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Top cycling hacks to save money this winter — cheap alternatives to expensive bike products to keep you riding for less

Jaw drop when you see the price of something seemingly cycling-specific that you need? Don't tell, but there are some everyday products that can do pretty much the same job for way cheaper

Winter can be a chillingly expensive time, and it’s all too easy to get lured into the costly magical claims of toasty and polished winter wonder riding made by manufacturers. 

Generally cycling through the winter – whether that's commuting, running errands, training rides or a combination of them all – will cost more to keep you and your bike running. Your bike and its parts will pick up more dirt which means using more maintenance products, and more layers means more clothing to buy, unless you stocked up the year before and it's all still in perfect working order. 

It may have crossed your mind that there are some pretty generic-sounding products that are essential for winter riding that are possibly priced as such because they are marketed specifically at cyclists; and whether that's completely true or not, it hasn't gone unnoticed at Towers that there are alternatives that can do almost as good of a job as the product with 'cycling' stuck in front of it for quite a bit less. 

winter riding - Steve Thomas

Without further ado, here are our top tricks to save you some cash and keep on riding for less this winter. For our year-round picks of cheap cycling tricks, check out this article too. 

Newspaper down the jersey

Here’s one straight from the good old days of bicycle racing. Stuffing a few pages of the local newspaper down the front of your jersey is a cheap but surprisingly effective way to stop the chill of the wind on a long mountain descent.


Admittedly, this trick works better in the mountains and with a soigneur handing you up the paper, and for non-racing cyclists, the sensible thing to do is carry a lightweight windproof gilet or jacket. But if you’re ever caught short in changeable weather, especially if you’re in hilly terrain, it could make all the difference.

- Essential wet weather cycle clothing and gear

Plastic bag over socks

bacofoil sandwich bags

Keeping your feet dry when the roads are wet is tricky. You could spend a fair bit of money on overshoes, or you could use some cheap plastic bags to wrap around your socks before you put your shoes on. Sometimes it’s nearly as effective as overshoes and doesn’t look nearly as strange; although it can lead to sweaty feet, as plastic doesn’t allow excess heat to escape.

Small sandwich bags work really well, and they aren't single-use items. No, we're not talking about using the same bag to take your lunch to work on Monday; you can use the same bags a few times before you reach for a new set.

Tights (yep, just regular women's tights)

tights - licenced under CC BY 2.0 by Osaka19 on Flickr Creative Commons

Tried and tested for pre-millennium decades by chilled cyclists, male and female, and yet rarely talked about in public... wearing woman’s tights between your shorts and bottoms provides a surprisingly efficient and ultra-thin extra later of insulation against the cold.

Sure, it’s best to buy new tights, but when holy versions are ready for the bin then grab them and squeeze in. If you have big feet, it could be worth cutting them off at the ankles, although, naturally they also make for good foot warmers (as do pock sock style tights).

Tin foil helmet liner

tin foil.JPG

There’s a whole lot of spare tinfoil around during the mid-winter months, so why not grab a small piece, double it over and line the top of your lid with it?

You only need around a foot of foil in all, and then fold and mould it into the top part of your helmet. Much as it does whilst roasting the Christmas turkey, the foil will insulate you’re the top of your head, which loses around 10% your body heat.

This hack is one for super cold days out and can be combined with an old-school headband/ear warmer to keep your bonce toasty, but not roasted.

Massage in a bottle

Thermos flask - licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0 on wikimedia commons

Trying to sip the dregs from a frozen water bottle when a café stop is off the radar is one of the many banes of a winter ride, and so having your own hot tipple on hand is just the tonic, literally.

Get hold of a small old school thermos flask, or better still nab a kid’s Barbie or Superman flask from a cheap school lunch box kit. Get your old water bottle, and then cut off the top, unscrew the thermos and remove the inner capsule. Use thin bubble wrap as a liner, and then squeeze into the bottle and then seal it in with gaffer tape.

This is best kept in the seat tube bottle cage and will allow you to have your favourite hot drink on tap during a ride.

Carry a spare undervest

This one is more of a nugget of practical advice over a hack. First up, when you buy into the great wicking and sweat-absorbent claims of expensive garment makers, do be aware that we are all individual and that we sweat at different rates. What you wear on top, the wind chill factor and so much more will determine just how much you sweat out on a ride, and how much of that gets wicked away (or not).

So long as you keep rolling, and as long as there’s not a long-chilled descent ahead, most of us can boil in the bag for the duration of a ride; however, if you do make a cafe stop, or even have an extended puncture stop, then that sweat soon turns to chilled hell, which can leave you with the sniffles or much worse.

No matter what claims are made of expensive undervests, they all still suffer from
this chilling truth. Simply carrying a spare undervest with you on a ride, in a plastic bag, and then swapping it when you stop mid-ride can be a real game changer whatever the season. 

