My Country Bike

Grant Petersen of Rivendell coined the term “Country Bike” to describe a bicycle that, in his words, “…is just a road bike designed for comfort and versatility.” He goes on to say, “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.” While the name has not caught on outside of the relatively small circle of Rivendell acolytes, it does a good job of describing the unique bicycles produced by his company.

In my mind, country bikes are not all that different than what we used to call “sport touring” bikes back in the 1970s and 80s. Versatile bikes that filled the void between racing and fully-loaded touring bikes. Sadly, these bikes all but disappeared when racing bikes and mountain bikes swallowed up the entire market in the late 80s and early 90s. So-called hybrids were developed to fill this niche, but many people feel they fell short in many regards (myself included).

Petersen’s definition of a country bike is fairly broad, and many commuter bikes made by other companies certainly fit the description today. That said, country bikes are often used for things other than commuting, so in that sense this new title is fitting and useful in my opinion.

I use my Rivendell Sam Hillborne for just about everything other than multi-modal commuting or cargo runs. Long rides in the country, pleasure rides to the coffee shop or cafe, Sunday afternoon bike picnics, and light errand runs that don’t involve carrying large loads, are all made on this bike. It has a decent amount of carrying capacity, and I might use it as a daily commuter if my circumstances were different. It would be possible to place larger racks and bags on this bike and use it for hauling heavier loads, but that would defeat the purpose of having one bike that’s lighter, livelier, and simply more fun to ride, than my more utilitarian bikes.

Speaking of being more fun to ride, this bike is a blast. It’s more lively and responsive than my cargo and commuter bikes, bikes whose frames are necessarily stiff for carrying weight. The cockpit on the Sam is more open, and when combined with the compliant frame, the ride quality is well-suited to longer rides on just about any road surface. It’s a lovely bike that I grab just about anytime I’m not interfacing with bike boxes, bus racks, or grocery bags.


  • 60cm Rivendell Sam Hillborne
  • Nitto Moustache Handlebars
  • Nitto 80mm Dirtdrop Stem
  • Silver Bar-End Shifters
  • Japanese Cloth Bar Tape, Clear Shellac
  • Shimano Tiagra Brake Levers
  • Tektro CR720 Cantilever Brakes
  • Shimano Deore XT Hubs (36 Hole)
  • Velocity Dyad Rims
  • Rivendell Jack Brown Tires (33-622)
  • Honjo Hammered Fenders (45mm)
  • Shimano Deore Long Cage Rear Derailleur
  • Campagnolo Triple Front Derailleur
  • Sugino XD2 Crank 170mm 46/36/24
  • 8 speed 11-32 Cassette
  • Nitto R14 Top Rear Rack
  • Nitto Mini Front Rack
  • Sackville Small TrunkSack
  • Sackville Medium SaddleSack
  • Brooks B.17 Special Saddle
  • MKS Touring Pedals
  • Pletscher Kickstand
  • Japanese Brass Bell
  • Nitto Bottle Cages

I’ll have a full report on the Sam Hillborne later this spring. You may have noticed this bike is larger than the commuter featured further down the page. I’m working on a post for tomorrow that will explain how one person can comfortably fit both a 56cm and a 60cm frame.

You can view more photos of this bike here and here.

Disclosure: Rivendell is a sponsor of this website. View our review poilcy here.

18 Responses to “My Country Bike”

  • Daniel M says:

    This is making the waiting all the more difficult…

    I placed a deposit on a Sam Hillborne about two weeks ago and now the clock is just ticking. Mine will be a 56cm, set up similarly, with a few notable differences:

    -Nitto Noodle Bar, also using Dirtdrop Stem, hopefully making the drop position a lot more useful.

    -Deore V-brakes because I have never liked cantilevers. (Let the waves of disapproval begin.)

    -V-brake interrupter levers AND Paul’s Thumbies (shift lever relocators) on the flats so when I’m riding on fire trails or in Berkeley/Oakland/SF traffic (on my WAY to the country, of course) I can be upright, with full access to the shifters and brakes. When I’m stretched out on the hoods, I can’t imagine it being any more trouble to reach to the flats to shift than it is to the bar ends.

    Interestingly, the incoming batch of Taiwanese-made Sam Hillborne frames will NOT have cantilever brake mounts, opting instead for the long-reach centerpull brakes of the A Homer Hilsen. So I am paying $250 extra for a Waterford-built frame with the canti mounts. This makes an expensive bike even more stratospherically expensive, but I get an American-made frame as a result. Ecovelo readers will be glad to know I’m selling an unneeded second car to fund the purchase.

    Alan, what wheel option did you choose? I was going to go with Rivendell’s 36-spoke budget wheels, but I think I’ve talked myself into upgrading to handbuilt wheels.

  • sygyzy says:

    Another excellent bike! Where does one get a Japanese Brass bell?

  • John busteed says:

    Both bikes rock!

  • Alan says:


    First, let me say congratulations on your new bike. It sounds lovely. And to get a Waterford made frame for an extra $250 is a super deal.

    “Alan, what wheel option did you choose? I was going to go with Rivendell’s 36-spoke budget wheels, but I think I’ve talked myself into upgrading to handbuilt wheels.”

