While many countries are rich in bicycle heritage, some have particularly strong associations with distinct styles of bikes: the Netherlands with the omafiets and the bakfiets, France with the mixte, porteur and randonneur, England with the roadster and the elaborately lugged "lightweight," Italy with the Frascona curve and the racing bike, the US with the cruiser and the mountain bike. Far from arbitrary, these connections can be revealing about the history and the cultural values of the country where each design developed, and this aspect is always interesting for me.
As I was working on, then riding, and then writing about the Randonneur over the past 8 months, I keep thinking how interesting it was that this old French design is now thriving (relatively speaking of course) in the US, with fairly minor modifications from the original. I suppose it makes sense: There is lots of land here, lots of places to travel, and Americans value speed - hence the growing popularity of randonneuring. Add to that the custom bicycle boom, and suddenly American framebuilders - for whom only three years ago "clearance for wide tires" meant 28mm - are building 650Bx40mm bikes with elaborate custom racks and cantilever brake bosses - an entirely normal feature now thanks to the popularity of cyclocross. Since American culture is a mish-mash of other traditions, it seems only natural that US builders are inspired by French, or Italian, or Dutch bikes. But what about a country with a very distinct tradition of its own? Can you see a low trail randonneuring bicycle made by an English builder, or is that too strange? I've been discussing a possible project with Mercian Cycles, and if it works it could be interesting in that respect. The national character of bicycles is increasingly fluid and playful, and some traditions are kept alive through other countries' takes on them.