Wherefore art thou Pigeon?

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

What do the Chinese communist revolution, the oldest domesticated bird, and brain science all have in common? They all inform the name Steel Pigeon. Because many of our guests ask the reason for the name, I thought I'd put together a little overview.

Reason 1: The Most Popular Thing on Two (or Four) Wheels

Initial consideration of the name was planted by my sister Andrea, who suggested that I riff on "Flying Pigeon", the classic Chinese bicycle of same name. The deep history of this commuter bike is fascinating, and resonates well with the spirit of our tours.

Firstly, production of the Flying Pigeon beginning in 1950, helping to usher in the Chinese Kingdom of Bicycles, a time when the Republic encouraged ownership of three functional (but sophisticated) essentials: a bike, a wristwatch, and a sewing machine. Consequently, Flying Pigeons have become the most numerous vehicle of any class, worldwide, ever, exceeding total production of 500 million! Pictured below, this bicycle design is dependable, simple, and sleek. Originally intended to be strong yet beautiful (their logo is actually a white pigeon, or dove), they became (according to wikipedia) a symbol of "an egalitarian social system that promised little comfort but a reliable ride through life. "

Reason 2: Pigeons are Master Explorers of Cities

Aren't they? How many building-ledges, park-benches, alleyways have you seen WITHOUT a pigeon near by. Well, ok, but you get my point. As the world's oldest domesticated bird, their feral cousins have spread to nooks and crannies in cities and towns all over the globe.

Reason 3: Pigeons are Damn Smart

Most people have heard of smart crows, but few have heard about smart pigeons, and fewer still have heard just how smart they are. In his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, author and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains how that pigeons have amazing discriminatory visual and auditory senses. Yes, the they can distinguish human faces from one another, but even more impressively they can actually learn to generalize in the arenas of fine art and classical music, discriminating between Monets and Renoirs, and identifying compositions of Bach as being separate from those of Stravinsky!  Pigeons are intelligent.Taking a tour with us is intelligent. 'Nuff said.

Reason 4: The Real, The Friendly, and the Active

You know what a Stool Pigeon is,right? Also known as a "snitch or a rat" they're someone who sits around sedentary-like eavesdropping, pretending to be something they aren't, and not making any meaningful connections with people. In contrast, a Steel Pigeon (and all our guests become honorary Steel Pigeons) is someone who likes to move, make friends, and see the true heart of the city!

And last but not least, Reason 5: Steel--An Alloy for the Ages

While there are bicycle enthusiasts of a somewhat more serious bent--those who embrace the latest and greatest synthetic materials and designs (think, spandex, clip-in-shoes, and carbon-fibre)--we prefer a more vintage, simple style/aesthetic. Our bikes are lovely, classic models, made of that same time-honoured, sensible, and traditional carbon-nickle composite that has been used forever to reinforce the girders of Ottawa's bridges, mint its coins, and build its architecture: strong, safe, shiny steel.

So when the day comes (as it no doubt always does) when a friends asks you for the name of that bike tour you took while you were in Ottawa, tell them that the name is a carefully considered combination of of bicycle history, ornithology, metallurgy, neurobiology, and slang. Or just say Steel Pigeon!

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