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The Pigeons have landed: Legendary Chinese bicycles now available in Portland

Posted by on October 29th, 2008 at 2:56 pm

The Flying Pigeon (starts at $350) was an institution during China’s biking heyday. Now they’re available in Portland.
(Photos: Joe Doebele)

Portland-based bike importer and re-seller Joe Doebele has received his first shipment of the classic Flying Pigeon city bikes from China along with a new cargo bike he’s calling the “Carrier Pigeon”.

Doebele (I wrote about his bike industry incubator a few weeks ago) says he’s in the process of modifying the bikes and he’s working to prepare a new retail showroom he’ll open up on SE Hawthorne (at 40th) at the end of November.

Both the standard city bike and the cargo bike models aren’t ready for Portland streets right out of the box, so Doebele is making modifications before he sells them. The plan is to swap out the cheap parts and replace them with higher-quality ones in order to, “get rid of all the weaknesses”.

Fresh off the boat from China, these new, bakfiets-inspired cargo bikes will be heavily modified and a base model will sell for around $1,500.

With the Carrier Pigeon (above), Doebele says he’s completely “re-purposing” the bike. He’ll install a new chainring, bottom bracket, handlebars, saddle, and will even make modifications to the wooden box. Doebele says he wants this bike to be used for cargo hauling, and not as a child-carrier. He told me today that,

“Van Andel (a famous Dutch bakfiets pioneer) was the first designer to make the bakfiets something for families, women and children. I want to make my version unique and take the bakfiets back to where it started…when it was more of a work bike.”

With a base model starting at $1,500 (less than half the cost of the Portland or Dutch-made versions), more businesses than ever will be able to afford one.

Nifty features of the Carrier Pigeon are an 8-speed internal Sturmey Archer hub, a dynamo front hub that powers a light that turns off during the day and comes on automatically at night, a rear light that’s actuated by the rear brake lever, a full chain guard, a rear-view mirror that extends from the handlebars, and more.

The women’s version in pink.

The standard Flying Pigeon city bikes were the de facto standard mode of transportation in China’s biking heyday. Like the Carrier Pigeons, Doebele says he’ll swap out the lower-quality parts they come with and replace them with Portland-worthy components (including better brakes, cranks, pedals, etc…).

The Flying Pigeons (which look a lot like the Batavus Old Dutch I tested back in January) come with 28-inch all-steel wheels, a generator front headlight, full chain-guard and a frame pump. Doebele says they have a “beautiful” ride and they come in a men’s (with twin top-tube) and women’s (step-through) version.

The bikes come in black, dark green, or “bold pink” and are available in a single or three-speed version for a retail price between $350-500.

Both of the bikes are available for test rides and purchase by appointment only. Doebele hopes to be fully moved into his showroom (where he’ll also have Yuba Mundos for sale) at 3953 SE Hawthorne before Thanksgiving.

More info at FlyingPigeonPDX.com and PortlandRides.com.

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Comments
  • PdxMark October 29, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I had a version of one of those that was made in Thailand. It was a bear to ride, so I sold it. Beyond the weight I could never figure out why it was so hard/slow to ride. Better parts would help alot.

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  • Todd B October 29, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Doebele – Good luck.

    I am glad you are upgrading the weak parts on these bikes for the local market. I have ridden them in China and other Asian countries. (But there they are $150…so you get what you pay for.)

    The prices reflect this and the amount of work necessary to make them ‘mechanic free’ as Portland transportation.

    The Chinese ‘bak-fiets’ has also hit the markets in Amsterdam a couple of years ago (sold at large hypermarts). I was not impressed with what I saw on the street for ~$800, but the promised upgrades may make the difference for ridability.

    PS. The one big benefit you get by purchasing most traditional Dutch city bikes is that they are made to be stored out in the rain…the metal work does not rust like a typical made for the US market bike would.

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  • Icarus falling October 29, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Good luck!