    I originally purchased the budget wheels, but upgraded to a set of handbuilt wheels. Mine were built by Rick Steele at Gold Country using 36 hole Deore XT hubs and Velocity Dyad rims. They should last about a lifetime under my 155 lbs… LOL.


    PS – Send pics!

  • Alan says:


    “Where does one get a Japanese Brass bell?”

    Rivendell and Velo Orange usually have them in stock in various sizes and styles.


  • Daniel M says:

    Correction: my previous comment should read “long-reach SIDEPULL brakes”

    @Alan: I thought $250 for the upgrade was a great deal too, considering the US and Japan-made frames usually go for $1000 more. I’m still not sure why they changed their minds on brake type; Dave at Rivendell said something about making it more of a budget A. Homer Hilsen, which has sidepulls. I’ve always loved the simplicity, ease of adjustment, and great stopping power of V-brakes, so I decided to pony up the extra cash.

    I can upgrade to handbuilt wheels with velocity synergy rims and Deore LX hubs for $150, or XT hubs for $200. Any idea what makes the XTs superior?

    I will send photos once I have the bike, but I cannot imagine them being anywhere as nice as yours.

  • Doug R. says:

    To Daniel M. I own a Sam H. as well and you will love it for life! Alan, your bike is always a treat to see! I was hoping to get them together at the next tweed ride, however, my friend Kenan and I are training on “Boneshakers” for the ride! I also wanted to mention, I just purchased a Pashley Guv’nor (3-speed) off e-bay! (great deal too)! Any chance of getting you to ride my 38″ Boneshaker on the ride? Kenan and I will be on the 48″ inchers!! Dougman.

  • arevee says:

    I have owned a Hillborne since they first came out last year. It’s one of several interesting bikes I own and has become the one I ride most often. It’s easy to mount, has a very compliant ride and a good gear range. It’s not the bike I would choose for a grocery run, but for most anything else I do, I reach for the Hillborne. I like the understated, well thought out quality.

    A cycling friend from the Bay Area recently visited and was refering to GP as ‘retro-grouch’ because of the non-indexed shifing on my bike. Of course, the bike can be configured with index shifting should the buyer so choose. My friend has an MB-1 mountain bike since the early 90’s and has travelled all over the world with them, so I guess he likes Petersen’s bikes pretty well himself. So well, in fact, that he bought a second MB-1 as a back up.

  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    Hey Doug,

    I think I’ll wait to see how you guys do first before I risk my neck on a high wheeler… :-)

    I’m sure you guys will do great and I’m looking forward to seeing your antique bikes!!


  • Andrew says:

    @ Daniel M

    As you go up in the component hierarchy, the differences start to become more and more marginal. Usually it’s more about shedding weight then adding strength or reliability (though XT is still a workhorse gruppo, not like XTR), so personally I would probably save the $50 and go with LXs.

    That said, I’m probably going to be forking over a bunch more for 105 hubs instead of going with Tiagra for my set of touring wheels, so this may be a case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do… (but really, LX’s will be great quality)

  • Daniel M says:

    Thanks Andrew.

    Your response and a thread on the RBW Owner’s Group have convinced me to go with the LXs.

    To Alan: thanks again for creating and maintaining this forum.

  • shawn says:

    My Hillborne is almost exactly like Alan’s. I sprung for custom wheels at the start, with a SON28 dynohub so I wouldn’t have to deal with batteries anymore. It’s a great bike, and the rest of the stable gathers dust in the garage. Well, for now anyway…

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, you are wise as ever! I love the Bone shakers, but no brakes, fixed cranks and cramped cockpit make for an interesting ride! I must again applaud Ed Cox for his fortitude in high wheel
    riding. He is the Grand master in our town! : ) See you on the tweed lite!

  • Lisa says:

    I really like the idea of the country bike. If you wanted to try this concept but had a more modest budget of around $500 is there an entry level bike that would work well? Currently riding a Raleigh route 3.0 which is a nice slow ride but the handle bars are painful after a few miles and the bike is rather heavy for dragging up foothills:).

  • Alan says:

    Hi Lisa,

    You might look at the Trek Belleville:

    It’s a nice bike that’s pretty much ready to go out of the box.I realize it’s a bit beyond your budget limit, but most bikes in the $500 price range are going to require some upgrades for what you want to do, which will probably put you in that price range anyway. The trick will be finding one since they’re selling very well and dealers have had a tough time keeping them in stock.


  • Lisa says:

    @ Alan…Thank you very much:). Heading off to look for one and try it out. After reading your technical posts I also adjusted the seat and handlebars of the current bike am am thrilled! Thank you for putting all this info out there.

  • Lisa says:

    Well, visited 4 area bike shops today and from the blank stares and attempts to convince me that I needed a comfort bike I think I’ll have to go further afield in my search:>. I would say the road cycles, cruisers, and comfort bikes must be the vast share of profits in this area.

  • Dustin says:


    I special-ordered a Belleville through my local Trek dealer after searching for months. It’s beautiful (they’re currently building it). I should have it by Tuesday. Hit me up if you have questions: dkingsmill [-at-] gmail dot com.

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