Country Bikes

Now and again I see the term “country bike” used to describe a type of bike that’s similar to, but not quite like, a city bike. I’m pretty sure the term was coined by Rivendell’s Grant Petersen in his 2004 essay titled Copying the Wrong Bikes and Riders. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

A country bike is just a road bike designed for comfort and versatility. It has 32mm to 38mm tires, fits fenders easily, can carry racks and luggage, but is still zippy when you strip off the extras. It’s a bike without racing’s influence. It’s not going to be the ticket for racer-wannabes, but it’s just right for 90 percent of the rest of us.

I don’t see the name used much other than in Rivendell’s literature, but it may be useful nomenclature for bikes that look a lot like city bikes, but have a few subtle distinctions, most notably being handlebars that are set at or above the level of the saddle, and relatively robust wheels and tires that are suitable for light trail riding.

Grant’s definition limits tire sizes within a specific range, but I’d say anything over 35mm qualifies. He also states that country bikes should be “zippy” when the accessories are removed, but I see no reason at all why country bikes need to be fast.

I’d modify his definition just a bit. Here’s my take:

A country bike is outfitted with wide-ish tires that can be ridden at pressures below 60-70 lbs., and are tough enough and have enough flotation to enable light off road riding. It has fenders, mud guards, and a chain guard to protect the rider’s clothing and luggage. It has racks, baskets, and bags to carry supplies for camping, commuting, shopping and light trekking. It has lights so it can be ridden any time of the day or night in any type of weather. It has a wide, comfortable saddle to soak up jars and bumps. And most importantly, it’s set-up with handlebars at or above the level of the saddle, a comfortable position that maximizes control and promotes a casual riding pace.

As you can see, that’s essentially the definition of a city bike, but with a specific emphasis on handlebar height and tire size/flotation. The way I see it, any country bike will function perfectly well as a city bike, but there are some city bikes with low, flat bars, and narrow rims with high pressure tires, that would not function well as country bikes.

I like the country bike concept — bikes that are robust like city and touring bikes, but with a few details that set them apart and make them suitable for dirt roads and hard-packed trails. My Pashley (see above) and my modified Long Haul Trucker are both functional city bikes, and they make excellent country bikes too.

21 Responses to “Country Bikes”

  • Andy in Germany says:

    Sounds good to me- People here seem to see bikes as an urben thing, so it’s good to look at a rural buke too.

  • roy says:

    And gee whiz…it would even be really fun to ride.

    roy

  • Jonathan says:

    “Country bike” seems like a very useful term, and I plan to use it often. I’m currently building up a Waterford Adventure country bike (frame is in the paint shop). I’ve got my other eye on a Surly Cross Check to be built with an internal rear hub (to replace my current commuter) — otherwise doing my best to mimic Alan’s LHT.

    Thanks for such a wonderful blog.

  • Wuss912 says:

    be carefull or your going to be riding a recumbent in no time :)

  • Alan says:

    @Wuss912

    But I do ride a recumbent! It’s a RANS Screamer tandem. It doesn’t get featured on the blog because it’s not much of a utility bike. It’s a super-fun ride though!! :-)

    Regards-
    Alan

  • David Hembrow says:

    The name “country bike” is not something in use anywhere else, but this concept is nothing new.

    You can buy a wide range of bikes like this in NL. Touring bikes here are distinguished from town bikes by lighter components, often having plastic mudguards instead of steel ones (lighter, but more fragile), aluminium rack instead of steel (lighter, but more fragile), sometimes using derailleur gears instead of hubs, often are generally better specified (more gears) etc.

    Links to two of the many choices on the Batavus (perhaps the largest Dutch bike manufacturer) website:

    This is a town bike

    This is a touring bike

  • Alan says:

    @David

    Thanks for the links. The term “country bike” is starting to be more widely used here in the U.S., mostly due to the considerable influence Grant Petersen has on cycling trends outside the mainstream here. That said, it’s hardly a household term the way “road bike” is – yet anyway.

