4 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Bicycling
If you want to ask Jonathan Cane what he loves most about cycling, you might have some trouble catching up with him.
Chances are, the 51-year-old triathlon coach will be pedaling at 20 miles per hour on his Trek Domane, deep in the forests of New York's Harriman State Park or alongside the cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades.
"There's something nice and pure about being on two wheels," says Cane, a Harlem resident who typically rides around 100 miles a week. "It's like being a kid and getting on your bike for the first time."
In fact, for many, cycling is not just a pastime—it's something of an addiction. And it can be expensive.
Americans spent $2.3 billion on bicycles in 2013, up 4% from the year before, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Meanwhile, also in 2013, we spent $188 million on helmets, $669 million on apparel, and even $75 million on special bike shoes.
When you separate out enthusiasts who ride an average of 140 miles a month, they spent an average of $1,622 on a new bike in 2014, according to the American Bicyclist Study from consulting firm Gluskin Townley Group.
Even if you subtract the bike itself, top biking buffs still forked out an average of $1,659 on other bicycling-related products.
All those lofty numbers don't surprise Jonathan Cane at all. "If you see a pack of 50 guys racing around the park, that's probably a quarter of a million dollars worth of bikes right there," he says.
Throw in maintenance, other accessories like gloves and gear, along with a few race entries here and there, and you're very easily looking at over $1,000 a year, he says.
Ben Davidson, an artist from British Columbia, Canada, spent almost $10,000 on his cycling habit in the past year, purchasing two bikes and doing a 1,000-mile charity ride for a children's hospital.
"I'm not the best person to ask about saving money on bikes," Davidson says. "It's the one thing I love to spend money on."
Thanks to a spike in city living, plus growing amenities for cyclists like bike lanes and European-style rideshare programs, there are more bike aficionados like Cane and Davidson than ever: The number of bike commuters grew by 40% between 2000 and 2010, according to the Sierra Club.
But you don't have to go broke in the process. Here are a few strategies to cut your cycling costs.
1. Buy used
If you don't know the first thing about bicycle mechanics, it probably makes sense to buy new, along with the manufacturer warrantees and routine maintenance checks.
If you're handy, and want to save potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there is no shame in buying a used bike.
In fact, during the recent recession, used-bikes sales exploded, says Gluskin Townley Group co-founder Jay Townley, and now comprise around a quarter of the total market.
Local bike shops often act as exchanges for used bikes, and you can feel more secure about your purchase there, says Townley. For deeper discounts, check out eBay or Craigslist, but buyer beware.
2. Use timing to your advantage
As this epic winter finally recedes and racing season starts up, you can forget about getting amazing deals. Especially since top manufacturers are increasingly insistent on fixed pricing, says Townley.
But the end of the racing season, like October, is when riders typically sell bikes and gear as they plan ahead for next year. That's when to pounce.
3. Forget top-of-the-line
Yes, you could certainly spend $5,000 on an ultralight racing bike that will have your buddies drooling.
Unless you're Olympics-bound, take it down a notch and get a perfectly excellent high-performance bike for $2,000 or less. If one pricey bike weighs two pounds less than a cheaper alternative, why not just lose two pounds yourself and save thousands of dollars, asks Cane.
4. Be immune to peer pressure
Some bike stores are rather snobbish, Cane says, and won't give you the time of day unless you're a muscled Adonis who's ready to pay for the most elite gear.
Forget them, and stick to your budget. In fact, if you have a friend who's an experienced rider, bring him or her along for any shopping excursions. They will know the lingo, what you really need and what you don't, and won't let you get bamboozled by salespeople who are just salivating over fat commissions.