Well getting better at least for me means three things
00. Stay safe
It's an awesome sport but it's on the road so be careful. Get a helmet of course. But also have a helmet mounted light even during the day time. Try to use trails particularly at first. Assume that no one sees you. Getting T-boned is the most common accident. Drivers just tune bikes out. A $130 Vis 360 Pro Bike Helmet Light Set Rechargeable is small light and lasts forever particularly in flash mode.
And while way more expensive I find the Garmin Varia RTL510 invaluable it is a Bike/Cycling Radar Tail Light,l and gives you Alerts for Rear-Approaching Vehicles. You do need a Garmin Edge 520 Plus, It you'll want a bike computer anyway.
0. Stay comfortable
The most unintuitive thing about this sport is that being comfortable is way easier for advanced than beginners. So two key things. Get a bike that fits. A $200 bike that fits will be way better than a $20K bike that doesn't. So go to your local bike shop and ask. Not Walmart. Someone dedicated to the art. Be honest about your price range. And it is far from crazy to spend $200 on a pro fit. Makes all the difference.
Related to that invest in a good bike short (and your fitter will get you a saddle that works). It's the part that we'll mates to the seat. That and butt butter are key (aka chamois cream). Personally I love Castelli Aero large (these are sized very small so Large is Medium).
1. Don't forget why you are doing this
That is go to beautiful places and love the view. It's a marathon not a sprint so make sure you are riding where it makes your heart stop. And not from the terror of cars whizzing by but for the Beauty as Ben nicely captured it. (Will the below unfurl from the iOS application?)
And have a crew you like to ride with. There are many kind souls who don't mind. Find them at your local bike shop ride. Or you'd be surprised who will say sure.
2. Get the base in at easy reps
This is not a sport where you have to sweat bullets or cough up blood. So build up your base. When you start l, get a heart rate monitor. They cost $70 now and manage your efforts to stay in your green zone. That's going to be maybe below 130 bpm for the average person (ok for me 🙂
Get a bike computer for the same reason. It will help you gameify what you are doing later.
Stay disciplined. When you get close to that slow down. Stay at the back of the line. Learn to be comfortable first. When you can do that for an hour that's great.
3. Share on Strava and Training Peaks
Go through the pain of logging on. If you've got a Garmin then you need the Garmin Connect application on your phone. Upload your stuff.
Why because with segments you can see yourself do well. With training Peaks you will know if you are fatigued or not doing enough.
Most important you will start a dialog with others who are doing the same. Find some locally and do the rides. Get psyched when others hit their Personal Records.
4. Get a coach, heart rate and power meter
This isn't as crazy as it seems you can get one online for nothing but the best is going to be someone a bit wiser than you with suggestions. Bicyclists love to share!
And the $80 Scosche Rhythm+ Heart Rate Monitor Armband although some find it unreliable. It's worked fine for me.
If you are really into it and can afford it a power meter is great. Stages makes a simple one for $600. that just replaces your crank arm Just make sure to get the right length.
5. Hit the weights and core classes
Ok this is unintuitive but once you have your base this gives you a reason to go to the gym. Use the same tools and gameify it. Buy an Apple Watch and AirPods and download the Strong app. This let's you record and measure your lifting.
Most of it be your core which you always need and legs. Thrice a week is good but don't be too hard on yourself.
6. Keep doing fun rides but add intervals
For an hour of work on the bike that is like the gym. Nothing beats intervals. Just find a flat spot and drive hard working on a smooth spin and tight core for 200 meters.
At this point having a power meter really helps. They are not incredibly expensive but for training they measure wattage which is what counts.