Can you bike on the cheap? Of course. You can do anything on the cheap. But you really won’t get what cycling is all about. If all you want to do is pedal a bit and roll some wheels, that K-Mart Huffy is for you.
But if you plan on putting some miles in, and riding several times a week, you should plan on investing enough money to make this an enjoyable enterprise. So, that being said, what do you need to start laying down good miles and make you want to put down more? Here’s a list of minimum items we’ll cover:
- Bike (duh)
- Jerseys / tank tops
- Water Bottles / Water Bottle Cages
- Spare inner tubes
- Floor pump
- Portable pump
- Saddle bag
- Cycle Computer
Seems like a big list? Not really. Believe me, there are many other components that can boost the cost sky high. And some of these aren’t exactly required, but they’ll make your life a lot easier in the long run.
Bike ($400-750): you can get a used bike for less, but I’ma recommend getting a new bike, and here’s why. When you get a new bike – even an entry-level new bike, a decent bike shop will make sure you are fitted properly. If you buy a used bike from a bike shop, they’ll still try to fit you, but the availability can limit your options. You’ll be looking at aluminum frames, and more than anything, you’ll want to test ride and get a feel for the positioning. Take as much time as you need – don’t rush! Bikes can last decades when properly maintained, so it better feel right. Also, don’t be afraid to look at bikes that are new but a couple of years out of date. Bike tech doesn’t move that fast, and even gear 5 years out of date will still perform great if new.
Jerseys ($40+) / Tank Tops ($10+): You can buy a jersey, but they are expensive. And if you plan to ride multiple times a week, a $40 jersey ends up being a $120+ cost. I personally stick with simple tank tops like the Muscle Tech Tee’s from Target. They’re $10, light-weight, comfortable, wicking, and best of all cheap! Money saved on jerseys will go into your shorts – literally. 🙂
Shorts ($60+): You can skimp on the jerseys, but you CANNOT, MUST NOT skimp on the shorts. If you buy cheap shorts, you’ll be able to ride, but not comfortably, not long, and not well. Bad sorts will actually dissuade you from riding, even if your bike is fit properly. So if you’re going to spend the money, spend it here. One pair of shorts should do to start, and you’ll have to hand-wash them, let them dry out, and they’ll be ready when you are a couple days later (when starting out, it’s unlikely you’ll be going out back-to-back anyway). As your miles start piling on, you can buy more shorts.
Water Bottles ($6-12) /Cages ($10-20): these are like tank tops more than shorts – feel free to skimp. Some bike shops will throw in water cages and even bottles. Make sure to get two – you’ll need both. Bike shops make a lot on cages and water bottles, so if they won’t throw them in, buy them online at Amazon for a lot cheaper. The money you save on these can go towards your other gear.
Inner tubes ($6): you don’t need anything fancy here, just some basic tubes. These are also going to usually cost more at the bike shop than it will at Amazon or other cheap online outlets. The money you save by buying water bottles online can easily go towards an inner tube or two. And you’ll most likely want two – you have two tires, after all.
Floor Pump ($20+): if you have a really nice portable pump, you can forgo this, but honestly, it sucks having to pump your tires to full with a portable pump. You’ll thank yourself for buying a floor pump, even a cheap one will do, as long as it has a Presta valve (to match your inner tube valve).
Portable Pump ($15+): flats happen. Such is cycling. You have the inner tubes, now you have to be able to pump them. Try to find a pump that can easily strap to your bike, and preferably one that has a pressure gauge. Without a gauge, you can still guesstimate the pressure, but a gauge makes it easier. About the same price as a portable is a CO2 Pump. These take CO2 cartridges and will fill your tire to almost full pressure in seconds. The only problem is the cartridges also cost money and are good for only a single charge. So start with the portable pump, and you can move up to the CO2 pump later on.
Gloves ($12+): there are plenty of gloves out there that’ll run $40+, and in all honesty, they’re great. They’re comfortable, nicely padded, breath well, etc. But they don’t make or break the ride like shorts do, and it’s hard to find the right gloves straight out of the gate. So I’d just start with some padded, basic gloves at minimum that are comfortable and breath well. Best way to find gloves is going to the bike store and trying them on. Once you find ones that you think fit and feel good, you can go online and see if you can find them cheaper.
Helmet ($25+): like the shorts, don’t skimp here. And don’t buy this online. Make sure to try it on for fit and feel, and make sure it’s a certified manufacturer, not some unknown brand from Bahrain. Dollar for dollar, this can ultimately be the best investment you make in your entire life.
