Many more people have been riding their bikes during the pandemic lockdown, but for many the biggest concern is finding places to cycle where they aren’t threatened by unsafe drivers. Many of us would prefer to do most of our riding away from traffic.
We need to keep campaigning so that there are more safe places to ride – we’d recommend joining Cycling UK or your local cycling campaign group, and continuing to let your local elected politicians know that you want to be able to cycle safely.
Here are some of the best ways we’ve found to discover places to ride:
There isn’t one perfect site, that shows all routes, indicates whether they are on or off-road, and includes ridable bridleways. But these are still incredibly useful. Some of the Apps listed in the section further down the page would also fit into this category, so if you want something that works both at home for route planning and on your device whilst out-and-about they might be what you’re looking for.
Here are some of the most best mapping sites. First of all, the National Cycle Network:
- OS Maps National Cycle network This map shows the whole of the National Cycle Network (NCN), and has the advantage of showing which sections are on-road (blue) and traffic-free (yellow). The downside is that it doesn’t include most other cycle routes, although a recent update (July ’20) means that some downgraded parts of the network and some other routes are shown.
- The Sustrans website has maps and details for individual National Cycle Network routes. The NCN isn’t perfect, route-quality varies, and sometimes there are better ways to cycle from A to B, but it is a great place to start.
The following three map sites essentially show a far more comprehensive selection of routes than just the NCN, but a slightly less-obvious indication about which are on-road and which are traffic-free. They are really useful for discovering routes.
- Cycle.travel map We love this site, by Richard Fairhurst. The site is written from a cycle-tourist’s point of view. Richard has tweaked the route-planning algorithm to take into account factors the other sites haven’t, such as how busy roads are likely to be.
- Open Cycle Network (The same map is used by the Cyclestreets website, which adds route-planning options, though the Desktop version has the map in a frame. The mobile version of Cyclestreets is useful.)
- Waymarked Trails: Cycling
One downside of these three mapping sites is that they usually don’t show bridleways, which can sometimes be useful connecting routes or good places to ride in their own right (although they can also be badly-surfaced, muddy and impassable…).
- Footpathmap is a free site that shows bridleways more clearly – you’re looking for the pink lines. The red lines are footpaths, which you can’t ride on unless specific permission has been given. It might be useful for finding local places to ride, although bridleways vary hugely in quality – at worst they can be a muddy quagmire.
- Ordnance Survey maps. These are a paid alternative (if you want the more detailed Explorer and Landranger maps) – you can use the app, or download maps to your phone or computer.
- The Strava Heat Map is an interesting way to find out which places and routes are popular with other people on bikes. Some caveats: 1. It is widely used by people on road bikes, so the routes shown may not really be ones you’d choose and some will be busy roads; 2. Not all the routes may be valid rights of way; 3. It isn’t designed to help you with navigation.
- GPX Editor is an online tool for route planning, if you’re looking to plan routes and then upload them as a .GPX file to a device (beginners – you can probably ignore this…)
- Sustrans have an excellent series of maps in their shop which are great for planning adventures.
- OS paper maps are brilliant for general planning and for collecting maps that you don’t really need but might need one day… That said you won’t find all the cycling-specific information that is available on online maps.
- Komoot is a popular mapping app for cycling, allowing you to plan routes. It shows you percentages of routes on and off-road, which is useful. You have to pay for certain functions, but the maps are a one-off cost rather than a recurring subscription, and the first region is free.
- Ordnance Survey Maps app, as previously mentioned, might be the ideal solution if you enjoy using OS maps to navigate.
- Cyclestreets is an app, as well as the website, listed above.
- MapMyRide is a another popular app for planning routes.
- Strava is great if you’re interested in knowing how quickly you ride – it’s aimed more at people for whom cycling is a sport rather than a means of transport. The advantage is that a lot of other people use it, so you can see where other people are riding and running.
- Ride with GPS is favoured by some for route planning and navigation.
- Citymapper. Useful if you live in London or another large city.
Local cycling organisations
Your local cycling campaign group may well have links to local maps, which may be more comprehensive than the national ones. They are great people to link up with anyway. It’s tricky to tell you how to find your local cycling campaign as we haven’t found a comprehensive list, but it is worth Googling the name of the place you live followed by ‘cycling campaign’.
Other good places to ride
We love disused railway lines – favourites including the Camel Trail in Cornwall, Bristol-Bath Railway Path and The Granite Way in Devon. If you have one of these on your doorstep you probably know about it, but what if you don’t?
There will be great places to ride that are more local to you. People you know who cycle will have ridden elsewhere, and there’s nothing like first-hand experience, so it’s worth asking people local to you who ride bikes for their recommendations.
