Grant Petersen, the founder of Rivendell, has long railed against how racing-centric bicycling is in America. For example, in a 2005 interview with Sheldon Brown at Interbike, Petersen ranted:
I think the worst thing that's happening in bicycles these days and it's been happening for years is using racing and competition bicycles to sell bicycles to people who are not going to do that. I mean, it wouldn't happen in cars. You don't see people driving around in cars that people race on the dragstrip or in NASCAR cars but that's the kind of bike that people get on and ride. It's not a practical bike for everyday living....Now Petersen, whose wonderful writing made collectibles out of old Bridgestone catalogs and Rivendell Readers, has written a book based on this theme: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike.
This is not going to be a review of his book. Instead, I thought I'd set up a debate between Petersen and the most consistent purveyor of the racing-centric view of bicycling I could think of: Bicycling Magazine.
Bicycling has obliged by publishing an article in its July 2012 issue called Beginners' Guide: A Construction Manual. This is an article on "how to become a cyclist." So what I'm going to do here is take a quote or close paraphrase from Bicycling's "Construction Manual" and then a counterpoint from Petersen's Just Ride. I'll leave it to you to decide who makes more sense.
On bike shorts
Bicycling Magazine: Bike shorts wick sweat and make riding comfortable. A section of padding, called a chamois, is sewn into the seat of the garment to help prevent chafing.
Grant Petersen: The benefits of tight shorts with padded crotches matter only to racers and mega-milers. For anybody else, and for recreational rides, even vigorous ones lasting the better part of a day, a good saddle, smooth-seamed shorts, and standing up now and then are all you need.
BM: Made of lightweight, fast-drying materials that stay cool, this shirt includes back pockets to hold snacks, keys, and other essentials.
GP: If you don't race, loose is better. Loose clothing ventilates better and stays off your skin. Untuck your shirt, so it flaps a little and keeps the air moving around your skin.
BM: Invest in a clipless system, which increases power and efficiency and smooths out pedal strokes by connecting cleats on your shoes to the pedals.
GP: As long as your pedals aren't dinky, any shoe does the job without flexing because the shoe is supported by the pedal. The benefits of pedaling free far outweigh any real or imagined benefits of being locked in.
BM: They prevent blisters and pressure pain from the handlebar and protect your hands in case of a fall.
GP: I can see gloves (or mittens) in cold weather, but they're far from essential in fair weather.
BM: That's your only brain up there. Strap this on to help keep it safe.
GP: Are you safer wearing a helmet and overestimating its protection, or going helmetless and riding more carefully?
On buying bikes
BM: Buy the highest quality bike you can afford. For $500-700, expect entry-level components; a frame made of no-frills steel or aluminum; basic wheels. For $1,000 to 1,500, expect mid or entry level parts; a midquality steel or aluminum frame, maybe with carbon fiber mixed in; lighter, stronger wheels. For $1,500 to 3,000, expect upper-level components; a frame made of some high-quality aluminum or steel or midlevel carbon; lighter wheels.
GP: The lighter bike is good for maybe five years before it breaks or you just don't trust it anymore. The heavier one may easily last twenty or thirty years because it can withstand scratches and minor gouges. The more useful steel bike let's you ride tires up to 38 mm so you can ride it over any paved surface with remarkable comfort, because you can lower the pressure in the wide tires. It fits fenders, so it's a year-round, all-weather bike, not a part of the year, good weather one. A weight difference of a few pounds is hard to get worked up over, especially when the "extra" weight makes the bike better.
BM: Plan on using a firmer, narrower model common to sportier road bikes that will support your sit bones and muscles. You might initially experience soreness while your rear end acclimates to the seat, but that will subside over a week or two of riding.
GP: Sitting well behind the pedals keeps you from scooting forward on the saddle and putting more weight on your hands, and lets you apply power sooner when you're pedaling uphills sitting down.