Image CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 marcmo:Flickr
Browse the high-end bikes in your local shiny specialist and you can get the idea that cycling is a very expensive way to get around and get your exercise fix. Not so; with our money-saving tips you can buy and run a bike on the financial equivalent of the smell of an oily rag.
Use the Cycle To Work Scheme
By deducting the payments for your bike from your pre-tax salary, the Cycle To Work Scheme can save you at least 25 percent off the cost of a new bike. Recent changes to the rules allow you to buy accessories too, so don't think of it as a bike-only one-off.
You pay for the bike or equipment through salary sacrifice, generally over 12 months, and you save on income tax and National Insurance on the payments.
That means it's good for everyone who pays tax, and if you're fortunate enough to be earning enough to pay a higher rate, you'll save even more.
At the end of the scheme the bike is yours for a market value payment. Many providers extend the hire through a separate agreement for a further couple of years to take advantage of the much lower market value rates for older bikes (3% for bikes under £500 and 7% for more expensive bikes).
Buy second hand
Thanks to sites like eBay and Gumtree and many classified forums including our own it’s never been easier to find a bike second hand, and while some people have slightly inflated ideas of what their used stuff is worth, there are plenty of bargains out there.
Any second-hand bike will need a thorough mechanical inspection. In particular, have a very close look at the frame. Any cracks or paint ripples are signs that the frame has been abused and you should walk away.
You should also ask the seller to show you the original purchase receipt for the bike, so you can be reasonably sure it's not stolen. Check the frame number at BikeRegister too. Ask questions about the history of the bike, what it's been used for and what modifications have been made. A thief won't know this stuff or will make silly mistakes.
Buy in sales and out of season
If you're planning on buying a new bike later this year, wait till about September and you may well be able to buy this year’s model at a nice discount. That’s when next year’s bikes start hitting the shops so dealers discount them to clear floor and warehouse space.
The caveat is you may struggle to find some popular models and sizes at the end of the season, so shop around.
Similar principles apply to accessories that have a season, like lights and clothing. The peak buying season for lights is in September; if you buy at the end of winter, they’re substantially cheaper.
The same goes for clothes. Buy your summer clothes in sales during the winter and vice versa and you’ll save, often very large amounts. Discounts as large as 50-60 percent are not unusual.
Sample sales are another source of heavily-discounted gear. Keep your eyes open and you could pick up gear from high-end brands like Vulpine and Rapha at prices considerably more wallet-friendly than usual.
Put up with a few more grams
Everyone likes the ‘oooh’ factor of lifting a light bike, but weight saving costs money, and makes little difference on the road unless you’re racing up l’Alpe d’Huez.
For example, say you need a new saddle. The base model seat from Wiggle own brand Cosine, with steel rails, will cost you £14.99 and weighs a claimed 254g. At the other end of the price and weight spectrum, a Selle San Marco Mantra Superleggera costs £295 and weighs 117g. You’re not going to be able to feel a 137g weight difference, but you’ll certainly feel not being able to pay this week’s rent.
Doing your own repair and maintenance work can save you loads in labour charges. You’ll have a better-functioning bike into the bargain as you’re more likely to notice things going wrong is you know how they’re supposed to be.
At the very least, you should learn how to fix a punctured inner tube, saving yourself a fiver very time you get a flat. If that’s too much hassle, buy spare tubes in bulk; you can usually find them for as little as £2 each in packs of ten.
If a tube is damaged beyond repair, don’t bin it. A bit of old tube makes a good chainstay protector, while strips of old tube have uses like lining the hooks of your bike rack so they don't scratch the car's paint work (that's my job).
If you ride in winter fit some mudguards. As well as keeping you cleaner and drier, they reduce the amount of crud that ends up on your drivetrain so it won’t wear as quickly or need cleaning as often.
Check out Lidl, Aldi and Decathlon
German-based supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi regularly have seasonal special offers on cycling clothing and accessories. The quality isn’t stellar, but it’s decent enough for the price, which often undercuts anything else around.
If you want a bit more choice, then Decathlon’s cycling brand B’Twin offers low prices and quality that ranges from ‘not bad at all’ to ‘how is this so good for this money?’
The answer to the latter question lies in the huge buying power Decathlon has because of its chain of store across Europe.
A lock’s an investment
Replacing a stolen bike is the biggest and most painful cost most cyclists ever have to face. Get a decent lock, and use it every time you leave your bike anywhere, however briefly you’re planning to leave it.
Consider taking out insurance on your bike too. Admittedly, this is a bit of a gamble, but it might save you money in the long run.
Use the right kit
Use kit appropriate to the riding you do. For example, if you commute, then use mountain bike shoes and pedals not road ones. Road shoes may look more pro but you will wear the cleats out much quicker if you have to walk at all (and let’s face it there’s usually a least a short walk at the end of a commute).
In fact, you’ll find that the cleat on the foot you touch down at lights wears faster than the one that stays clipped in. Merely annoying if you run cheaper cleats like Looks; aggravating as all hell if you’re using, say, Speedplays.
If you’re a daily commuting rider, then a Merino jersey is a sound investment. Merino doesn’t get smelly as quickly as synthetics, so you can wear the same jersey every day for a week without your colleagues reeling from the pong when you get to work. One good Merino jersey is cheaper than a week’s-worth of all but the very cheapest synthetics.
You can fix any number of minor on-the-road mechanical problems with zip-ties — and then forget they're there and leave them for the rest of time. Cheap!
Don’t train or ride too much
Otherwise your food bill will go through the roof.
Don’t read cycle magazines or websites
Otherwise you’ll want to upgrade everything every year.
Like the Rapha look but put off by the price tag?
Impress fellow brand fans on your commute by fashioning a white armband out of a crepe bandage.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.