Cycling on the cheap

Boy on a bike

Looking to take up cycling, but worried about the cost? Ruth Ganthony shows you how to beg, borrow or buy a bike – and how to get your old one back on the road.

Cycling is brilliant aerobic exercise. We recommend that you do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week – you needn’t do it all at once – to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Cycling to the shops and leaving the car at home will help you towards this goal; riding a bike is great aerobic exercise. It is also fantastic fun and can save you a fortune in transport costs.

Experts are predicting a boom in bicycle sales over the next five years but, for the novice, choosing a bike can be a daunting prospect. There are literally thousands to choose from – off-roaders, road racers, hybrids and classic bikes – with prices ranging from £100 to £3,000.

Runaround or racer?

The first step in choosing a bike is to decide what you’re going to do with it. Would you like one to nip to the shops with (think a handy runaround with a basket) or perhaps you’re after a folding bike for your commute? Thrill seekers may be looking to take on something more adventurous, such as off-road cycling on forest tracks and bridleways. In this case, a mountain bike or hybrid is your perfect partner.

Speed demons will be better suited to a racing or track bike made from a lightweight material such as carbon fibre. Whatever you choose, it’s important that the bike is the right size for your height. The bicycle retailer, Evans, has a sizing guide.

Paying for your new bike

Those who are still working should consider the Cycle to Work scheme. You won’t have to pay tax on your bike, which can save you up to 42 per cent on the cost. And, with monthly payments taken directly from your salary, it’s easy to manage.

You have to be employed by a company that has joined the government scheme, though, and you can only buy your bike from one of the partner shops. For more information and to see how much you could save, visit the Cyclescheme or Bike to work scheme websites.

Don't forget to pump up your tyres

The market for secondhand bikes is booming, too. Local newspapers and classified ad papers like Friday-Ad are packed full of bargains from as little as £20, as are websites like Ebay and Gumtree.

Secondhand bikes are likely to need a little TLC, and beware of buying bikes online without checking them out in person first. To reduce your chances of buying a stolen bike, ask the seller for a receipt of purchase and a bike frame number, which you should check against a list of bikes that have been reported lost or stolen at Bike Register.

The thrifty will know, however, that you don’t have to spend anything to get on the road (or off it). Websites such as I love freegle may sound too good to be true, but they’re not. The idea here is, rather than sending your unwanted but unusable items to a landfill site, you give them away. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Of course, you probably can’t afford to be too choosy.

Bike hire is another option – perfect for newbies and occasional cyclists. With public bicycle sharing schemes like Santander Cycle Hire in London, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to give cycling a go. Boris Bikes, as they are affectionately known, charge an access fee of £2 a day, plus an additional fee, depending on how long you use the bike for.

However, if you return the bike to a docking station within 30 minutes, you don’t have to pay for usage on top on the access fee. To find out more, visit the cycling section of Transport for London. Dumfries and Blackpool run similar schemes and there are more being developed across the UK.

For those living in an area where there isn’t a scheme, or if you’re planning a longer journey, you might find it better to go to a hire shop. Find your local bicycle hire at

Recycling your bike

If you already own a bike but are guilty of leaving it languishing in the shed, maybe it’s time to rescue it from among the plant pots and return it to its former glory. 

Doing your bike up is a skill in itself and you‘ll get an enormous sense of achievement from making it roadworthy. For those lacking the confidence to tackle it alone, why not ask a friend to show you the basics or search online for ‘bike repair demonstration videos’? There are also bike maintenance courses around the UK where you can learn hands-on.

It's time to rescue your bike from among the plant pots

You can search for workshops near you on the Sky Ride website. Those who don’t fancy getting their hands dirty could look for a local repair shop in the Yellow Pages or search for one online. You’ll have to pay for labour as well as parts, but you’ll still be doing your wallet a favour by restoring rather than buying brand new.

Whatever you spend on your bike, you’ll soon reap the rewards. Cycling is great exercise and, even if you have to invest a bit of cash to get you started, the saving you make on petrol costs and train tickets could soon have you back in pocket.

Cycling essentials

You don’t need to buy loads of expensive kit to get started, but lights and reflective clothing are a must if you’re riding after dark. Be seen and protect your belongings with the BHF’s branded High Visibility Backpack Cover, £9.99 . You’ll never have to buy batteries for your lights again with this set of two Dynamo Bike Lights, £9.99. Buy them from our online shop or call 0845 246 4050 for our full range of cycling products, including puncture repair kits and pumps.

Learn how to repair a puncture step by step.

Get on your bike with the BHF

The BHF runs more than 30 bike rides for all ages and abilities, including our London to Brighton bike ride.

Find the perfect fundraising event for you and join the team or call 0845 130 8663.

More useful information