Slovenia's retro single-speed bicycle race is brutal

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This rider did not win the Red Bull Goni Pony at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, but he was doing it right (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)
This rider did not win the Red Bull Goni Pony at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, but he was doing it right (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)
  • It might look like a hipster bicycle convention, but the Goni Pony is not easy.
  • Some of the steepest Alpine roads are in Slovenia, and Goni Pony riders must brave the highest one on completely inappropriate bikes.
  • One gear. Mandatory retro outfits. And terrible bicycle geometry make the Goni Pony partly fun, but also deeply challenging.

Tadej Pogacar dominance of professional road cycling has greatly elevated the standing of Slovenian riders.

To many, Slovenia has become a more affordable version of Switzerland, with all the dramatic Alpine peaks you could imagine.

Mountain bikers have long been aware of its excellent trails and bike parks. The UCI World Cup and World Championships have often used the town of Maribor, as a venue. South Africa’s Greg Minnaar even has a few Slovenian race wins to his name.

Alpine riding
Looks like Switzerland, but this is lovely Slovenia. (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)

Riding steep Alpine roads - on bad bikes

Beyond the status of Pogacar as the world’s form professional road racer, something exceptional has been happening in the Slovenian Alps for the last few years. A race, unlike any other.

There is a specific sub-culture in cycling that values suffering: making the simple much harder than it needs to be. It usually involves riding altogether unsuitable bikes along a challenging route. Most often, bicycles with only one gear.

This cycling anti-technology trend showcases with great Slovenian charm, as the Goni Pony race. In a month where the cycling world has been obsessed with both the mountain bike and road World Championships, the Goni Pony is an outlier event in the competitive calendar of September.

Goni Pony
The Goni Pony values an outrageous fashion sense (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)

Small wheels and the wrong gear

The Goni Pony's formulation is simple. You require a 20-inch wheeled bicycle and it can only have a single gear.

Riders need to go find a cheap kids bike or those retro city commuters, that were popular in the 1990s.

Participants are also encouraged to remain in theme with the era of their bicycles by dressing in a retro manner. That means no comfortable moisture-wicking cycling apparel.

Goni Pony
The Goni Pony might be billed as retro fun, but there are very potent riders in the field (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)

There are no easy bits

The Goni Pony route is a punishing climb up one of Slovenia’s most picturesque mountain passes - the Vršica road. 

Riders ascend 801m in only 13km at a very punishing average gradient and many riders walk sections of the climb. 

Slovenia cycling
Nice bike. Dude. Goni Pony winner, Luka Kovacic, suffering his way to the top (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)

Wrong bike - right attitude

The geometry of those retro 20-inch wheeled bicycles make power transfer and balance particularly difficult and with only one gear, this ride is anything but comfortable

Luka Kovacic won this year’s Goni Pony race. He blitzed the Vršica road climb in only 39 minutes and 54 seconds.

Most backmarkers take more than double Kovacic’s time to complete the event – and with everyone on the same awfully inappropriate bikes, it serves as a very fair comparison of ability.


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