Five-minute guide to buying a bike
Forget the flash cars: the coolest, credit-crunching way to be seen about town these days is on a bike. Cycling not only saves you money, but it's good for your health and the environment too.
People are turning to two wheels for all sorts of reasons. According to the latest Active People Survey by Sport England, the number of over-16s who cycle for leisure at least once a week for 30 minutes has increased by 113,000 in the past year.
At the same time, more commuters are turning to bikes to save money on travel costs.
What bike is right for you?
If you want to start using pedal power then first you need to identify which kind of bike you want to buy. There are probably more types of bikes than you realise, including hybrid, city, touring, road, racing, fitness and mountain bikes.
Road or racing bikes have drop handlebars and skinny tyres, mountain bikes have big knobbly tyres for off-roading, and a hybrid bike is somewhere between the two.
City bikes are another good option for commuters. These differ from a hybrid in having enclosed hub gears and possibly hub brakes, so they don't need so much maintenance.
Chris Juden, senior technical officer at CTC, the UK's National Cyclists' Organisation, recommends you spend between £300 and £600 on a new bike. If you go much cheaper than that you won't get much for your money, while more expensive bikes could be costly to maintain.
Where to buy
There are a number of ways you can buy a bike, although using a specialist bike shop is probably the best bet. Always make sure you give the bike a test ride before you buy.
It's worth trying to haggle over the price, but the profit margin on bikes is fairly small so don't expect sales staff to offer you much of a discount. You're more likely to get some extras such as locks or lights thrown in for free if you ask nicely.
"Always check the after-sales service," says Neil Wilkes, bicycle consultant for Kettler Bikes. "More or less any local cycle shop will be able to service your bicycle, but ensure specific parts are available to purchase."
If you don't want to pay the full retail price of a new bike, second-hand bikes are often listed in newspaper small ads or internet listings sites such as gumtree.com, but you need to know what you're doing.
Buying the different parts of a bike and putting it together yourself is another option. Alternatively, you can buy a mail-order or flat-pack bike. Retailers such as Tesco, Halfords and Toys R Us sell the packs for as little as £100.
However, a report by BBC's Watchdog in 2009 found that flat-pack bikes are much harder to put together than sellers would have you believe.
The TV programme asked five testers to construct the bikes and all five made crucial mistakes which made the bikes unsafe to ride.
Cycle to Work Scheme
Poppy Bowers, a 29-year-old exhibitions co-coordinator at the Wellcome Collection in London, cycled from her home in Hackney to work at Euston Station - until her bike was stolen last September.
"I was at a bit of a loss as I couldn’t afford to replace it," she says. "Worse, I had to start getting two buses to work – a cost that really took a bite out of my weekly budget."
Someone in her office suggested she look into the government’s Cycle To Work Scheme.
This is a salary sacrifice scheme whereby your employer buys you a bike and you repay it out of your monthly salary. Payments are made from your gross salary, so you save paying tax too.
You have to get your employer to sign up to the scheme and use your bike mainly for travelling to and from work.
Poppy says: "It was as simple as picking the model I wanted and getting a quote for it. I passed this onto my HR department and two weeks later I received a voucher to buy my new bike with.
"I am now the proud owner of a Trek Allant hybrid bike – and I don’t even notice the £35 (which I will have to pay for a year) that comes out of my salary each month."
Cyclescheme has partnered with more than 1,400 independent bike shops throughout the UK, giving participants access to a massive amount of choice and expert advice on bike selection. For more information, visit cyclescheme.co.uk.
Hire don't buy
In some places, it's possible to hire a bike for short journeys. Oybike.com operates in Reading, Farnborough and Cardiff. Users need to register to rent bikes and pay a subscription. The first 30 minutes of bike-use is free and then you are charged per hour.
The rates are pretty cheap: two hours' hire will set you back just £1 and anything between four and 24 hours' hire costs £5. Bikes can be returned to any Oybike rental system.
Transport For London is launching a bike rental scheme for the capital on 30 July 2010, in association with Barclays. Cycle Hire will be a public bicycle sharing scheme for short journeys in and around central London.
You'll be able to pick up a cycle, use it as long as you like and then drop it off, ready for the next person. For more information on costs and registering visit the TFL website.
Build your own bike
Dominic Learey, 29, saved money by buying the parts and putting his bike together himself. He made the bike he rides and has also made two for a friend.
Dominic started building bikes because he had more control over the way the finished article looked. He suggests buying an old or vintage bike and replacing the parts you don't like or that need fixing.
He says: "Parts can be sourced online or in shops. To get started, look for a vintage bike on eBay, which can be picked up for about £10, and change the necessary parts, then give it a re-spray. That way an old bike can be converted into a working bike.
"I'd also suggest building a single-speed bike rather than one with gears. Bikes with gears tend to be cheaper, but it's a false economy because they're expensive to replace if they go wrong."
Dominic uses his bike to travel from his home in Kennington, south London, to his job as a stockbroker three miles away in Liverpool Street in the City. If he used an Oyster card his commute would cost him £4.40 a day or £22 a week.
You should seriously consider protecting your bike against theft. According to the latest British Crime Survey, during 2008/09 there were an estimated 540,000 bikes stolen – a 22% rise since the last survey.
There are two main ways to protect yourself from falling victim to bike thieves: by making sure you keep your bike secure at all times and by covering yourself with insurance.
To stop thieves from nicking your bike in the first place, it is well worth investing in a heavy-duty bike lock.
When locking your bike, try to make sure it's secured to an immovable object through the frame and the wheel. The bike lock should always face down towards the pavement, as this makes it harder to pick.
Also, try and lock your bike in special parking racks and in busy, well-lit areas, as they are less likely to be targeted by thieves.
You should also think about insurance. If your bike is especially valuable, separate bike insurance provides more comprehensive cover. Standalone cover is available from £56 a year. Specialist insurance policies are available from Cycleguard, E&L Insurance and Evans Cycles.
A tax-efficient way of receiving staff benefits, where an employee agrees to forego a proportion of their salary for an equivalent contribution into their pension scheme or in exchange for company car, gym membership, childcare vouchers or private medical insurance. A salary sacrifice scheme is a matter of employment law, not tax law, and is often entered by an employee who is about to move into the higher 40% tax bracket.