A Cheapskate’s Guide To Cycling Kit

Earlier this year I had a job interview with an online cycling magazine. It was halfway through the interview that I realised I hadn’t got the job. When asked about their style and target audience, I answered correctly that they are “focused on new kit and tech” and crucially, “readers have disposable income”.

My income too is disposed – down the private rental plughole along with the notion of owning sub-seven kilogram superbikes. What’s left is enough to get me a couple of inner-tubes, certainly not a set of £1500 power meter cranks.

It got me thinking – much of my cycling kit, and I’m sure, most people’s cycling kit is not reflective of the glossy adverts and reviews we see in magazines.

There is a certain warm feeling and sense of achievement to be had from the cheap bodge or a good piece of kit that has been worn into oblivion. Here are a few of mine that I’m sure are familiar to any penny-pinching cyclist …

Super-Breathable Padded Shorts

I crash too often to buy new clothing every time that I do. These shorts have been great and I can’t bring myself to ditch them. The padding is somewhat akin to a sad pancake nowadays, but it’s better than nothing. The exceptional breathability acquired from numerous holes is the standout feature of these shorts.

To save your blushes in exposing the part of side-leg that is ordinarily only seen when naked, permanent marker can make them appear as good as new (if you ignore the snot, sweat and bloodstains).

Lethally Tractionless Shoes

We all have those things in life that are a bit broken, that don’t quite work the way we’d like them to, all the time thinking “why don’t I ever get this bloody thing changed/fixed?” But we continue to cope and never bother to do anything about it.

I’m a left-foot starter, so my right shoe is significantly more worn. Every time I turn left whilst walking in my cleats I play chicken with the prospect of a broken ankle. This has been going on for over a year, but new shoes are not even on the bottom of my shopping list.

Helmet-Mounted Lights

The humble elastic band is the best invention since the wheel. It takes a bit of persuasion to get them through the vents in the helmet (I learned chopsticks are not the tool for the job – see bit of coat-hanger below) but once in, they’re bomber.

Boots Tubigrip Bandage Arm Warmers

A cyclist pulled alongside me at some lights the other day and said “Excuse me, can I just ask, is there something wrong with your arms or are those a cheap alternative to arm warmers?” I was pleased my hack had been acknowledged, but now wondered if, up to this point, everyone had been thinking I have some sort of horrific skin condition on my arms.

Ranging anywhere from £10 to a stratospheric £60, “real” arm warmers don’t do much more than the £3.49 bandages. And when you inevitably knacker your knees from all that bloody cycling, you’ll already have exactly what you need to give them some support (though you will now have cold arms – best spend at least £60 on a pair of back-up arm warmers for this exact eventuality).

Filthy Race Cape

Very few things look more silly than a massive condom with arms and a head poking out of it. Evidently I saw this as a challenge and adroitly decorated it with chainring grease in trying to free my bike from a tightly bunched lockup.

A ride with Tom wouldn’t be complete without some calamity, and having not crashed with Matt at Lee Valley Velopark, the stage was set for me to drop most of a cup of hot coffee down myself, further enhancing the look of my race cape with more unintentional embellishments.

Piece of Wire Coat-hanger


One for the mechanically minded cyclist – pulling the loose ends of chain together to reattach them can be an annoyance. By looping each prong of this device through a chainlink 3-4 spaces from the ends, you get the slack that you’ve been looking for. I’m sure Rapha will cotton onto this soon and patent a device to retail at the £30 mark.

Champagne Cork Bar-End Plugs


Before I am accused of hypocrisy as this is an article about frugality, I must point out that I have never bought a bottle of Champagne. These are upcycled from a succession of wedding gifts or other special occasions.

Bar-end plugs are the first thing to disappear from a bike, and they don’t make enough noise when they fall off for you to realise. For me, they reside just under the functionality threshold to justify spending money on replacements. Corks (with a bit of coaxing into the hole) do the job just as well.

Whenever I take my bike into a shop, they always get a mention. Never before has the innocuous bar-end plug been such a talking point!

Bargain-Bucket Bidons


With leakage from the poorly fitting lids, about 30% of liquid doesn’t make it to my mouth and instead wets my thighs and top-tube. This isn’t a hack or a bodge, they are crap – I just haven’t bothered to replace them.


Please share and comment with your best pieces of cheap kit, hacks and bodges.

2 thoughts on “A Cheapskate’s Guide To Cycling Kit

  1. Fantastic article! On a similar note I am shocked at how much most cycling clubs around the country charge for 3rd party liability insurance for cyclists. That’s why the National Clarion Cycling club now offers it to all members, membership of London Clarion costs just £13


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s