Saddle Bag ($12+): a very cheap cost, especially if you buy it online, but necessary. This will carry your spare tubes, snacks, multitool, phone, etc.
Cycle Computer ($30+): the majority of people have smart phones these days, and using the proper app it’ll track most everything about your rides. I use My Tracks by Google – excellent app. But, you can’t always grab your phone while riding – in fact, you shouldn’t grab your phone. Some of these phones will cost almost as much as your entry-level bike, so it’s best to keep them in a pocket or saddle bag, as protected as possible. That’s where a cycle computer comes in. You don’t need anything fancy – doesn’t need to be wireless, or have a heart rate monitor attachment, or cadence tracking, or any of that fluff. The only features I’d recommend are current speed, average speed, total distance, total time, and current time. Anything else is nice but probably not necessary.
So assuming you pick up a decent entry-level bike, 2 pairs of shorts, 3 tank tops, 2 water bottles, 2 cages, 2 inner tubes, floor pump, portable pump, helmet, gloves, and saddle bag, you’re looking at spending approx. $700-$1,000. Now, this might seem like a lot, but you have to realize that other than the inner tubes, most of these items will last for years, and the bike purchase – the majority of the spend – can last for decades if properly cared for. Moreover, if you think of it as dollars per mile, the more miles you do, the less you’ve spent per mile. 🙂
Usually, you’ll want to buy the bike, cages, water bottles, and saddle bag together, and they’ll get you a deal. They might even give you a deal on a helmet and other small items, like a multi-tool and portable pump. The rest will most likely be separate purchases.
Some experienced riders will notice a couple of rather important things missing from this list: biking shoes and pedal clips. Admittedly, these do make a large difference in your overall performance compared to toe straps. But toe straps often come with most entry level bikes and/or can be added on very cheaply compared to clips. Your basic biking shoe pair is going to run approx. $80, and the pedals will run another $50. I rode over 1,400 miles this year using regular sneakers and toe straps, so clips and shoes aren’t required to start, just something that’s really nice to have down the road – literally and figuratively.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s lots, I mean LOTS of other stuff you can buy: various types of clothing, heart rate monitors, special socks, the list goes on. A lot of this really isn’t necessary until you start wanting to edge up your game. However, there are some items that you might want to consider picking up over time as they’ll make life/riding easier:
- CO2 Pump: as mentioned above, the initial cost is cheap, about $15. But you have to also purchase CO2 cartridges. As long as you don’t get too many flats, it’s not bad, and the cartridges themselves aren’t costly, especially if you buy them in bulk.
- Sweat Band / Skull Cap / Bandana: As the weather heats up, getting sweat in your eyes while riding sucks. These are a cheap investment, and during very hot weather, you can soak a bandana before putting it on.
- Patch Kit: Can’t keep buying replacement inner tubes, and most holes are very small and easily patched. One patch kit can save quite a few tubes, so it’s well worth the money.
- Multi-Tool: This is a small foldable bike tool that usually contains 4 or more hex keys, a phillips and flathead screwdrivers. They look like swiss army knives, only without the knife part.
- Bento Box: these are small, box-shaped containers that strap onto the toptube towards the handle bars. This box is good for quick-grab items, like snacks, gels, etc.
- Lights: I’d start with the tail light. It’s not very expensive, and it’s even useful during the day, especially when you’re on small, heavily traveled roads. In the evening when you might still be able to see the road fine, cars can start having difficulty seeing you because of other car lights coming on. This goes a long way to helping. If you find yourself riding more in the evenings and/or at night, then you should get a headlight as well. Remember that while LED’s make you visible, they often don’t shine a lot of light on the path. Halogens work better for lighting up the road, but are often battery-hungry.
- Camelbak: if you live in a hot-weather and/or high-humidity climate, you’ll definitely want to consider one of these, especially when your rides start going over a couple of hours.
The last thing you might want to consider is an upgraded saddle. Most saddles that come with starter bikes are great ways to discourage further riding – I’m quite sure I’ve sat on more comfortable cinder blocks. Saddle’s aren’t cheap, but they’re well worth the investment if you can find the right one for you.
In summation, cycling ain’t cheap. But this isn’t just a sport, or an outdoor activity. It’s a life-extending lifestyle. If you start biking at 30, you can have over half a century or more of biking ahead of you. I know cyclists who have been riding longer than I’ve been alive, and they can still put the hammer down. Studies have shown you remain more flexible, healthier, stronger, and much more active in general when you are a cyclist. Don’t let the price tags discourage you so much as inform you that this will be an ongoing investment in your outdoor future.