The right transportation — 100,000 miles by bike

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 24, 2014

KANNAPOLIS — Mark Ortiz covered 14,160 miles on his bicycle last year — and only 83 in his car.
“I like cars, but I think we are overly dependent on them,” Ortiz said this week. “Bikes save energy for cars in the future. We need to do what we can to conserve, or otherwise we won’t have enough energy.”
Ortiz set a personal record for miles pedaled in 2013 and figures that took more than 1,000 hours of seat time. It is all part of a bigger goal to ride 100,000 miles in the first 15 years of the new millennium. In other words, Ortiz has been at this a long time.
Whether commuting to his job as a teacher assistant at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte or to the nearby Pilot truck stop on Lane Street for a sub sandwich, Ortiz rides his bike. He has three cars, but only uses one of them when he needs to haul something heavier than what will fit in the panniers (side bags) on the bike.
Ortiz does like cars. He worked as a manual mechanical draftsman through the late 1980s. Eventually there was no market for his job as those with computer skills replaced him.
“I can do computer-aided drafting, but I am exceptional at manual work,” he said. Ortiz, a chassis consultant, has been published more than 150 times with articles in Racecar Engineering Magazine, where he now has a regular column.
A 1965 Corvair and a 1966 Chevrolet Impala station wagon sit in his shop, looking like they haven’t seen a lot of action in several years. Neither has a 1986 Chevy Monte Carlo race car.
“The Impala needs a starter but wouldn’t get much use even if it had one,” he said.
The training wheels came off of Ortiz’s bike at age four. By the third grade, he had mastered hand signals and knew how to ride with traffic.
“Today’s kids don’t learn how to do that,” said Ortiz. Growing up in Eau Claire, Wis., his mother had a lucrative job that guaranteed him a new bike every birthday. By age 12, Ortiz had his first three-speed bike, and within a year he was riding from town to town.
“At age 15, I did my first century, or 100-mile ride,” he said.
The Vietnam War draft was looming, and Ortiz took a stand against the war as a conscientious objector. He fulfilled a requirement to work by becoming a potential task force area evaluator for the Greater Milwaukee Conference on Religion and Government Affairs for $1 a year. During this time, Ortiz developed an ecologically sound lifestyle. After a 3,000-mile ride in 1971, Ortiz eventually found work at a food cooperative, a bike shop and as a teacher at a free university. Near the end of 1972, he had enough experience to put a bicycle together.
In 2000, now living near Kannapolis just off Moose Road, Ortiz decided to start riding his bike more. The first year, he rode 3,000 miles and continued to build mileage until the idea came in 2004 to complete 100,000 miles in 15 years.
All was well until a 2007 crash happened as Ortiz was returning to Kannapolis from UNCC by bike. He had been serving as an advisor to the Students for a Democratic Society, a new left wing group based on the reincarnation of a similar student activist group from the late 1960s. Ortiz suspects that he was rammed from behind and later realized that a slow moving vehicle had been following him.
The crash was bad enough that doctors briefly thought Ortiz might not recover. There was major damage to four vertebrae and his tailbone was ripped from his pelvis. As a result of the accident, the worst of his riding career, some paralysis remains in his left leg.
Ortiz had ridden 9,930 miles for the year by the time the accident happened on Nov. 6.
In 2008, he only rode a training cycle indoors.
Back on the bike in 2009 after a long period of rehabilitation, Ortiz completed over 3,000 miles. Two more crashes involving dogs and one with a motorcycle left him with a broken femur now repaired by a metal strip about the size of a one foot ruler. His left knee sticks out farther than his right while he pedals the bike and that leg is about an inch shorter.
“I have had some adversity to overcome, but I never wanted to quit. It all just made me more determined,” said Ortiz.
Along the way, Ortiz ran as a Democratic candidate for the 8th District congressional seat in 2004 and 2006. He used his car to campaign in the large district, but rode his bike to put out signs.
“I was an insurgent candidate with no chance of winning,” he said.
He did win a supporter. Congressman Larry Kissell rode his bike in a benefit for Ortiz after the 2007 accident.
Now participating annually in the National Bike Challenge, Ortiz logs his biking miles in an honor competition. He joined other cyclists nationwide who are tracking their mileage. Ortiz doesn’t use a GPS or cyclometer.
“I don’t want to live in a world where everybody can be tracked by the government. I track my miles by knowing how far things are, then rounding down. I average about 15 miles per hour and it is 21 miles to school,” he said.
Regularly commuting to UNCC, Ortiz knows how to stay warm on his custom-designed bike. He wears up to five layers of wool and dri-fit material. He wears ski mittens on his hands and a skull cap and ski goggles on his head.
“Below 45 degrees, the goggles are a necessity. Otherwise my face and eyes are a matching red,” Ortiz said. He keeps a large sweater in his office that can cover everything and still look professional.
Ortiz built his ride from a mountain bike frame and added touring-quality extras for comfort and durability. Add-ons include a top-quality leather seat, pannier racks, and derailleur gearing. Ortiz built the custom pedals himself.
Often riding at night, he has his bike equipped with plenty of reflective tape, twin headlights and flashing taillights. He recently rode to the East Rowan YMCA near Rockwell from his home in Kannapolis for a Thread Trail open house before traveling home in the darkness.
Currently, Ortiz campaigns against inappropriate bike lanes that accumulate debris and cause cyclists to make turns from the wrong places.
“They are just an accommodation for cyclists with a lack of training,” he said.
Ortiz expects to complete his goal of riding 100,000 miles in the new millennium during the first half of this year, well ahead of schedule.
“Add that to my 70,000 miles before the year 2000, and then my next goal becomes a total 250,000 miles by age 75. I am 64 now,” he said.
Ortiz said a lot of people recognize him on his bike and most are friendly and considerate. And that helps with his ultimate goal.
“I plan to keep riding as long as I am able,” he said.