Big Read: Flight of fantasy

The Flying Pigeon
The Flying Pigeon

MCN reader Mike Pringle hopes his fantastical home-built Flying Pigeon will capture the imagination of a new generation

In a world where youngsters are facing sky-high insurance premiums, barmy licensing procedures and kit that the pay from a Saturday paper round just won’t cover, it’s hardly surprising that fewer of them are falling in love with bikes.

But one MCN reader wants to help rebuild the rickety relationship between motorcycling and inquisitive minds in the most leftfield way, with the help of a mad machine called The Flying Pigeon.

Mike Pringle
Naturally, Mike’s creation has hot drinks available

How it all began

Mike Pringle, 62, has been on two wheels ever since he was a teenager, cutting his teeth on a BSA C15 then going on to forge a life-long love of bikes. These days, Mike has a garage of old and new machines including trusty favourites such as Honda’s VFR and Suzuki’s V-Strom – as well as something altogether less ordinary lurking in the shed…

‘As a kid I loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Wacky Races’

You see, Mike isn’t just a biker, he’s a creative; and 20 years ago he was keen to somehow bring his passion for motorcycling into his creative world, which led to him penning a rather fantastical book featuring the most bizarre bike we’ve ever seen.

Sporting propellers, a teapot, and a caterpillar track rear, amongst other weird and wonderful objects, it’s just the thing for firing up the imagination, whether you’re a kid – or a big kid. But what inspired Mike to build such a bonkers bike?

The Flying Pigeon
The pigeon looks slightly bemused

“I had the idea of this character called Norton Rucksack,” he explains. “He wants to enter a race across India and decides to build a machine that will cope with all the different terrains he might meet, including flying across the Himalayas at the end.”

After writing Norton Rucksack and the Last Teabag, Mike gave his fantasy machine more thought and started work creating the systems panel on the tank, vital to the bike and the story, to take with him to show potential publishers. But he didn’t stop there.

A former illustrator, Mike ended up drawing the contraption to accompany the book he had written, but little did he know that it would end up being the blueprint of his altogether crazy build.

Flying Pigeon control panel
The control panel is pure steam punk

Catch the pigeon…

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was my big movie when I was a kid,” Mike says, “and Wacky Races… I loved all those machines! They just fire my imagination. I love that idea of doing and thinking sideways. I like making anything out of anything.”

After building the systems panel to take with him to show to book publishers, Mike couldn’t help himself, and began sourcing parts for the rest of the bike.

“The weird thing was, as I started to build it, I got into a completely different mode as I was building something that didn’t exist.

Actually having something that didn’t exist right in front of you that you could physically do things with just became more and more fascinating. I ended up building the whole bloody thing!

“Like an idiot I stuck to the drawing which meant finding weird bits such as the handle off an old-style drill, and even a flush from a toilet,” he laughs.

He sourced the frame from a Royal Enfield Bullet that had been left in a garage after it was written off in an accident, which he then had to extend and fabricate a new part to accommodate the track at the rear of the bike.

Flying Pigeon
Don’t forget to take your toothbrush

The wheels in the track are from a moped, and the rubber came from some farmyard equipment.

But when it came to sourcing the parts, Mike hadn’t realised what a task it would end up being.

“You didn’t have eBay back then,” he chuckles. “It was difficult, but it meant that it was like a hobby. I would need to find fans, so I would go around to all these shops looking for fans that were the right sort of shape and size.

“Then there’s the thrill. The tailplane is a wing off a model aeroplane. They didn’t have the plane, only the wings! Of course, nobody else wanted it, but it was perfect for me.”

Inspired by upcycling, other features include an old-style telephone, complete with extra listening piece, a control panel that Mike crafted out of cardboard that sits on the tank, and the rotors which are made from skirting boards… and of course, the contraption is topped with a plastic pigeon, giving the far-fetched flying machine its name.

Unfortunately, even though Mike worked to his specs on the sketch he created for the book, the bike doesn’t currently run… but the propellers and lights do!


Britain’s best bike engineer on the Flying Pigeon

Allen Millyard

‘Imagine if it could really fly…’

Allen Millyard is famed for his outlandish machines, but what does he think of Mike’s creation?

“It’s a fantastic-looking machine. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it could be made to fly? It reminded me of that TV programme from a couple of years ago with David Walliams when he built a flying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and it ended up being a bit like a drone. I don’t know what you’d have to do to get the Pigeon to fly, as I didn’t have time to get an in-person look at it at the London Show, but I think it’d just be fantastic to see it powering its own track while the rotor was going round. It’d definitely capture the imagination of youngsters, which is exactly what it was designed to do.”

Landing on stage

Despite turning his vision into reality, the Flying Pigeon failed to capture the imagination of any publishers at the time, which meant the crackers contraption receded into a corner of Mike’s modest Swindon garage, where it remained for the best part of two decades. It was only back in January, while assessing his at-home bike inventory, that Mike dusted off the Pigeon and plunged the mad machine back into the limelight.