Alternatively local Facebook groups may include people who cycle, so why not ask for local recommendations there? It may also inspire other people to think about cycling, which can’t be a bad thing.
Sometimes just getting out there and exploring will open up new possibilities. You never know* what is round the next corner.
*Unless you’ve looked it up on Google Streetview.
If you’re just starting out
If you still feel like you need to build up confidence riding a bike there’s no shame in finding a quiet open space to practice riding. Possibilities could include a local car park after hours, a cul-de-sac or other quiet place.
What are your favourite ways to find places to ride? Let us know!
Budget Cycling has been set up to help people find ways to start cycling on a budget, but we only want to recommend ethical sources of bikes and cycling products.
For this reason we won’t, for instance, advise buying a cheap Brompton on Gumtree, or a $70 electric bike from Wish…
A company we had wanted to include on Budget Cycling is Decathlon. Sadly, we’ve become aware that the company is actively promoting and profiting from the killing of songbirds and small migratory birds, as well as particular species, including thrushes, lapwing, turtle doves and more.
To quote from one listing on the Decathlon website:
“Our hunting engineers designed this developed this powerful, consistent cartridge, specially adapted for thrush hunting.
This cartridge performs at both medium and long range and has a consistent spread. This makes it the ideal cartridge for hunting thrush, songbirds, redwing, fieldfare, and mistle thrush.”
This particular listing has been removed from the UK website and Decathlon UK have apologised, but it is still live on other Decathlon sites, such as the French Decathlon site, to name one.
There are other items sold by Decathlon’s various stores in the EU that are designed specifically to capture songbirds and thrushes. For instance:
Decathlon have made a statement on Twitter about this:
Hi everyone, we have been made aware that some of the information in our in-store and online signage has promoted hunting small migratory birds and songbirds.
We want to apologise, as there have been issues both with the translation of some product information and also products we don’t sell in the UK (cartridges for example) appearing on the website, even if they were not available to purchase.
We want to assure you that we are not supporting or encouraging any activities of this sort. We have removed all products that fall into this category or have any translation issues.
At Decathlon UK we are committed to having a positive impact on the environment. We will continue to improve on this in the coming years.
We have have no reason to doubt that Decathlon UK are telling the truth here about selling these products in the UK. However, these products continue to be sold in Decathlon shops elsewhere in Europe. We asked Decathlon UK about this, and this was their reply:
Hi Dave, we have not been selling those products in the UK ever. For some reason they existed on our website but there was no possibility to buy them. We can only apologise for this.
Each country, within Decathlon, operates as a separate business, following the local laws and regulations. We have passed the feedback to the Solognac brand for them to act on with the other countries.
In our view this isn’t about local laws, but about doing the right thing. We shouldn’t expect anything less from any company that says they are ‘committed to having a positive impact on the environment‘. And it isn’t acceptable for Decathlon UK to claim that they are somehow independent of the Decathlon company as a whole. After all, in Decathlon UK’s own Twitter bio, they state:
We are Europe’s Largest Sports Retailer!
Until Decathlon make a clear commitment to stop selling items connected to the killing of “songbirds” and “small migratory birds” we won’t be promoting any of their bikes. Links to Decathlon products have been removed from this site (unless we’ve missed any…).
Leaving Decathlon bikes out of our Budget Cycling Guides is a real shame for all kinds of reasons, but it is the right thing to do. Budget Cycling has been accepted onto the Decathlon affiliate scheme, but we won’t be sending any of our website visitors their way until this changes. But we hope they will listen, and if, and hopefully when, we hear that Decathlon have altered their stance and stopped selling these products, we hope that we will once again be able to list their bikes.
Fortunately there are lots of other ways and places to buy a bike without spending a lot of money – see our Budget Cycling Guides for more details.
- How to buy a bike
- How to buy a secondhand bike
- How to buy an everyday bike
- How to buy a folding bike
- How to buy a mountain bike
Follow us on Twitter at @budgetcycling for regular cycling-on-a-budget tips and cycling inspiration.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us in this. It would be great if you could make this more widely-known. There’s a petition calling for Decathlon to stop promoting slaughter of songbirds and migratory birds here.
We live in challenging times, but during this pandemic cycling offers a huge number of benefits. It’s a way to get around whilst staying socially-distant, it frees up space on the roads for those who need to drive or used public transport, it doesn’t contribute to pollution in our urban areas, it’s healthy, during a time many of us are spending a lot of time indoors, and of course, it saves money.
Cycling is incredibly popular at the moment, which is brilliant, and let’s hope it continues. It does however, present some slight cycling-on-a-budget challenges, in that a lot of people are buying new bikes and equipment. Many moneysaving options are no longer, for the time being at least, as easy to find.
