attracting new riders to the club.
“The other club I was in was completely different — it was more of a social club,” said Bark, who joined the club three years ago. “So I saw both sides. And not that one’s better than the other, it’s just that I prefer the riding.”
And while the club emphasizes the riding, it doesn’t emphasize that most of the members are Jewish, about 70 percent, according to Bark. The club is not exclusive and welcomes all riders, as long as they ride a 650-cc or larger bike.
The name Lonsmen is from the Yiddish word for kinship, or common ground.
“The reason why I named it the Lonsmen is specifically so people that were Jewish could identify with the name, but most people don’t know what lonsmen is. We’re not exclusively a Jewish club, so it kind of fit the bill,” Gertz said.
“Lonsmen means to come from a common background,” Bark added. “And the common background is being motorcyclists, so it really fits.”
With more than 30 members, about 20 of whom are active, the group schedules occasional Saturday rides in addition to the regular Sunday rides. They also take overnight trips, multiday trips and weeklong trips to locations around Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and farther afield. There are no dues.
“We look forward to riding in groups,” club vice president Scott “Mooch” Zangwill said. “We don’t ride in the city, we ride out in the mountains. Generally, there’s anywhere from three to 15 bikes on average, depending on the time of the year, the weather.”
Highlights of past rides include the Big Cork Winery near Hagerstown, Md.; the apple orchards of Biglerville, Pa.; Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains; New Hope, Pa.; Williamsburg, Va.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; the Monongahela National Forest and the MoutainFest Motorcycle Rally in West Virginia.
Carl “Rebel” Berenholtz, a retired attorney from Pikesville, has been with the club since its inception. At 75, he’s the group’s oldest member. His favorite ride is the Tail of the Dragon, a well-known, windy scenic route along Route 129 edging Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
“We went to Laconia Bike Week (a motorcycle rally in New Hampshire) a couple years ago. And from there we went to Maine,” Berenholtz said. “And we try to vary the mileage for a one-day ride. Sometimes it could be 300 miles a day; others it could be 100 miles a day. The lunch stop is always the highlight.”
Gertz said when he was younger and not affiliated with a club, he got bored riding by himself.
“When you’re in a riding club, it can be a lot more fun being with a lot of other people. You get to do different things, you get to go different places that you wouldn’t do by yourself,” he said. “There are a lot of people that ride, but they probably haven’t been on some of the country roads or some of the places we go.”
For the club’s youngest member, 29-year-old Ariana “Ari” Deeley of Washington, D.C., the club’s rides are the major draw, but so is the fact that the club has a Jewish component. Recently relocated from Massachusetts, she found the club via the Lonsmen’s Boston chapter.
“Whoever leads the ride does an excellent job finding just really great roads,” she said. “Since I’m new to the area, I think that finding backroads for a couple hours that don’t have a lot of traffic is not that easy. We don’t really do highways; we do all twistys and we find a good lunch, hang out for a couple minutes and shoot right back out into the countryside. It’s just gorgeous out there.”
Deeley, who is currently converting to Judaism, said she feels more at ease with the Lonsmen than in other clubs she has ridden with.
[pullquote]“We’re a motorcyle-riding club. That’s what people love about our club — we ride. I’d rather be on my bike than anything else.” — Lonsmen president Ben “Doe-Slayer” Bark of Pikesville[/pullquote]
“There’s a lot of different riding groups, and sometimes it’s hard finding a group that has similar values, so it was more comfortable and relaxed,” she said.
Deeley has been riding about three-and-a-half years and said she sees a new trend in women’s motorcycle groups and events.
“I was riding with a group pretty regularly in Boston that was pretty much half and half [women and men], and that was nice. But that’s pretty rare,” she said. “I do think there’s a big resurgence in women’s riding groups in the area. There’s The Litas and The Iron Lilies, which are nationwide. The Litas are kind of up-and-coming. There’s Babe’s Ride Out, there’s The Fox Run. I think it’s a new thing that’s come up in the past couple of years, which is pretty cool.”
