Matt Kohn, Josh Kohn, Kati Townsley, and Damian Halstad (above)

Area Executives Thrive on the Road

by Linda L. Esterson, photography by Nikola Tzenov


Listening to Steppenwolf’s famous ballad “Born to Be Wild” often elicits images of souped-up motorcycles and their leather-clad, thrill-seeking, tattooed and rebellious drivers.

Written by Mars Bonfire and released in 1968, “Born to Be Wild” was used in the film “Easy Rider” a year later, tying it to motorcycles for eternity. Bonfire has publicly attributed his inspiration to a poster of a motorcycle “erupting out of the earth like a volcano,” coupled with the freedom and joy he felt from having his first car.

That joy is evident for many riders in Carroll County, some of whom don’t fit the stereotypical biker mold. They are professionals, executives, attorneys, business owners and others who love the thrill of the ride and can afford the expense of motorcycle ownership. The top-of-the-line Harley-Davidson, for instance, starts at $44,500, and that’s exclusive of the cost of gear, including helmets, jackets, boots and chaps.

“Get your motor runnin’. Head out on the highway. Lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way.”

The Health Care Executive

Leslie Simmons, R.N., F.A.C.H.E., serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer for LifeBridge Health, a comprehensive health system that includes five hospitals, including Carroll Hospital. Simmons worked as an emergency room and critical care nurse early in her career.

Despite seeing her fair share of severe injuries at work, she rode as a passenger on her boyfriend’s motorcycle. One day, while on Route 140, they were sideswiped by a car and ended up in Carroll’s emergency department. Despite the accident, they continued riding and didn’t stop until they were married and had their daughters.

About 10 years ago, the couple returned to their hobby once their children were older and married. Only this time, Simmons took a course, earned her license and bought her own motorcycle so that she could control her ride.

Leslie Simmons

Leslie Simmons

“It’s just really relaxing. It’s enjoyable. It’s a stress reliever and an escape,” she explains. “We ride for fun. We love country rides [and] half-day rides to different destinations.”

The Simmons prefer back roads, and the executive can ride one of her two bikes, a Yamaha V Star or a three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder. The couple doesn’t ride as often as they used to due to work obligations and spending time with their grandchildren. Occasionally, Simmons will trek to her Owings Mills office by bike.

Simmons does not lose sight of the irony of her health care background compared to the hobby’s danger. If anything, riding her bike makes her more aware of her surroundings.

“It makes me very respectful of other drivers,” she says. “When I’m driving by car, and I see a motorcycle in front of me, I’m more interested in protecting and shielding them…. Other vehicles don’t tend to watch out for motorcycles, so it just makes me more aware and defensive. I drive defensively and cautiously because I know how quickly things can happen.”

Simmons takes precautions when she rides, such as always wearing a helmet, being fully clothed in long sleeves and long pants, and wearing boots.

The County Leader

Roberta Windham, 62, has served Carroll County government for 13 years, the last nine as county administrator.

Windham started riding more than 11 years ago after her husband recuperated from a broken heel from a motorcycle accident. The couple watched the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, which features motorcycle races on winding roads around the island off the British coast, and Windham expressed interest.

“I was sort of serious and sort of joking,” she says with a laugh, “joking in the sense that I’ve never gone through with racing. It looked cool and encouraged me to get my own license.”

Roberta Windham

Roberta Windham
Photo Supplied

The couple joined a club, and they ride year-round. They have heat gear for the winter and lightweight gear for the summer. They’ve taken trips to Florida on the auto train and rode around Key West. Last year, they took a two-week trip to Europe with a motorcycle touring company. They rode 1,700 miles by bike, including through the Alps. She was the only woman rider in the group of 14.

In addition to her gender, Windham admits her 5-foot, 5-inch frame, strawberry blonde hair and fair complexion are the furthest from the prototypical biker.

“My helmet’s black, and my outfit’s black. My motorcycle clothes tend to be black. So, I look badass until I take my helmet off,” she jokes.

“The stereotypes are wrong. Look at all these people doing it that don’t fit that mold.” Riding is a personal choice, and Windham acknowledges that it isn’t for everyone. In addition to her husband, Gary, both of their daughters have licenses. But their youngest is the one who rides with them.

“It feels like you’re flying, but you’re on the ground,” explains Windham. “When you have a good line around a corner, you just sink into that corner and sail around it. It feels like you’re flying on land. It’s just a very freeing, very liberating feel to me.”

The Attorney

Damian Halstad

Damian Halstad

Damian Halstad toured around on a small Yamaha as a young teenager. About 18 months ago, he picked it up again, partly for nostalgia and enjoyment. He took a course and bought a Royal Enfield Meteor, which he rides around the area for an hour or two on weekends.