Much of the content on this site was originally written before the current pandemic, and things are changing rapidly. In particular:
Difficulty in buying bikes. For the time being many of the new entry-level bikes that we’d be recommending simply aren’t available in the places we’d normally suggest. Buying secondhand is probably the best option, but even then prices are often high, and bargains sell quickly.
Exercise restrictions. Different activities are allowed in different parts of the country, and even different areas of the UK. At the time of writing exercise restrictions have eased, but the situation could still change. You’ll no doubt be aware where you’re allowed to cycle, and who you’re allowed to cycle with where you live, but if things change some pages on this site may not reflect the current situation.
Traffic on the roads. During lockdown many roads have been relatively quiet, and it has been a great time to get out on your bike. As traffic begins to return to our roads we really hope local authorities make space for people to cycle. Now is a great time to support a national campaigning organisation, such as Cycling UK, or join your local cycle-campaigning group.
We hope the advice on this site is still useful, even if you discover some dead ends along the way. Please do send us feedback.
Is a mountain bike what you need?
A large percentage of bikes sold in the UK are mountain bikes. Before buying one it is worth considering the kind of riding you’ll be doing. If you’re riding on roads or well-paved surfaces a mountain bike will be slower and less practical than what we’re describing as an everyday bike.
However, if you plan to ride on rough tracks or unsurfaced towpaths or railway paths, or you live somewhere where the roads are in a bad state, then a mountain bike might not be a bad choice.
The popularity of mountain bikes mean that entry-level models are often priced below a basic road bike, making them a good budget option.
In the time before the pandemic we had planned to list some good picks for inexpensive mountain bikes, but the truth is that demand has been very high during 2020, so you’re unlikely to find many new bikes available.
What to look out for
Price. You can get a really cheap mountain bike from a supermarket or catalogue, but it isn’t to be recommended. It will be heavy, and be fitting with cheap components that won’t be up to the job. You probably need to be thinking of £300-400 for something that will do a decent job off-road.
If you don’t have that much to spend, then buying secondhand might be your best option. Be wary of bikes that have been heavily-used off-road. On the plus side many mountain bikes are only ever ridden on tarmac, and the popularity of mountain bikes means it is likely there will be some for sale in your local area.
Brand. It’s worth buying from an established brand, rather something that no one has ever heard of. Something by Specialized, Trek, Cube, Cannondale, Boardman, GT, Orbea, Kona, to name a few, would be good choice. If you’re searching for secondhand bikes these are the kinds of brands to look out for too.
Size. Manufacturer websites will have guides, but there’s no substitute for sitting on a bike in a shop. Make sure you are comfortably clear of the top tube when standing over the bike.
Brakes. Often the most basic bikes in a mountain bike range will have rim brakes rather than disc brakes. If you’re serious about off-road riding spending a bit more for cable disc brakes might be worth doing, but for trundling along towpaths rim brakes will be absolutely fine. Hydraulic disc brakes are another step up, but probably won’t feature if you’re looking at budget options.
Suspension. Modern front-suspension forks are better than they used to be, but a rigid bike with no suspension will probably do what you’re looking for, again, unless you have serious off-roading in mind. Full-suspension bikes are definitely to be avoided. You really need to be spending four figures before a full-suspension bike becomes a good choice – cheaper ones will be heavy and badly-engineered.
Wheel sizes. There are various choices these days. 26 inch is traditional for mountain bikes, and many secondhand bikes will have this size. The 29-inch wheel, or ’29er’, is now very popular, the larger wheels helping to smooth out bumps. Many bikes now have 27.5inch wheels, often referred to as 650b, which is somewhere between the two. If you’re looking for an online debate about the best wheel size it shouldn’t take too long to find one.
Places to try
It’s not easy to point to specific bikes at the moment, as many are hard to find in stock. But a couple of recommendations:
- The Pinnacle range at Evans Cycles are worth considering, if you can find any in stock.
- The Boardman range from Halfords are very good value – the web pages are here, but the entry-level bikes aren’t in stock at the time of writing. The 2021 bikes will be available fairly soon, but they are sure to be very popular.
Additional note: We’ve chosen not to list Decathlon bikes on this page – click here to find out why.
Folding bikes are a brilliant and versatile form of transport. Folding bikes have most of the advantages of a regular bike, but can be carried in a car boot, taken on public transport, stored under a desk at work, or kept in a space in your home that wouldn’t be suitable for a non-folding equivalent.
We’ll be developing this guide as time goes by, but in the meantime here are some recommendations for folding bikes.
