Michael Smerconish: Irish Pub Tour de Shore is a wheelie great event

What last year's ride looked like.
What last year's ride looked like.
Posted: June 24, 2010

THREE YEARS ago, Chief John Timoney told me a whopper. The former Philly and Miami police commissioner said he was involved with an annual bike trip that raised money for police charities (that part was true), and I'd have no trouble making the journey if I'd enlist.

Timoney made it sound like I'd be surrounded by bicyclists who were more partial to baskets and banana seats than Spandex and sprints, so I said yes. I made it, cursing him for most of the 65 miles we pedaled from Philadelphia to Atlantic City.

For an inexperienced biker, the ride was a challenge. But the payoff was enormous. I'll never forget the feel of jumping into the Atlantic Ocean or that first sip of a cold beer. Completing the trek left me physically drained but mentally invigorated with the knowledge that I'd played a small role in raising money for a worthy cause.

I did it again the following year. And last year, too. And in a little more than three weeks, I'll ride for the fourth time in what will be the 23rd annual Irish Pub Tour de Shore.

This year will be the largest ever. What began more than 20 years ago with two dozen riders will now consist of 1,200. On Sunday, July 18, we'll start at the Irish Pub at 20th and Walnut and head for the Irish Pub in A.C.

We'll cross the Ben Franklin Bridge before winding along County Route 561 and through places like Berlin, Hammonton, Egg Harbor City and Absecon.

Since its inception, the tour has raised more than $1.4 million for numerous local children's and police charities. This year's beneficiaries are the South Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, the Daniel Faulkner Educational Grant Fund, the FOP Survivors Fund and the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia.

Patrick Liney, co-founder of the Irish Pub Children's Foundation and a member of the Tour de Shore's board, told me that more than $200,000 has already been pledged by riders and sponsors this year.

Besides the 1,000-plus riders, an army of staffers and volunteers makes the event itself run as smoothly as possible.

"It feels good to reach the Irish Pub in Atlantic City, but I think it is much easier to ride a bike 65 miles than work as a volunteer for 12 hours," Mark O'Connor, co-owner of the two Irish Pubs in Center City and a driving force behind the Tour de Shore, told me this week.

While I've yet to see the grannies on cycles that Timoney promised a few years ago, I can confirm that the riders are a cross section of the young and middle-aged, male and female, black and white, experienced and not-so-much.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman has assembled this year's largest team, with 118 members at the time of this writing. Firefighters Local 22, next in line, has signed up about half that many.

It's not too late if you'd like to join us. Visit the Irish Pub Web site (www.irishpubphilly.com) to register. Riders are expected to collect at least $150 to participate. You can also volunteer to spot participants or work checkpoints if you can't make the journey across the Garden State.

For those unsure about committing to a 65-mile bike ride, consider Timoney's recollection of those last few moments before the finish line.

"Coming across the Atlantic City causeway with the wind in your face and the finish line not yet in sight, there is a feeling, 'I'm not gonna make this,' " he told me this week.

"But two miles later, when you get on the mainland and pass the Catholic church, there is a renewed sense of energy, joy and, as you approach the finish line with everyone screaming you on, one thought comes to mind:

" 'I can't wait until next year.' "

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.

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