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.

AllCityKarlfork

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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NAHBS Preview Part 3: Salt Lake Locals

The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is coming up next weekend, March 10-12. We’ve been taking a look at some of the new up-and-coming builders that will be at the event this year in a series of preview articles. In Part 1, we saw bikes from Australia and Russia, and in Part 2, we learned about the students of the Cal Poly Frame Builders club. In this NAHBS preview edition, we focus on a couple of the builders who are local to the Salt Lake City area, home of this years show.


Salt Air Cycles 

Salt Air Cycles, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2014 by Matthew Nelson. His background is in architecture, but he caught the framebuilding bug about 7 years ago as an avid mountain biker and bike commuter. In 2011, he took a course at the United Bicycle Institute (UBI), and walked away with his first creation, a fillet-brazed steel cyclocross frame, and the motivation to build more.

While becoming involved in the local racing scene, he honed his framebuilding craft, producing handmade bikes for his friends and family. He was still working full-time as an architect when he started Salt Air Cycles, but his brand quickly gained a small, loyal following. Soon after, he was able to leave his architecture job and pursue framebuilding full-time. He also sponsored a local cyclocross team that rides his lugged steel bikes.

Nelson builds almost any type of bike, except tandems and full suspension. “I take a lot of pride in being a versatile builder. As long as it’s steel, I’ll make it,” he says. Most of the bikes he currently makes are fillet-brazed, while the remainder are lugged construction. They’re “new world bikes, made the traditional way,” each cut by a saw and file, and assembled with a torch. He puts a lot of attention and detail into each frame, so that when it leaves his shop, it not only meets his standards, but also every expectation of the customer.

“My favorite bike is whichever one I happen to be working on in the present,” says Nelson. “Thus far, it’s been an incredible ride, with enough inspiration and gratification to fuel further growth of the brand.”

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Cerreta Cycles

Until 2013, Ken “KC” Cerreta was enlisted in the United States Air Force as an aircraft machinist and welder for nine years. In 2013, he transitioned from the enlisted corps to the officer corps and is now a program manager who leads large scale Air Force acquisitions and manages development projects. It didn’t take long before he missed working with his hands. An avid cyclist, KC began his start as a frame builder in 2014 after he attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show as a spectator.  Having a background in machining and welding he researched what it would take to build a bicycle frame and by the end of 2014, his first frame was complete.

Now a Captain in the Air Force currently working on the F-16 aircraft and sole owner of Cerreta Cycles, KC continues to build wherever he is stationed, which is currently at Hill Air Force Base, just north of Salt Lake City. He specializes in fillet brazed steel frames and hopes to grow Cerreta Cycles to the point where it can become a full time profession.

“One aspect of why I feel builds distinguish myself from other builders is the attention to detail each frame receives,” says KC.  “With a history of fabricating aircraft parts where the tolerances are very small, my frames are looked at the same way. To me, there is no room for error and that is how I approach each build.”

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If you’re headed to NAHBS, be sure to stop by the New Builders Tables and give these guys some love. Also be sure to check out the rest of our NAHBS preview content, or take a look back in time to our coverage of the event from previous years.

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