The Brompton arguably has the best ‘fold’ of any folding bike – few can match it’s folded size. It has 16 inch wheels, which helps with the small fold, but as a result the feel when riding is a bit different to other bikes you may be used to. Unfortunately the superbly-small fold comes at a cost. Most Bromptons cost upwards of £1000, although the ‘entry-level’ Brompton B75 (at the time of writing) is £745. The B75 is the budget Brompton option, which uses some older components. It also doesn’t come with mudguards, so you’d need to factor that in if planning to use it year-round in the UK. The Brompton is a brilliant bike with many loyal fans. You can learn more about the Brompton B75 here.
Brompton bikes do tend to keep their value, which makes it hard to recommend buying one secondhand. If you see one for a good price there’s quite a good chance it is stolen. But if you do want a secondhand Brompton we’d recommend eBay or The Facebook Brompton Buy and Sell group above Gumtree. On the subject of stolen Bromptons – we’d advise not leaving your Brompton locked up outside, as they are very popular with bike thieves. The great thing about a Brompton is that you can nearly always take it inside wherever you are going.
Dahon / Tern
We’ve grouped these brands together because they have the same roots – Tern is owned by the son of the owner of Dahon bikes. Both companies make a variety of bikes, but are known for 20-inch-wheel bikes that share the same technology – essentially folding in half. The fold isn’t as compact as a Brompton, but some might prefer the feel of a bike with a slightly larger wheel. They produce bikes to suit all budgets, but the basic models cost less than a Brompton. Both Dahon and Tern bikes are available in the UK, and are definitely worth looking at if you have a dealer nearby. Both brands are also worth looking out for secondhand. Bikes badged ‘Phillips’ or ‘Ridgeback’ and some Raleigh folding bikes use Dahon technology.
Dave’s recommendation: I have a Dahon Speed P8, and I love it. Chunky smooth-rolling Big Apple tyres, quality components, and a glorious red and black design. Hard to find now, but many other Dahon bikes are available.
A good source for a new Dahon or Tern folding bike in the UK: CH White in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. They do all the bikes and keep all the spares. But as always, it is worth finding a local bike shop if you can.
Other folding bike brands to look out for (a work in progress):
Strida – superb triangular design by Mark Sanders. Not suitable for hills, and best for short distances. Look for a Strida 3, or 5, or later (not 1 or 2).
Montague – folding bikes with 26-inch wheel, for those that want a bike that folds but still feels like a full-sized bike
Raleigh ‘Twenty’ – older bikes you’ll find plenty of on eBay. They are fine to ride around town, terrible to fold.
You’ll find many other brands of folding bike. If in doubt Google the brand to find reviews and find out how much the bike cost and where it was sold when it was new. We’d advise avoiding…
Cheap folding bikes
We’d urge you to be wary buying a very inexpensive folding bike from a catalogue or non-specialist retailer. It is so important to be able to rely on the hinge of a folding bike, and something very cheap is unlikely to fold or ride well. It will also be heavy, so once folded it won’t be easy to carry. You’ll probably get fed up with it, and end up not using it.
Additional note: We’ve chosen not to list Decathlon bikes on this page. Click here to find out why.
By ‘everyday bike’ we’re referring to a bike that will get you from A to B as a means of transport. Ideally it will have mudguards to keep your dry in the rain, and some means of carrying the things you need. In this category we’re including hybrids, traditional bikes, roadsters, and Dutch bikes, though most of the examples below are hybrids.
Why ‘hybrid’? A hybrid takes the best bits of a mountain bike (comfort, flat bars, comparatively upright position), and combine them with the best bits of a road bike (speed, fast 700c wheels, lighter components).
What you can get will depend on your budget:
A bike for free? There are a number of options.
- The bike you already have in your shed / garage / elsewhere. Most bikes will get you from A to B, they just might not get there very quickly. If it needs fixing ask a friend for help, look at some YouTube videos, or take it into your local bike shop.
- Why not ask friends and family if they have an unwanted bike sitting around taking up space? It’s worth a Facebook post at least. You won’t know until you try.
£1 to £100
At this price level your best bet will be secondhand. It might be tempting to look for a new bike at this price (and they do exist), but I’m afraid it will ultimately disappoint. It will be heavy and the components will be cheap and won’t last. Most people who cycle will tell you isn’t really worth it. So, some options:
- See whether you have a bike recycling scheme locally where used bikes are refurbished. They can be brilliant if you have one near you.
- Second hand bargains definitely exist under £100. see our ‘Second hand buying guide‘ for general tips. Brands to try could include Ridgeback, Claude Butler, Raleigh, Giant, Dawes, to name a few.
£100 to £200
At this price level you might find something in a bike shop, but it is unlikely to be of a particularly high quality.
Secondhand is probably a better choice.
£200 to £300
It is possible to buy a new hybrid bike at this price – or at least it was before the current pandemic. Our top tip was going to be the Dawes Windermere, a 6 speed bike available for £270. It is now very hard to find such bikes actually available in stock.
