I took this photo last Thursday on my way to work.
Five or six weeks ago, we had a really fun book-signing party for Grant Petersen's new book "Just Ride", which you can purchase here. Not surprisingly, perhaps, to Grant Petersen's long-time fans and observers, his book offers a critique of the influence of the racing mindset and racing-oriented products that seem to pervade all aspects of cycling. He describes his perspective as that of the "unracer". In my understanding, the unracer is a cyclist who rides a bike without being overly concerned with speed and performance statistics, without feeling to need to dress in a costume that indicates allegiance a favorite racing team or brand or club, and, most importantly, without sacrificing utility or fun for improved performance. Anyway, without knowing there was a term for it, I've been an unracer for years, and I'd suggest most cyclists are unracers, even if they don't realize it yet.
Recently a customer/friend of mine went to another shop to check out a particular product carried exclusively by that shop. The salesperson reportedly badgered my friend about not using cycling shoes (along with the requisite clipless pedals) or cycling shorts. According to my friend, who has a fair bit of experience to know what she likes and doesn't like, the salesperson's arguments didn't focus on performance or even comfort, oddly, but on safety, of all things. Basically, the message was that bad or dangerous things will happen to you if you don't use padded shorts (specifically, for any ride of more than 15 minutes!) or clipless pedals (you could lose a toe!). Apparently arguments about efficiency and comfort are not as effective as fear of death and dismemberment! I'm not here to argue the merits and demerits of either of these products, but I would like to point out that claiming that either is a necessity is ludicrous. Most of the bike-riding world has never heard of padded shorts or clipless pedals. I ride everyday to work, and most days for aimless recreation, and maybe a thousand or more loaded touring miles in a given year, and I don't use clipless pedals, cycling shoes, or padded shorts. I tried them and didn't derive any benefit worth changing my clothes. I'm sure the salesperson at the other shop got into cycling and followed the conventional wisdom about these products from the first day she purchased her first "road bike". I seriously doubt she's given decent platform pedals and un-padded shorts a fair shake. Why would she?
For whatever benefits people get from them, clipless pedals and padded shorts are a quick way for an inexperienced cyclist to gain credibility among his/her peers as a "serious" cyclist. After all, every pro cyclist uses these products, and if you show up on a "road bike" without them to almost any group ride, people will comment or criticize or write you off as completely eccentric. Of course, people who use the pedals and shorts believe in these products, it's no lie, but I'd point out that most people get their first clipless pedals and padded shorts the same day they get their first nice road bike and start riding more - of course performance improves! If I had to estimate from my personal experience in bike shops, 75-90% of the customers who ask about clipless pedals have never used them, and have fears about having their feet firmly attached to the pedals (and falling over), but they also have fears about looking like a novice dork in front of other cyclists (protip: all cyclists look like dorks to somebody). To whatever degree people see me as an experienced, accomplished cyclist, it seems to give them some comfort when I tell them to ignore the peer pressure and stick with platform pedals, if that's what they're comfortable using. It's all about being comfortable with yourself. If you're comfortable with whatever you're using, keep with it. If you'd like to experiment, please do. But beware of group pressures to conform in ways that don't make sense to you - they don't care about you as much as they need to reinforce their own insecurities.
I don't want people to intentionally or unintentionally miss my point. There is nothing inherently wrong with using clipless pedals, padded shorts, or other racing equipment. If these aspects of cycling improve the fun factor in your case, I'm truly happy for you. Of course, if you rebel from the dominant racing paradigm, and show up to tweed rides and pressure others who aren't as "tweedy" as you are into wearing more tweed or more period-correct tweed or whatever, you're taking part in another flavor of the same brand of weird tribalism. But there isn't a disturbing preponderance of tweedy riders on vintage 3-speeds (yet). There is, however, a preponderance of nonracers riding racing bikes. Yesterday during the shop ride I saw dozens of people (not in our group) riding race-style bikes with the typical features of low-spoke-count wheels, integrated shift/brake levers, skinny 700x23 tires, carbon forks, etc. Of these, maybe 2 or 3 looked like they might actually compete in a race once in awhile. Many were older or overweight or had equipment choices that were incongruent with their racing bikes (cobbled-on rear rack, seatpost-mount fender, steerer extenders, gel-padded too-low handlebars, etc). The people I'm describing are not racers. They're not fast or terribly concerned with speed. They're just ordinary bike riders who wanted to buy a good, efficient bike, and the obvious step up from the "entry level" hybrid was a so-called "road bike". They bought the bike, and the pressure to buy into all the other roadie accoutrements followed immediately. These are the unracers stuck between dorky "hybrids" and bikes that resemble the bikes being ridden by 130-lb twenty-something substance-enhanced super-athletes in the TdF.
At HC, we are completely uninterested in bike racing. Sure, we can fix your Madone or your Tarmac, and we have some experience with some of the gravel century races, and a few simple ideas that will make your bike marginally faster. But for the most part, we don't give a damn about that. We are about as committed to bikes and the bicycle lifestyle as people can get, but the sport aspect of cycling might as well be happening on another planet. Recently I was fixing a flat on an old Schwinn gas-pipe 10-speed when the owner, a woman my mother's age, asked, "do you race?" It was clear that she wanted to fawn over an actual bike-racer. My response was unrehearsed and sort of surprised me when it came out: "Nope, I ride bikes for transportation, recreation, and adventure." She seemed disappointed by that, but I was proud of this off-the-cuff answer. What's a more noble use of bikes than transportation, recreation, and/or adventure?