I recently reminisced on my inroad into cycling. Here are some recollections and thoughts on the matter.
As a virgin to cycling, I had no idea what level of fitness would be required to ride decently, especially around veterans of the sport. I thought after "some time" spent on the bicycle I would, seemingly magically, gain the results required to ride with any club group and dare I say, be able to race at an amateur level. After getting acclimated to some unfamiliar details of riding the road (clipless pedals, overcoming traffic fears), any aspiring mid-20s alpha-male in decent shape (by a commoner's standards) should be able to pick up the sport quickly and efficiently, and find himself comfortable riding among any others on the road. One quickly realizes the first step to improvement is realizing the falsehoods of one's unfounded presumptions steeped in ignorance generated by the sense of personal pride our 21st century first-world culture instills in us all. You can have anything and everything you want easily and without tons of effort if you just ask for it...except cycling.
It was the first couple of times out. I had in my mind to go out and "hammer" (unknown term at the time, but it was the same mental process)...5 or 10 miles. Having no idea what I was doing, I picked an arbitrary rails-to-trails path that was a few miles from my house. Of course the idea of riding in traffic was great and terrible. I drove to the start of the trail (which was less than a few miles from the house) and began a 20 minutes process of unloading, "checking everything", and warm up in the parking lot. I then set off and proceeded to ride. I don't really remember much about the first ride other than I thought I'd went a decent distance and felt rather proud of my self.
My experience on the bike grew very slowly. At the time I had no one to guide me or tell me what was "normal". I slowly started riding with traffic on the side roads around town, but never ventured outside of a 10 mile radius of my house. Riding out of town towards the country was way too dangerous, for sure.
Then I found out that a group of people gathered together on Saturday mornings for a "group ride" a few miles from my house. I thought for sure these were seasoned veterans who raced and would have no interest in allowing a noob like me to tag along. Eventually though, I got over my fear and rode up to the group as they started to gather. Fortunately for me, this turned out to be a casual ride that always re-grouped at certain check points. Everyone was extremely friendly and was glad to have another rider join the group, even a noob.
The pace was tough for me. I think it was in the 16mph range over a planned route of about 25 miles, but it was a lot faster and longer than I had been riding on my own up to that point. There again, I had not known what a "normal" pace would have been. I was heaving trying to suck in enough air to keep up while people were trying to make conversation - slightly embarassing. All I could do was nod or give short spurts of sentences while trying to maintain control enough not to run into the person riding very closely beside and in front of me. Very nerve racking indeed.
Luckily I managed to survive the first outing with the group, and my confidence and interest in cycling had a huge boost. I felt that I had joined "the club" and was on my way to becoming a part of the elite group who rode bicycles for the sake of progressing the community of the group and furthering a timeless tradition of riding the road. We record these milestones in our cycling lives as major life-changing events as we continue to invest our lives in The Work..