MoneySaving tips for cyclists

How to buy a cheap bike, cycle hire schemes & more

MoneySaving tips for cyclists

Cycling is hugely popular for getting about and staying fit, and can often be MoneySaving too. As demand for bikes is particularly high at the moment – partly because official advice is to avoid public transport where possible – we've pulled together some tips on how to buy, hire or take care of a bike.

In this guide

This is the first incarnation of this guide. National sports body British Cycling and national charity Cycling UK have kindly reviewed it to ensure it's safe and accurate. Please give us feedback and share your own tips in the MoneySaving for cyclists forum thread.

How to save money on buying a bike

As bikes are in high demand due to the current lockdown, you may struggle to find the exact model you're looking for right away (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.

  1. Save £100s if your employer offers a 'Cycle to Work' scheme

    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.

    Your employer chooses which scheme it works with, and you'll have to get your bike from a certain retailer, eg, Halfords. This means you may not get the best deal based on the upfront cost of the bike as you can't compare prices and go for the cheapest seller. But the final price you pay via the scheme should still be cheaper. Once you've chosen a cycle, apply to your employer and you'll get a voucher for the specific cost of the bike. Simply give this to the shop in exchange for your new wheels.

    For full details and costs, it's best to check with your employer and find out which scheme it works with (examples include Evans Cycles' Ride to Work and Halfords' Cycle2Work). For a general overview, the Government's employers' guidance is a helpful place to start.

    It's worth noting, 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.

    Bikes are in high demand right now – check if you can reserve one

    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 bike you want.

    If you do find your bike is sold out, you could buy a different one. However, 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, be aware that you can't get change from the voucher.

    You could also check with your employer if you're able to cancel your voucher. For example, the Halfords Cycle2Work scheme says it's sometimes possible to cancel and reapply for a new amount, but it depends on your company's cancellation T&Cs.

    How does salary sacrifice work?

    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:

    • Basic-rate taxpayers can save 32% (20% income tax,12% national insurance). 
    • Higher-rate taxpayers can save 42% (40% income tax, 2% national insurance). 
  2. Get a wheelie good deal on a second-hand bike

    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, it's wise 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.

  3. Live or work in London? Get a bike for £20/month with a 'try before you bike' scheme

    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.

    Right now, demand is high and stock is limited but new bikes are being added regularly, so it's worth keeping an eye on the website. Once you've signed up, you may have to wait a few weeks before your bike is delivered, but you'll be given priority if you're a key worker and need the bike more urgently.

    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.

  4. Free bikes for refugees in London and Birmingham

    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.

    Unfortunately, The Bike Project's currently closed for new referrals due to the coronavirus pandemic as it's taking longer to get bikes to those already waiting, but it told us it hopes to start taking new applications again in the autumn – we'll update you here when that happens.

    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

  5. Free bikes for children and young people with cancer

    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, but we will update you here when this changes.

Cheap ways to hire a bike short-term, eg, from 30 mins to 24 hours

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. If you live in certain cities, there are some major schemes running that can be cheap if done right. Though check in your area, as there may be options not covered below. 

Bike hire in Lincoln, Liverpool, London & Nottingham

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.

Locations: Lincoln (Hirebike), Liverpool (Citybike), London (Freebike), Nottingham (Citycard Cycles)

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 £4 a day. See the links above for details of the other schemes.

Santander Cycles – London, Milton Keynes & Swansea

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.

Locations: London, Milton Keynes and Swansea

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 or 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 (and students can save 25% via Unidays).

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 bikes – London & Milton Keynes only

Lime is an app for hiring 'electric-assist' bikes, which means 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 does it work? You need the Lime app (free for iPhone and Android). Use it to find a Lime bike and unlock it using its QR code or number, then drop it off at a 'LimeHub' when you're done.

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.

Looking after your bike & staying safe

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.

  1. SAFETY FIRST – make sure you've all the gear you need

    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:

    • A helmet – While it isn't a legal requirement, officially the Highway Code says you should wear a helmet. Yet the national sports body British Cycling and charity Cycling UK say it's a personal choice these days, but that if you're going to wear a helmet, you should always make sure it's correctly fitted.

    • Bike lights – These are a legal requirement if you're cycling in the dark.

    • Reflective clothing or bands – Not a legal requirement, but a good idea as it can make you more visible to motorists, particularly if riding at night or in poor conditions. Cycling UK says simply wearing reflective wrist or ankle bands can be effective (and much cheaper than shelling out for a new jacket or similar). And while it's important to stay visible, don't worry too much about buying fancy gear or Lycra to cycle in – British Cycling says you should wear whatever feels comfortable.

    • Bike lock – OK, this one's for your bike's safety rather than yours, but sadly bikes do get stolen and a decent lock can help avoid that. Cycling UK has tips on how to find a good lock, locking your bike properly, and the best locations to leave it to help keep it safe.

    While many of these costs can't be avoided, you can save money by finding the best deal. So 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.  

  2. Government to offer £50 bike repair vouchers

    The Government recently announced that about half a million people will soon be given £50 bicycle maintenance vouchers, allowing them to make old bikes rideable again. This is to encourage people to cycle rather than use public transport during the current coronavirus pandemic, particularly as more people return to work.

    It's not yet clear how the scheme will work or who will be eligible, but we'll update here when we have more info.

  3. Save (and stay socially distanced) with free bike-maintenance tutorials on YouTube etc

    You can learn how to keep your bike in good nick using online maintenance tutorials. Not only will this 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), it'll also allow you to remain socially distanced by not going to a cycle shop at a time when Government rules say you must limit your contact with other people.

    There are thousands of guides and videos out there, so here are some recommendations from us and other MoneySavers to get you started: 

  4. Free cycle routes, tips for first-time commuters, families & more

    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.

    • Basic cycling tips – Including where you can legally cycle, what you should wear and more.

    • Find a free cycle route – Search for routes near you, and you can filter by ride distance and bike type (eg, mountain or road bike). It will also show you how hilly that route is.

    • Learn to commute with confidence – Even if you're not commuting at the moment due to the current lockdown, this video may be handy for learning how to cycle on roads for the first time (there's also a free e-book for commuters if you prefer to read rather than watch).

    • 'Ready, Set, Ride' – tips for teaching kids – This series of videos shows you how to teach a child to ride a bike safely, including games you can play to help them to develop the skills needed.

    • Tips for cycling with kids – If you're planning to cycle together as a family, this is a helpful guide to basic cycling skills your kids need before they're ready to cycle on the road, as well as how to choose a route and teach your kids how to communicate with you while you're out and about.