MoneySaving tips for cyclists

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

Cycling is a great way to get about and stay fit – and can often be MoneySaving too. We've pulled together some tips on how to buy, hire or take care of a bike.

National sports body British Cycling and national charity Cycling UK have kindly reviewed this guide 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

Bikes generally see a spike in demand during the spring and summer months. It means 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, our tips should help you save if/when the bike you want is available...

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

    Woman on a hybrid bicycle cycling along a road.

    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 scheme it works with, so you'll usually have to get your bike from a specific retailer, such as Halfords or Evans Cycles. This means you may not get 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.

    How to get your bike via the scheme

    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.

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

    Cycleshare says demand for bikes is high throughout the spring and summer, with those under £1,000 being the most in-demand. This means some people using the Cycle to Work 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.

    • 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.

      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. Bag a wheely 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.

    • Try the Local eBay Deals Mapper to find bargains in your area

      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.

    • More ways to nab a local bike bargain

      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 £30/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 £30 a month, and you'll also get a helmet, bike lock, lights and mudguards included in the fee.

    Initially, you start with a one-month trial, but you can extend this up to six months. 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 six months of trial fees already paid.

    The bike will be delivered to your door for free, plus you'll get either a cycle training session or short induction included.

    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, Birmingham & across Scotland

    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.

    Bear in mind that it often has a long waiting list, so if you register for a bike it may be up to three months until you hear back.

    If you want to support The Bike Project, you can donate a bike in certain cities or buy cycling lessons, safety kits or even second-hand bikes for refugees from its online charity shop

    Bikes for refugees in Scotland

    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 to the scheme.

  5. Consider renting – rather than buying – your kids' bikes

    It can be frustrating to fork out a lot for kids' bikes, when you know they're only going to outgrow them. 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?

  6. Free bikes for children & 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.

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. 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. 

Nextbike – Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Stirling and Swansea

Nextbike operates cycle hire schemes in some UK cities and over 20 other countries worldwide. The schemes have different names in different locations, but you'll still need the Nextbike app to unlock bikes.

Locations: It's called Belfast Bikes in Belfast, Ovo Bikes in Cardiff and Glasgow, and Santander Cycles in Milton KeynesStirling and Swansea.

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 20 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.

Santander Cycles – London

Originally known officially as 'Barclays bikes' (and you'll still occasionally hear their old nickname 'Boris bikes'), these are popular for cycling around London. You can either hire via a docking station or download the dedicated Santander Cycles app.

Locations: London

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.

MSE Petar recommends using 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? You can pay £1.65 and get unlimited short rides up to 30 minutes each, within a 24-hour period. For longer journeys, you pay £1.65 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.

Lime bikes – London, Manchester & Milton Keynes

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. Lime also offers electric scooters for hire.

Locations: London, Manchester 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? When we checked in London, it was £1 to unlock a bike, then 27p/minute (so £17ish to hire it for an hour). In Manchester and Milton Keynes it was £1 to unlock, then 20p/minute (£13ish for an hour). To save, you could buy a 'ride pass' in advance that got you 60 minutes for £5.99.

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, and get your bike regularly serviced

    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. 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.

    • Bell or horn – Legally, new bikes must be sold with a bell (though there's no rule saying you have to cycle with one). If you own an older bike without a bell, it's worth buying one to alert pedestrians and other road users of your presence – and crucially keep both you and them safe.

    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.  

    How often should I get my bike serviced?

    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.

  2. Free bicycle safety check at Halfords

    Halfords is offering a free bike safety check* at all of its UK stores. You can book online and the check can take up to 30 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 (for example new tyres, saddle and so on), but there's no obligation to act on any advice you're given, or to buy anything. The check itself is totally free.

  3. Save with free bike-maintenance tutorials on YouTube etc – good for little jobs

    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: 

  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 (for example, mountain or road bike). It will also show you how hilly that route is. (Cycling UK has a similar journey planner tool.)

    • Learn to commute with confidence – Even if you're not commuting, 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.
  5. Get cheap bicycle insurance – if you think you need it

    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.

    Are you already covered?

    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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