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Crunch time – biking on a budget

| Blog, Features, What Mountain Bike | 14/07/2011 13:26pm

Just because the economy’s depressed, you don’t have to be. Follow our budget tips and we’ll show you how to get the best out of your bike for less.You don’t have to spend masses of cash to keep having fun out on the trails and there’s plenty you can do to keep your riding fresh and exciting without breaking the bank. You don’t even have to resign yourself to not having any new toys to play with for a while. We’ve come up with a bunch of ideas to help breathe new life into everything that there is to do on a bike, so temporarily set aside your lust for all that’s glittering new, shiny, and expensive and get your thinking cap on as we guide you through biking on a budget.

Explore your transport options
The infernal combustion engine in all its forms burns more than just precious natural resources. Planes, trains and automobiles are money pits but even though they’re a necessary evil for some journeys, making use of your bike will save you lots of pennies. Start by switching your commute to pedal power; you might not be able to ride the whole journey but investigate combining public transport options with one or more bike legs to cut costs and reap the fitness benefits too.

Save yourself some cash by looking after your tubes

Patch your tubes
Two flats a week adds up to the cost of a new fork over a year if you’re fitting a brand new tube every time – not to mention the obvious environmental cost of consigning a perfectly fixable component straight to landfill. Even the worst snakebite can be fixed with a little time and patience. Keep a couple of ‘good’ tubes in the pack and save the sticky finger work for when you’re at home though, as you don’t want to try to persuade a patch to stick in sub-zero temperatures.

There are great trails to discover just outside your door

Explore your local patch
Struggling to summon up the funds for a weekend away? Eliminate travel costs completely and ride from your own doorstep. It’s easy to overlook your local trails in favour of exotic delights further afield but exploration often reveals surprises in your backyard. Two things will help you out here: the relevant Ordnance Survey map for your area, and an open mind. You’ll be surprised by the hidden patches of greenery just outside your door, and the joy of your local patch is that it’s personal, yours to experience in all seasons and there for the taking with minimum effort and expense.

Even the smallest adjustments can make a massive difference to your ride feel

Fine-tune your position
It’s surprising how much difference small changes to your contact points can make to your ride feel. Try shifting the saddle backwards and forwards a few millimetres, or angling the nose a few degrees to alter your weight distribution. Take a look at the set of your bars; most have a certain amount of sweep on them and altering the bar rotation will allow you to change your hand position significantly. Just making small adjustments can totally alter the feel of a bike and, best of all, they cost you nothing except a bit of spanner time. See our bike fit feature to make sure you’re riding in the best position.

Drag out those old parts and spares – you may even have enough for a whole new bike

Reuse, recycle, and reduce (your spending)
Most of us have enough spare parts stashed around the house to build at least three bikes – albeit three rather tatty, eclectic bikes… Try putting all those spare bits together to make a whole new ride, pooling or swapping with friends if you can’t quite make the jigsaw work. Resurrect an existing bike that’s fallen into disrepair or build yourself a whole new toy; it’s not likely to be shiny and new, but it might make for a great winter hack or commuting rat bike – and it’s liberating to discover that there’s life in the old bits despite the lack of gloss and polish.

Save money by using a bucket and brushes, and you can check the frame for damage at the same time

A clean bike is a happy bike
Try using a bucket and brushes rather than the hose. It uses less water and allows you to carefully check for wear and tear while you scrub. Drivechain areas need a concentrated degreaser to remove the old lube and grit that does a grand job of munching parts in double-quick time. Wipe seals to avoid accelerated wear to the stanchions, and make sure pivot bolts are still tight while you’re down there, too – another area where it pays to catch any problems early on. Once dry, slap on some fresh lube and you’re ready to hit the trails again.

Swapping your holidays abroad for riding breaks in the UK can save you a packet

Scrap the foreign holidays
Wave goodbye to Whistler and enjoy some great UK riding if you need to holiday on the cheap. If you can, book well in advance – you can travel the length and breadth of the country by train for a pittance. Camping is a great way of keeping costs down, so invest in a bivvy bag like Alpkit’s Hunka (£30, www.alpkit.com) and indulge in a spot of wild camping for the ultimate in cheap nights out under the stars. Check out the basic bivvying rules beforehand to make sure you’re not going to be doing anyone or anything damage. If you’re new to sleeping out under the stars, The Book of the Bivvy by Ronald Turnbull is a useful and humorous guide to the subject, and see WMB123 for our adventure biking feature.

Learn to be your own bike mechanic, even if it means taking a course

Get your wrench on
From a formal training course like the Park Tool School to repair manuals and magazine and online step-by-steps, you can save a packet by learning to fix the basics using basic tools. If you find yourself in need of expensive specialist kit, try establishing a tool library. If you can spread the outlay, and knowledge, required for items like headset presses and BB tools between friends you’ll trim your labour charges right down. Don’t desert your local bike shops though – when it all goes wrong and you’ve screwed the flangegrommit to the wrong thingummywotsit, they’ll be your knights in shining armour.

Try tubeless
If you’re forever flatting or love low pressures, then you’ll want to try tubeless. The expensive ways involve a hefty investment but there is a third way: going ghetto. Split an inner tube to fabricate your rim strip, pack out the recess of the rim with electrical tape to persuade the bead to seat tightly, insert your sealant and then pump like crazy while hoping it holds. We’ve attempted it with mixed success but, if you’re prepared to be patient (particularly when cleaning the latex off the walls), it’s a fun way to get yourself a tubeless set-up on the cheap.