    I have to say it looks like a tank, and the angles appear to be a nightmare to ride and to steer.

    I have an oLd, old Batavus with the Howling Wolf Head badge, a front rod brake, and the sticker from the original bike shop it was sold at, and it is a scary ride in itself.

    I really do not understand the fascination with this style of bikes.

    For that I apologize. Sort of.

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  • red hippie October 29, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    It is nice to see more choice in the cargo market with the introduction of the Bikefiet knock-off, Madsen, Mundo and Kona. I just hope the chinese versions are not made in some slave labor camp run by the military.

    Cheers

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  • P Finn October 29, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    All-Steel Wheels!

    Great!

    For Arizona!

    Wet weather + rim brakes + steel = not so bueno…

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  • Nick October 29, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Agreed on the steel wheels. I’m guessing (hoping) they’ll be part of the upgrade.

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  • Afro Biker October 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Isn’t this exactly the kind of crap we should be avoiding?

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  • John October 29, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Want!
    Would be awesome for cruising around downtown Vancouver…

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  • mac October 29, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    is it me or is there a certain irony in cheap transport for the communist chinese masses (the pigeon) being sold as expensive niche transport to americans?

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  • Anonymous October 29, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    It would be ironic to ride such an environmentally friendly form of transportation which is manufactured in a country that has such low regard for the environment. And human rights.

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  • Karl October 29, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    It looks like a relic out of Mao Zedong’s basement.

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  • SkidMark October 29, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Boutique Bikes – from China? I have no words…

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  • Zaphod October 29, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    It’s good to have choices but sometimes seeing what the low end looks like makes a convincing argument for a European or locally made bike.

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  • beth h October 29, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    More cargo bikes! Yippee!

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  • anonymous October 29, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Pigeons seem to be falling in quality according to many who have visited China (buying one to get around on an extended stay) and had all kinds of issues with them. Why bring them here? $350 would buy a nice to ride, long lasting, low maintenance, decent new-modern style commute bike.

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  • chris October 29, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    The funny part of this is that I just got back from Shanghai and I saw very few ‘traditional’ Chinese bikes parked at the factories I visited. Instead, I saw what I see in factories and day labor sites here in America; scores of cheap, kmart mountain bikes that are beat to s***!

    Globalization has made the flying pigeon a dream that just is not true anymore. They belong in the LL Bean catalog or maybe Restoration Hardware?

    But I did love the physically separate bike lanes in Shanghai…they rocked!

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  • Tinkle October 30, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Huh? For $300-$500 you could get a pretty nice bike made out of aluminum that wouldn’t rust, it would be a helluva lot lighter and it wouldn’t be from China.

    I know a lot of people take fashion over function, but these bikes are a little ridiculous. Have fun taking that rear wheel off on the side of the road when you get a flat.

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  • Seth October 30, 2008 at 7:55 am

    OK, OK, lets take a step back here and recognize that Joe is working to bring in another option for bike based transportation. And, he has already stated that long-term he will be working to source more and more locally…remember that he was the driving force behind a bike incubator here in Portland. In the short term, this was probably the best way to get everything rolling and build up a business that will hopefully do more locally in the long run as demand continues to grow. I’d rather see somebody riding a bike from China instead of driving a car.

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  • Coyote October 30, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Joe, leave the cottered crank on mine please. As long as I have a coaster brake in back, I am ok with joke brake up front and the steel wheels too.

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  • k. October 30, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I agree with many of the comments here. If these bikes take people out of cars, maybe it’s worth it. But yes, more cheap crap from China, be it bikes or otherwise, also has its negative implications. Those bikes get shipped around the world to us; not exactly the most sustainable model, not to even get into the whole ‘Chinese financing of the US debt’ thing.

    Depending on your view points, there may be a lot more to think about here then just buying a bike.

