Friday, August 15, 2008

Flying Pigeon

A reader (thanks to Matt) directed me to Flying Pigeon NYC, a local dealer for the terrific bikes of the same name. In this context, both local and terrific are relative terms. Regarding the former, NYC is closer to me than any part of China. Regarding the later, Lance doesn't ride a Flying Pigeon, but it's likely that there are more actively used Flying Pigeons around the world than all other actively used bikes put together, and that makes them terrific in my book.
The Flying Pigeon NYC Blog has pretty pictures of Flying Pigeon bicycles, either with young and beautiful New Yorkers, at popular New York City locations, or both. This is interesting, because Pigeons are not exactly chic outside Gotham.

Pigeons are fairly low tech vehicles, but they are extremely utilitarian. They are designed to get you where you want to go, regardless of weather or time of day, though not especially quickly. The full "spec" really isn't what this bike is about. This is the global Model-T of bikes: generic and reliable. It does come with lots of nice "accessories," but in this case, they're just part of the bike--a Flying Pigeon would be naked without its fenders and chaincase. There's also a stout rear carrier, a functional dynamo light set, and a kickin' double kickstand. The women's (aka step-through) version has nice low clearance, and both versions provide a short reach to the grips and an upright riding position.

A few notes:

  • I won't say these things are heavy, because even a Smart Car weight a lot more, but they're not fun to carry up stairs. Fortunately that isn't much of an issue (see below).
  • You should never, I repeat, you should NEVER wear lycra, or "cycling clothing" while riding a Flying Pigeon. The full chaincase should be a good indication that business attire is welcome on board, as are bell bottoms, and palazzo pants, whatever those are.
  • Aside from the leather saddle, the bike is built to be parked outside. Cover the seat with a plastic bag when you park the bike. If you're riding in the rain, keep it covered and sit right on the bag. If it's sunny, stuff the bag under the seat, so you'll always have it handy.
  • Parked outside all-day-everyday, it might rust a little. So what? The entire thing is tough steel, and you didn't buy it because of the way it looks, did you? Actually, it appears that Flying Pigeons are something of a fashion accessory for some folks. Whatever floats your boat, but don't ask me to carry it up to your fourth-floor walk-up.
  • Speaking of steel: Many contemporary bikes have aluminium rims which have provide good braking power in wet and dry conditions. When aluminum rims get dented, however, they're pretty much scrap-metal. Steel rims, like those on the Pigeon, get slippery when wet, but if they become dented, can be hammered back into shape. Cool. Just be careful when its wet.
  • I've heard that NYC can be rough for bikes parked outside, but I have little experience in this area. Talk to a local bike shop about security, and take their advice. Definitely don't skimp on the lock. No one ever regretted not having something stolen. If you're not in NYC (e. g. if you're in DC), your Pigeon will be safe with a big honkin' lock--as long as you know how to use it.
  • I just learned that the Flying Pigeon brand has been declared a national treasure of China. Spectacular!

38 comments:

Duncan said...

Sorry to break it to you, but the Chinese phrase above isn't correct - what are you trying to say?

Zantar said...

I bought one of these in nyc and the seat and brakes broke in 1 day. My brakes went out while on the Brooklyn Bridge- and i had to use my feet to stop the bike. Terrifying. Don't buy these bikes- I took mine to a bike shop and they told me it was junk. I finally gave it away.

Tono Rocamora said...

Flying Pigeon remains China's bike, if only because much of the brand's existing rolling stock is still in service, many handed down through generations. These bicycles haven't been made for practising sport or having fun, but as a working tool. Chinese people (and now African people, their main market in 21st century, have to make a big economical effort to buy them, but it is worth for them because these bicycles last for a whole life. May be brakes and saddle of your bicycle were not correctly assembled instead of being broken, because it is very difficult to break something in a FLYING PIGEON even if you want to do it... If this bicycle was a junk, they could not have sold more than 75 million units since 1950, don’t you think so?

krylonultraflat said...

They've sold billions and billions of mcdonalds hamburgers, that doesn't make them not junk. That just means they continue to produce a product at a price people are willing to buy it at.

It's an interesting bike with an interesting history and a good set of utilitarian features. However the fact alone that it brakes poorly when wet is enough to keep me from ever purchasing one.

Freewheel said...

I'm glad this bike has finally been reviewed here. I believe those are Flying Pigeons in the banner picture.

Anonymous said...

$30 in China in 1993. I have fond memories of a university summer in Xiamen, China, ferrying around the prettiest Chinese-Canadian in my Mandarin class around town... I won't tell me wife that story when I buy one!

