“There’s no riding season. The only time we don’t ride is when there is snow on the ground,” Johnson said.

Ronin of Homewood

Pittsburgh motorcycle club comes together ‘for the love of riding on two wheels’

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BY CARMEN GENTILE // PHOTOS BY BRIAN COHEN & MICHAEL SWENSEN

Ron Johnson’s dedication to his motorcycle club is etched into both forearms. The right sports two large Japanese characters that translate to “ronin,” the legendary masterless samurai of Japan. His left bears the word in English, which his Pittsburgh-based club adopted as its moniker, and a fearsome samurai with dual blades crossed, ready to battle. Despite the aggressive imagery, Johnson and the Ronin Motorcycle Club, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, are not your stereotypical outlaw bikers. Rather, the MC is a small group of bikers who love the thrill of long-distance rides, doing charity work in support of causes including lupus and domestic violence awareness, and just hanging out together.

“The ronin were individuals who marched to the beat of their own drum,” said Johnson, who in MC tradition goes by Geronamoe, a name he chose because his grandfather was part Blackfoot Indian. He speaks with reverence for the legend of the 47 ronin who banded together to avenge the death of their master, though the Ronin MC’s reason for forming is far less dramatic. “We all came together for the love of riding on two wheels,” Johnson said.

Ron Johnson’s dedication to his motorcycle club is etched into both forearms. The right sports two large Japanese characters that translate to “ronin,” the legendary masterless samurai of Japan. His left bears the word in English, which his Pittsburgh-based club adopted as its moniker, and a fearsome samurai with dual blades crossed, ready to battle.

“There’s no riding season. The only time we don’t ride is when there is snow on the ground,” Johnson said. “The other clubs know that about us and respect us for it.”

When Ronin MC member Ron Johnson and his club aren’t tearing up the highway, he’s a full-time firefighter who also lectures kids on fire safety and staying on the right path in life. The club’s other members hail from a variety of professions, including parole officers, truck drivers, and school directors.

When Ronin MC member Ron Johnson and his club aren’t tearing up the highway, he’s a full-time firefighter who also lectures kids on fire safety and staying on the right path in life. The club’s other members hail from a variety of professions, including parole officers, truck drivers, and school directors.

As the Ronin MC public relations director, Johnson helps plan its charity rides and other events. “We’re real familyoriented,” said Johnson, noting many of their events include family members. “As we get older, we want to pass this down to our kids. “We don’t want to be one of those clubs that dies out. We want to establish a legacy.”

The lone female member of the Ronin MC, Tonya Brower, aka Syncere, recalled the time her bike broke down an hour outside of Pittsburgh during a solo ride and several members answered her distress call. “It’s like I’ve got a bunch of brothers,” she said.

Carmen Gentile
Carmen Gentile has worked for The New York Times and CBS News, among others. His book, "Blindsided by the Taliban," documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade while embedded with U.S. Army forces in Afghanistan.

Brian Conway
Brian Conway is a freelance reporter based in Pittsburgh. His investigations into the city's lead in water crisis earned him First Prize for Environmental Reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists in their statewide Spotlight contest. In addition to investigative and enterprise reporting, he also covers Pittsburgh's music, craft beer, and cannabis scenes for a variety of publications, and is a member of the Work Hard Pittsburgh digital media cooperative. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Michael Swensen was born and raised outside of Pittsburgh, but he fell in love with small-town America when he moved to Athens, Ohio, and then Cynthiana, Kentucky. He aims to document the resilience of Appalachian communities beyond the dominant narratives..

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