At this price your options become more numerous. Again, your local bike shop would probably have had something available at this price before the pandemic. It is worth enquiring and doing some hunting around online, but ordering for a month or two ahead might be the best you can do. Some possibilities (prices at time of writing):
Bikes we would have recommended at this level include the basic Boardman hybrid bikes available from Halfords, but at the time of writing they don’t have stock available (check out the bikes Halfords do have in stock here).
What to look out for
Will you be using the bike in all weathers? If so mudguards are a must if you don’t want to arrive at your destination in a damp state.
Will you need to carry anything? If so a rear rack could be useful, allowing you to attach panniers, or bungee on small items of luggage. A basket might be an alternative.
Frame materials. Many older bikes are steel, but these days aluminium is more likely. If you’re just riding around town it isn’t worth worrying too much about the specifics, although cheap steel frames will be very heavy.
Gears. The importance of gears depends on where you’ll ride. A single-speed bike will be fine if you live somewhere flat and have no plans to explore further afield, but in general a bike with gears is a good idea. Numbers of gears don’t matter too much – you probably won’t use all of them. That said, if you live somewhere really hilly having some good low gears will make your life far easier. Derailleur gears (multiple cogs) can take some getting used to – you can’t change gear whilst stopped – and are most common. Hub gears tend to cost more, but make riding more straightforward in that everything is simpler, and you can change gear whilst stationary.
If you like an upright riding position a Dutch bike is worth considering. In the UK they tend to cost more, but it is worth keeping an eye on second-hand listings.
Additional note: We’ve chosen not to list Decathlon bikes on this page – click here to find out why.
Where to buy, and what to look out for
There are a variety of ways to buy a secondhand bike.
- From someone you know
- Facebook Marketplace
- A secondhand bike shop or project
- Forums and Facebook groups
(Please see the site disclaimer before reading on)
1. From someone you know
Ask around – family, friends, or on Facebook. There’s a good chance that someone has a bike that they don’t need lying around in a shed or garage. The advantage of doing this: they may not want a lot of money for it, and if it is someone you know then hopefully they will be honest about its condition and history.
There are some great bargains to be had on eBay as long as you aren’t looking for something very popular (a Brompton folding bike, for instance).
The advantages of eBay as a place to buy a bike:
- You can see the reputation of the seller. Someone who has taken the time to build up their feedback is unlikely to rip you off, and hopefully unlikely to sell you stolen goods. There will always be exceptions, sadly.
- The power of the search tools. You can search for exact terms, and by geographical area.
We’ve bought some great bikes on eBay. The Dahon Speed P8 folding bike at the top of the page is one such example – it had been bought as a New Year’s get-fit resolution, and barely used. The photographs were fairly poor, but it was a good model, and so worth bidding for. It turned out to be in brilliant condition and a lovely bike to ride, and is well-used.
- You can set up a search if you know what you’re looking for. So for instance, you could set up a search for, say, ‘Dutch bike’ within 25 miles of home. eBay will notify you by email when new items matching the terms you’ve chosen are posted.
- A lot of people aren’t willing to collect, so competition isn’t as great on ‘collection only’ items.
- If you’ve got the patience to wait until an auction closes then you can get something for a very good price, particularly if the bike isn’t a sought-after model.
- Alternatively, regularly checking the latest ‘Buy it now’ listings for the bike you are looking for can uncover a bargain if you spot it before anyone else.
- Sorting by distance will show bikes for sale in your locality. If a for sale bike is just around the corner it is easy to go and have a look at, and saves on shipping costs or having to travel to pick it up.
3. Facebook Marketplace
This has become a popular way to buy and sell. You can see a certain amount of information about the person selling, but there isn’t an eBay-style feedback system. It is a bit hit and miss as to which items it shows you, but if you get lucky there are local bargains to be had. The lack of accurate search means that you aren’t competing against quite as many buyers as on eBay.
We’re not fans of Gumtree as you can’t really tell how reliable the seller is. That said, you may want to give it a go. Watch out for people selling a bike at a price that is too good to be true – it probably is.
5. Secondhand bike shops and projects
You may have somewhere local to you that sells secondhand bikes. Some towns and cities have bike recycling projects, and these are highly recommended, although demand is very high at the moment. We are beginning to list some recommended bike projects on this website, but in the meantime do a Google search for local places and see what you can find. Please be aware that many are running very limited services at the moment. If you know of any projects we should add to this list please let us know.
Bike projects in London:
- The Bike Project in London sells secondhand bikes, but also helps refugees and asylum seekers with bikes and other assistance.
- Peddle My Wheels, London. Offers ‘try before you buy’. Contact to see whether they have stock at the current time.
