Coronavirus Travel Rights
23 April 2021
Cycling is hugely popular and is one of the ways the Government is encouraging us to get about and stay fit – and cycling can often be MoneySaving too. As demand for bikes is particularly high at the moment, we've pulled together some tips on how to buy, hire or take care of a bike.
As bikes are in high demand due to the current coronavirus situation, you may struggle to find the exact model you're looking for (if that's the case, hiring a bike may be a good short-term option).
However, these tips should help you save once the bike you want is available...
Many employers offer a Cycle to Work scheme – a tax-free benefit that helps spread the cost of buying a bike and cycling safety equipment. It was introduced as a way to reduce pollution and encourage healthier commutes.
Technically, your employer is just loaning you the bike, and will collect a monthly repayment from your pre-tax salary (known as 'salary sacrifice'). At the end of the loan period, you can choose to buy the bike outright at a reduced cost. This Cycle to Work calculator shows you how much you'll pay (and save) using the scheme.
It's your employer's choice which particular scheme it works with, so you'll usually have to get your bike from a specific retailer, eg, Halfords. This means you may not be getting the best deal based on the upfront cost of the bike, as you can't compare prices and pick the cheapest seller. But the final price you pay via the scheme should still be cheaper.
Once you've chosen a cycle, simply apply to your employer and you'll get a voucher for the specific cost of the bike. You then give this to the shop in exchange for your new set of wheels.
Before you go ahead, check with your employer to find out which scheme it works with (major ones include Evans Cycles Ride to Work and Halfords Cycle2Work). For a general overview of how the scheme works, you might find the Government's employers' guidance a helpful place to start.
It's worth noting that, while the bike does remain your employer's property during the loan, you're responsible for maintaining and insuring it. So do check if your contents insurance will cover you, or whether you need to purchase a separate policy – see our Bicycle Insurance guide for more. Without cover, you could end up having to make payments from your salary every month for a bike that's been damaged, lost or stolen.
As demand for bikes at the moment is so high, some people using this scheme are finding the bike they want has sold out by the time their voucher has arrived. To avoid this, when you're applying for the voucher, it's worth checking if the bike shop will let you reserve the one you want.
If you do find your bike is sold out, you can always buy a different one. However, strangely, you can't 'top up' the voucher with your own money (so you can't buy a bike that's more expensive than the original). If you want to buy a cheaper bike, you can, but be aware that you won't get any change from the voucher.
You could also ask your employer if you're able to cancel the voucher. For example, with the Halfords scheme it's sometimes possible to cancel and reapply for a new amount, but it depends on your employer's own T&Cs.
Anyone can get it as long as their employer offers it (so sadly the self-employed are out, though you may be able to claim tax back if you're using a bike for business purposes). You agree to have your salary reduced, in exchange for your employer giving you the same amount towards the cost of a bike.
But crucially there's no tax or national insurance on the bike payments. For example, give up £1,000 of salary and that's normally worth only £700ish in your pocket after tax and national insurance for a basic-rate taxpayer. But in return, you get £1,000 to pay for a bike, so you're £300 better off.
The amount you save is based on how much income tax and national insurance you normally pay:
To cut the cost of getting back in the saddle, head over to eBay where you can often pick up top-quality bikes for a fraction of the usual cost – and you'll be helping to stop the cycle of landfill too.
When looking at buying a used bike online, carefully examine the frame in the photos, and ask for extra close-ups if needed. While you can usually replace other components, you can't do much with a cracked or seriously dented frame. See this Cycling UK guide for more parts to check.
If you're picking up in person, inspect the frame carefully then as well. eBay has a money back guarantee, and if an item is not as described you can get a refund (this includes damage).
Our eBay Buying guide has a full list of tips to help you track down a bargain. Of course, if you buy second-hand, make sure you follow current Government guidelines, and be sure to socially distance and disinfect items as best you can – see the latest Government coronavirus info.
Sellers often specify that bulky items such as bicycles be picked up in person. Many people are loath to travel far, so lack of competition keeps prices low.
Our Local eBay Deals Mapper exploits this – simply tell it your postcode and how far you're prepared to schlep to pick up your bike, and it trawls eBay* for hidden gems nearby. For example, we searched for 'bicycles' within 10 miles of a Manchester postcode and found 30 up for grabs when we checked.
Also check out Facebook selling groups and Facebook Marketplace, where people sell to others in their local community. See our Facebook buying tips for a crash course before you start.
Alternatively, you might get lucky and find a quality bike for free on Freecycle, where instead of binning goods or eBaying them, people offer them up to those living nearby.
