Why You Ride: Bicycle Edition – NASA "bike train engineer" conducts "bike train" to JPL

During Bike Week LA, we collected nominations for the Golden Pedal Awards, Metro’s annual competition for great stories about bicycling. We’re featuring these stories in a weekly Why You Ride series – because for many Angelenos, every week is Bike Week!

Our next Golden Pedal Award goes to Charles Dandino, unofficial “bike train engineer” at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Charles was nominated by colleague Tushar Thrivikraman for spearheading their weekly “bike train” – a group ride to work that stops to pick up fellow JPL employees on the way. With Charles at the helm of the train, they’ve hit their time points nearly every week for the last nine months, rain or shine. (Hey Charles, have you ever thought about working for a transit agency?)

Name: Charles Dandino
Start: Silver Lake
End: Pasadena
Distance: 15 miles
Time: 75 minutes

Charles on his bicycle. Photo courtesy of Charles Dandino.

Charles, resident “bike train engineer” for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Charles Dandino.

Last summer, Charles moved out to Los Angeles with two suitcases, one bicycle, and no car:

“I left my ’96 Geo Prizm in Ohio when I moved out West.  It was a good car (good in that it was reliable with good gas mileage and cheap repairs), but after the muffler had to be welded back on I was not confident it would make the trek.”

No car, no problem – he just biked to work instead. “After two weeks of daily riding in the hot Southern California sun and my new 30-mile round-trip bike commute,” he said, “I had lost 20 lbs.” He loved it, but when he started telling people how he was getting to work, they “thought I had to be crazy.”

“Everyone I talked to could not see past the danger [of bicycling] to the beauty of the sunrise on the mountains or how relatively peaceful LA is at 6 a.m.  I wanted to share this intensely positive experience with more people.”

Charles had read an article a few years ago about group bicycle rides for commuters, also known as “bike trains.” After seeing such incredulous reactions to his bicycle commute, he decided to “take a swing at a fun, safer way for people to commute by bike” and start a bike train to JPL for his co-workers.

He chose an easy five-mile route up Arroyo Boulevard in Pasadena and created a timetable of seven stops so that other bicyclists could join the ride at whichever intersection was most convenient for them. Riding in a group is especially helpful for beginning bicyclists, he noted, because it makes them more visible to drivers.

Charles still bikes to work daily, but every Thursday morning he now waits at the corner of Arroyo Boulevard and Arroyo Drive for his fellow JPL commuters to meet him. As the resident bike train engineer, he sets a moderate pace for the group, tweets their departure times at each stop, and helps take care of any emergencies, such as a flat tire.

Charles and Tushar on their morning bike train to work.

Charles and Tushar on their morning bike train to work. Photo courtesy of Tushar Thrivikraman.

Thanks Charles for creating a cost-efficient and zero-emissions “train” through Pasadena! Hopefully your story will inspire others to do the same. (And for those interested in joining a bike train, see our post on LA Bike Trains). We’ve sent you a Nathan safety vest, RydeSafe reflective decals, and Clif Bars to help keep you safe and fuel your rides.

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