The Florida Bike Guy Interviews Mark Shiefer, President of Gulf Coast Velo

Video Transcription:

Jim: Hi it's Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy, your Florida bike crash and injury lawyer. We've got Mark Schiefer this morning, excuse me, this afternoon with us. Mark is the president of Gulf Coast Velo. They're a bike club from, really from Englewood up to Lakewood Ranch. Mark, you wanna introduce yourself?

Mark: Yeah, well thank you, Jim. Yeah we're part of Gulf Coast Velo and we are all about the safety advocacy and bringing safety and enjoyment to cycling in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

Jim: So a lot of people probably haven't heard of you. Tell us when you formed and something about why the club formed and where you originated.

Mark: Right, well we are brand new. We officially launched about eight weeks ago, however the concept for our club started about six to seven months ago. It started as a group of about six or seven of us worried about all the crashes that were happening in the Sarasota Manatee area. And it seemed like there was a crash every week and we figured it had to be a way to minimize that or help improve on that. So, we got together and formed what we called an Origination Committee. We met monthly for about six months before we actually started the club to figure out what's the best way to strengthen an advocacy for cycling safety in our aggressed areas. We ended up starting Gulf Coast Velo about eight weeks ago, as I said. And our membership has grown exponentially. We're up to, close to actually just over 80 members at this point. We just finished our first kit order. We ordered kits from Hincapie and Hincapie tells us we set a record for their company, for a first time club order.

Jim: That's great. That's great.

Mark: I guess that's a good sign that we're on the right track.

Jim: You know, answering some kind of a need somewhere.

Mark: Yeah, exactly. Well as this group started, um, I was saying as this group started the club, we pretty much set a few cornerstones that we wanted to be recognized as. And number one was safety, which we broke into two parts. One was the safety advocacy, where we wanted to address the local municipality, county and city level, as well as law enforcement. And secondly was education. We'll be putting on ride clinics for folks, at all ride levels, with LCI certified instructors. Secondly, we wanted to be transparent and member centric. Our club is driven by its member base. Not by the board or not by an individual in the club. And thirdly, it's just to have fun. No drama. You know, just to enjoy what we're doing, we're all out here doing it, you know, for fun and for health, and nobody needs the headaches of, you know...

Jim: I know you and I were chatting a few minutes before we went live and the no drama issue, tell me a little bit more about what you mean there.

Mark: Well, you know, as we're doing group rides, everybody who has done group rides have crossed situations where somebody isn't quite, maybe doing something quite right or they don't quite know the cycling etiquette of riding in a group. And they might be making a mistake and you'll see someone else get upset and yell. You know, every, we've all been around that. Within Gulf Coast Velo there is no yelling on group rides. We see these opportunities as teaching opportunities for folks. If you see somebody doing something wrong, we ask that folks talk to them in a very gentle, I guess, a teaching type manner, and help them understand what they're doing and help correct what they're doing, or talk to the ride leader and have the ride leader talk to them. But, there's no excuse for getting upset with somebody, unless of course they're doing the same thing over and over again and they've got an attitude, then we'll probably ask them not to ride with us anymore. But we see 99 percent of the time they're teaching moments, not yelling opportunities.

Jim: Well I think you mentioned earlier too that the no drama extends to a driver who may do something stupid and what's your position in terms of correcting a driver...

Mark: Yeah

Jim: Encountering a driver, whatever you might call it.

Mark: Well, exactly, I mean I, we talked about a good opportunity that I experienced just yesterday. I'm doing my ride, I'm doing about 24, 25 miles an hour down the road and I had a big white pickup truck breeze by me, one foot away, doing about 65 miles an hour. You know, when somebody's passing you like that, it's a surprise, it's a shock, when they're that close. So, I did end up catching him at the next intersection, at a light, and had a little chat with him in a nice, calm manner and explained to him that he might not appreciate having to live with the fact that he killed somebody on the road when he could've just got over two or three feet, you know? And quite frankly, his response, you could tell he was gearing up to go into battle but that kind of took the air out of his lungs and he just looked at me and kinda nodded and drove away.

Jim: You can't always assume they did it intentionally. A lot of people simply don't know, they haven't ridden a bike, they don't know what it's like to pass or be passed that closely.

