Starting a new sport can feel overwhelming and apprehensive at the best of times, but when you've seen so many cyclists whizzing up and down the roads around you it feels even more scary to buy yourself a bike and head out onto the road. The first time you ride the bike you feel like the slowest person in the world and hope nobody is watching and you grind through the gears and struggle to go uphill like the pro-looking riders around you whilst cursing your legs for not working and nearly everyone starts riding on a bike that weighs as much as the moon and isn't quite the right size. However if you put all those little niggles to one side and keep turning the pedals then things get easier much faster than you might expect. I apprehensively bought my first road bike two years ago as a way to get back into sport following two years of injury after tearing my achilles tendon. Itching to get outside and finally be able to do some sport I bought a £400 Dawes Giro 300 which weighted nearly 13kg and head out the door in search of some fitness. Having seen everyone around Leeds flying past me on a bike every day I thought it would be really easy to go really fast straight away; I was wrong. My first bike ride was just 12 miles long and 14.5mph which is not at all bad but definitely wasn't as fast as everyone else or as fast as I wanted to be.
So feeling slightly deflated but ever more determined I continued to ride my bike throughout the week, pushing myself to go faster and further than the last time I went out. Every time I went out I would get overtaken by somebody faster and every time I would push a little bit harder to catch them until eventually I could just about hold onto their wheel and feel that little smile grow as I found myself getting faster.
After a couple of months of riding I bought my first "clippy pedals" which was an even more daunting prospect than riding fast. Suddenly I felt like I was back at square one having to remember to unclip to stop and that if I couldn't pedal up the hill I would just fall off sideways. I did fall off a few times of course and the best of these was as I left the bike shop I came to a very dignified halt then simply toppled sideways telling the salesman I was just testing his theory.
So with my cleats and heavy as the moon bike I kept on training and riding until I felt I was fast enough to join in with a group. Either bravely or stupidly my first group ride was a chain-gang which is a fast paced training ride in rotations. It was fair to say I was dropped in all of ten seconds but instead of turning home I did the whole route alone and even got lapped. At the end I turned to the leader and asked him how they were so fast and the response was training. Every week since then I have trained and ridden my bike until I felt faster and fitter than before.
One other thing I remember is that every single hill no matter how big or small felt like a mountain and impossible to conquer. I constantly talked myself out of climbing anything scary looking and avoided hilly training rides. I soon realised though that you only get stronger on a hill by riding a hill and started to add them to my rides. Quite often I'd stop halfway up and claim to be taking a photo but secretly cursing my legs for not being stronger until one day I would eventually make it to the top of the hill and be able to carry on.
Now two years later I have completed rides I never dreamed were possible and ridden at speeds I thought were reserved only for Bradley Wiggins and his shiny bikes. In two years of training I have obtained my Category three racing license, ridden a 315 mile ride at 19mph, tackled the Coast to Coast in day and even briefly held the KOM on a 33% climb called Rosedale Chimney. Yet as an athlete I still crave more and always strive to be fitter and faster but remember the immense progress I made from my first ride to today and realise that the determinism outweighed the pessimism and you get pretty fit pretty fast.
So I would always say to any new rider that you really shouldn't worry about not being the faster person on the road with the shiny new bike but you should enjoy the riding and knowing that although you feel slow you're probably really not at all and only ever going to get faster. There is always someone out there that can ride at your speed and clubs out there that help beginners get riding. Oh, and cleats really aren't too scary - just remember to unclip before you stop.
If you believe in your ability to succeed then you will achieve your goals. My next goal is to complete a 4000km race across Europe this summer and a 550 mile ride around the UK in 48hrs. What is yours?