Shawn Smith drives tanker trucks six days a week, but on his days off and in the 10-hour time blocks when he shuts down his truck each day, he likes to get exercise and see the country he’s driving through in a very unique way—by riding a unicycle.
The South Jersey man from Logan Township has been riding a unicycle for about five years, on top of being an avid mountain biker since his twenties. Even after becoming an over-the-road truck driver he would take his bike with him, but it was soon stolen off the back of his truck. After that happened, Shawn asked his wife to buy him a unicycle. She said, “You’re nuts; you’ll never learn how to ride it.” He took that as a challenge, saying, “Thank you! That’s exactly the motivation I need.”
Seven unicycles later, Shawn has the art of riding a unicycle down, and keeps about three in his truck at any given time. He admits he’s gone “a little ballistic with it.” He started with a smaller 20-inch wheel, which he says is kind of like riding a kids’ bike. “You pedal really, really fast to not really go anywhere,” Shawn says. He realized that wheel was too small for him, so he switched to bigger and bigger wheels and then started going off-road and even mountain unicycling. He truly loves being out on the trails with his unicycle.
It’s easier to fit a unicycle in his truck, which makes it harder for thieves to steal, but Shawn also says it’s a “look-at-me” sport and admits he enjoys the attention that comes with it. “If you see someone riding a bike, you get no attention,” he says. “If you see someone riding a unicycle, everyone wants to stop, take pictures or sit there and talk.” Shawn is a conversationalist and loves having a reason to stop and chat with people.
This year, Shawn will attempt to ride the 31st Annual Tour de Shore charity bike ride on Sunday, July 29. He will ride the new “Lite” version of the event, which is 50 miles and begins in Berlin, N.J., and finishes in Atlantic City. He thinks he will be the first unicyclist to attempt this feat. He has been wanting to do it almost since he first got into unicycling. The mission of the event is important to him, as he wants to support the families of fallen first responders and likes that the money raised stays local. “These people put on the uniforms every day and kiss their loved ones goodbye, not knowing if they will return or not,” he says. “And sometimes they don’t, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Despite his love for the unicycle, Shawn says it’s a horrible mode of transportation. With a traditional bike, if you stop pedaling, you will continue to coast along. With a unicycle, there is no coasting—you’re constantly pedaling. It’s a “heck of a workout,” Shawn says, noting that the 50-mile ride is essentially just short of running two marathons. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t know why I am doing it, but I love it.”
He chose the 50-mile version mostly because of the six-and-a-half hour time constraint of the ride. He averages about nine or 10 miles an hour and is hoping to complete the 50 miles within six hours. He says maybe next year he will have the speed to do the full 65 miles. He’s most excited to see the smiles on people’s faces when they see a unicyclist. “Like I said, I’m going to be slow, I might be the last one in there, but I’m sure trying it, so we’ll see,” he says. “It will be a blast when I hopefully reach the finish line. So, why unicycle? Who knows?! I do it to have fun. That’s all.”
Good luck, Shawn! If you want to join him (maybe not on a unicycle!) you can CLICK HERE to register for the Tour de Shore.
So far, over 2,500 riders have registered, and there are a limited number of spots left. The money raised supports families of fallen first responders and children in need in the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey areas. The goal of the event is to raise $1.25 million this year. Last year, the Tour de Shore donated to more than 30 local children’s charities.
The Tour de Shore Children’s Foundation provides an immediacy grant of $5,000 directly to the families of first responders and follows up with continued support through the organizations that exist to support these families, such as Philadelphia Police Survivors Fund. The Tour de Shore also funds the Police Youth Alliance, an initiative started with Independence Mission Schools, which pairs up uniformed police officers with kids in their corresponding districts, and the officers teach them subjects such as art, music, step dance, chess and carpentry.
The Showboat and Wawa will be sponsoring an after-party. Wawa is providing all the food, and the Showboat is providing the venue for the more than 5,000 people expected to attend.
For more information on the ride or the foundation, visit tourdeshorechildrensfoundation.org