- Community Cycleworks in London and Maidstone. Project for young people, also fix and sell bikes.
Bike projects elsewhere:
- Birmingham Bike Foundry, Birmingham
- Cranks in Brighton
- Bristol Bike Project, Bristol
- Respoke, by Trailnet. Becontree and Brentwood, Essex
- Forwardmotion Cycle Hubs, Essex
- Bike for Good, Glasgow
- Common Wheel, Glasgow
- Glos Bike Project in Gloucester
- Bike Project Surrey in Guildford
- Recyke y’Bike in Newcastle and Durham
- Bicycle Recycling in Portsmouth / Gosport
- Hardie Cycle Hub in Stanford-le-Hope, South Essex
6. Forums and Facebook groups
These can be a useful way of hearing about bikes for sale if you have a specific kind of bike in mind. For instance the Family Cycling group is excellent if you cycle with kids (not a selling group specifically, but lots of wisdom and experience there), and there is a Brompton group and Brompton buy-and-sell group.
There are all sorts of other places to buy a secondhand bike. Worthy of mention:
- The Elephant Bike. A brilliant project refurbishing old Post Office bikes, which you can buy for £280. We’ve tried one, and they are brilliant. If you want a solid bike to carry shopping, etc, they are great value. More here: The Elephant Bike.
A note about police auctions. We’d tend to advise against them as you can’t really see what you’re getting, there are no safety checks of bikes, and there are no warranties. If you do buy from police auctions you need to budget for servicing the bike, repairs, and parts. It may not end up being the bargain you are hoping for.
Buying a secondhand bike: What to look out for
It can be tricky buying a secondhand bike if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here’s some tips:
First of all you need to decide what kind of bike you need. What kind of riding will you be doing? What kind of terrain will you be riding on? What will you need to carry?
Then consider what size you will need. Bike manufacturers often have online size charts, which give you a good idea. The only way to tell for sure is to actually sit on the bike, which of course may not be possible if buying online. That said you can get a pretty good idea by trying on a bike of the same type. Some bikes, such as folding bikes, only have one size.
If going to look for a bike you may find it helpful to take someone who knows about this kind of thing with you, but we appreciate not everyone has that luxury.
It isn’t a bad idea to have been to a bike showroom or two so that you know what a new example of the kind of bike you’re looking for looks like.
If buying online look carefully at photos posted.
Does the bike look like it has been stored outside? If so it is probably best to forget about it (unless it’s a remarkable bargain). Also any significant damage to the frame – click the back button. Scratches are fine – it is the structural integrity we need to be concerned about.
Check the make. If it isn’t something you’ve heard of Google it to see whether it is a genuine brand. If the bike came from a supermarket or only cost £100 on Amazon when it was new it probably isn’t worth having.
To a certain extent the description by the owner is usually quite a good guide to condition, especially if buying on eBay from a seller with good feedback. So ‘hardly used’ is encouraging, and probably means it hasn’t had a long hard life.
But in any case check for signs of wear on the chainwheel, whether the chain is caked in dirt, etc. A well-used bike needn’t be out of the question, but price and expectations should be lowered accordingly. A bike that has had a lot of use may need parts replacing.
If looking at a bike in person check:
- Do the brakes work (hold them on and see that there is still a gap between the brake levers and the handlebars). Brake blocks can be replaced if worn, but it all adds expense.
- Check whether the wheels are true by spinning them. Do they rub on the brake blocks? Again, a wheel that is out of true can be fixed, but it all costs money.
- Check for play in the headset and bottom bracket.
- When test riding, do the gears change smoothly?
- Are there any noises from the bottom bracket or elsewhere when you pedal?
Once again, most problems can be fixed, but they may require new parts, and possibly even more expense than the bike is worth.
Finding this a bit overwhelming? Maybe a new bike is best for you. But if you do some research and have the patience to keep an eye on second-hand listings, buying a used bike is a great way to start cycling without spending a huge amount of money.
What kind of bike do you need? And where should you buy it?
What kind of bike do you need?
Here are some of your options as far as type of bike goes. Experts reading this may quibble over the exact categorisations, but the aim is to keep things simple…
Everyday cycling or hybrid bikes
This is the best kind of bike for most people who want to use a bike as a means of everyday local transport. This is the main focus of this website, initially at least. A hybrid bike takes the best bits of road bike and mountain bikes and results in something that can do a bit of anything, as long as ‘anything’ is cycling in town, or on surfaced bike paths. We’re including ‘traditional’ bikes and dutch bikes in this category in order to keep things simple.