DIY racing
Fancy racing but not the outlay? Keep an eye out for race promoters putting on events that offer more for your money, or go the whole hog and tackle some DIY racing at home. Whether it’s an informal XC series round the local woods or an epic 12-hour ‘event’ where only the toughest of riders will be able to resist the lure of shower and sofa as they pass the front door on every lap, it’s a great way to get your race head on – and you won’t need to be towed out of the car park afterwards, either…

Try swapping out your tyres or experimenting with pressures

Fresh rubber
Switching your tyres is a great way to effect a change that would have Clark Kent quaking in his phonebox. Bigger rubber means more cushioning and control, while skinnies are best kept for mud plugging. Tall, round tyres like our favourite WTB WeirWolfs have a large contact patch, and the big air chamber allows the use of low pressures for maximum grip and traction. Finding the balance between too much pressure and not enough is something that’ll only come with experience, but with enough practise you should be able to select tyre pressures to suit both you and the trail.

Prioritise investments
There’s no point in splurging on yet another new jersey when your saddle’s so uncomfortable an hour’s ride leaves you in need of a local anaesthetic. Try not to cut corners – saddles, shoes, shorts and gloves are all areas where good quality kit will be noticeable on every ride, as well as lasting longer. Good fit is everything, so try on or test ride whatever you’re considering buying where possible – beg, borrow or steal from a mate if shops are reluctant to let you dirty their wares and, if you’re not 100% certain it’s the one for you, don’t buy it.

Forget expensive sports snacks and get baking

Get cooking
Fuelling a long day in the saddle can eat up the pounds if you’re relying on the teashop or sports scientists for your snacks. Try saving the specialist foodstuffs for race day and turn to cheaper sources of calories for your everyday riding. Stuff your CamelBak with sandwiches, fig rolls and bananas for a mobile feast, or break out the wooden spoon and bake your own energy bars. Top up flapjacks with nuts, seeds and fruit for a tasty mid-ride snack that’s cheaper than shop-bought alternatives and will probably be a big hit with your mates, too.

New frame, old bits
Desperately lusting after a new bike but can’t risk leaving the whole redundancy cheque at the LBS? How about the halfway house of buying a new frame and switching components over from your current ride? Check the compatibility carefully to make sure you don’t end up with a heftier bill than expected but, with a good clean while all the parts are off, you’ll end up with a mostly new bike for considerably less cost than a whole new one. Do the job yourself and you’ll reap the ultimate rewards from your investment.

Get a workout
You don’t need fancy equipment or a costly gym subscription to boost your fitness and it’s one of the most cost-effective investments you can make to top up your riding. Losing a few pounds will cost you absolutely nothing (unless you go so far that your wardrobe needs tweaking) and it’s not just your climbing ability that will benefit. The fitter and more efficient you are, the more energy and enthusiasm you’ll have left in the tank to lavish on the descents and technical sections. Browse the training technique articles on BikeRadar’s Fitness section; we’ve covered everything from race-ready workouts to core exercises.

Investigate Cycle to Work
If your employer is at all clued up, it should already have cottoned on to the many benefits of cut-price transport and fitness options for their staff offered by encouraging cycling. If it hasn’t, read up on the technicalities and make a beeline for the nearest personnel officer to make the case for cheap bikes for you and your colleagues.

Simple measures like keeping your shock pressure topped up can make a big difference

Spring tweaking
When did you last check your shock pressures? It’s easy to ride for weeks without once getting the shock pump out but they do need regular topping-up. Just 10psi of air one way or the other can make a big difference to how a shock behaves on the trail and, as long as you stay within the guideline pressures, you won’t do any damage by experimenting. Most forks and shocks have rebound and/or compression settings, too; learn how they affect your ride and you’ll have gained more valuable knowledge for free.

Strategic upgrades
Okay, so spending loads on new wheels might be an extravagance in these cash-strapped times but, if you want to transform your steed from trusty carthorse into racing thoroughbred, they’re the best place to begin. Wheels are classed as rotating weight, multiplying their heft with every turn of the rim. You’ll really notice grams shed here and investing in a top-quality lightweight wheelset is a good strategic. Make sure you’re fitting fast, light folding tyres to maximise the effect of your new hoops, too.

Stop hoarding and sell your old kit online – you may get a good price for parts that are just gathering dust

Sell it on
Your spare bike junk can generate cash. Once you’re certain you don’t need all eight pairs of V-brake levers that you’ve accumulated since you switched everything to discs, stick ’em on eBay. Clean everything up before you take the pictures as they’re what will sell your gear, and make sure you cover postage and packaging costs to avoid them eating into your profits. If you’re feeling philanthropic, set up stall at a bike jumble or arrange a swap meet between your riding friends. Your once-prized tat might be someone else’s dream find, and you never know what you might find while browsing.

DIY guiding
Professional mountain bike guides are well worth their price tag but sometimes the money just isn’t there. If you’re headed to an unfamiliar area or bored with your local patch, seek out some informal guiding. Web forums have become an invaluable resource for those looking to hook up with local knowledge and, although common sense warnings about personal safety apply, you can even join up with total strangers to tackle a trail swap. Exchanging favourite routes with friends lets you experience familiar trails from another point of view and gain a different appreciation of what’s on offer.

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