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Flying Pigeons Forever


new internationalist
issue 239 - January 1993

Flying pigeons forever
Bikes are best - in China they are a way of life, at the hub
of a wheel that reaches round the Third World.

Pedal, chain, wheels and frame - the basic design of the bicycle is as near perfect as a machine can be. And bikes are good for you, too. For every person who takes a trip by bike rather than by car there is less pollution, less fuel used, less space taken on the road and one healthier person.

The world's 800 million bicycles outnumber cars by two to one and almost half of them are in China. In the US there are fewer bicycles than cars: in China there are 250 times as many.

Between them, the 'Flying Pigeon' factory in Tianjin and the 'Forever' factory in Shanghai produce almost seven million bicycles every year. The parts are sent out in kit form to be assembled by hundreds of local distributors. So employment in the bicycle industry is spread widely across the country.

The 'Flying Pigeon' factory exports to 32 countries, particularly to the Third World where sturdy, durable design and low-cost components are essential. China makes all the bicycles sold in Bangladesh, where they are an important working tool and the basic means of transport for millions of people - 40 per cent of daily trips in Dacca are made by bicycle.

People who earn their living by pedalling for public transport suffer severely from exhaustion and damage to their bone structures; they seem to be just one step away from beasts of burden. The factory work, though relatively clean and healthy, is still repetitive and unrewarding. Nonetheless, people who work with bicycles seem to share a sense of common endeavour.

Industrial countries have as many bikes per head as in Asia, but tend to use them less. The good citizens of Groningen in the Netherlands, however, make half their daily trips by bike - more even than in Beijing, China. Tianjin, home of the 'Flying Pigeon', tops the world league, with three-quarters of daily trips made by bike. That may not make the people of Tianjin the happiest and healthiest in the world - but it should help.

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