I think the French indeed did (and obviously still do) pleasure riding although not to the extent of the British. Certainly France produced the type of relatively sophisticated touring machines that I don't think one saw in Italy. But I am not sure if there was the degree of amateur time trialing and club racing that saw such a explosion in the demand for lightweight machines before the War and immediately afterwards in England.
In the 1950s there was even a faint glimmer of hope that those arch cyclists, the Nigerians (if you think I'm passionate about Raleigh.. talk to a Nigerian!), would adopt cycle sport. In 1957 Raleigh sent Reg Harris to the Nigerian Independence Day festivities.
Of course one of the factors in cycle sport is the condition of roads... we forget that one of the reasons cycling thrived to the extent it did in England was the extent and quality of well paved roads as well as cycle regulation and laws. Hence those still remarkable long distant records of the 1920s and 1930s that Mick Butler has referred to. Bert James, S.H. Ferris, Charles Holland were as famous as any of the Tour de France winners in their days and their exploits were contemporary to the early days of the Tour.
Were these British riders and machines any good? Bert James in March 1938 did 100 miles in 3 hours 45 minutes 51 seconds. On a Raleigh. With a Sturmey-Archer hub gear.
Me, I'm ready to buy a Cinelli Super Corsa and see what I'm missing. I'm already on the cycleway to Perdition after buying a French bike, so I've got nothing to lose.
Washington DC USA