In February, the Flying Pigeon made its debut at the Devitt MCN London Motorcycle Show, with Mike taking to the stage on Charley Boorman’s Adventure Basecamp to share his project with the biking community. But Mike hopes that’s just the start of the Flying Pigeon’s journey with hopes to inspire children as well as adults to get into motorcycling and adventure, and of course, get the book published.

“Children’s reactions aren’t radically different from adults,” says Mike. “Since I got it out again, both a six-year-old and, to my surprise and delight, an 18-year-old, were both absolutely taken with it! The idea that I could do anything that was going to appeal to an 18-year-old blew my mind.

“I like to think that it’s softening the idea of bikes. I like that it’s getting away from the assumption that you have to be a certain sort of person where you have to have all the gear and go fast all the time.

“It shows that there are no rules. You can do what you like!”

Mike Pringle
‘Hello, am I cleared for take-off now?’

The Lego generation

But Mike thinks that his build doesn’t go far enough to help kids think ‘sideways’.

“I want kids to do what they want. The issue with something like Lego is that it’s hard to just buy Lego to build things now – it comes as kits. So, it’s all predetermined.

“It’s the same with so many things which weren’t the case when I was a kid – you had to do your own thing – like go-karts: every child had at some point built one or had a go in one, whereas parents now go out and buy an electric toy car – my dad would’ve never had done that!

‘It shows that there are no rules. You can do what you like!’

“But it doesn’t matter, there are no rules really. Motorbikes can have three wheels if you want. That’s the sort of thing I think you could get across to kids – that lateral thinking works for anything. It works not just for motorbikes and building things, but it’s a way of realising that whoever you are is fine.”

With the Pigeon back out and proud after 20 years, Mike hopes this is the start of a whole new adventure for his concept.

“Now it has been resurrected and I’ve got 20 more years of experience of writing, I can see where all the problems are with the story much more so than I could back then. So, I might as well have another go!”

The Flying Pigeon
The Pigeon is out of the shed and ready for action
Tools on the Flying Pigeon
On board tools are essential
Flying Pigeon
The Pigeon is all just a tad eccentric
Flying Pigeon
Stick the kettle on, will you old chap?

Want to get involved? Email to get in touch with Mike


‘England to America in 5 seconds’

Kids on the pigeon

We asked some bikers of tomorrow for their take on Mike’s outlandish Flying Pigeon machine…

Kids on the pigeon
  • Beth, 11 “I think it might fly away, but I don’t know if it would be too heavy? But I’d have hot chocolate in the flask. I think this bike should be called Banana, and it would be good in Paw Patrol.”
  • Orla, 7 “I’d call it the Crazy Mike Bike. It has a very comfortable seat, if I was on the bike I’d take lots of snacks with me. I like it because it can fly, because it’s got a pigeon and it can make food! I think you could get from England to America in five seconds.”
  • Oscar, 8 “I would go the whole way around the world, it would be like being a bird. “I could call mummy on the phone and say she looked tiny because I’m so high up. I’d be able to look down over every country.”


Although the Flying Pigeon can’t get you out on the open road, but here are some crazy contraptions you could ride to the shops

Whitelock 48-cylinder Kawasaki special

Whitelock 48-cylinder Kawasaki
This wonder is up for sale…

Up for auction and expected to fetch £60,000, the ‘Tinker Toy’ Kawasaki is most definitely one for the bizarre list. Built by Simon Whitelock, this isn’t the only quirky project he’s embarked on, but is the only road-legal one with 4200cc capacity, weighs 600kg and is made from 16 Kawasaki KH250 three-cylinder engines in six banks of eight.

V10 Viper

V10 Viper

Built by Allen Millyard, star of TV shows such as The Motorbike Show and Find It, Fix It, Flog It, and known for his quirky creations, the V10 Viper certainly comes near the top of the list. With an 8000cc, 500bhp Dodge Viper supercar engine, the record-breaking bike is completely road legal and was built in Allen’s shed, inspired by the Dodge Tomahawk.

Dodge Tomahawk

Dodge Tomahawk

The V10 Dodge Tomahawk was a 500bhp concept bike from Daimler Chrysler. With a claimed top speed of 300mph, the engine is an 8.3 litre block from a Dodge Viper, but the ‘bike’ has four wheels to take the weight of it. Although only one was built by Dodge themselves, Neiman Marcus built nine more and each sold for $550,000 so you’ll need deep pockets.

The Flying Millyard

Flying Millyard

The second one for Millyard on the list, the two-cylinder Pratt and Whitney aero engine is mounted into a custom chassis and home-made crankcases. With normal placement of the throttle, brakes and clutch the gear lever is hand change and has two levers – one to advance the ignition and the other to adjust the fuel air mixture to make it richer or leaner.


Almost the future… the Quasar

Developed in the 1970s as a radical ‘feet forward’ fully faired motorcycle, creator Malcolm Newell put the machine into limited production. At the time, the road-legal motorcycle looked like nothing else, and its biggest claim to fame came when Britain’s most successful racer Phil Read took one to Buckingham Palace to collect his MBE.

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