Guide: Buying an everyday bike
Bikes that fold up to store easily, to go on the train, or fit in the boot of your car. They are incredibly versatile, and make all kinds of journeys possible by bike. A folding bike which you can keep under your desk at work can save you having to store a bike outside, and risk it being stolen. The downsides: folding bikes tend not to be so good on rough terrain, and many folding bikes have smaller wheels, which means some people don’t find them as pleasant to ride.
Guide: Buy a folding bike
If you live somewhere where the routes you will be using aren’t in brilliant condition, then a mountain bike might be your best bet. A lot of bikes sold in the UK are mountain bikes. Features: sturdy frame, chunky tyres. At best they are able to take you off road into wild places. At worst the look like they could take you off road and into wild places, but are actually cheap rubbish. For the ultimate in chunky tyres a fat bike might be what you’re looking for.
Guide: Buy a mountain bike
Bikes that can be used to transport goods, children, and even move house.
Road, fixies, cross, gravel, touring
One heading to cover a multitude of bikes. As the site develops we intend to focus more on these, but initially we’re concentrating on bikes to get you around town in your usual clothing carrying the things you need. In summary:
- Road bikes: Brilliant for riding fast on good roads. Not good for carrying things. What might have been called a ‘racer’ back in the day.
- A ‘fixie’ is a variant of road bike with one gear and a track-bike-style fixed wheel.
- Cyclocross and gravel bikes: Similar to road bikes, but suitable for slightly rougher terrain.
- Touring bikes: Built to take you on tour with luggage. Trekking bikes are similar.
There are now electric bikes that fit in most of the categories above – everyday bikes, folding bikes, mountain bikes, and more. They are a great way to get around if hills are a problem and/or you need or would like to go further than a conventional bike allows. They will be more expensive than most other bikes we talk about on this site, but can be an excellent moneysaving option if they make cycling possible for you, particularly when compared to driving or a season ticket. Beware of buying cheaper options though – the range and battery life might turn out to be disappointing. We’d recommend reading reviews carefully.
Where to buy your bike
Your options are new or secondhand. Both have their place.
Buying new. There’s nothing quite like a new bike, shiny and (assuming it has been set up properly) everything working perfectly. There are options to suit a wide range of budgets. However, during the current time many new bikes are proving difficult to get hold of, particularly entry-level budget bikes. And a new bike might be at risk of getting stolen, depending on where you will need to store it. For our recommendations see the guide to the type of bike you’re interested in: everyday bike , folding bike, mountain bike (road bike and other guides coming soon).
Buying secondhand gets you more bike for your money, but it can be trickier to find exactly what you’re looking for. For those on a budget buying secondhand can be an excellent option, particularly at a time when some new bikes aren’t available. Read our guide here: Buying a secondhand bike.
How much to spend
The million-dollar* (*ideally a bit less) question. As in most areas of life, when buying a bike you tend to get what you pay for. Whist this is a ‘budget cycling’ website, a more expensive bike can still represent excellent value for money if it means you will use it, and therefore don’t need to own a car, or can use your car far less. If you use a bus or train every day a bike can save you spending a lot of money on a season ticket. So a non-budget bike can still be a great budget option, if that makes sense. Cycling is in itself a moneysaving activity, compared with owning a car or spending a lot on public transport.
Experts could (and probably will) debate these prices. But in very broad terms, bikes under, say, £150 might look great on a website, but the likelihood is that a new bike at this price will be heavy, liable to break down, and not much fun to ride. If you can afford £300, it is perfectly possible to buy a bike that will do much better in the long run. If you can afford £500 you’ll get something lighter and with better-quality components that you’ll really enjoy riding and want to use. Spending more than that will bring further improvements in ride quality and components. Some might consider such bikes beyond the scope of a budget cycling website, but they can still save you a lot of money.
Cycle-to-work schemes can also make a bike significantly more affordable, if you work for an employer who operates such a scheme.
If these amounts sound more than you can afford at the moment then secondhand might be your best bet.
Men and Women’s bikes
Does a man have to ride a men’s bike and a woman a women’s bike? In summary: no. The main difference is usually the design of the frame, with ‘women’s bikes’ having a low step-over frame, and ‘men’s bikes’ a crossbar. Our advice would be to ride whatever bike you have, or whatever bike is most comfortable. In the Netherlands, for instance, it is very common to see both men and women riding an Omafiets bike with a step-over frame.
Having said this: there may be aspects of some women’s bikes, such as particular saddles, that are more suitable for women. But it is always possible change a saddle. In addition, women’s bikes tend to come in smaller sizes, so shorter women might need a women’s bike.
Advantages of a budget bike
Whist we’d recommend spending as much as you can afford for the best riding experience, the big advantage of a budget bike is that it is far less likely to be stolen. An expensive bike is, sadly, likely to attract the attention of thieves if left in a public place, particularly overnight, so it is important to think about where you will need to store your bike before deciding what to buy. Certain bikes are, in our experience, more likely targets than others. A new mountain bike is fairly easy for someone to sell on, even if it’s an entry-level model.
