It’s not even 8 a.m. Sunday morning, but members of The Lonsmen, “the [Yiddish] word for brotherhood and kinship,” are already putting on their black pants, black shirts, black leather jackets and do-rags.
We’re not talking Hell’s Angels here. Instead, picture a coed group of predominantly Jewish motorcyclists in their 50s and 60s who also go out to dinner, smoke cigars, discuss books and play mahjong together.
“This has become a fraternity or a sorority. We neglect our old friends. We do everything together,” said Robin Levin, of Baltimore. “We bleed for each other.”
They ride every Sunday, 12 months a year. A usual ride has between 10 and 15 bikes or about 25 participants.
Usually it’s a full-day trip on the back roads of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Sometimes it’s a camping trip to New Hope, Myrtle Beach or Lake George. Other times it entails spending the day at a bike show.
“We’ve done marathons, breakfast, lunch and dinner” while riding in between, noted Amy Gertz of Reisterstown.
Always, it’s a group of fun-loving couples who thrive on the freedom of biking combined with the closeness of true friendship.
It all started back in August 2008 when a few of the men realized they weren’t enjoying a D.C. motorcycle group they rode with. They decided to form their own club and came up with their own logo featuring a serpent from the Tribe of Dan.
“The Tribe of Dan didn’t like where they were so they decided to get up and go” just like the Lonsmen, said president Mark Lobel of Rockville.
That logo is plastered on their T-shirts, leather jackets, vests and wherever else possible. But don’t think these riders all look alike. Their bikes and helmets cover most colors of the rainbow.
Then there is Susan Berman who wears Harley jewelry and carries a Harley purse. She’s the most stylish, said several of the female riders.
While Lobel estimated that 70 percent of the members are Jewish, clearly that’s not the biggest draw for many of the riders. There is no Jewish content during their excursions. However, that Jewish bond and the know-how to properly schmooz helps them all get along despite their varied backgrounds, several members noted.
Mark Epstein, a self-described lawyer turned biker, said “the nice thing about this group is the variety.”
When confronted with the question why they ride when Jews aren’t known for that, they all shake their heads. Yeah, Jews don’t use guns, they don’t drink, they respond as they all nibbled on their breakfast of bagels and lox.
“I hear that all the time,” said Irene Gellar, a teacher at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville. “Well then, you don’t know our kind of Jews,” she said.
Gellar has been riding for 10 years and even wore her motorcycle gear into school for her Purim costume. The students “think it’s cool,” she said.
For her, riding “connects me with a nice group of people. It exposes me to some out-of-the-box things.”
For Saralee Bernstein, “It’s liberating, and it’s time I spend with my husband.” He drives. “I’m a sightseer,” she said.
Ellie Lobel rode for the first time when she was 55 years old. She calls it a new chapter in her life and explains it’s a great thing for a couple. This way her husband, Mark, doesn’t have to feel guilty about spending one day a week on his bike and away from his wife.
“I have to have an outlet. I don’t play poker, and I don’t play baseball,” said Evan Katzman of Gaithersburg. Katzman, who has a flower wholesale business, is what’s warmly referred to as a prospect. He was on his first ride with the group, and not yet ready to be voted in.
About the only requirement is a member must be a licensed rider owning a motorcycle displacing at least 650ccs.
Lonsmen aren’t team players. They want to get on their bikes, feel the wind, check the scenery and be outdoors. Team sports just aren’t their thing.
The benefit of the group is the excuse it gives members to spend the entire day on their bikes.
Many of the men have been riding since their early teens. The women tended to join their husbands after marriage, riding on the back of the motorcycle, and are now hooked.
Not Jamie Margolies. She agreed to try biking with her husband but not before making one demand. “I said that was great, but I’m not riding in the back.” She likened it to some wives, who either walk alongside their husband or several steps behind. She drives her own motorcycle.
Do they worry about the danger, cringe from all the loud noise? Not on your life.
“It is dangerous. There is no question. So is skiing. So is taking a shower,” said Katzman, who noted he often has to warn his 10-year-old daughter to be careful on the wet floor.
But they are careful riders. After all, they aren’t young adults anymore. They know the rules, and politely warn the riders behind them by raising their arms when passing an obstacle on the road or a jogger or walker.
Members all apparently share one more characteristic. They like to tease each other. “We dig at each other. It’s all part of it,” said Lobel, a CPA.
All members receive a nickname and that is what they are called much more frequently than their true name.
John Ger of Olney operates cemeteries for a living. His nickname is “Undertaker” even though technically I am not. You have no say in your nickname,” he said.
There is “L’font,” a rider who doesn’t see well so everything has to be in large type for him.
Steve Fine of Rockville is “Uzi.” The energy consultant used to live in Israel and served in the IDF.
“Whoopie” got his name, because everyone thinks he looks like Ted Danson, (“Whoopie” is 10 years older) back when Danson and Whoopie Goldberg were a couple.
They call Harry Zarin of Rockville “Dr. Phil,” since he is a college counselor. He bought his first bike when he was a graduate assistant. He stopped riding for a long time and then on his 20th wedding anniversary, he and his wife bought a motorcycle.
“It gives us a connection. It makes it that much more fun,” he said.
Jamie Margolies is “Lady Gadiver,” an embalmer who loves to scuba dive and likes chocolate, too.
While teasing may be the norm and riding the draw, when it all comes down to it, explained John Strong of Derwood, “It’s the comradeship. We all look out for each other.”