Cycling can, I have to admit, become something of an expensive habit. Especially when there are multiple bikes to keep in tip-top condition, as well as there being the ever-present desire to upgrade and improve. There is generally a sharp intake of breath if I mention that there’s a bike in my garage which crests 4 figures in value, and this is by no means ‘expensive’ compared to the truly top of the range stuff. But conversely it can be remarkably cheap to get into cycling (even if, when the obsession takes over, that will become a distant memory). So just how do you get the bike for you at the right price?
Let’s work our way through this from most expensive to least, and naturally buying new from a bike store is going to work out at a higher cost, but there are ways to mitigate this. The best way is obviously to convince your employer to sign up to a Bike to Work scheme, whereby a small amount of your monthly salary goes towards ‘renting’ the bike from your employer, with the option to purchase the bike at a much reduced price after two years. The scheme has been tightened up recently after it was being somewhat taken advantage of, but the deals still represent good value for money (the payments to the bike from your salary are also tax free so you save a small, but mounting, amount of money that way as well).
The bike stores also have regular sales. Bike manufacturers are prone to re-releasing models every year with minor tweaks. Brake or gear technology may have moved on incrementally, or perhaps they’ve simply changed the colour. This means that the last year’s models can often be sold off at greatly reduced prices – it’s always worth asking at your friendly local bike shop. And it’s a far better idea than looking at a cheap-as-chips bike from the likes of Asda or Argos or JJB Sports. At least, if you want to carry on cycling, as the heavy clunky machines that can be bought for less than fifty quid will likely put you off in a matter of days. There’s a reason the bicycle fraternity refers to them as BSOs, or Bicycle Shaped Objects, rather than bikes in their own right. Above all else a bike store will be able to advise you properly on your requirements and what might fit them. And trust me, if you’re looking for a commuter or weekend pooler you do not need a bouncy full-suspension mountain bike with chunky tyres.
The next two options are similar, but subtly different. The prices can match up. Reconditioned is basically like buying secondhand, but from a shop. The Bike Station in Edinburgh is a great example. They take in old bikes and restore them, new brakes and gears where needed, then sell them on to the public (on Saturdays: http://www.thebikestation.org.uk/
). The benefit of this is that the bike comes with a warranty and a built-in back-up (head back if there’s a problem and they’ll sort it for you). Again there is someone to talk to about your requirements, and you’re less likely to walk away with a lemon that will put you off cycling for the next ten years. Obviously there will be a slight premium to pay for buying a fixed up bike, but hey, peace of mind is priceless.
I’d only really advocate secondhand for people who know what to look for, or if they’re buying from a friend which gives them some comeback if there’s a problem later. You MUST know what you’re looking for (again, to avoid buying something wholly unsuited to your needs which gives you a negative experience of cycling). eBay is awash with bikes, as is Gumtree, but you’ll be amazed to see how many are those bikes mentioned above that have come from Argos and the like – there’s a reason. But, the prices that can be had are low, especially for the ultimate in the secondhand sale, a police auction. Awkwardly Lothian and Borders police sell off their reclaimed and abandoned stuff at Dalry (in the west of the country, not the west of Edinburgh), but it can be worth the trip to pick up the occasional bargain. The biggest downside to this is that you don’t get a test ride chance, whereas buying from a member of the public you can at least ask to take the bike for a spin in the street.
Believe it or not, this CAN be done! One bike I had in my garage had been fetched out of a skip by my father-in-law for me. But it’s also possible to do without resorting to pilfering. Groups such as Freecycle or Freegle often have bikes crop up, but you have to be quick to get your hands on them. Very quick. You can also place ‘Wanted’ messages as well, though doing it for bikes may well lead to you getting messages back telling you eBay have a load of cheap bikes. It did the one time I tried. It’s all about keeping a close eye on something suitable coming up and having the reactions of a cobra.
Once you have the bike the world is your oyster. Contrary to populate opinion, when starting out you really don’t need any special kit. If you’ve got some sports clothing that might be more comfortable to ride in, and buy a helmet if you like (as long as it meets the minimum standards this can be obtained cheaply, it’ll be heavier and hotter than a more expensive option, but hit the off road cyclepaths and do away with the hat to increase your confidence).
When I was a kid football was the sport that everyone could indulge in without having to spend a fortune. Remarkably, today, the same can really be said of cycling.