Our Freecycle guide has more on this and similar giveaway sites.
There's a handy scheme called PeddleMyWheels for those who live, work or study in certain London boroughs (see the full list). It lets you try a new or nearly new bike for a monthly fee, with the option to buy if you decide that it's for you.
Adult bikes start at £20/month, and you'll also get a helmet, bike lock and lights included in the fee.
Initially, you start with a one-month trial, but you can extend this as many times as you like. You can then give the bike back if you decide not to keep it, without paying any fees or extra costs. If you do want to keep the bike, you can opt to buy (the site says this will be at the RRP or cheaper), and the scheme will refund up to three months of trial fees already paid.
The bike will be delivered to your door for free. Normally you would get a cycle training session included, but this is currently on hold due to coronavirus. You will still get a short induction (observing social-distancing measures), and can have the normal full training once it's up and running again.
If you happen to live within the area it covers, it's a useful scheme if you're not sure you're ready to commit to buying a bike just yet. It's supported by councils, and aims to encourage people to get into cycling – this is why there is so much flexibility, and why it's restricted only to some boroughs.
If you're a refugee or asylum seeker living in London or Birmingham and are in need of a bike – or you know someone who is – you may be able to get one for free from The Bike Project.
It's a charity that fixes up second-hand bikes and donates them to those who have fled danger in their country to allow them to access foodbanks, healthcare and legal advice without having to pay for transport.
The Bike Project says it's 'slowly opening up to new referrals', after putting them on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If you want to support The Bike Project, you can donate a bike (it has to be dropped off in London or Birmingham) or buy second-hand bikes, accessories or gifts for refugees from its online charity shop.
Refugees (or 'new Scots') living in Scotland can apply for a free bike via Bikes for Refugees. The charity has hubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and says it will also supply a free cycle helmet, bike lock and lights if it can.
As above, you can also donate bikes and other cycling accessories to the scheme.
It can be frustrating to fork out a lot for kids' bikes, when you know they're only going to outgrow 'em. One solution is The Bike Club, which lets you rent decent cycles from £5/month (plus joining and other fees), then swap them for another whenever they become too small.
It's a nice idea, and good environmentally, but can it really work out cheaper than buying? MSE Jenny crunched the numbers – see her blog Is it cheaper to rent – rather than buy – your kids' bikes?
Children and young people up to the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with cancer can apply for a free bike from Cyclists Fighting Cancer (CFC), a charity that aims to improve physical and mental wellbeing through activity and exercise.
CFC also provides specialist trikes and tandems for children and young people with any physical, balance, co-ordination or confidence difficulties due to the disease or the treatment they're receiving. Parents of these children can also apply for a bike in some circumstances if they need it.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, CFC has had to suspend new applications and deliveries. It's now working to clear a backlog – we'll update you here when it starts accepting new applications.
Hiring a bike by the minute or hour can be a good option if you're only going to ride one occasionally, or just need something temporary. In certain cities there are major schemes running that can be cheap if done right. Though check in your area, as there may be options not covered below.
There are cycle hire schemes in a number of UK cities – they're supported by electric-bike company Freebike, though often go by different names depending on the city (see below). Some only offer e-bikes; others offer pedal bikes as well.
How does it work? Each scheme is different, so use the links above to see how it works in your city. For example, in London and Lincoln, you'll need to download an app to unlock and use a bike. In Liverpool and Nottingham, you sign up via the webpage and will be sent a PIN via text message to enter on the bike-dock terminal, and unlock a bike.
How much does it cost? This also varies by location. For instance, in London, the first 30 minutes is free. For e-bikes, you then pay £1 for every 10 minutes. For pedal bikes it's 50p for every 10 minutes. In Nottingham you pay £1/hour, capped at £10 a day. See the links above for details of the other schemes.
Nextbike operates cycle hire schemes in some UK cities and over 20 other countries worldwide. It's known as 'Belfast Bikes' in Belfast, but you'll still need the Nextbike app to unlock bikes.
How does it work? Download the Nextbike app (available for iPhone and Android) and create an account. Use the links above to find a bike station near you, then you can unlock a bike by scanning its QR code via the app, or entering its number. You'll receive a code to enter on the bike computer to unlock it.
How much does it cost? This varies by location. For example, in Cardiff and Stirling it's £1 for every 30 minutes, up to a max of £10 a day. There are also membership options, which could work out cheaper if you're a regular user.
Originally known officially as 'Barclays bikes' (and you'll still occasionally hear their old nickname 'Boris bikes'), these are popular for cycling around London, but can also be found elsewhere in the UK.
