Let’s all go out and not get Flying Pigeons!

Flying Pigeon, PA-06

I am by no means a bike expert. I’ve never entered a race, I don’t own a single pair of bike shorts, and when I catch a flat, I run to the nearest mechanic for assistance. I am, however, a person who enjoys biking.

I think it may have something to do with having been born in Los Angeles. There are too many sunny days to be squandered away smothered by the artificial climate of a smog-belching automobile. More than that, there are simply too many cars on the road. It is not just the other drivers who get to you, but yourself as well. California drivers are a self-loathing lot, fond of announcing, “There are simply too many cars on the road.”

A person can do a lot of thinking on a bicycle, and I most certainly have had some of my fondest reveries on bike rides. True, a person can do a fair amount of daydreaming in a car as well, but mostly these are imagined narratives between you and a police officer as to why you found it necessary to race through the red light, or between you and another driver who found it necessary to cut you off so that he or she could race through the red light. These are aggressive daydreams, and quite rightly shouldn’t even have the classification “dream” assigned to them.

A lot of nervous energy can also be expended on a bike ride, and the exercise one can get from biking is most certainly cheaper than a therapy session–not that therapy sessions are counterproductive. I’m also quite fond of therapy sessions. After a bike ride, I find that most of the anxiety built up inside has been wheedled out by the time I arrive at my destination.

However, where the benefits of bike riding are concerned, one can certainly turn to a whole host of websites and infographics (herehere, here, and here). I won’t waste your time any more on this subject.

What I want to talk about is the Flying Pigeon and why you should avoid getting one.

A few years ago, I had a used Schwinn road bike. It was swift as the wind and I liked it. Then, one day, I went to where I had locked it up only to discover that neither the lock nor the bike were around. It was a rather sad day, as it meant that I had to walk nearly three miles back from Claremont to Pomona where I lived. Fortunately, a kindly and rather attractive police officer who I reported the crime to gave me a ride back home, played his klaxon and tuned his radio to the local Top 40 station. A nice ending to an otherwise unfortunate day.

Not knowing much about bikes, I knew what I needed and I thought I knew how to go about looking for it. It had to be something rugged, yet comfortable. Something that could carry panniers so that I didn’t have to wear out my back with a backpack or get thrown off-balance by a messenger bag. Something that I could go for outings in and something to take home the groceries. And, I must admit to experiencing a certain degree of vanity: I wanted a bike that would cause people to say, “Oh, what a lovely bike you have, sir.”

I combed the Internet until I came across the Blogger-hosted Bikes For the Rest of Us. That sounded just like me.

And, here’s the description that sold me:

“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 the 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 kicking’ double kickstand.”

Nanjing, China. A bicyclist stands next to his PA-01 while a utility bike goes by.

So what if it weighed a ton? I lived in a downstairs apartment at the time, and didn’t anticipate carrying my Flying Pigeon anywhere. The more I thought of it, the more I liked it. Consider this, as well: the Flying Pigeon had been the bike of the Chinese people for well over 50 years. It is reportedly the single most popular mechanized vehicle in the planet, and what is more, according to the European Flying Pigeon website, former Chairman Deng Xiaopeng once defined prosperity as “a Flying Pigeon in every household.” Clearly, if it was this popular, and if it received such rave reviews for so long, it must be pretty good, right? And if anyone should know about bicycles, it should be the Chinese, right?

Yes, well so much for logic and fallacies of composition and bandwagons.

I didn’t mind. I wanted my Flying Pigeon. Imagine all those envious glances as I rode by. People, with quizzical expressions on their faces, would ask, “What is that?” And I would in a casual air inform them, “Oh, it’s what the Chinese ride, you know.” Then, these people would want to touch me and get to know me and be my friend, some would even offer to buy me a beer and shake my hand. And I, the Pride of Pomona Valley, would politely tell them all, “You’ll just have to wait in line, folks.”

(I also must admit that I have for a long time coveted Pee Wee’s bike from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.)

(I also must admit that I have for a long time coveted Pee Wee’s bike from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.)

I found a rather inexpensive dealer online and made my purchase. Actually, to tell the truth, it wasn’t too difficult to find an inexpensive Flying Pigeon dealer. They’re quite cheap to begin with. Sixty years of mass production and all, I suppose.

