My friend says I look like Miss Marple sitting upright on my Flying Pigeon
Light Roadster. She can mock all she likes that scornful tone is tinged with
The iconic bike might be out of favor with your average Chinese urbanite, but
I wouldn't be seen pedalling on anything else. They can keep their cars and
showy mountain bikes, the Feige (Flying Pigeon) is for me.
I bought it second-hand from a chuckling bicycle repairman about a week after
I got here. I'd never heard of the brand but was instantly won over by its
simplicity: 20 sturdy kilograms, black, no gears, shiny chrome handlebars, a
good, shrill bell and a basket on the front. I paid 120 yuan over the odds I was
later told, but it did come with new tyres.
They're popular with foreigners. I've since had many covetous comments from
cyclists making do with new and old bikes of dubious quality. They say the
ubiquitous Flying Pigeon is hard to track down these days, or at least the new
Tianjin-based Flying Pigeon Bicycle Co Ltd is a
State-owned firm set up in the 1930s. The first Flying Pigeon-brand
bicycle winged its way off the
production line on July 5, 1950. It was the first Chinese bike produced after
the People's Republic of China was founded.
For decades it had only two competitors, the other State-owned brands Forever
and Phoenix. In its 1980s glory days it was the nation's biggest manufacturer of
six. It peaked in 1986 with sales of 3 million, but they plummeted to 200,000 in
Now Flying Pigeon has to compete with around 300 bicycle firms in
car-obsessed China, and it's struggling to shift gears to meet changing consumer
tastes. Its limited range of standard black, gearless models has been expanded
to include different colors and over 200 styles.
The bikes are still made in China at a new factory in Tianjin, but times are
tough and it's looking at ways to cut costs, like outsourcing manufacturing to
other parts of Asia or to Africa. In 2005 it produced 1.5 million bicycles,
exporting 30 percent of them.
Back home I've got a fancy hybrid mountain bike that cost me about A$500
(3,066 yuan). It's super lightweight, with 21 gears. There was always something
going wrong with it and I never used those gears to full advantage. My gearless
Flying Pigeon is far superior, at least on the flat roads of Beijing and less
likely to be stolen.
In fact, I've become something of a Flying Pigeon trainspotter since I
discovered the charms of these old bicycle beauties. Mine is a sleek city
runabout compared to the weighty, more masculine model that comes with a
reinforced crossbar designed to carry pigs.
I've wobbled home on many an occasion with cumbersome items like planters and
lamps crammed into the basket and on the back. But lately I've been a little
preoccupied with tricycles. Every time I see one stacked improbably it makes me
question whether my Flying Pigeon is enough; perhaps it needs a trailer and an
I was taking my chances in the lurching traffic recently when a convoy of
three-wheelers appeared in the opposite direction. They were connected by a rope
and loaded to the hilt with Styrofoam. It was a wide load, about the size of a
light truck, and there was nowhere to go but the gutter. For a fleeting moment
collision seemed unavoidable. But I wasn't really worried as ever, my
indestructible Flying Pigeon was unflappable in the face of danger.
Contact the author at email@example.com
(China Daily 01/24/2007 page15)