FLORHAM PARK —The Police Unity Tour — the annual bicycle ride to honor police officers killed in the line of duty, which started with just 18 riders in 1997 — started its annual trek to Washington D.C. on Tuesday with more than 2,500 riders from all over the world.

Founder Pat Montoure, a Florham Park police officer, said 675 riders and additional support staff from all over the northeast make up the Unity Tour's Chapter 1, including 280 riders from New Jersey. They left the Wyndham Hamilton Hotel in Florham Park at 9:30 a.m. for the first leg of the tour, which included 70 motorcycles.

"The unique thing about the ride is there's no rank. Whether you're a captain, a sergeant, a patrol officer, a brand new person, a chief of police, a major, someone who is director of a federal agency or a special agent in charge, everyone is equal in this organization. We're all officers with the same mission and goal. We ride for those who died ... That's where the word unity comes in," said Montoure.

Survivors and family members of those who've died also take part by riding or cheering along the route.

Chapter 1 of the tour, with bikers riding two-by-two, heads into Madison, Morris Township and Morristown, where it'll pick up Route 202 and head south to end the day in Somerset.

"This is a day that everyone gets used to each other. We're a large group supported by a strong support staff," Montour said, adding that part of the job is to keep both riders and drivers safe as intersections are opened and closed.

Chapter 10 left Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, which is home to the Mercer County Police Academy headed for Atlantic City.

Over the past 20 years the tour has raised $20 million to benefit the National Law Enforcement Museum's Hall of Remembrance, which Montoure said is not federally funded.

"It's the citizen's place. It's law enforcement's place," Montoure said, adding that the 21,000 names of officers killed in the line of duty is Washington's "only growing monument."

Montour said the number of support staff required is akin to "moving a small city" with support staff to take care of medical needs, repairs, food and logistics so participants can just focus on the ride.

"As we get to areas where we stop people we hand out pamphlets so they understand what we're trying to do and we're not trying to just force something into their community," Montour said.

Adam Hochron contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

More from New Jersey 101.5:

Sign Up For The WOBM Newsletter