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  • Tbird October 30, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Funny that everyone is all wound up about a bike “made in China”. News flash: the World’s bike industry is based in China. That includes your Trek Portland or absolutely any production bike that almost any of us are currently riding. Along with just about everything else you own. So why be so critical of bikes in particular? Your TV, clothes, the computer on which you’re viewing this blog, the list is endless.
    As for boutique bikes; that couldn’t be further from the truth. The high end carbon road and cross bikes are truly
    boutique. It’s just that they are the norm today in the US, instead of functional city transport machines like these.
    If you truly don’t want a bike made in China there are 2 options:
    European made bikes, like the Clever Cycles city bikes
    Or
    A multi-thousand dollar custom locally made bike that is the purest essence of boutique.

    Good Luck to Joe.

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  • Mark October 30, 2008 at 10:20 am

    So, am I mistaken or are most sub-750 dollar commuter market bikes not already produced in China? The irony is that while Chinese bikes are taking us out of our cars, the export-dollar-fueled Chinese transportation system is embracing automobiles as if the whole country were some kind of mega-Los Angeles in 1950.

    The idea that increased options = good for cycling-as-transport is also slightly off-kilter. How many options do we really need to support our sustainable/practical transportation ethos? The infinite proliferation of options is what makes consumerism unsustainable.

    When you take baseline practicality and successfully confuse it with limitless choice then you’ve done something impressive from a marketing standpoint. That’s a much more clever job than convincing amateur racer guy to spend $2700 on the new Dura Ace groupset.

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  • pabstslut October 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Just to clarify, most bikes with a retail price under $400-$600 (depending on model and manufacturer) are made in China. Most models above this price are made in Taiwan. Taiwan took over Japan’s role as maker of midrange bikes around the beginning of the MTB boom. Level of quality for Taiwanese bikes is substantially better than their (mainland) Chinese counterparts.

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  • Toby October 30, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Thank you #21 and #22 for stating much more clearly what I was thinking. Being ignorant on the topic, I would never argue the fine points, but check the stickers people. Unless you’re shelling out some serious coin, yours is probably made in China. My Surly’s Taiwanese and wouldn’t trade it for the world (excuse the hyperbole). The only real difference is that these are being sold *AS* Chinese bikes.

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  • red hippie October 30, 2008 at 11:58 am

    T-bird,

    My Trek portland was made in Taiwan, you know the “good” china. They have automated frame fabrication plants that result in incredible consistency of quality product. Last I saw, Taiwanees standard of living, environemntal concern, social health care, education rates and class mobility where heads and tails above China’s.

    The other thing I don’t get, is that the flying pigeon appears to be a direct copy of british pashleys. If you really want to bring something new or historic, then stock the pashleys with have already been modernized, yet retain the classic lines.

    Just like walmart, It comes down to money. People forget about quality if they think they are getting a deal.

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  • todd October 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    @25, clever does stock pashley, as well as brompton and moulton (english made). and dutch, german, chinese and taiwanese-made bikes. feature for feature and taking assembly quality into account, they all seem to me to offer roughly equivalent value for money as transportation, generally higher than that of “normal” bikes in the US, with their sport-oriented obsession with low weight, aerodynamics, tight clearances, compact geometry, and maintenance-intensive exposed everything. and what’s with lights, fenders, rack, locks, kickstands costing extra?

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  • Lodel October 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I’ll buy one. These style of bikes are super comfortable and great for flatter areas around the city. Hunched over road bikes are for racing. These are perfect for cheap city transport.

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  • SkidMark October 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    The standards for quality materials and production are much higher in taiwan than in China. Wal-Mart bikes come from China. Outsourced Treks come from Taiwan.

    It’s interesting that a 21 speed aluminum rimmed full-suspension MTB is $99 but a singlespeed bike using the same tooling as the day it was first designed is $300, and it has steel rims. That must be one expensive set of fenders. Maybe the bike bell is platinum.

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  • Miamese October 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    No chance of surplus rod-brakes? I’d love to see bikes like the Gazelle Toer Populair around here. I wonder how the chinese Bakfiets handles compared to the Workcycles version.

