It has more recently, however, become a status symbol, and in Slovenia the production of the Pony bicycle along with its cult status is back – only with a different guise and price. To explain all this we need to wind the clock back to the year 1949…
The beginning of the Pony era
The Rog factory was established in the year 1949 and just 3 years later the first bikes were being produced and quickly became the hip bike of Yugoslavia. Every household had at least one bicycle from the Rog factory, and in the year of 1965 the factory, in the spirit of modernist progress, came to the idea of creating a foldable bicycle. As with many of the products of the socialist economy, the Pony bicycle was also copied (with a clear conscience), as Pony is a very accurate reproduction of the Graziella Italian bikes that which were produced in Tuscany from the year 1964 on.
At the high point of the Rog Factory, around 1987, around 350,000 bicycles were produced each year. In 1996 the 17 millionth bicycle was produced, but at that time only 150,000 bikes were produced per year. By 2010, the Rog factory had ceased to exist.
Needless to say that the Rog factory forms an important part of Slovenian industrial heritage and it is still an important building with a great storyline for anyone keen on Rog bicycles made in the spirit of Yugonostalgia. Nowadays the Rog factory is an open space, where societies from the creative and socially critical backgrounds gather and wish to retain the factory for non-profit cultural, artistic and activist activities.
Hipster Pony era
Wandering around Ljubljana, many Rog bikes – also Pony ones – can be seen on the streets. In fact, there seem to be millions of them! The younger generations took them from their parents’ and grandparents’ garage, dusted them off and…they were as good as new again.
Pony is the classic bike from the Slovenian and Yugoslavian pioneer generations and juveniles from the end of 60s. The Pony was the best gift for the sacrament of confirmation or for excellent school success at the end of the school year.
But Pony really became “hot property” in Slovenia in 2015, when the “Red Bull Goni Pony” (Pony, drive like a lunatic!) event was held for the first time. Doesn’t sound quite crazy enough yet? Well, bear with us – the point of the event is to cycle from Kranjska Gora all the way to the Vršič Mountain Pass (at an elevation of 1,611 metres (5,285 ft.), which is the highest pass in Slovenia, as well as the highest in the Eastern Julian Alps), but the fun really comes with the Pony bikes not having any gears, so now think of cycling 13.5 kilometres uphill to the Vršič Pass, with 801 metres of incline and 24 paved bends to navigate. Oh, and add to this that every contestant needs to dress up in retro style and then try to picture the 573 contestants with retro Pony bikes showing up for the 2016 “Red Bull Goni Pony” event. Getting crazier now?
In Slovenia, they say you are not a real Slovene if you haven’t climbed Mount Triglav. But now they say that you’re not a real Slovene if you haven’t cycled up the Vršič Mountain Pass with Pony bike (without any gears).
Old name, new guise – the present Pony era
The Rog brand was recently up for sale and the company Gorenje bet on an upturn of the cult Rog brand. They established the “Gor kolesa” company and invited BTC Ljubljana into a partnership. They began with the production of Pony bikes in autumn of the previous year, from March on, and one can now pre-order it in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.
The “new” Pony is an aluminium foldable city bicycle with internal gears and modern features.
It is more attractive and you can get it in Sport or Classic versions, available in 28 different colours and with elaborated ergonomics and use of top quality materials.
In 2018 they plan to produce aluminium and carbon frame mountain bikes, with future plans looking at electric bicycles. As they now claim, the new Pony will be similar to the old one only as much as the Volkswagen beetle has in common with the old cult beetle.
The Pony has once again become alive, but from the common bike for simple people has arisen a status symbol – judging also by the price.
The Pony bikes are produced in Velenje, which is also known among Slovenians as Tito’s town, another irony linked to the Yugonostalgia. We wonder if the new Pony is hip and modern enough to be bought by every household, or is the real, vintage and unique one from the 60s the only true Pony bike that’s to be loved by so many generations? Only time will tell. Until then we’ll stick to the strapline of the Pony and cycling spirit: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.