Surgical gloves


Applying the same idea of adding a layer of plastic between body and elements, surgical gloves are relatively cheap and can be worn underneath your cycling gloves to provide a bit more protection. Just be warned that you might get sweaty hands if it’s mild.

This is a great tip if you'd like to wear thinner gloves for maximum dexterity in cold weather.

- 21 of the best cycling winter gloves — keep your hands warm and dry

Clear Safety Glasses


You could spend £200 on the latest trendiest cycling glasses. Or you could go to a builder’s merchant and spend a couple of quid on a pair of safety glasses with clear lenses. We found these for just £2.49.

They certainly aren't the most stylish option, but if you need to protect your eyes from the freezing winter winds, lashing rain, or just have a clear lens option for night rides, these are a sensible buy.

- 11 of the best cheap cycling sunglasses — protect your eyes without spending big

Plastic bottle mudguard

Got a load of old water bottles collecting in the back of the cupboard? With a few minutes and some creative cutting, you could fashion one into a mudguard.

alberto contador mudguard 1

We first saw this years ago on Alberto Contador’s bike. Granted, it's not going to provide a huge amount of protection from road spray, but it's better than nothing.

Check out the video above for Dave's best Blue Peter impression. You might want to take a bit more time over your creation than Dave did, but this trick really works.

- 16 of the best mudguards for any type of bike — keep dry when it's wet with guards for race bikes and practical bikes


Vaseline has many uses, but did you know it can provide an extra barrier to the elements.

Some cyclists have been known to slather it on legs and bum to prevent water spray making you feel damp and cold. You can also use it as a wind barrier on any exposed skin on your face. Some cyclists even use it for chamois cream.

Getting it off can be a little tricky, so be ready with the wet wipes if you're planning to use this at an event like a sportive or race.

Embrocation warming creams


Embrocation used to be an old pro favourite before technical clothing got really good. Many bike brands offer tubs of expensive embrocation but you can buy the same stuff from your local chemist under the more common name of Deep Heat and bring back memories of the school changing room.

Just be sure to apply after you've done your chamois cream.

Foot and hand warmers

hand warmers

If you suffer from poor circulation, heat pads for your feet and/or hands can be a good way to stave off the winter chill on a longer ride. They're reasonably cheap and the small pads can be placed in your gloves and inside your shoe or overshoe to steadily release heat over the course of a couple of hours. ​

- How to keep your feet warm while cycling through the winter

Waterbottle with a nozzle cover

Camelbak Podium Dirt Series water Bottle Review-1

Country lanes are typically covered in mud washed out from the ditches or dragged along by tractors, so you'll inevitably get plastered with mud unless you've got some good full-length mudguards. There's not much worse than grabbing your water bottle and the nozzel being covered in mud and god knows what else. Some water bottle brands sell bottles with integrated mud caps, or you could make your own for pennies.

Silicone spray to keep the frame clean

silicone spreay

It's inevitable you'll spend a lot more time washing your bike through the winter, but there's one easy trick to save time: cover the frame with silicone spray. Many bike brands sell it but it's not cheap, so instead head down again to your local hardware store and pick up a can for a couple of quid. We found this one for £2.79. Bargain!

If that's too expensive, you could always raid the kitchen cupboards for the furniture polish and use that instead. Just be careful not to get it on the braking surfaces!

- How to winterproof your bike — protect your ride from the wet, salt and crud

Washing your bike

You might think you have to use dedicated bike cleaning products when washing your bike, but inexpensive washing up liquid does the job just fine. Some people will tell you the salt content can damage your bike, but you’ll be washing it off before it has any chance to do any harm.


For degreasing the chain and drivetrain, instead of the very expensive cycling-specific products, a regular degreaser from a hardware or motor store will be just as effective. Some cyclists swear by using paraffin or white spirits to clean chains.

Café wisdom: readers' top budget winter hacks

It turns out you lot are pretty resourceful at turning household items into crucial cycling garments and accessories too. We've had loads of helpful tips over the years in previous versions of this article, and a growing collection over on our YouTube channel! Here's our pick of the best: 

ktache said: "One to keep your thinnish winter gloves going a little bit longer - I caught a finger on the worn chainring whilst locking up my bike, small hole, got larger with time, very cold as it was where the finger met the metal brake lever. I didn't want to buy a new pair quite yet, they were still newish. So, I cut strips of the sticky bit of Elastoplast's Fabric, Extra Flexible and Breathable plasters, ones that you cut to size, and stuck them over the hole. It will last many washes, more than you think. It's better if it's stuck to itself too, so a thin strip loosely around the finger helps. They are still very grippy on the levers. Looks a little bit Hoboish, but keeps the gloves going. Worked on my full finger summer gloves too."