David said...

In responce to Duncan's comment about by the incorrect phrase, I believe I was trying to say, "Ride safely," but I guess it sounded more like, "Google's translation function is not that great."

Anonymous said...

I just imported about 18 tons of Flying Pigeons to the west coast of the U.S.

Zantars' bike sounds like a bicycle that was not put together properly. With that said, the bicycle priced for the low end market in transportation bikes - so the components are all steel (for better or worse).

Just today I had to pull a chain ring off of a bike because it had been improperly built and the chain teeth were uneven.

The bikes are built to take some serious damage and keep on rolling along. They are a few steps above the Magna or Pacific moutain bikes you find in department stores for $100+.

Anonymous said...

FYI, there is now also a Los Angeles shop carrying Flying Pigeons: flyingpigeon-la.com
They are a good source for bikes, parts, or advice.

Anonymous said...

Why do people drive vintage automobiles? Not because they are sleeker, more efficient, or even safer than the new ones. They buy them for their sense of nostalgia and looks. Because they are fun to drive. That's why people buy Flying Pigeons, or their look alike in the US. I own one and I love it. I love the curious questions I get when I ride it. That said, I'd love to own the original - a Raleigh 1932 Roadster, or similar Dutch bike (but I can't afford those).

Anonymous said...

Are these bikes only available in NYC? I liveon the west coast and have been wanting one since I saw it China.

Adam Q said...

where do i get one in NYC ? flying -P ? i went on the website give me a 404 error ? please someone send me a phone number ? thanks

David said...

Try the blog:
http://flyingpigeonnyc.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

They are starting to sell them at Morgan Imports in Durham NC. Men's and Ladies versions and also some adult sized tricycles and even cargo bicycles.

Anonymous said...

Opps try this www.flyingpigeondurham.com

Anonymous said...

Your final sentence in Chinese kinda make sense, it's just a little bit shuffled. It's like "Safe and ride bike your, Rest of us for a Bike".
=D

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Anonymous said...

I purchased 2 in Los Angeles & after the 3rd ride the brakes failed & I had to use my feet & bail off before colliding with a car. Every intersection is terrifying. By the time I made it home the bell & reflector had broken off. I've rode the bike 4 times total & my stomach turns with each pedal rotation for being taken.

I regret this purchase every time I see the pigeon in my garage. I'd pass to anyone interested in buying one.

Anonymous said...

Joe Bike in Portland, Oregon, is carrying the Pigeon, and they swap out the original rod brakes for v-brakes in the interest of safety here in rainy Portland. A friend of mine in Singapore just got one--$90 USD, delivered to his door--and loves it. He did suggest that I get the version with three gears, for a little help on hills. He's a racer, and he sheared a pedal off going uphill on his single-speed version, but maintains that it's a great getting-around-town machine.

Anonymous said...

That is good to know about the brake swap. Thank you for that tip, safety is a huge concern with the Pigeon.

I was not aware of a 3 gear version, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a FP and I love it!! I could not believe how much attention it received while riding around LA- practically a cult brand for it's vintage design.

My back brake went out because I didn't have it screwed in properly but that was a 2 minute fix. No worries.

If you need a sturdy city bike and aesthetics are important to you, stick with the FP.

Bop said...

DONT BUY FROM FLYING PIGEON NY....I GOT SCAMMED OUT OF $300 USD...FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME WITH ANY QUESTIONS THROUGH MY BLOG.

Joe Bike said...

Joe Bike in Portland (www.joe-bike.com) not only offers front caliper/rear coaster brakes, but we also replace the entire drivetrain, from the chain to the cottered crank with a cotterless (and lighter) one, to the pedals and chainring. The steel wheels are replaced by alloy, which are not only lighter and stronger but further improve braking. Thorn-proof tubes, Schwalbe whitewalls, choice of saddles, choice of single-speed, Sturmey 3-speed, or Nexus 8-speed.... In short, we've removed all that was wrong with the Pigeon and preserved all that was right and beautiful, then slapped a 2-year warranty on the whole thing.

Jay said...

I've been thinking of getting one of these for a while, but I just found one used on Craigslist. The owner got it in a trade and didn't know when or how the person he got it from got it. But, I have one now, it has 26" wheels... which is interesting because the ones sold by the guys in LA and NYC have 28". They seem to be the original wheels.. the tires are chinese and have absolutely no wear. The wheels need truing, but man.. the thing rides so smooth, and it's actually quite comfortable being that upright. I love it. I'm going to baby this thing for decades.

Anonymous said...