Mark: That's right, and I think that was the case in this incident, for sure.

Jim: Yeah. So let's talk about minute about your, you have 80 riders, 80 members right now. Gimme an idea of how you break down, in terms of the rides and the speed groups that you're aiming for and kind of your goal there.

Mark: Right, well we address all speed groups. We have rides on our website, people can go to our website at And we have a calendar there on the site that talks about the rides and the different paces and speeds and drop versus no drop. Our most common ride is an 18, 20 mile an hour ride in Lakewood Ranch on Sunday morning at seven thirty. We meet in front of Keiser University on Lake Osprey, which is just off of University Boulevard.

Jim: Okay.

Mark: We'll have 20 to 25 people show up and the majority ride in that 18 to 20 mile an hour group. If we do get riders that come in that are a little bit slower, we'll set up a group for them, and on top of that we usually have a few A and B plus riders in the group as well.

Jim: Right.

Mark: The whole group will go off together and then there's a point in the route that the A's and the B riders will split off.

Jim: Okay, okay. I know that you were talking about a Women's Only event you did recently.

Mark: Yeah.

Jim: Kinda tell me about that and what your thoughts are about the popularity of a Women's Only ride.

Mark: Right, well as I mentioned before, one of our cornerstones is to be member centric. You know, we want the direction of the club to come from the membership. An idea for an all ladies ride came through our members Facebook page and we thought it was a great idea and we wanted to give it a shot. We talked to the ladies and asked what they were looking for and they wanted, number one, they wanted mechanical support. You know.

Jim: Right.

Mark: You know for fixing flat tires or having breakdowns and they would appreciate security, quite frankly, riding through a neighborhood and especially in the evening, in the evening time frame. And they also like to have a little social time after their ride. So we put all that together. Last Thursday we did our inaugural ladies ride throughout Lakewood Ranch. We had about 15, 16, 17 ladies show up. We had two cars set up for sag support, both in the front and the back. We had a couple of our gentlemen members work as sweepers, in other words they rode with the ladies and, if there were splits or groups or what have you, they would kinda help take care of the individual groups, which it did happen, it did split into two different groups so, it was good that they were there. And, ladies really enjoyed the ride. It was safe, it was secure. After the ride, we had a little social time. We had refreshments, we had some recovery supplies, and we even had a little Pinot Grigio at the request of some of the ladies. So it was a great time and everyone really enjoyed it and our sponsors really stepped up, by the way. I wanna mention our sponsors on this ride. Our Title Sponsor is Air Medical Group. They provided the refreshments and the wine, per their request. Michael Belle, a Real Estate Attorney, provided Starbucks gift cards to every member that, everybody that rode. By the way, this was a member and non-member ride. You didn't have to be a Gulf Coast Velo member

Jim: Okay.

Mark: So any lady in the area could participate. And then our local bike shop in Lakewood Ranch supplied water bottles, scratch, and Shamy butter for the ladies. So everybody came out with something. Air Medical Group also provided a jersey that we raffled off. So it was really a great event...

Jim: mention your sponsors. You actually have two bike shops, Ryder in Lakewood Ranch, and Bicycles International

Mark: Right.

Jim: In Venice? Venice, right?

Mark: Venice, yep.

Jim: So that's your five, right now you have five sponsors in the club.

Mark: Yeah, we have the two bike shops, and both by the way are very active in their local cycling communities and they both work very well together. Ryder Bikes has been supporting cycling in Lakewood Ranch area for many years. And Bicycles International does a great job in the Venice area of bringing new riders into the cycling environment.

Jim: Yeah I know they do a big emphasis on acclimating new riders to riding.

Mark: Yep, absolutely. And then we have one more sponsor in the Venice area, it's Remax. Realtor, everybody, who doesn't know Remax. But, we have a local realtor, Cheryl Polito, and her husband Tim Polito are very active in the cycling community. Tim's been riding for years. He's probably the fastest 65 plus year old rider in Central Florida. He does race as well. And they both, they both, again support everything that Gulf Coast Velo's involved in.

