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.