A few notes about my own Flying Pigeon.

Among the traditional models, there are three: the PA-02, the PA-06, and the PB-13. In reverse order, the PB-13 is the women’s version of the PA-02. The PA-06 (which I purchased) is not too different from the PA-02, except that it has a double-tube top and is reportedly strong enough to carry pigs to market. The one reviewed on “Bikes for the Rest of Us” is a PA-02. As Bicycling‘s Dan Koeppel describes in his article “Flight of the Pigeon”:

“The classic Flying Pigeon is the PA-02, an indestructible, singlespeed colossus with 28-inch wheels, fenders, a fully covered chain, a rear rack and push-rod brakes. (A handlebar lever connects directly to the brake pads via a thin shaft of steel; there’s no leverage, no adjustability and very little stopping power.) Like Ford’s Model T, any color you want is available, as long as you want black.”

Today, in China, they cost about 240 yuan or $30. At around $200, my PA-06 cost considerably more than this. In this sense, I may have paid as much as that fabled farmer who offered to trade his entire crop to speed up the delivery of his Flying Pigeon. However, what with international delivery and all, I suppose $200 is a reasonable price to pay. Americans pay too much for everything anyway. It’s our way.

In about a week’s time, it arrived at my apartment in a heavy container the size of a box for a large flat-screen TV. After settling the contents on the floor of my apartment and giving the bike a thorough going over with my cat, I quickly surmised that I was in over my head and had it assembled by the local bike repair shop.

My PA-06 resting rather innocently on my apartment patio.

Immediately, the bike had the effect I had anticipated. Well, somewhat. The owner certainly was surprised to see a Flying Pigeon. At the same time, he seemed perplexed as to why anyone would be foolish enough to purchase one of these things.

Problems started cropping up immediately. There were a few missing parts, and the dealer had to be contacted to deliver them to the bike shop. This problem resolved, the next issue was the fact that each of the parts were irregular sizes. Or, rather, I would assume that they are perfectly normal-shaped parts in China, but they were nonstandard in the United States. As a consequence of this, and perhaps because of the way this particular Flying Pigeon was manufactured, the folks at the bike shop found it impossible to get any of the nuts and screws to properly tighten up. I received a telephone call informing me that the bike was ready, but that I shouldn’t expect much.

One of the first issues that needed to be addressed was how to mount the thing. Because the seat could not be adjusted, short people like me would have a difficult time getting on top of it. Apparently, the one-size-fits-all style was standard 60 years ago, and the shop owner, who was no taller than me, demonstrated how to climb aboard. Standing on the pedal of one side of the bike, you give yourself a little push, and then swing your other leg over onto the other side, and begin peddling. This is no different from mounting a horse, or so I’d imagine.

I never really got used to mounting the bike, preferring instead to find a nice concrete step and hop on thusly.

On the ride home, I didn’t have too much trouble for the first half-mile or so. As the reviewers had all indicated, the bike was indeed heavy and the brakes were insubstantial. But, at least I was moving, somewhat. The thing rattled considerably, and it sounded as though each of the nuts and screws were coming apart simultaneously. Then, suddenly (though not expectedly) as I neared the street where I lived, both the saddle and handlebar came loose, the seat swiveling one way and the handlebar the other way, and me off into the air and towards a brambly patch of rosemary.

The nice outfit I had planned to go to work in was now in tatters and I was a disappointed, though not unpleasantly smelling, mess.

So, it was back to the repair shop again. The mechanic tightened a few things here and twisted a few things there, gave me the same warning as before to not expect much, and I was off again.

For a while, all was well. I wobbled and hobbled from destination to destination with hardly the air of confidence and distinction that I would have imagined that I’d radiate.

At one point, I got into an accident with another car. Considering how heavy my bicycle was, it was probably one of the few bike accidents involving a motor vehicle where the insurance companies would express a greater level of concern for the well-being of the driver than the cyclist. The young woman, drained of color, was panic-stricken and apologetic. She shouldn’t have been. Given the uselessness of the brakes and the poor steering radius of my Flying Pigeon, I would have to say the fault lay entirely with me. But since no one was claiming damages, the matter was forgotten.

At the Pomona Goodwill: the last I ever saw of my PA-06. This is what betrayal looks like.

