Chinese Language Blog

Flying Pigeons Forever Posted by on Jun 3, 2008 in Culture

More than any other city in any other country on earth, Beijing is a bicycle town. It is home to more than 10 million bikes and is accommodating to its bikers. Every road has a wide, sometimes very wide, bicycle lane on each side, and Beijingers make sure that the space is used. At all hours of the day, but especially for the several hours each morning and evening that comprise rush hour, bicycle lanes throughout the city are swarmed with riders. Riding a bike in China is not at all about being an environmentalist. You don’t ride for your health, or to make a statement. Since the days of the revolution, the Chinese ride because they need to get places.

Of the 100 million bicycles produced in the world every year, over a quarter of them are produced in Tianjin, a city about an hour’s train ride southeast of Beijing. While the city itself does not have much to offer, in the cyclist’s mind, it does produce at least one glorious product: the Flying Pigeon (Feige) bicycle. Fifty pounds of iron with rod brakes and little stopping power, the gearless Flying Pigeon was once the most ubiquitous bicycle in China. Deng Xiao Ping, Mao’s successor and the architect of China’s transition from a purely socialist command economy to a “socialist market economy” himself made the Henry Ford like declaration “A Flying Pigeon in every household” to showcase what economic progress had in store for the Chinese people. The company complied, offering the bike in any color you like, so long as it’s black. The Flying Pigeon’s chief competition, the Forever (Yongjiu) brand bicycle, looks very much the same: large tires, fenders, chain guard, kickstand, irritating bell, back package carrier, and handlebar basket. Together, the two brands serve to clog the bicycle arteries of Beijing and other biker friendly cities throughout China.

As the main mode of transportation for most Chinese in past years, it’s not uncommon to find whole three person families pedaling along the boulevard. Usually it’s Poppa pedaling, Junior squeezed into a makeshift seat on the front or back, and Mom sitting sidesaddle on the back. Nowadays, with the arrival of the passenger car, this has become less common. The venerable days of identical bicycles commuting Beijing’s streets are fast disappearing, with the Chinese middle class using their newfound wealth to buy cars rather than Flying Pigeons. The result is congestion, air pollution, dangerous biking conditions, and an environment overall less friendly towards using a bicycle as a main mode of transportation. Yet all is not lost for the Pigeon. As traffic becomes heavier, the wily biker on his trusty zì xíng chē (自行车) deftly maneuvering between stopped cars begins to look pretty smart in a sea of traffic.

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  1. Mountain Bike Reviews.:

    It is a very good article. Thank you!

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