  • charles says:

    I just rode my converted Trek 850 MTB to church in the snow and it worked great. Lots of fender clearance for snow with 1.75 wide “street” tires under them and adequate traction with about 60 pounds of air in the tires. This bike has Rivendells Albatross bars and a Brooks B-67 saddle. While not a bike for speed or comfort on rides over about 30 miles its o.k. for nearly every type of weather and road surface and it does well enough on smooth pavement. I can put a rack and bags on it when needed and it cost me about $200 used. With the addition of a solid (non shock) fork and a new headset I was in business. I did add bar end shifters and they work fine. If I were honest, this bike would probably be the best single bike I could own and were it not for my Long Haul Trucker it would be the best all around choice. The LHT is too nice to slog around in the snow but eventually I’ll get used to the idea.

  • Swizz69 says:

    Anyone on here heard of Cleland?

    Heres another definition of a ‘country bike’, aimed more at the mud but with a dose of comfort & practicality thrown in. The bike was designed for bridleways and unsurfaced routes here in the UK and the weather that goes with it.

    http://www.63xc.com/talljames/cleland.htm

    http://www.james-walters.net/cleland/index.html

    Ian…

  • Darryl says:

    So, um, I’m confused.
    When is a “mountain” bike not a “country” bike? Aren’t both used in the “country,” meaning exo-urban?

    Likewise, aren’t cyclo-cross bikes worth considering as “country” bikes as they are more apt to be used in conditions found out in the country and light and medium duty trails?

    Finally, isn’t the definition of ‘country bike” more a definition of lifestyle or self-identity, like people buying SUV automobiles, on the seldom occasion of really using the vehicle off-road whereas most SUVs are found by urban soccer fields and shopping malls?

    Structurally, I really don’t see any substantive difference between hybrid bikes (or even cruisers) and country bikes except to use chi chi accessories under fancy-schmancy model names?

    Cynically yours,
    Darryl

  • Alan says:

    @Darryl

    Most mountain bikes have low flat bars, so like many city bikes, they don’t fall in the category of country bikes. Plus, suspension, knobby tires, and overbuilt frames and components are useless on bikes that are predominately used on pavement, with only the occasional foray onto dirt.

    I’ve never seen a cyclocross bike with a chain case, dedicated lighting, or braze-ons for luggage, so they don’t make the cut either.

    Cruisers are fairly close, though again, no braze-ons, and their lack of changeable gears is an issue.

    That leaves hybrids and touring bikes, which yes, I agree, are essentially what Petersen is calling “country bikes”.

    Alan

    PS – If anything, mountain bikes would be the more apt comparison to SUVs because, like the SUV, they’re off-road vehicles that are rarely used as they were designed to be used.

    PSS – Of course, all of this is simply an exercise in semantics (and something to fight off cabin fever while it storms outside). :-)

  • jason says:

    So my country bike went to visit my town bike and vice versa and they hated each others lifestyle so much that they agreed to move to gentle suburbia and only ride on bike paths, but the walkers and rollerbladers eventually led to further frustration and they stayed in the garage.

    I think that the definition of what constitutes a city vrs country bike needs a better semiotician than I, but, unless you live in a picture perfect MR Chips rides to town from the country and looks dashing doing it world, its all crap.

    Some things work and some things don’t in different situatutions and conditions. My address has a CR in it. stands for country road.
    When I go on fun rides I carry most of my rec/racing bikes over a mile to the pavement.
    Being car light and ten miles from the nearest grocery store I am simply gratefull that its not eleven or more miles. That covers flint roads with 10% grades, sloppy chip and seal with constant flood damage, decent highways, and a town that, if it ever got a bike path, would put up share the path with the four wheelers signs everywhere. I don’t think that the bike pictured would work here. wish it would, cause its pretty.

    so what bikes work best for me? Bikes with 28 to 35 mm tires, drop handlebars at a hight that would make Mr Peterson shudder(low enough to power hills with a heavy load), very wide gearing, fenders, but chainguards tend to vibrate loose. Sort of French rando style look but generaly more along the Univega Gran Turismo frame. I have broken a LHT and will not screw with them again(no offense). Mountain bikes can do the dirt and hills but with twenty miles of pavement to deal with they are not worth it. I wish I could have a dyno hub but having destroyed two not willing to have one on anything other than my collectable bikes.

