Bikers club favors bagels over beer

Jews on hogs? Yeah, and not only Harley-Davidsons, but Kawasakis, Triumphs and Indians.

Welcome to the Montreal chapter of King David Bikers, a club for Jewish motorcyclists founded in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a couple of years ago.

The Montreal group, organized last summer, was founded by 67-year-old Mark Laxer and a few friends.

The members are not outlaws. Typically, they are middle-aged and older family men who on Sundays like to get away from their workaday world for camaraderie and a little harmless adventure.

Their motto is “Respect, Honor, Religion, The Road.” The club is open to Jewish bikers, no matter what make of bike they ride or their experience. All that’s asked is a love of the pastime and a commitment to the community. Their insignia is a pair of blue wings that form a Star of David heading into the horizon.

The chapter’s launch ceremony took place at a kosher bagel shop in Town of Mount Royal and was attended by a Lubavitch rabbi who had members put on tefillin before they went out to St. Jovite. The shop is the starting point for the club’s regular Sunday rides.

The club also planned to hold social activities and to participate in charitable fundraising and volunteering.

“KDB has no restrictions,” said Laxer. “It is open to men and women of all ages, couples and singles, whether they have cruisers or sport bikes. The only thing that counts is your passion to ride and your faith as a Jew.”

The members jokingly call themselves a congregation on wheels, and were looking for a biker-rabbi to be their chaplain.

The chapter was launched with 13 members, though Laxer and co-founder Leslie Greenberg were confident more would soon sign up.

They come from a variety of occupations, and range in age from early 30s to 75-year-old Sol Schipper, who rides alone to Florida each year and to Winnipeg to see his grandchildren.

Laxer, 67, said there are more Jewish motorcyclists than might be thought, and many are looking to get together with other Jews. Clubs are proliferating in North America, Toronto’s YOWs (Yids on Wheels) being one of the larger ones.

About 10 clubs, including KDB, loosely coalesce under the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance, which, for the past two years, has organized the “Ride to Remember,” a pilgrimage in commemoration of the Holocaust. In 2005, for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, the destination was the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, and last May, it was Whitwell, Tenn., to visit the school whose students’ unusual Holocaust remembrance project was the subject of the documentary “Paper Clips.”

One reason for a Jewish club is that many other biker clubs’ activities revolve around bars and night clubs, something Laxer is not especially comfortable with. The KDB’s rides are typically Jewish in that they will involve food, not alcohol, he said.

The KDB’s founder-president is Jeff Mustard, communications director for an international investment banking company. Its spiritual leader is the burly Rabbi Yitzchak Betesh, aka Rabbi Zig-Zag.

The KDB has about 250 members in southern Florida, with others scattered in 21 states and five countries, including Israel.

Laxer, who has a rubber-recycling plant and other business interests, got his first bike about 40 years ago, but gave up biking when he had kids. He returned to it about eight years ago, and drives a late-model Harley Ultra Classic.

For this interview, Laxer showed up in a “do-rap” (the stretchy kerchief worn under a helmet), blue jeans and a black KDB T-shirt. Some may be familiar with his former persona: president of the Association for the Welfare of Soldiers in Israel.

He, along with Greenberg and the third chapter co-founder, Jeff Weinstein, are all Shriners, and Laxer, as “Marko,” is president of its clown unit, which entertains hospitalized children.

The middle-aged Greenberg, who looks more conventional, heads his own telecommunications company. He owns two Harleys and a BMW.

His first motorized bike was a Honda 50 Mini-Trail that he bought with his bar mitzvah money. After giving up biking for a long time, he got back into it about 15 years ago. His longest ride was down to Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. His two teenage sons are avid dirt-bikers.

“Freedom” and “escape” are words Laxer and Greenberg use to describe the allure of biking. It’s traveling without being cooped up in a car and the challenge of controlling their machine under varying conditions that keep them enthralled.

“It’s not the speed, it’s not the rebel image; we do this for the love of the ride,” said Laxer.

They downplay the danger. Said Greenberg: “I read somewhere that more accidents occur with a bar of soap than a motorcycle.”