Cyclescheme is the UK's most popular cycle to work benefit, creating more cyclists than any other provider.

Round Up: Buying a budget commuter

Round Up: Buying a budget commuter

The less you’ve got to spend on a new bike, the smaller your choice of good ones. But they’re there. Here’s how to find them.

How low can you go when it comes to buying a new bike? Some cost less than £100: you find them in catalogues – and slowly rusting away in sheds. They soon become abandoned because they’re hard work to ride and they require more upkeep. Proper bikes, bikes that you’d be happy to use day in, day out, start at around £200-300.

If you’re getting your bike through Cyclescheme, the chances are you can treat yourself to something more expensive because you’ll be paying in monthly instalments and saving at least 25% on top of that. But maybe your earnings are close to the minimum wage, putting a lower limit on your Cyclescheme package. Or maybe you simply want a cheap ‘hack bike’ for your ride to work. In either case, it’s time to go bargain hunting.

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The smaller your budget, the more likely it is you’ll find a suitable bike from a direct seller – an online retailer, such as Wiggle, or one that also has bricks-and-mortar stores, such as Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative or Decathlon. These retailers cut out the middle man so can operate profitably on smaller margins. They also benefit from economies of scale. When they’re Cyclescheme retailers too, it’s a win-win situation.

Don’t rule out your local bike shop, however. The big-name bike brands that you’re familiar with, and that independent shops stock, start at around £300. Your local shop may have special offers – for example, on last year’s models – and the more personalised service they offer can outweigh price differences, especially if you’re not sure exactly what you need.

As a rule of thumb, simpler is better when it comes to budget bikes. Manufacturers sometimes specify a component that you don’t need because it helps sell the bike. Cheap suspension forks are a case in point. They add little to a bike’s performance except weight. Yet any suspension fork still costs the manufacturer more than a rigid fork, which means corners have to be cut elsewhere. Maybe the tyres will be worse? Maybe the bike gets a heavy quill stem instead of a modern threadless one?

What matters is that the basics are right. Is the bike comfortable? Is it suitable for the kind of commute you have in mind? Does it come equipped with the accessories you want, such as mudguards and a pannier rack? (If not, can they be fitted?) Is it easy to pedal or plain hard work? Is it stupendously heavy or easy to pick up?  Are the brakes and gears intuitive and effective? You won’t get an astonishingly good bike for less than £300, but you can get one that it is fit for purpose. 

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With that in mind, you can expect a fully-rigid (i.e. no suspension) bike with a relatively lightweight aluminium frame and a steel fork. Hybrids offer the most choice at this price, but there are also a few singlespeeds, road bikes, and mountain bikes available for £300 or or less. The gearing will usually be an inexpensive derailleur setup with six or seven sprockets on the cassette and one, two or three chainrings. The most important factor is that the gears go low enough for you for the hills you’ll encounter on your commute; the total number of gears is unimportant. Having said that, it so happens that the number of sprockets on the cassette is a handy indicator of component quality, so 8 is better than 7 is better than 6. When it comes to brakes, meanwhile, don’t be dazzled by discs. Rim brakes are usually as good or better at this price.

Here’s a few of the better budget options.

Wiggle Hybrid Bike

Wiggle Hybrid Bike

This unpretentious hybrid is good value at £250, but it’s currently discounted by 26%, making it an absolute steal. At 12.5kg, it’s very light for such a cheap bike, even allowing for the lack of mudguards and a rack – for which there are fittings and ample clearance. As well as the frame, the seatpost, threadless stem, and handlebar are aluminium too, which helps keep the weight down. Its 700x38C tyres are wide enough for comfort on bad roads without sapping your energy like mountain bike tyres on tarmac. The 3x7 Shimano Tourney gears have a wide range so will suit hilly commutes, and the Tektro V-brakes have plenty of stopping power.

RRP: £183.75
Cyclescheme Price: £130.62*

B’Twin Hoprider 300 Women’s City Hybrid

B’Twin Hoprider 300 Women’s City Hybrid

B’Twin is the own-brand of sports superstore Decathlon. The Hoprider 300 City, which also exists in gent’s version with a top tube, has everything you need for commuting: full-length mudguards, a rear rack, a kickstand, and best of all integral lighting powered by a hub dynamo in the front wheel. It wouldn’t be a bad bike even without all this equipment. Like the Wiggle Hybrid, it has 3x7 gearing (a mix of Shimano Tourney, Shimano Altus, and Sunrace), V-brakes, and 700x38C trekking tyres. An adjustable stem helps you fine-tune your riding position, while the solid-axle wheels are more theft resistant than quick release ones.

Cyclescheme Price: £177.01*

Jamis Beatnik

Jamis Beatnik

Any singlespeed strips things back to the basics. The weight and cost of gear shifters, derailleurs, multiple chainrings and multiple sprockets are simply gone. If you’re fit or live in a flat city, you can have a sporty, lightweight bike for a small outlay. The Beatnik weighs just 11.4kg. Its resilient steel frame and fork are more practical than those of most singlespeeds, having fittings for full-length mudguards and, thanks to longer-reach brake callipers, clearance to fit them safely. It’ll take bigger tyres too; 28mm ones are fitted. The rear wheel has a flip-flop hub, so you can choose between fixed-wheel or freewheel gearing.

RRP: £299.99
Cyclescheme Price: £213.26*

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*=based on minimum savings of 25% inc End of Hire - many save more. Check your personal savings here.