    Sorry about the knee jerk what the $%&^ is this country/town stuff. Just another label for an added genre of bike types.
    I enjoy reading your and other bike blogs, but sometimes just cannot relate to everything the urban cyclist deals with/thinks is important.
    Did you ever see that book from the eightys called “The Preppy Handbook”? I think that you would enjoy it very much.

  • jason says:

    Arggg, I have to say why you would enjoy that book, not an insult, its just that all your gear and pictures are so damn pretty and clean… And you seem to favor checkered plaid shorts…

  • Alan says:

    @Jason

    The Preppy Handbook – that’s a riot. :-)

  • Darryl says:

    Alan

    I stand corrected. I just read the Cleland Bicycle homepage.

    http://www.james-walters.net/cleland/index.html

    The point I guess I was making that that the country bike sounded so “Preppy,” as Jason put it that there seemed to be little difference between a what a “country bike” can do than hybrid/cyclo-cross style frames can do, except for the internal hubs and bash plate which can be adapted to either frame.

    Less cynically yours
    Darryl

  • Torrilin says:

    “Zippy” could mean fast. Often it means “excellent handling” tho. And Peterson’s rant makes a bit more sense that way… a bike (or car or plane) that handles well maintains speed through maneuvers. Often it works out to be faster than a similar vehicle that doesn’t turn as well. And a novice is often scared to maintain speed through maneuvers, so they don’t get as much out of a vehicle that handles well.

  • Alan says:

    No doubt, there’s some marketing going on here. Petersen has a niche product to sell that doesn’t fit perfectly within any of the current market categories, so he’s put a name on it and set some parameters around it – I don’t have a problem with that. Most of his bikes most closely resemble old-school touring bikes, but putting the name “touring” on any bike can be the kiss of death (though Surly has done a good job of breaking that spell), so he’s invented his own category. It’ll be interesting to watch and see if it sticks over time.

  • Alan says:

    @Jonathan

    I’m currently building up a Waterford Adventure country bike (frame is in the paint shop).

    I’d love to see this bike when it’s done – send photos please!

  • Bob says:

    When I think of a “country bike”, I don’t necessarily think of things like fatter tires. I think of a bike that’s allowed to make fewer allowances for practical city living. It might have panniers or other bags, or lights permanently attached where such things would be eschewed in the city due to stealability. It might also have a nicer paint job, since it doesn’t have to be leaned up against things and locked all the time. Along the same line of reasoning, it might have quick release parts or a kickstand. It certainly wouldn’t fold.

    So I guess, in a way, I see the opposite of what you do. Although a country bike should still be reliable, it’s allowed to be a lot less “tough” than a city bike, which undergoes much more abuse daily.

  • Henry says:

    It was very interesting to read the Rivendell rant about the new category of Country bikes. Generally, the retro thing don’t jive at all with me. I like efficiency and get goose bumps when reading that slicks marginally improves the speed… to me they do more than that, and I use slicks for year round commuting in Stockholm, Sweden, as well as during touring with some forest trails during summer.

    However, Rivendell is right on the money about the good influence of touring on bike design. There is nothing like a well thought out touring bike with both function and quality. That is what gives you confidence.

    PS Excellent blog, this!

  • Graham Wallace says:

    I live in the country and have used a Cleland Aventura “Cross Country Cycle” since 1985. Clelands are a totally different experience than mountain bikes. They are low maintainence, have a totally uprightand comfortable riding position and are reliable all weather machines. They are efficient in terms of off-road riding only, and are not designed for road use. They are the bicycle equivalent of a tractor, whilst the mountain bike is more of a multi-purpose rally-car equilalent. History wise, the Clelands were developed in England between 1968 and 1982 by Geoff Apps and were sold between 1982 and 1988. I don’t think anyone has produced them since. The later machines are very well made, easy to maintain and are extremaly reliable. For example, I have recently replaced a set of brake shoes after 20 years of heavy duty use.

 
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