Jim: So, I know you had the initial Women's Only ride on Thursday night and that was really a one time event at the time. What's your thought about doing something more along the ride just for women?

Mark: Yeah, well as we, after the ride we talked to the ladies to see what they thought, what they liked, what they didn't like, what they would like to see. And one comment that came back is maybe not doing it on Thursday evening but maybe doing it on a Saturday morning ride. Now there's a lot of rides around the area on Saturday mornings. And most of these ladies don't participate when it's kind of a mixed male female type environment. They kinda like riding with other ladies so, we're thinking the next one will probably be on a Saturday morning and we'll see what happens. But we will, you know, based on the feedback we get, we'll continue these rides on a weekly or monthly basis as long as the ladies support the ride. We'll be there to support them.

Jim: So talk about the speed group for the ladies too.

Mark: Yeah, most of the ladies, it was about an 18 to 20 mile an hour ride for I'd say three quarters of the ladies, and there was a quarter that were was more all around the 16 to 18 mile an hour that broke off.

Jim: Okay.

Mark: And again, it all depends on who shows up for the ride, how that's gonna be separated out. But we actually had the support there to be with both groups

Jim: Well what I'm hearing is you're member centric so if your members want a particular type ride, you're open to try to supply that need. Is that what I understand?

Mark: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean this club is for the members. It's not a club for our board members, it's a club for all the members so... And you know what's nice about being a new club is that we're an open slate. So we can try new things. We can do new things that maybe some folks couldn't get another club to do, that they were a past member of, or a current member of as well. Many of our members are members of multiple clubs, by the way.

Jim: Yeah, that happens a lot. A lot of people are members of multiple clubs and they take advantage of different things that different clubs offer.

Mark: Yeah exactly.

Jim: What does it cost to be a member and how does someone become a member?

Mark: Well you can become a member by going to our website. Again it's and our membership application is there. You will also be required to sign off on a waiver to be a member. The membership fee is 35 dollars and that runs from now, or when you sign up, to the end of 2019. So you're getting a bit of a bargain. You're getting about a year and a third at this point for one annual fee.

Jim: Good. So tell me, I know you have the private Facebook page for the members. You got a public Facebook page, and I think Katie has put the location of that on the screen. You've got your website.

Mark: Right.

Jim: Give me your vision for Gulf Coast Velo, what you wanna do in terms of safety advocacy, clinics, and what have you. You and I talked about that before we went live.

Mark: Sure, sure. Well the key thing from the safety advocacy side is one, we're working with our local municipalities and the law enforcement. We actually have a member who is the Cycling Ambassador for the city of Venice. It's a real title, believe it or not. And that is Darlene Culpepper, the wife of Wesley Culpepper, who are both the owners of Bicycles International here in Venice. We also have members who are on the board of the local Sarasota Manatee County MPO, Municipal Planning Organization. The committee that's important to us is the Pedestrian Cycling Committee on the MPO and, again, we have members who are involved with that. So, not necessarily starting from scratch, but we're working with folks that already kinda have a foot in the door and we're looking to expand our efforts there. My background, I've got a bit of a safety legislation background, as well. I was Vice President of Marketing for a safety-oriented company in a different field, in fire extinguishers and Carbon Monoxide and smoke alarms. And, I've gone around the country to help develop county level legislation for requiring Carbon Monoxide alarms at senior daycare centers and things like that. And I've also served on the board of the National Safety Council for three years. We were chartered by the US Congress to set the safety agenda for the nation. So we got quite a strong safety advocate background. We know how to get it done. We've got folks on board that have got things done, and the things we're looking to do is is anywhere from the freebie stuff to the stuff that's maybe a little more complicated. The free stuff is simply getting potholes fixed, and getting rocks out of bike lanes in front of construction sites and things like that. That's the easy stuff that should be done. The more complicated things might be putting up signs, you know, the three foot signs in bike lanes, or developing roundabouts for cyclists. There are two roundabouts on Awner Way that were not developed with cyclists in mind. The bike lane ends right as you go into the roundabout where drivers

Jim: That's a very common issue 'cause it forces you into the lane and the driver's not expecting you and you're not aware that they're there.

