Three Speeds Spotted: Rog “Pony” folding bike

It’s always interesting to spot a “small wheel” bike in the wild. These adult bikes, either with 16″ or 20″ wheels* were a popular bike category in the 60’s and 70’s. These bikes, whether a rigid frame “shopping” bike or a folding bike, were made by a number of brands in many a country. By the 80’s this category had faded from popular view (modern folding bikes are the direct descendant.) However, many of them still remain out there on the streets, where they belong.

I spotted this white one in inner SE last week. What made me decide to take photos of it is its country of origin. I’ve seen many a bike from the US, the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, etc. But I don’t think I’d ever seen a bike “Made in Yugoslavia” before!

A very retro Rog Pony ad. Undated, but I’d guess around 1970.

Well, to be correct, “former Yugoslavia”. Rog was a bicycle manufacturer based in Ljubljana, Slovenia and in business from 1951 to 1991. This was the first time I had ever heard of this bike company, but it’s not surprising, as bikes manufactured “behind the Iron Curtain”** and during the Cold War rarely made it State-side. The only one I knew that was imported was “Favorit” from then-Czechoslovakia. The only Yugoslavian manufactured vehicle I knew is, of course, the Yugo, and the less said about that the better.

From what I found on the internet, there are plenty of Rog’s still plying the streets of Ljubljana, but this be the first I saw here. The “Pony” was their shopper/folder, and the design is to my untrained eye, fairly standard and unremarkable as these types of bikes go. It does have a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub which I find interesting. Maybe they figured trying to copy this hub would be just too much?

I didn’t see who the owner was, so I couldn’t ask what the ride quality was like. I’m assuming it would be similar to a Raleigh Twenty?

Anyone else run into Rog bikes, or other “Iron Curtain” bicycles in general?***

This just in! Info about the Rog Pony by flickr user klorpus, who owns one and left a comment on my flickr:

Mine is identical to this one, except in worse shape when I got it. Rims were steel Weinmanns, 3-speed hub is a Sturmey Archer AW, marked 1971. Pletscher made the rack; funnily the rear brake stay plate is marked as Esge. Brakes and levers are basic decent-quality Weinmann units. Lighting is Soubitez and Cibie. The bottom bracket is an oddball Thomson variant – these are a sort of cross between an ashtabula and regular bottom bracket type. The pedals seem like they might be Union. Downsides? Heavy. The headset wants to loosen itself, and the hinge is pretty flexy unless it is *really* snugged down. The weld quality is indifferent to rough. I cut myself on the hinge welds when touching up the paint. I think it’s made from melted down T-34 tanks. The original molded plastic mattress lookalike saddle was singularly awful. The levers for the folding clamps are large and heavy.
It is probably the equal of say, an Atala or lesser Peugeot.

It’s not as fine as the nicer Bianchis of the late 50s or early 60s, and a good bit heavier than the Raleigh RSW or Twenty.

UPDATE 19-June-2013: The owner of this Rog Pony just contacted me. She said she bought it from someone in Portland, and has sold the bike as she is moving back to Toronto.

More photos from klorpus can be found here.

*Yes, I know, there were a few oddball sizes thrown in as well, but 16″ and 20″ were the two most common.

**And yes, I know, Yugoslavia was not technically “behind the Iron Curtain” as while it was a socialist nation, it didn’t follow the party line dictated by Moscow. Thank you, Tito.

***Especially if you don’t live in Europe.

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7 thoughts on “Three Speeds Spotted: Rog “Pony” folding bike

  1. There were bikes like this throughout the former Soviet Union when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan during the mid ’90s. Most were quite heavily used with no identifiable branding. I do recall some having “Tourist” on the downtube, but in the Cyrillic alphabet, of course. A few were three-speeds, with some having long lost the shifter cable, but most were single-speeds. Some were folders and some were not. It was not uncommon to see similar bikes carrying livestock, huge bags of cotton or grain, a family of five (all on the same bike), or other amazing things. Cool to see one on this continent.

