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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 18, 2019 1 year ago

Sarasota cyclist is pedaling for safety

Mark Schiefer advocates for bike safety while pushing himself to the limit.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Sarasota’s Mark Schiefer has a short attention span.

Over the years, he’s had a variety of hobbies, such as basketball, golf and motorcycle racing, but he couldn’t seem to make any of them stick.

It wasn’t for lack of success — he was a single-digit handicap golfer — he just always lost interest around the three-year mark. That is, until he began cycling.

Following a brief foray into motorcycle racing that left him battered and bruised, Schiefer was looking for a new hobby. So, when his neighbor asked him to join a bike ride in 2016, Schiefer happily obliged.

“I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a kid,” he said. “I didn’t even own a bike, but I knew I wanted to try it out.”

After buying a carbon-fiber bike on Craigslist, Schiefer, who rides five times a week, was dropped in at 18 miles per hour, a speed the cyclist now calls slow. He spent more time on the bike for longer periods of time to increase his speed.

“I enjoyed the ride and continued riding and continued looking for faster and faster groups,” he said.

Despite having just started in 2016, Schiefer now rides with the A riders, logging approximately 220 miles a week at speeds of 25 miles per hour. Last year, he competed in his first full racing season.

Now, the rider is looking to get into ultra endurance cycling, where he would log around 250 miles in a single race. He even bought a recumbent bike to switch up his training.

“Cycling is one of the best low-impact exercises you can do,” the 57-year-old said. “Besides swimming there really isn’t anything that’s low impact that can create as much circulation and keep strength up and keep your endurance up, keep your heart strong.”

While he enjoys racing, his passion is about more than pedaling. He also wants to ensure the safety of cyclists.

Following a number of bicycle accidents in Sarasota County, Schiefer and a few of his cycling friends wanted to do something to address the issue of bike safety.

Thus, the group Gulf Coast Velo was formed. Since its inception in August 2018, more than 150 riders have joined.

The group, which holds various rides throughout Sarasota County, has three cornerstones: safety education and advocacy, transparency and no drama.

“We want to have fun and be safe,” he said. “We just don’t tolerate drama. During rides there’s no yelling, if somebody’s not doing something right we see it as a teaching opportunity.”

In an effort to expand cycling safety education, Schiefer founded the Safe Cycling Coalition, which represents around 3,000 area cyclists. Last year, the coalition worked with the Florida Bicycle Association (FBA) to coordinate a ride leader certification program that created nearly 60 ride marshals in the area.

“These are people now that know how to lead rides and know how to lead safely on our roads,” Schiefer said. “They can educate people that might not know exactly what they’re getting into on the road for the first time.”

It is these efforts that have helped Schiefer be awarded the FBA Florida Cycling Citizen Advocate of the Year. He will be given the award before Sharky’s Ride the Beaches April 28.

His advice for those looking to get into cycling: have a goal.

“Just understand why you want to do something,” he said. “Have a goal for your cycling, have a goal in life and develop a road map to meet that goal and take it step by step.”

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