Look who's hogging the road

May 17, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

TO MEET THE founder of the notorious motorcycle gang known as Semites on Bikes, I pick the busy parking lot of an elementary school, just in case there's any trouble.

My thinking here is: The guy tries any rough stuff, I can throw some little kid in his path, slow him up, make a break for it.

Then again, the gang's Web site, which I had visited earlier in the day, sounded more funny than ominous:

"Semites on Bikes is a group of Jewish bikers riding in the Baltimore and Baltimore County areas. ... Members are non-stereotypical Jews who should have at least one of the following traits (though we accept anyone foolish enough to ride with us):

"Work with hands.

"Been arrested at least once.

"Mostly only go to schul for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

"Married a non-Jew.

"Ride a v-Twin cruiser.

"Bowl, hunt or fish.

"Have a tattoo.

"Do their own home improvement."

Anyway, at the appointed hour of our meeting, the boss Semite, Ken Shapiro, roars up on his Harley-Davidson Roadster.

With his ready smile, clean-cut features and total lack of tattoos, Shapiro does not exactly put you in mind of Sonny Barger, the greasy head case who used to rule over the Hell's Angels.

And it turns out the other Semites on Bikes - or SOB's, as Shapiro likes to call them - won't be getting in any rumbles anytime soon, either.

What the SOB's are is a fledgling motorcycle club with 12 members - the demographic breakdown is nine Jews, three non-Jews, 11 guys, one woman - that is more into taking long, leisurely rides through the countryside than busting heads.

Shapiro himself is 52, lives in Parkville and has been a teacher in Baltimore County for 28 years - as vice president of the teacher's union in the early '90s, he used to regularly torment vilified school Superintendent Stuart Berger.

He patterned the Semites on Bikes after other Jewish motorcycle clubs like the Hillel's Angels in Washington and the Star of Davidson, which he thinks is out of New Jersey and which has an absolutely splendid motto: "Our hogs are kosher."

Shapiro has been riding since he was 17, and says he just got back into it after a 20-year hiatus.

But part of his motivation for forming a Jewish motorcycle club runs all the way back to his childhood.

"I always had this thing growing up, this feeling that Jewish guys were timid, passive and weak," he said. "So I was always trying to find non-stereotypical Jewish males.

"When I found out Kirk Douglas was Jewish - big, rough, tough Kirk Douglas with the cleft chin! - it was a real ego boost. Did you know that everyone on Bonanza except Hop Sing was Jewish? Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, even Dan Blocker - Hoss!"

At this juncture in the conversation, I half expected Shapiro to start belting out the lyrics to Adam Sandler's classic "Chanukah Song." ("David Lee Roth lights the menorah. So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas and the late Dinah Shore-ah ...")

But Shapiro's point was this: for him, discovering Jewish males in tough-guy roles was a constant source of delight.

And what could be more non-stereotypical, he says, than a bunch of Jewish guys - OK, and gals - roaring down the highway on their hogs.

Anyway, after buying his new Harley Sportster in November, Shapiro looked around for some kindred spirits to ride with.

A serious student of Buddhism, he originally plugged "Buddhist bikers" into his computer's search engine.

But that, you'll be absolutely shocked to know, led to no hits.

Then he plugged in "Jewish bikers," which led him to the Star of Davidson Web site and then to the Hillel's Angels site.

The Hillel's Angels were in nearby D.C., but "they were a little too religious for me," Shapiro says. "They didn't ride on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath). And the banter in that group was a little too serious."

The SOB's, assures Shapiro, will ride on Saturdays.

In fact, their inaugural ride was this past Saturday, through northern Baltimore County and Harford County and up to Conowingo Dam and Port Deposit.

And while Hillel's Angels have around 57 members, Shapiro says he'd like Semites on Bikes to eventually have an even larger membership.

Anyone interested in joining can leave an e-mail at the following address: semitesonbikes- @yahoogroups.com.

In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to get a tattoo.

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