How does it work? There's no need to book – you can hire a bike, ride it, then return it to any docking station within 24 hours. You can go to any docking station with your bank card and touch the terminal screen to get started – use the location links above to find your nearest.
If you're in London, MSE Petar recommends the Santander Cycles app (free for iPhone and Android). This lets you get 'release codes' sent to your phone so you can hire your bike quicker, plus you can see live bike and docking availability.
How much does it cost? Prices are different in each city. In London, you can pay £2 and get unlimited short rides up to 30 minutes each, within a 24-hour period. For longer journeys, you pay £2 for each additional 30 minutes. There's also an annual membership to consider if you use it regularly enough (students aged 18 or over can get 25% off a year's membership via Student Beans).
Be careful though – you can be charged up to £300 if you damage the bike or don't return it. See Milton Keynes pricing and Swansea pricing for details of hiring outside London.
NHS staff get free 24-hour access in London, including all journeys under 30 minutes. Transport for London is currently waiving the £2/day fee for NHS workers in London. It says you'll need to ask your NHS comms team for more information, and to get an access code.
Lime is an app for hiring 'electric-assist' bikes – with these, you get a bit of help with your pedalling. They're a bit more expensive than Santander Cycles, but could be handy if you've a longer journey planned.
Locations: London and Milton Keynes
How much does it cost? £1 to unlock a bike, then 15p/minute (so £10 to hire it for an hour). Make sure you don't get caught out by zone restrictions – there are strict rules about where you can leave the bike, otherwise you can get stung with a fine.
It's important to keep your bicycle in good condition, and to stay safe and visible when you're out on the road. This isn't an area where saving money is the most important factor, so make sure you get everything you need. Here are some top tips, including free video tutorials to teach you how to look after your bike.
You don't need loads of fancy equipment to start cycling, but there are a few items you need to buy (or should strongly consider buying) to ensure you stay safe on the roads.
While they're not always MoneySaving, your safety should come first:
While many of these costs can't be avoided, you can save money by finding the best deal. Check out our Cheap Online Shopping guide and Amazon Buying Tips. It's also worth checking if you can save using cashback sites.
British Cycling's website has some handy road safety tips for cyclists, which include planning your journey before you set off, communicating with other road users, and thinking about your road positioning.
If you're a regular rider, Halfords says it's a good idea to get your bike serviced every six months, and even for those who don't ride as often, it recommends having your bike checked over by a professional at least once a year.
The Government has released four batches of £50 'Fix Your Bike' vouchers, which bike owners in England can put towards repairs. The scheme is intended to get more people cycling by getting unused or broken bikes back on the road. The latest batch was released on 30 March and all the vouchers have now been claimed.
To try to ease the pressure on bike shops, the vouchers are being released in batches. Each one so far has been snapped up fast. We've asked the Department for Transport if another set of vouchers will be released and we'll update here when we have more information.
Halfords is offering a free bike safety check* at all of its UK stores (find your nearest). There's no need to book – just pop along with your bike and ask a member of staff for a free bike check, which shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes and covers the frame, handlebars, wheels/tyres, gears, chain, brakes and saddle.
Obviously, it's no coincidence Halfords is doing these checks when it also sells bike parts and cycling accessories. So be warned, staff are likely to try to sell to you (eg, new tyres, saddle etc), but there's no obligation to act on any advice you're given, or to buy anything. The check itself is totally free.
You can learn how to keep your bike in good nick using online maintenance tutorials, which can save you money as you won't have to pay someone else to do it (though you may need to buy tools or parts if you don't have them).
YouTube videos and other online tutorials are good for little bits and bobs, or if you really know what you're doing, but always consider if it's something bigger that could mean you're riding unsafely. If you're unsure, it's best to get your bike serviced.
There are thousands of guides and videos out there, so here are some recommendations from us and other MoneySavers to get you started:
British Cycling has a number of handy resources to help people get into riding their bikes. There are tips for commuters, families cycling together, and parents teaching kids how to ride a bike for the first time.
Insurance may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to cycling, not least because (unlike car insurance) it's not a legal requirement.
But with bikes often costing a significant amount, and about 100,000 cycles nicked every year in England and Wales alone, it's worth considering – if you need it.
You can get bicycle insurance via your home insurance or via specialist cover. The first thing to do is check whether your home insurance covers your bike already, and exactly how strong that cover is. Even if your bike's eligible to be insured for no extra cost, you may still need to declare it, so it's important to contact your insurer to be absolutely certain.
For what else to check for, and other options if you're not already covered, see our Bicycle Insurance guide.
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