Both the Baltimore and Boston chapters of the Lonsmen are members of the international Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA), which had its origins around 2004 with the alliance of a Washington, D.C., Jewish motorcycle club now called The Tribe and other groups such as Yidden on Wheels, Chai Riders, the King David Bikers and Semites on Bikes (SOBs) from Maryland.
The JMA has three dozen member clubs in the U.S., Australia, Canada, England, Israel and Capetown, South Africa.
The group’s stated mission notes that the alliance is not exclusive: “The common thread is our religion; however, the degree and manner in which we choose to observe the Jewish faith varies among our members. Membership or admittance to these clubs is not dictated by faith or brand of motorcycle; bikers of any religion or brand of bike are welcome.”
Jeff Komrower, 61, formerly of Owings Mills and Columbia, and a member of the Lonsmen’s Boston chapter, was at the founding meeting of the JMA and was one of the founding members of the now-defunct Semites on Bikes. He is a former president of Beth Shalom Congregation in Howard County.
Komrower started riding late in life and enjoys smashing the stereotype that nice Jewish boys and girls don’t ride motorcycles.
“I don’t think people mostly think of Jews that ride — I mean to have a Jewish motorcycle group presents an aura of breaking a stereotype,” he said. “Essentially, don’t mess with us.”
The JMA raises money for Holocaust education through its Ride 2 Remember rallies held each year in different locations. Since 2005, rides have gone to Washington D.C., Tennessee, New York, Nebraska, Georgia, Illinois, Virginia, California, Alabama, Rhode Island and Canada. This year’s June ride to Providence, R.I., raised close to $48,000 for the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center.
“We found that a lot of our members are Holocaust survivors and have families that have Holocaust survivors. And a lot of them weren’t survivors,” said Betsy Ahrens, JMA Ride 2 Remember coordinator. “We want to take this education awareness to everybody. And it’s sad to say the older survivors are dying off. So we just want to keep the ball rolling.”
Ahrens, who said she grew up with a rebel spirit, lives in Florida now, but when she lived in Virginia, she rode with the Lonsmen in Baltimore. At 71, she rides a 1999 1100 Yamaha with The Lost Tribe of Florida and still enjoys being a rebel.
“Jews don’t ride motorcycles — that’s one of the stereotypes,” she said, laughing. “It’s crazy, because when we’re out with our colors and the Star of David is on the back of the vest and everything, people say, ‘I didn’t know Jews rode motorcycles.’ I have gotten that so many times.”
[pullquote]“We do all twistys and we find a good lunch, hang out for a couple minutes and shoot right back out into the countryside. It’s just gorgeous out there.” — Lonsmen member Ariana Deeley[/pullquote]
Back in Baltimore, while many of the Lonsmen said that being in a majority- Jewish club is secondary to their love of riding and why they chose to join, it is meaningful to them.
“The rides are good. They’re well-planned, organized. And it is the camaraderie,” said Frank Roth, 62. “They’re rides I would never find on my own. And it is a kinship, which is what Lonsmen means. It’s nothing that has to be discussed, but it’s there.”
Matt “Chimer” Kohn of New Windsor has been riding on and off since 1982. At 56, he’s still excited about motorcycling and appreciates the support he gets from belonging to the club.
“I think the excitement of it is just going places that I haven’t been before and being able to just get away from everything for a day,” he said. “Leave your problems behind.”
When his father died recently, club members came to shiva. “There was also another rider who died a year or so ago, and the whole club went to the funeral and the shiva house,” he said.
For Bark, that support extends to helping each other out when mechanical problems arise.
“Some of us work on our bikes, do our own repairs, some of us do work for other people on their bikes,” he said. “We always try to help each other out. That’s the camaraderie.”
