“Only half a turn”

Once, in the decades before I was born, there were different times . People didn’t have much, but everyone had a job somehow and no one was found lacking. They rode bikes, naturally, but due to the circumstances of the time, they weren’t cheap to buy. Ask an older person how they got to school when they were kids and they will tell you that you were the coolest guy around if you had a new, shiny bike. Even after getting a job it would be the most practical means of transportation, especially if one lived a bit out of town where busses or trains came twice a day.

Maribor was one of the main industrial towns in Yugoslavia and so the inhabitants were mostly hourly labourers in large plants, steel workers, craftsmen, truck drivers and the like. Many were there just for the sake of being employed, not really doing much – the system allowed it. As long as you stamped your card at the door when you came and left, you were set. Sure, manual labour was hard, but the daily norms were usually set so low and the number of employees was so high, that there was plenty of time to talk about the family and kids, plan the holidays and occasionally take home a bag of nails or a pound of coffee. Nobody cared much – as long as there was food on everyone’s  tables and football on sundays, everything was fine. Nowadays many would tell you those were the golden years.

Plenty of cyclists on Maribor's main square, 1961.
Plenty of cyclists on Maribor’s main square, 1961.

Pretty much everything of major value was state owned at the time and production quotes were set as well. I still remember how my uncle used to tell of the time they had to wait for days to buy cement bags when he was building his house. The only large bicycle producing company was Rog, based in Ljubljana. Their first bikes came off the line in 1953. There wasn’t a lot of differentiation at first, but pretty soon there were a number of models available, ranging from men’s and women’s city bikes, road racers, mountain bikes and the legendary ponies.

A Pony - well loved and recognised even to this day.
Rog Pony – well loved and recognised even to this day.

Based on an italian design, Ponies were small, light and easy to ride. As they had a very low stepover height that meant that it was easy hop on and off the bike, making it ideal for even the oldes of ladies. As can be seen in the picture, they came fully equipped with alloy fenders, front and rear lights, a stand and a dynamo which would lean on the side of the tire, making buzzing noises and slowing you down as you pedalled. The faster you went, the brighter the lights were as well. 🙂 Some of them were even made with a hinge in the middle, so they could be folded in half. Originally, they came with a single speed drivetrain and either big or small diameter wheels (such as the one on the picture). They were later given a three-speed shifter for added efficiency. Due to their iconic shape and heritage, many ponies stood the test of time and can often be seen on city streets around the country. As they bear a certain nostalgic value, they can fetch pretty high prices on the second-hand market. Over the years their owners put all manner of different touches on them, making them just as unique as they are.

Red Bull even sponsored an event this summer, in which riders were encouraged to ride their ponies from the alpine town of Kranjska Gora to the top of Vršič pass. 284 people entered to conquer the 1611 meter high pass and the winner needed just under 48 minutes to climb more than 800 meters. Click here for a hillariously fun video report.

Just as most other big companies from that era, Rog sadly closed it’s doors at the turn of the century and Slovenia lost it’s only major bicycle producer. Who knows what kind of bikes they would be making had they remained open until this day. But one thing is for sure – we would be proud and watchful of them.

“I had to save money for two years”, said one man of buying a bycicle in those older days.

“I even had to ask my aunt to lend me some. Then I finally bought one and I took a girl out dancing one night”, he continued.

“Now, I knew that if I left it in front of the bar, someone would surely make off with it – that’s just how it was if you had a new bike in those days. I locked it on the other side of the street so I could watch over it from inside. And whenever I took the girl to the dancefloor, I would look at it through the window and only give her half a turn. Only half a turn, never more.” 🙂

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