Mark: Exactly right. So, you know, beginning

Mark: Driver's don't know what to do in roundabouts. Yeah I mean we just need people to get involved in that process early and start raising those points as they're designing these things.

Mark: So

Jim: Well, you know I'm more safety to the party, the better. And I think the better relationship we have with law enforcement, is hugely important. I mentioned to you when we were talking before we went live that, you know, in my experience, many times the police roll up on the bike crash scene and assume when they get out of the car that the cyclist did something wrong and, now let's look for some evidence to support that.

Mark: Right.

Jim: And I think, you know, the relationship you develop with law enforcement goes a long way to eliminating all of that and giving us a fair shot at looking at an accident scene, you know, impartially.

Mark: Absolutely, it's critical. And that's been on our agenda as well. And of course the other side of the safety thing is education. We have clinics planned, coming up, and we will have LCI certified instructors do our clinics. It's not just gonna be a guy that's been a member or been cycling for ten years, you know, trying to teach others his way of doing things. We're gonna have actually certified people that give these clinics. And our motto in this whole scheme of things is 'Cycling Done Right' that we've come up with in the club. You know, we wanna be able to make sure we're telling people the right thing on etiquette and how to do things.

Jim: Well, you know, all that stuff rings very important to me. I always remind cyclists that when we're on the bike, on the road, we are communicating the cycling etiquette to the world. And when we do things that are stupid and we blatantly disregard what we should be doing, we're communicating with the world that we're a bunch of hooligans.

Mark: That's exactly right.

Jim: We gotta change that because so many people, you go down to a court room and try to pick a jury trial on a bike case and people are raising their hands saying 'I hate cyclists'. They never obey any traffic rules.

Mark: Everybody has a camera today. You know with their cell phones and everything else so when they see cyclists, you know, cruising through a red light, for example, you know there might not be any traffic but cruising through a red light, you know, we're all supposed to follow the same rules as cars on the road, right?

Jim: Exactly.

Mark: Stop sign, things like that. It's bad publicity for everybody. So those are the kind of things that we wanna address as well.

Jim: Well and I tell people what you're doing is you're polluting the jury pool.

Mark: Yep that's, that's a good point, that's a good way to put it.

Jim: Yep, because all those people they're really quick to talk about the negative things.

Mark: Perfect.

Jim: Yeah so I'm really excited about talking to you guys and letting the world know that you exist.

Mark: Yeah, perfect.

Jim: I think that you are filling a niche in your area, obviously. If people wanna find out more, I wanna direct them to your website. Is there anything you wanna say here before we sign off? It's been really a pleasure talking to you, Mark.

Mark: Well I think just that, we would like to thank you for what you're doing as well, Jim. I mean, what you're doing for the cycling community, and offering the information that you offer, and these types of interviews go a long way in helping us talk about what we're doing in our neck of the woods. It's, you know, it's really appreciated. And I wanna thank you for becoming a member of Gulf Coast Velo, by the way.

Jim: Thank you very much.

Mark: So that's, we really do appreciate that as well.

Jim: So everybody check out Gulf Coast Velo, they're gonna have, actually you're having a meet and greet? Talk about that a minute, I meant to mention that.

Mark: Yeah as a new club, as a new club, we'll be announcing the date, firming up the date, but sometime here in probably the second weekend of October.

Jim: Okay.

Mark: Member's meet and greet, for the first time, getting all the members together. It'll be a family park type setting, probably a pot luck or something like that. Just casual. And then we also have an annual meeting coming up. Our first annual meeting as a club will be in early December. We'll be announcing that, and date and place, where we'll be electing our first full board, full term board, and talking about budgets and everything else. So any member, anybody that's a part of the club, will not wanna miss it for sure.

Jim: Well and I need, I wanna lobby you, on behalf of the Florida Bicycle Association, to make sure your members are aware of the FBA and that the club

Mark: Yeah

Jim: Encourages them to be individual members as well. A lot of times, we have clubs that belong to the FBA and people think that satisfies what should be done but, we're encouraging individual memberships and I'll talk to you about that more.

Mark: Perfect, great. Well thank you very much for this time.

Jim: Yeah, thank you, Mark for joining us. This is Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy. We'll see you out there on the road. Be safe. Bye.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.