How is the flying pigeon different from the ubiquitous Indian roadster ? Here is a photo of Indian roadster bicycle.

I do agree that these are robust bicycles which you can literally throw around and still not damage them. They do rust overtime but the parts are dirt cheap and available in any bicycle shop.

For the record, I own an Indian roadster and love using it. The components are not the best of the breed but this is a utility bicycle and not meant for sports or speed. Oh yeah, It weighs over 25 KG.

Anonymous said...

I just bought one of these on ebay and I can't wait to try it out!

Freewheel said...

Anon 6/30/09 - After you try it out, please come back and give us the full report!

Grant said...

I've had one for about a year, and I like it very much. I replaced the wheels with 36 hole versions from an old English bike, and put an SRAM 7 speed internal gear hub in the rear and an electric hub motor on the front.

I've had to replace a couple of things on it, but nothing major. I bought it for $200 on ebay including shipping, though I have not seen that price for a while.

So no, it isn't a Raleigh DL-1, but it is pretty close and brand new, and 200 bucks. It's a well-built bargain that leaves you with enough money for a few upgrades.

Anonymous said...

I just bought my Flying Pigeon the same way Grant did. I am pretty disappointed in the bikeman who assembled it. All he had to say was that he had a difficult time assembling it, and that the bike has a shitload of problems. Needless to say, it wasn't a Trek mountain bike, so he didn't assemble it correctly... at all. I don't know what to do at this point and am feeling blue about the whole situation. Plus, I don't even know how to work the stupid light in the front.

Any suggestions?

Grant said...

Don't despair. Just take it to a different bike shop. These things are not hard to assemble. The brakes are a little unusual for the US. Look at the article on Flying Pigeon LA's site re rod brakes. Look also at the late Sheldon Brown's site on old Raleighs.

A lot of bike shops only want to deal with the latest expensive mountain bikes and road bikes, so call and ask first if they work on quirky older designs, and if they don't, ask them who does. It took me about three tries, but I found a sympathetic shop on a recommendation from another shop that wasn't oriented to these kinds of bikes.

Anonymous said...

Flying Pigeons - lovely bikes and yes, bits fall off of them regularly. See mine at www.shanghaicrashtest.com
In China there are bike repair guys on almost every block. In the US you are going to have to do it yourself.

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Anonymous said...

i had my FP for over 10 years. i took it for my first ride last week from santa ana ca to newport beach ca. its around 16 miles round trip.

my back and butt started to hurt from the ride though. i plan to get a comfortable seat and maybe add some areo bars for longer rides.

the bike is pretty rusty because its been sitting in my backyard for the past 4 years with the sprinklers on. so.... i wouldnt say it rust easily.

i assembled the bike my self and had no real problems with the brakes.

the thing that didnt work is the bell as its heavily rusted from the inside and the rear reflector is cracked/faded.

a picture of the beast
http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs339.ash1/29088_423918696201_514096201_5309919_303946_n.jpg

Anonymous said...

I think Indian Bicycles are Better in quality than those of Chinese. In Germany there is an online shop of Classical Indian Bicycles built since 1956 , K.W Brand. Those look sturdier. www.indienrad.de

Anonymous said...

Sure, you can import a flying pigeon and get it assembled for about $400.

OR, you can buy a KHS Green assembled at a local independent bike shop for $359, buy a stainless steel chain for another $40, AND be able to find spare tubes, tires, spokes, and other spare parts at any bike shop in North America.

Oh yeah, and you can brake in the rain.

You want utilitarian? Buy a 20 year old mountain bike with shimano deore parts on it and throw slick tires and fenders on it. Done and done for less than $300.

oishi ninja said...

Anyone know where I can get a Flying Pigeon in the Orange County CA area? Think it would be easy with so many Chinese around but none of the shop owners I ask know what I am talking about. Maybe its cause I don't speak Chinese.

nycflyingpigeon said...

HI all,

I've imported 40 men's bikes and 40 women's Traditional Flying PIgeon Bicycles to NYC. You can take a look on my website at nycflyingpigeon.com to see the selection and my contact information. The Flying PIgeon bicycle is a great bike if you put it together properly. Lot's of people don't take the time or have the patience to put it together and that is where the problems start. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Cheers,

Nathan

Dale said...

I have just purchased two FP from Los Angleles at two hundred dollars each, delivered. I put them together myself (I am a philosophy teacher, so if I can do it, anyone can). The one I kept original and the other I upped to a three-speed. They are great. Can one speed-demon on them, and expect an immediate stop with rod-breaks? No. But for city riding they ar great.