hobbeldehoy added: "I never buy cycle specific cleaning products. Marketing rip off."

bechdan said: "I don't understand why you'd put surgical gloves under your own gloves, sometimes I use disposable type gloves (black nitrile) over my usual gloves if its cold/windy/wet. They give good grip and prevent the inner glove from getting cold, yes a bit clammy but warm and clammy."

alg's top tip is this: "Blow dry your bike. Makes cleaning your bike in winter very much quicker - it takes so long to drip dry or rub down and you can never get the dampness out of all the bits. Here then is a good use of the most useless piece of gardening equipment - the leaf blower. Harmlessly blast the dampness off in moments ready to silicon spray, oil and whatever, and get an early cup of tea."

Redvee said: "I use vaseline when I'm wearing my waterproof socks to form a seal on my calves. I've found the socks regardless of size don't make a decent seal all the way round on my claves but applying Vasleine solves that problem."

Toon Army advises: "These resolved my cold issues -

Feet - Northwave Flash TH Winter thermal shoe ( +1/2 size ), thick woolley socks and overshoes.  
Hands - DHB winter gloves and thin merino wool gloves underneath.
Body - Gilet underneath penultimate layer. More effective than being the outermost layer.

And underpants stuffed down my bib tights to protect my prized possessions. I have never looked back and happy to ride in -5c conditions when the road surface is safe enough."

TheScotsman added: To keep my feet warm back in the distant days of last winter when I was still working in the office (rather than from home) & biking the 10 miles there & back each day, I did this: put on a thinnish pair of cheap Planet X socks, then put a plastic sandwich bag over each sock, followed by a Planet X Thicky Merino sock. Worked an absolute treat, even down to -7C."

Have you got any more top winter hacks? Let us know below.

Add new comment


Carton | 1 year ago

I've cycled on multiple days every month on different continents, but these hacks made me realize I'm a bona fide fair-weather cyclist. Outside of washing my drivetrain with regular degreaser, there's not only not one other thing on that list that I've ever used, I really doubt I would ever be tempted. Maybe, truly in extremis, the plastic bag over the socks and the thermos, but both of those sound horrible. I would have a hard time trusting a plastic bag that can rip at any moment or a flask that can rattle off when it hits the first cobble. If I didn't have an insulated water bottle or overshoes on hand, and it's cold enough that I want them with me, I'm really either not riding or not riding long enough to need them. 

Steve K | 1 year ago

Masterchef's John Torode.

hawkinspeter replied to Steve K | 1 year ago

Steve K wrote:

Masterchef's John Torode.

Well, if you've got the opportunity to ride with him, then I'm sure he could bring along a selection of cakes to avoid spending too much money in a cafe

wtjs | 1 year ago
1 like

This madness keeps coming! They have invented fantastic really cheap waterproof socks and people keep talking about plastic bags. Any old cycling shoe will do when you have these on- simple wool socks inside them, Hey Presto!, cold feet problem gone in the UK unless the water's coming straight down your legs, and they don't wear out when you're not doing long walks in them. Neoprene gloves do the job except for long rides- probably SealSkinz work, except I've never had any. Cheap Aldi waterproof gloves work well, and you can afford two pairs for long rides. 

Xenophon2 | 1 year ago

For chains:  I just dump 'm in petroleum ether, let stand, shake vigorously.  The liquid is kept in a glass bottle, every now and then I pass it through a filter to remove insoluble crud.  The chain is left hanging to dry out, then treated with dirt cheap paraffin-based wax.  Works like a charm, only drawback is that you need to reapply often in the wet season.

I've given up on finding the perfect clothing item that manages to keep you dry and warm.  Either you get wet from water coming in or from sweat that can't evaporate.  Even very expensive pieces of kit will start wetting through after a couple of uses or on spots where the fabric rubs and once that happens, you're toast. 

RoubaixCube | 1 year ago

To be fair.

If I lived in a location where i had to use footwarmers. I would rather just cough up the money for a good pair of winter SPD boots.

The boots will last a lot longer and are a more cost effective solution on the wallet in the long run compared to paying a £5-20 for a small pack of footwarmers or handwarmers.

Id also be looking at getting warmer socks - even that might be a better idea.

(just my opinion)

ktache replied to RoubaixCube | 1 year ago
1 like

I occasionally use them.

Multibuy offers get them down to around a quid per pair.

They are in addition to good socks, winter shoes and thermal insoles, just a little bit more for when especially chilly. My feet feel the cold and not as bad as some.

It's a commuting thing, mine's about 2 hours, ride-train-ride, and they are really appreciated when standing around on freezing train platforms, waiting...

Double bagging in zip loc bags keeps them good enough for the journey home.