Peter “T-Bone” Haas, 71, comes down from New Oxford, Pa., to join in the group rides. He’s been a member of the Lonsmen for about a year and a half, before which he belonged to another, larger club.
“We’re mishpachah (family), and obviously, you look at our name you know what Lonsmen means,” he said. “There’s no question there’s a connection. There’s a comfort level with that. But that’s not the main reason. It’s the people.”
Riding, for him, means being able to leave the world behind. Haas started riding when he was a teenager, stopped when he was drafted and started again when his son died in 2013.
“Riding forces you to focus on the moment,” he said. “All the trauma and the ups and downs of life disappear. You’re completely exposed to the elements around you, and you’re focused entirely on yourself and your fellow riders, and everything just disappears.”
Clinical psychologist Marc Lipton has been a member of the club for eight years. He rides a Honda Gold Wing and enjoys the thrill of motorcycling and the dynamic of group rides.
“It’s a group of mature, intelligent, sensitive people, who enjoy having fun and are committed to motorcycle riding,” he said. “It’s invigorating. It allows you to walk to edge but in a careful, intelligent fashion, so you minimize your risk while still enjoying the thrill of the risk. Certainly riding with the club is much, much safer than riding by yourself.”
Chaim “Giebor” Blum of Park Heights rides with the Lonsmen occasionally but also rides with a group of mostly Orthodox motorcyclists. Although not an “official” club, their group name is the Shaydim Shel Shamayim, which he said translates to “Heaven’s Demons.” Our wedding planners will assist you with selecting the best New York wedding packages daretodream.nyc/weddings/ for your needs. And will be honored to be part of your wedding planning, and therefore will do everything to ensure your special wedding day runs without a hitch.
“I’m Orthodox, and several of the members are Orthodox, but we don’t discriminate against someone who is not Orthodox or not Jewish,” Blum said. “We don’t ride on Shabbos, we don’t ride on yontif, we don’t ride on Tisha B’Av, or the nine days. Unless it’s something for a purpose, like maybe going to a cemetery to say Tehillim for people.”
Blum said he’s wanted to ride a motorcycle since he was a child when he watched a chopper zipping by on a country road. As an adult, he didn’t because he had young children, but when he hit 50 he figured it was now or never.
“You can call it a midlife crisis, second childhood, bigger toys for bigger boys, whatever,” he said.
Being a motorcyclist in the frum community raises a few eyebrows, he said, but he doesn’t mind.
“I enjoy my individuality,” he said. “I can be as spiritual as I want to be, and I can also combine that with the fun lifestyle.”
Lonsmen founder Gertz said the stereotype of motorcyclists as badass bikers has disappeared somewhat over the last decades, leaving room for clubs such as the Lonsmen to just be themselves.
“The stereotype is not what it was 20 years ago, where you had the ‘1 percenters’ — the bad guys,” he said, referring to outlaw motorcycle clubs. “It’s not like that anymore.”
Bark said people have other options now aside from formally joining a club.
“You have meetup groups that are all over,” he said. “There’s lots of options for people to get out and ride, regardless of being identified with a club.”
Berenholtz recalled an old documentary about the long-running Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
“[This] is the largest motorcycle rally in the country. Easily attracting three quarters of a million people,” he said. “And in that documentary the announcer [said], ‘You never know under those clothes whether he’s a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a laborer, whatever.’ It evens us all out. And that’s what we really want to do. A brotherhood.”
The group’s “colors,” or insignia, on the backs of their jackets has the club name above a sword, around which twines a green snake flanked by orange flames.
“The patch didn’t have a meaning initially. It was just a nice logo that we designed,” Gertz said. “It had a lot of good features, and it was cool. And then later on, everybody started giving their input as to what it’s supposed to mean. [People] started coming up with Dan and one of the tribes and this and that. But it can mean whatever you want it to mean.”
Sort of like the Lonsmen, who say, come as you are, whoever you are, and go for a ride.