“It’s fun — the wind, the sun, the speed — it’s all great. It takes you out of the daily grind,” says Halstad, who’s also 62. “It requires total concentration and vigilance because it’s fundamentally a dangerous endeavor. It’s hard to think about the law, when you’re on a motorcycle, other than the speed limit.”

He still considers himself in the “early stages” of riding and is working to improve his comfort level. For now, he’s tooling around Westminster or New Windsor at speeds no higher than 40 mph. “It’s a pretty county, of course,” he says. “There’s lots to see, and sometimes it’s just fun to get lost.”

Ultimately, Halstad desires proficiency and comfort in riding cross country.

“I think it’s a hobby that appeals to a broad cross-section of the public. I think it’s something many people have thought about doing but just never get around to doing,” he says. “I was one of those folks. But the best thing you can do is take the safety course and see if it takes.”

The Library Manager

Kati Townsley met a group of bikers at an event in late 2021 and began collaborating with them. She invited them to form the flag line at a memorial service for a fallen colleague at the Reese Volunteer Fire Department, one of the many organizations that benefit from her service.

Kati Townsley

Kati Townsley

Fast-forward a year to May 2023, and Townsley, who serves as a development and community engagement manager for Carroll County Public Library, was invited to accompany the group as a passenger during the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation ride. That event spurred her to join the group Bikers For Cause Foundation, as a non-riding member, and before long, she enrolled in a motorcycle license class along with wives and girlfriends of members.

Townsley, 46, bought a fully loaded 2023 Spyder trike, which she named Scarlet. Her road name is Lady Kate, and her 75-year-old mother, who occasionally joins her as a passenger, goes by Queen Anne. Many of Townsley’s rides are related to philanthropic activities, like Donuts for Dispatchers, Wreaths Across America and others that support first responders, military and law enforcement causes.

When she’s not participating in community events, she’s riding whenever she can to relax and to continue to prove her doctors wrong. She was diagnosed with health challenges at 15 and told she would not walk again.

Kati Townsley

Kati Townsley’s Leather Jacket

“It’s empowering … and just very freeing,” she says. “I understand why dogs have their faces out the window. It sounds funny, but it’s the same thing being on a motorcycle, feeling the wind in your face, smelling the fresh air. You find country back roads and just let it all go.”

Townsley admittedly doesn’t ride for speed.

“I’m riding because it brings me joy and brings me pleasure. The process is very freeing for my mind and relaxing because I’m in nature. I’m seeing things that I wouldn’t normally see while I’m in a car. I’m on a back road enjoying the view and just out for a ride.”

Townsley is racking up miles with the future goal of earning the Iron Butt Association SaddleSore — completing a 1,000-mile ride in 24 hours.

The Business Owners

Matt Kohn

Matt Kohn

Matt and Josh Kohn rode BMX bikes and later mopeds as children. Matt remembers riding a friend’s small motorcycle in middle school.

Much to their mother’s chagrin, both converted to motorcycling.

“There’s a certain amount of freedom that you get with riding a motorcycle,” says Matt, now 63. “The feeling of riding a motorcycle is the closest thing you can come to for flying on the ground. You get the sensations as you lean into the turns. You get the open-air feeling. There’s nothing like it.”

Josh, 61, finds riding exhilarating, going as far as calling it “zen.”

“It allows me to focus on one thing,” he says. “In my daily life, I am doing so many different things. When I ride a motorcycle, I can only focus on one thing, and it allows me to relax, even though we’re going 50-60 mph. It is oddly relaxing.”

The brothers are partners in Kohn Creative, a full-service Westminster-based design and marketing agency that publishes Carroll Magazine.

Josh Kohn

Josh Kohn

Motorcycles were the primary form of transportation for both in early adulthood. Both commuted south to college in their early 20s, whether in rain or snow or cold. Both took breaks from the hobby when they married and raised their families.

Matt got back into riding about seven years ago with a small bike to reacclimate himself. Today, he rides a 2018 Honda Gold Wing. Josh returned to riding earlier than Matt. He owns a BMW and a Victory.

Matt rides alternating weekends with a motorcycle club in Pikesville. He does not ride to work due to the preparation involved with the gear.

Josh, too, rides a few times a week. He calls himself a “fair-weather” rider, as he waits until temperatures exceed 60 degrees. Then, his bikes leave their winter storage at the office and he’s out on the open road, heading to work or play.

No matter where their adventures take them, these Carroll business professionals maintain a thirst for the throttle that cannot be quenched.