    Skidmark: Solid chrome rims?

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  • Ken Wetherell October 30, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    An important distinction sets the Flying Pigeon apart from other products manufactured in China and imported to the U.S.. The FP is THE bike that has been made FOR the Chinese people for several decades. It is an important part of bicycle history that runs China’s streets and dirt roads in the millions.

    I am usually the guy who cringes at yet another sighting of a “Made In China” label. But you know, the FP has a completely different effect on me.

    There will be many who welcome this famous bike in a city that loves bikes as much as Portland.

    Congratulations to Joe for taking the leap in offering this option! I can’t wait to ride a Flying Pigeon for the first time. It will be an honor.

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  • Clem October 31, 2008 at 7:21 am

    I don’t think that anyone will be buying the Flying Pigeon thinking it is the latest and greatest in bike technology. Its appeal is its classic looks and its history. It’s not some sort of new “retro” bike, but has been made for decades with few changes, and was based on Raleigh designs from the early 1900s. It is history you can ride. That said, I’m sticking with my old Raleigh. For those concerned about the consumerism this represents, I think it is safe to say that even if Americans had only half the wealth we now have, we would still relish choices of things to buy (face it, we are an industrialized society and barter-and-trade is not likely to become the dominant economy anytime soon) – and I think it would be amazing progress if bikes were the focus of consumer lust, instead of cars. They’re a heck of a lot cheaper.

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  • SkidMark November 1, 2008 at 12:29 am

    History you can ride? I’ve seen some NICE 1960′s Schwinn Cruisers going for around $300. That’s history you can ride.

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  • JB July 8, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I recently picked up a second hand Flying Pigeon. I didn’t know anything about bikes, and it looked and felt nice to me. I’d never ridden a “dutch” bike before and I love the easy upright ride. I also appreciated the honesty of finally buying something truely Chinese.

    I know, it’s backwards. I go out of my way (and wallet) to try to buy American. Seeing a Chinese product that was all about being Chinese was refreshing. I get mad when I see those tool companies who stick a flag on their packaging and their US address and then you read the fine print… “Made in China to standards established in our US factory”

    So, yeah, I’m a sucker, the bike is great, but it’s awful too. It has the original rod brakes which suck. One already broke on me. luckily I could fix it with a more permanent system replacing the smooth rod system with a threaded rod that won’t slip.

    I also had to replace a back tire already. That was a huge pain. BUT I did it, and hopefully down the line I’ll swap in a 3 speed internal hub. I like tinkering, so it’s a fun bike for that kind of thing. It’s not for someone who doesn’t like wrenching at all, or solving problems that pop up.

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  • doc August 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    $350??? for what was know the entry level commuter in China. you do know this thing goes for 325 Yuan ($47) new and 80 Yuan ($11) used in China right? I doubt they use $300 worth of upgrade on this bike.

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  • Matt September 5, 2012 at 3:30 am

    I like it. I can agree with arguments about the ease of ride, or mechanical quality. But like someone said, it is a simple bike for a tinkerer. It is a symbol of the everyman in China, not the cheap mass produced stuff that’s churned out at lightspeed today, that the western world buys whether it likes it or not. At one point, millions were in use in Beijing alone. So this is a sort of classic, retro feel.
    If it feels good, have one. If you don’t like it, you needn’t think up arguments based on political bias – would you feel better if it was an Indian model, or a the old Ukraina? Hey they’re our friends now.

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  • paintbikedog December 6, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Definitely with Matt. I picked up a Flying Pigeon, exactly because I wanted something classic-ish to learn to work on. And I wouldn’t be too burned out $$$ or dismayed if I ruined it.

    I’ve replaced half the parts on it, as they’ve fallen off, and learned quite a bit about bike wrenching, repacked bearings, hammered cotters, etc. I even commute on it semi-regularly. (I get to take quiet country paths – I wouldn’t want to ride this in intense big city traffic) Very fun!

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