Jon Hirshberg, who started the first L.A. Cancer Challenge after the loss of his father, Ron, in 1997, came across the idea of doing a spin bike fundraiser after learning about an event that raised more than $3 million in one day at cycling studios across the country. Jon approached Heath Gregory, his friend and long-time cycling enthusiast, about the idea of putting on a one-day event in Manhattan Beach where they both live. Coincidentally, Heath had participated in a similar event in Barcelona during the 2009 Tour de France and vividly remembered the spectacle of hundreds of riders moving in unison all for a common cause. His response was, “I’m all in.”
They immediately looped in Jon’s sister, Lisa Manheim, executive director of the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, to produce the event. Almost immediately, planning for the Tour de Pier began. We caught up with John, Heath and Lisa to learn how this signature South Bay event has evolved a full decade later.
What was the first ride like?
“The hardest part was being a first-time event and trying to market ourselves, and get people to sign up without having any photos of a previous event. The idea was so new and different that it was hard for people to imagine what we were talking about. We borrowed bikes from Fit On Studios and brought them down to the beach to stage a photo shoot for our marketing materials that first year. The energy, the feedback, the success and the excitement surrounding that first year were incredible. The inaugural Tour de Pier was held in May 2013 and raised over $339,000 for our charities. We had 171 bikes and about 600 riders at the four-hour event.”
How has Tour de Pier changed since the initial one?
“The event has grown over the years to include more than 375 bikes and 1,500 riders. We added a fifth session (growing the event from four hours to five hours), and we also added a sunset ride the evening before Tour de Pier called Ride the Nite. Every year, we invite different local celebrities, college and professional athletes, and Olympians to participate on stage as our celebrity riders. Each year we add different entertainment elements into each hour, from live performances to dance troupes to cheerleading teams and our signature Flyover. While much has changed, at our core we are sticking to our motto: Ride in Place. Move Charity Forward.”
How are the beneficiaries chosen for the event?
“Unlike other events that are produced by production companies or third parties, the Tour de Pier beneficiaries are the same people producing and planning the event. Lisa and Jon are both with the Hirshberg Foundation, and Heath founded the Uncle Kory Foundation. We connected with Cancer Support Community South Bay in the second year as we were looking for a local charity that was helping patients with all types of cancer. Cancer Support Community South Bay manages all the volunteers for the weekend, amongst other duties. All three of the charities collaborate to make the event happen.”
I’m sure you’ve encountered plenty of challenges over the years, not to mention a global pandemic.
“Trying to make each year better than the last and to keep growing our reach is definitely a challenge, but we are fortunate to have so many team captains who return year after year and say the Tour de Pier is the best day of their year. We are also blessed to have really dedicated and committed sponsors, as well as a team of instructors who pour their heart and soul into their hours. Aside from those challenges, the past two years and managing the ups and downs of a global pandemic were hard on everyone. 2020 looked a whole lot different than we expected, but our Tour de Pier spirit didn’t stop. While we couldn’t ride together in person, we never gave up the fight to cure cancer and we held a virtual event. In 2021 we returned with a smaller, more socially distanced, in-person event that some said was the best ever. We look forward to returning to pre-pandemic numbers in terms of both fundraising dollars and participants.”
It was great to get back on a bike last year! What has been particularly rewarding about this effort?
“The most rewarding thing is knowing that all the time and effort we put into the event is making a difference in the lives of so many—all three beneficiaries have been able to do such great work because of Tour de Pier. Prior to this year, we have raised more than $9.1 million, and when we surpass the $10 million mark in May, we will all be ecstatic and proud.”
What can we expect at the 10th anniversary event?
“Our 10th anniversary will be our best year yet! You can expect all the ‘feels’ of Tour de Pier with both laughter and tears—but also an added element of celebration and reflection as we hit this 10-year milestone.”