About a month later, I surrendered to the inevitable fact that I had made a poor decision. The seat and handles still felt wobbly, the pedals were disintegrating, and it was only a matter of time before the entire steel monstrosity shuddered apart.

In all that time, the bike only managed to strike one conversation. Passing by a convenience store, I was stopped by a South Asian gentleman who asked me the make of my bike. “Is that a Raleigh?” he asked.

It did rather resemble some of the old classic Raleigh touring bicycles. He told me how my bike rekindled memories of his old Raleigh, which he said was used for hauling all sorts of things back and forth up and down the hills in his native town in India.

As he told me all of this, all that I could think of was, “I wish I had gotten the Raleigh.”

And, that was about it. There was nothing more that could be done and the bike would be taking up space. Better to give it away to someone who could repair it or show it off. I saved the bell as a memento. This was the first bicycle I had ever owned that I hadn’t lost because it was stolen.

Calling it quits, I pedaled my Flying Pigeon to a local Goodwill. Along the way, I tried to veer away from a pair of young men walking on the sidewalk, and stumbled headfirst into the street. They helped right me again, and my bike and I limped forward towards our final journey together.

“That’s a nice bike,” the man at the Goodwill station said.

It was, actually.

In a way, I felt bad about leaving it. Something akin to betrayal. In the world of computer programming, one is taught the acronym, GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. In essence, there is no such thing as a computer error, only human errors. The fault lies with the programmer. With my Flying Pigeon, the fault, I felt, lay with me. A more capable individual conforming to the code of “make do and mend” would have found a way.

I was not that individual.

Now, I should add that the fault could have been with the manufacturer or the dealer. Perhaps I had not purchased a “certified” Flying Pigeon. I’ll never know. For those not dissuaded by my review, there are a few dealers that sell these. One is called Flying Pigeon LA. Another is a website called The Flying Pigeon. On that site, you’ll be greeted by a sepia-tinted video of a hip lad and lass riding their Pigeons around the not-so-mean streets Vancouver. The reviewer of People’s Bike gave this site positive reviews, going as far as to call it “Fucking awesome.” I’m not sure, however, if this person has ever ridden a Flying Pigeon, or he or she might have rescinded this exclamation. Who knows? You might have better luck with one of these dealers. Of all people, they should know how to repair it should something go awry. As for me, if forced to choose between the two, I think I’d purchase the Raleigh next time.

For now, though, I’m quite content with my Giant Escape, recommended this time by the bike dealer.

And now, for your amusement, a film featuring Europeans not falling off of their Flying Pigeons:

One thought on “Let’s all go out and not get Flying Pigeons!

  1. i have a flying pigeon pa-06, my dad sent it home from china in the 70′s , and passed it on to me, they are cool to ride. I’m sorry your pigeon didn’t fly so well so to speak(it very well could have been an imitation,china is pretty much the counterfit capital for pretty much every conceivable product known to man). I did manage to fuck it up a little busted a spoke, one of the kickstand springs came off and it needs a little work( a tune up basically , which I don’t really have time to repair in my spare time or have extra cash to let them deal with it.. Anyway I found another very cool looking bike thats more practical, they are called ‘mixte’s’ they have double cross bar but its very different, mine is a made in france motobecane, they are more road bikes but i’m sure you could some hefty road tires (not mtn,or hybrid tires, but thick road bike tires)..heres a site with some pics of some mixte’s, they are very user friendly and look bad ass so check em out — http://oldtenspeedgallery.com/owner-submitted/aaron-ds-bitchin-green-motobecane-mixte-france/#.UFQHi9071I8

    as you can seem the frames have like double bars, in a few different places anyway sorry about your expierence with the pigeon,,,good luck and happy biking……btw I ride a mountain bike 90% of the time , cause I like just crushin the pavement, I ride a 2007 (i think) Gary Fisher Tarpon, aslo got a Cannondale Adventure 3 hybrid, which is the shit to ride, but i’m trying to keep it in mint condition so I can sell it, when I’m in a super tight spot financially(now ). anyway i’m ramblin my ten speed is a Bridgestone sport touring 200(from the 80s) all steel its a road warrior anyway… im ramblin again, i enjoyed your review thanks SEAN L.

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