Review: All-City Pony Express

Trends come and trends go, but the venerable steel bicycle always remains in style. All-City is one bike company that’s keeping the torches burning for chromoly creations. Those would be welding torches, and the creations include bicycles for road, track, cyclocross and even a singlespeed mountain bike.

The brand’s latest model, the Pony Express flat bar road bike, shares the exact same frame as its drop-bar Space Horse. When All-City realized that a number of customers were purchasing the versatile Space Horse framesets and building them up with flat bars, the company decided to offer a flat-bar build. Boom—the Pony Express!

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THE BIKE

Let’s take a closer look at that frame. The “612 Select” sticker refers to a chromoly tubeset built to All-City’s specifications. The blend includes double-butted main tubes, tapered seatstays and ovalized chainstays. The frame is strong and stiff enough to haul a maximum rear load of 30 pounds, but it’s not drastically overbuilt like a true touring bike. According to All-City, the goal was to produce a frameset with light-duty hauling capability without harshing out the unloaded ride.

The frame features rack/fender mounts, and the fork has two eyelets on each drop- out and one mid-fork eyelet on each blade. The fork is rated for a maximum 20 pound load. Features like these reinforce the practical and versatile nature of this steed. At any moment this city scoot could duck into a nearby phone booth and emerge as an adventurous bikepacking rig—or a grocery-getting workhorse. Good luck finding a phone booth these days, so perhaps a dark alley will have to do.

All-City’s investment cast stainless steel dropouts are more than eye candy. The semi-horizontal rear dropouts have an adjustable set screw that maintains your desired wheel position before/after wheel changes. They’re singlespeed compatible, should you get the urge, and you can get the rear wheel in/out with full-coverage fenders in place.

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Looking even closer at the frame reveals useful and practical details such as reinforced bottle bosses and a pump peg. The internally routed rear brake cable is an aesthetic win in my book. One of my favorite frame (and fork) details is a rather mundane one: an electrophoretic deposition coating that acts as both a rust preventative and a primer for the final paint. Because rust never sleeps—but it can kill a frame.

The 1×10 drivetrain features a SRAM Apex rear derailleur and an 11-32 cassette mated to a 42 tooth FSA Vero crank- set that’s protected by All-City’s Cross Wizard chain guard. Inside the 68 mm threaded bottom bracket shell spins a square-taper BB. There’s nothing fancy nor cutting edge here—just plenty of tried and true to go around.

This iron horse gallops on Kenda Kwest 700×35 mm tires. The 31.8 handlebars rise 15 mm, sweep 5 degrees and measure 620 mm wide. When it’s time to say whoa, the Avid Single Digit 3 linear pull brakes and Avid FR-5 levers reign in the stampede.

All-City offers the Pony Express in six frame sizes, all the way down to 46 cm. Hooray. That’s good news for shorter riders, or anybody that understands the importance of proper bike fit.

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THE RIDE

When it comes to “the ride,” the Pony Express delivers. This is a lively feeling bike that showcases the sweet ride of steel done right. Not too stiff. Not too flexy. Just right. The resilient frame felt smooth and took the edge off minor vibrations. Despite its supple ride, the bike accelerated energetically and never felt flexy or imprecise. All-City nailed it.

The lugged-crown fork has curved blades made from tapered 4130 chromoly tubing. Not only is the entire package visually appealing, but the fork did a good job of eating up vibration and chatter caused by rough surfaces. In my experience, most straight-bladed forks feel harsh in comparison to a curved steel fork like this one. It’s the perfect partner for the fine feeling frame.

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The bike’s geometry put me in a comfortable, upright riding position. Head-up is the way to go when navigating city traffic or taking in the scenery during a pleasant trot through the countryside. I felt well-centered over the bike, which, combined with its quick steering, made the Pony very responsive to subtle weight shifts. Its snappy handling felt appropriate for a bike slotted as an around-towner or daily commuter. This peppy pony is plain fun to ride.

I found the gearing well-suited for flat or rolling roads, but challenging on steep terrain. The setup worked fine for commuting, city cruising and recreational rides on back roads—even if I found myself climbing out of the saddle on a few hills that I was used to spinning up. While the ample braze-ons and quoted 50 pound carrying capacity tempted me to turn the Pony into a pack horse, I’d want to swap to some lower gearing before doing so. Along those lines, the frame has braze-ons for front derailleur cable stops, so a multiple-chainring conversion is an option for those so inclined.

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All-City went with linear pull brakes, partly because of their light weight and simplicity. They also help keep the price in check. Disc brakes continue to gain spec on road bikes of this ilk, and I’ll admit to being enamored with the concept, but I never felt the need for more braking power than the linear-pull Avids delivered. Excellent modulation at the lever sealed the deal and me a fan of these stoppers. Had my testing been in wet, wintry conditions my opinion might have been different. Or maybe not.

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The 35 mm Kenda Kwest tires rolled comfortably and efficiently on pavement. They’re more rugged than supple, making them a good choice for a bike that’s designed for the mean streets. And they didn’t blink when I detoured onto gravel roads and other unpaved surfaces. If you want to maximize the bike’s off-piste potential, All-City says that the frame has clearance for up to 42 mm tires. That could come in handy for aggressive gravel or dirt road adventuring.

I found the All-City Gonzo saddle comfortable. At the opposite end of the cockpit, the 620 mm handlebar felt appropriately sized for a city-oriented bike, though I’d have preferred something wider. Perhaps that’s my mountain biking background leaking through.

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CONCLUSIONS

I’m a big fan of flat bar road bikes. Years ago I converted a cyclocross bike to flat bars and never looked back. Nowadays it makes me smile to see well-executed flat bar road bikes like the Pony Express adding to this growing category. The classic silhouette and lively ride of this fine chromoly frame combined with well-chosen components is a winning formula in my book.

Price: $1,150
Weight: 23.8 lbs without pedals
Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 55 (tested), 58, 61 cm


This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #44.

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