Inexpensive bikes have the advantage of being far less attractive to bike thieves, so if you’re going to have to leave your bike in public for any length of time this is something to consider. There’s something to be said for worry-free cycling on a budget bike that you can be fairly sure will still be there when you come back to it.
Cycling is brilliant way to get around during the current times – it’s healthy, fun, and good for the environment.
This website aims to show you how to:
- Save money by using a bike as a means of everyday transport
- Start cycling without it costing a lot of money
The site has a series of guides to explain things. Some of the most important ones are:
- A general guide to buying a bike – what to buy, where to buy it
- How to buy an everyday bike – this is the bike we recommend if you want to get around town in your usual everyday clothing carrying the things you need
- A guide to buying secondhand – there are great bikes available secondhand. We will show you how to find them
- Moneysaving cycling tips – tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way, and those sent in by others
- How to buy a folding bike – a perfect bike if you want to carry your bike on public transport, or keep it safely indoors
- How to buy a mountain bike – one of the most popular kinds of bike. But is it the right bike for you, and how do you know which to choose?
One important note: much of this website was originally written before the current pandemic. We’ll do our best to update everything as the situation changes, but some of the options we’d normally recommend may not now be possible. It is still most definitely possible to start cycling without spending a fortune, but owing to the sudden increase in number of people wanting to use bikes some budget options are now harder to find. More on this: Cycling during Covid 19
Here’s some answers to questions you might be asking, frequently or otherwise:
‘Budget cycling’? It sounds a bit… well, cheap.
We’re interested in how to start cycling on a safe bike, without resorting to low quality ‘Bicycle-shaped objects’ found in supermarkets and other discount retailers.
We’d advise avoiding the cheapest bikes, but on the other hand if you go to a cycling show or high-end bike shop you could be forgiven for thinking that cycling is only for people with a lot of money. This site aims to show that you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy riding a bike.
Does ‘budget’ mean buying a bike from the internet?
Not at all. Local bike shops, at their best, are brilliant. There’s nothing quite like having an actual human being guide you through to process of buying a bike, make sure that the bike is all set up safely, answer any questions you may have, and fix any faults or niggles that may crop up. Internet traders can’t do most of these jobs as well as well as someone in a bricks-and-mortar shop. Of course, some bike shops aren’t aiming at everyday cyclists, so it may be necessary to shop around.
That said, the internet has its place too, if you know what you want, and know how to set it up once it arrives in the post.
I’m not sporty. Is this for me?
Cycling as a sport has its place, but this site is mainly concerned about using a bike to get from A to B. Going to the places you need to go, carrying the things you need to carry. We’re about wearing normal everyday clothes (though if you want to wear lycra – why not?). Cycling is an amazing form of transport, and whether you’re ‘sporty’ or not isn’t really relevant.
I’d love to cycle, but it isn’t safe where I live
We fully understand how this feels. We’ll aim to show you how to find safe routes to ride, and give guidance on places offering some basic training (coming soon). And this is where cycle campaigning comes in too – we need the roads to be safer, and more safe places to ride, and so recommend joining a national and/or local cycling organisation.
You haven’t said anything about [type of bike]
You’re probably right. We’ve begun by listing some of the most useful kinds of bike for getting from A to B as a means of everyday transport. We thought it was more important to launch the site for it to be useful to people than to wait until everything had been included. More guides will follow, but in the meantime there is nothing on road bikes, gravel bikes, kids’ bikes, family cycling, and many other topics.
Who are you?
This site has been put together by Dave Walker, cycling cartoonist and general bicycle enthusiast, but some content may be by other people.
Dave writes: “Speaking personally (and in the first person…) I’ve been riding a bike for as long as I can remember, and to me it is one of life’s great joys. I also enjoy buying and selling second-hand bikes and finding a bargain, and may own more bikes than might be considered strictly necessary. I love folding bikes in particular. As a cartoonist I tend not to have the money for top (or middle) of the range models, so this site is an attempt to share something of what I’ve learnt. I’d love to see more people on bikes, what with the climate crisis, the current pandemic, it being great for health, and just brilliant fun. This website is my attempt to give any useful advice that I can, and allow other people to contribute their wisdom too.”
For the site credits please see this page.
Are you making money from this site?
This is a free site, and we hope it is useful to people. But we’re making a living too, and so in time there may be affiliate links where we get a small monetary benefit if you click through to another site. But all of the links will be ones we’d recommend anyway, we promise. Bike manufacturers won’t be paying us to influence what we say. And there will be plenty of links to sites from which we receive nothing at all.