Friday, October 23, 2009

Dan Nguyen-Tan: Creating Community, One Ride At A Time

DJ Dan does Tour de Fat

Community Spin on Valencia

Bike service! @ Fell & Masonic

Dan Nguyen-Tan recently celebrated his 35th birthday with his closest 300 friends. Presumably the other few hundred were unable to attend. Dan is that kind of guy, eager to meet new people and make connections among them. His sociability is certainly driven by enjoyment of others’ company, but there’s something more. Dan is committed to community-building.

Dan spent his early years in Chico, a 3 ½ hour drive from San Francisco. He liked the college town well enough to return there after finishing graduate school at Harvard University. “I dabbled in a lot of activities in Chico,” Dan recalled, “mostly efforts to make my hometown an even better place than when I grew up there.” He served on the City Council and chaired the Finance Committee. He also joined several boards of non-profits and worked as President of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization and the Northern California Regional Land Trust.

San Francisco’s dynamism,its better year-round weather, and the proximity to his family drew Dan to settle here two years ago, and he chose NOPA for his home. He chose the neighborhood because of its central location, proximity to the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, and especially because of its biking convenience. “I can bike to almost any other neighborhood within 15-20 minutes or less,” he said. “For example, I can get to North Beach in 18 minutes on my folding bike in the middle of the night. I timed it.”

Dan’s been on a bike since he was a boy with experiences that reflect a kind of Norman Rockwell past. He managed two paper routes by bike – the Sacramento Bee in the morning and the Chico daily in the afternoon. He also biked to school through his junior and senior high years. He continued on two-wheels in college and grad school. But, he reports, biking only became integral to his day-to-day life when he moved to San Francisco.

“The strong, positive bicycling culture and community in the city, plus the practical aspects of city living, reinforces the choice for me to bicycle as my preferred everyday transportation.” For getting around, Dan has quite a few choices. “It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I’m one of those avid bicyclists who own several bikes for very different functions.” Several, as in six:

  • an Xtracycle long-haul bike for transporting cargo and people
  • a Specialized Allez road bike for long rides to Marin or even longer rides, like the AIDS Lifecycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that Dan rode earlier this summer.
  • a mountain bike for the off-road jaunts
  • “a crappy old Dahon folding bike” that Dan bought for $50 off Craigslist that most bike mechanics refuse to fix.
  • His beat-up pink Beach cruiser, Dan’s “perfect playa bike” that he takes to Burning Man every year
  • a new upright Live 3 Globe Bike that he uses for his everyday rides. He wanted something sophisticated enough to match his attire when he attends a fundraiser or gala.

And then there’s his now-signature ride, the seven-person funcycle that made its NOPA debut during September’s BIKE THE BLOCK party. The circular, single-gear bike is powered by all the riders pedaling while Dan steers and DJs the rolling sing-a-long. Initially, developed for more corporate purposes – think ice-breakers and conferences – the funcycle, at least in San Francisco, has found its niche as a prime party bike.

The funcycle is a perfect match for Dan’s interests: he easily meets new people attracted to the odd-looking contraption, he enhances any community event he rolls into, and he encourages people to give cycling a try.

Dan hopes his varied interests will challenge the stereotype about bicyclists in the city. “Some people think bicycling enthusiasts like me are anti-car,” he notes, “but I own a car that I use mainly for out of town trips.” Dan simply finds cycling the best option for transportation. “I can get places faster and I don’t need to find parking.” And then there’s the dessert factor cited by so many cyclists: eat all you want and then burn off the calories.

It didn’t take Dan long to get involved with local nonprofits. He readily joined the board of directors for both NOPNA, the neighborhood association, and SFBC, the bike coalition. He raves about both. “I believe in their missions. They’re both …focused on community-building and making the city a better place to live.” He adds, “In both organizations, I’m surrounded by people whose dedication and service regularly inspire me.”

Before my interview with Dan, I wondered, along with many others who so often see him on the funcycle, whether he kept the party bike at home. Answer: yes, he does, in his garage. Almost immediately, everyone’s second question rolled forward: will Dan run for the District 5 seat on the Board of Supervisors when it opens? No answer yet for that. Does he have the qualifications? He certainly has a solid foundation. In his own words: “I’m a civic-oriented person at heart. I believe that one person can make a difference and that a community with shared values and interests can accomplish a lot together.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Michael, for highlighting neighborhood people and issues. You do a great service for all of us.

    A few additional comments from me:

    1. The FunCycle is owned by local bicycle rental company Bike and Roll ( The FunCycle is on extended loan to me, parked in my garage, from the good people behind community-oriented Bike and Roll. They believe strongly, like I do, in supporting bicycle culture and community-building events so they allow me to use the FunCycle.

    2. D5 candidate speculation: I'm flattered you asked this question, but I'm already planning to support several pro-transit, pro-bike friends who already plan to run when Sup. Ross Mirkarimi's second term finishes. I'd rather be outside on a bicycle and organizing the neighborhood, than sit for countless hours in windowless public hearings. Unless public hearings can be held on the FunCycle, I plan to avidly support OTHER bicycle-friendly people dedicated to making local government work for our neighborhood.