  2. peter says:

    I actually owned a close cousin of this bike all through my childhood. It was a TOMOS brand, also from Slovenia. Tomos was famous for winning all kinds of 50cc motorbike races all over the world, over much more famous names from Italy and Japan back in the 60s.
    Mine, and all but one of my friends’ bikes were single speed, coaster brake bikes. I have been trying to find out who made the coaster brake for it, but no luck so far. I don’t own one now, but may well get one of the similar Peugeots if I find one in good condition. It seems that this type of design was the standard in Europe in the 70s and part of the 80s when BMX came to the scene. Germany had theirs, France too (Peugeot), Italy (Bianchi), and from France the influence seems to have spread all over far east, where former French territories still use almost identical looking bikes (They can be found only on Thai or Vietnamese language websites).
    At the time, in Yugoslavia, as a child, having a “Pony” bike like the one above, was de rigeur – with one exception: very few were three speed, most were single speed. No kid was without one. However, rarely were they bought new – as you noticed, they were built tough as a tank (hence the weight, some 30lbs if memory serves me) with the exception of the front fork which after repeated abuse would crack (albeit never so badly as to endanger anyone). I still remember that all of us as kids knew about that and would occasionally step in front of our bikes and gently lift the front end by the handlebars – if the fork felt loose, it was time to go to our local bike buddy who knew how to fix these things in a jiffy (welding the fork was cheaper than buying a new one). In the ten years I owned mine, the fork never broke; but others did as they were passed from one kid to the next. The cool older teens would strip theirs of everything making them look cool. Mine was stock all the way to its end. The only mod we would do was to add a piece of plastic held in place on the rear fork by a clothes pin, so it would be constantly touching the wheel and producing a sound like a race-car engine. Crazy noise, but true. Today I would be chasing those kids away because of all the noise that created.
    I remember that I got my Tomos new when I was eight yrs old in late 70s. I was blisfully ignorant of the need to maintain one’s bike. So for almost ten years, I have been riding it in the worst of conditions, in rain, in mud, on downhills trying to see how fast we could go (we did 40km/h! Today I cringe at our madness… we never used any protection whatsoever), on the terrains that would be challenging for most mountain bikes. My parents used to loose their mind over the fact that they could never find me – I lived on the outscirts and we would go where no child should go. A few times I would come home all bloody from the latest encounter with a rocky road…
    We had generators as the one on this bike, but it produced too much friction so we often rode with lights off, in total darkness.
    The point is that all through that abuse I only changed tires a few times. We all used to buy our new white wall tires only when the inner tube started showing through. We used and abused those coaster brakes constantly competing who was going to make the longest tire mark, and always using them to adjust our speed on the downhill. It was a nicely refined, yet indestructibe coaster brake. Never did it occur to me to maintain it, and neither did other kids, and those brakes and bikes would go like that for 20-30 years with no problems. They most certianly were built by some tank-melting factory… We used to have front hand brake, it was considered more of an emergency brake, but if you used it you were a sissy.
    Quite possibly the best times of my childhood come from that bike. Thoroughly enjoyable toy/means of transportation. (Until its wheels were stolen just as I got more interested in girls than bikes)

  3. peter says:

    Oh, and a funny thing was – no one ever dared steal anyone’s bike. It was just not done. We would leave our bikes anywhere on the street or next to the soccer field (foodball in Europe) and you’d find it where you left it. Maybe it was because we all knew each other’s bikes, and if I saw someone else riding my friend’s bike, I would ask them – “Hey, how come you are riding my buddy’s bike?” and they better had the correct answer. If something was stolen, we knew it was homeless gypsies who did it. You could find your parts at the local market the next day, being sold by those same gypsies.
    For the most part, I would say about 80% of all such bikes were Pony built by Rog. The other 20% were Tomos, looking exactly the same, and probably built on the same assembly line as the Pony. The only difference was that ROG Pony had unpainted aluminum wheel fenders, while Tomos were painted white. And ROG were usually white, metallic yellow, metallic mint green, metallic red, while Tomos were usually white, metallic blue and metallic red.
    It was not considered a children’s bike – anyone could ride one, regardless of their weight, height and so on.
    And everything on it was easily adjustable by hand, no tools required. Now that’s one feature I wish I had on my beach cruiser.

  4. John says:

    I still have the PONY I bought in 1975 at Wheel World in Culver City California. It has traveled with me to Mexico, Viriginia, and now Maryland. As a folding bike it was designed for quick collapsibility to store in a closet or in the baggage area of a European train.

  5. Tatjana says:

    Rog Pony was made in Maribor, not Ljubljana. Rog bycicle factory was in Maribor.
    Yugoslavia was not “behind the iron curtain” but an independent Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ).
    I was a proud owner of one of the first Pony’s, loved it, easy to ride, easy to fold and to store! Perfect for a city life!

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