DoomeFrog | 1 year ago
1 like

I use surgical spirit to clean discs. Get a spray bottle and some paper towel to wipe surfaces and you get squeal free braking.

Rendel Harris replied to DoomeFrog | 1 year ago
1 like

DoomeFrog wrote:

I use surgical spirit to clean discs. Get a spray bottle and some paper towel to wipe surfaces and you get squeal free braking.

Nail varnish remover works well too, also isopropyl rubbing alcohol (probably the same thing as surgical spirit?) which can be obtained from chemists for about a third of the price of a proprietary disc brake cleaner.

mattw replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
1 like

also isopropyl rubbing alcohol (probably the same thing as surgical spirit?) 

Correct - they are the same.

A 5l bottle of isopropyl alcohol is about £20 off ebay. 1l about £6.

It's the stuff a lot of people used for sterilising hands and surfaces during Covid. Quite rare at the time; mine came from a agricultural wholesale supplier with piccies of cows on it.

hawkinspeter replied to mattw | 1 year ago
1 like

mattw wrote:

also isopropyl rubbing alcohol (probably the same thing as surgical spirit?) 

Correct - they are the same.

A 5l bottle of isopropyl alcohol is about £20 off ebay. 1l about £6.

It's the stuff a lot of people used for sterilising hands and surfaces during Covid. Quite rare at the time; mine came from a agricultural wholesale supplier with piccies of cows on it.

I buy isopropyl alcohol from eBay and it's handy for lots of little jobs. On the bike, it's great for cleaning brake discs and also helps to dissolve the latex from tubeless sealant if that gets onto the frame. I use it for cleaning electronic bits and pieces as well and Mrs Hawkinspeter keeps nabbing it to remove nail polish.

Awavey replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
1 like

But don't your brakes smell of pear drops afterwards  1 some nail varnish remover is acetone free thesedays so buy the right stuff. Ive got a bottle of meths that works really well,just dabbed on a bit of kitchen roll and it leaves no residue.

ktache replied to DoomeFrog | 1 year ago
1 like

Surgical spirit leaves residue.

Popan-1-ol doesn't.

Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago
1 like

Clear safety glasses are not a "cycling hack". They're not tested for this purpose and their behaviour in a crash is unknown. If you want to play around with shards of sharp plastic near your eyes then be my guest, but don't recommend it others wihout making the potential risks clear.

There are loads of tested clear glasses available in the sub £20 price range.

Rendel Harris replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago
1 like

Or indeed if money is really tight Planet X have their Carnac RSF Ballistic glasses, which come with both grey and clear lenses, down to £4.99:

HoarseMann replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago

What test certification do you look for in a pair of cycling glasses?

The pair of safety glasses linked in the article are certified to EN166F, which looks like quite a tough test:

ktache replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago

Just read the certification and it made me ask, how far does a steel ball need to be dropped to reach a speed of 162kph. Using an online calculator, it's 103m and would fall in about 4 and a 1/2 seconds.

Simon E replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago

Fursty Ferret wrote:

Clear safety glasses are not a "cycling hack". They're not tested for this purpose and their behaviour in a crash is unknown.

How are standard safety glasses any different to cycling specific glasses?

My £12 Bolle Silium apparently has a Grade 1F Impact Lens with 45m/s Impact Protection. I agree that there's no need to pay through the nose for a brand that sponsors a WT tour when this type does the job perfectly well.

hawkinspeter replied to Simon E | 1 year ago

Simon E wrote:

How are standard safety glasses any different to cycling specific glasses?

My £12 Bolle Silium apparently has a Grade 1F Impact Lens with 45m/s Impact Protection. I agree that there's no need to pay through the nose for a brand that sponsors a WT tour when this type does the job perfectly well.

Safety glasses would probably be tougher for high speed impacts if they're designed to be used around power tools and machinery.

Fursty Ferret replied to Simon E | 1 year ago

Safety glasses are primarily designed to protect your eyes from flying debris, not blunt force impact across the whole frame. Let's imagine the scenario where you ride into the back of a car and your face impacts the metalwork.

Normal safety glasses might shatter in an unusual way. The force of the impact can force shards of plastic into your eyes or face, or your ears. Bike-specific glasses will break, but not into anything with sharp or pointed edges.

Sriracha replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago

Do you have any basis, a source, for your interesting assertions?

ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
Sriracha wrote:

Do you have any basis, a source, for your interesting assertions?

Everybody knows that safety glasses that are not designed or tested to a defined standard are inherently stronger and safer than a pair that are designed and tested to a defined standard. Keep up!

Hold on... That's the wrong way round isn't it  3

Xenophon2 replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago

I would dearly like to see data that underpins that bold assertion.  Safety glasses have to comply with EN166 (S, F or B).  My lab glasses that cost 10 Euro/pair or thereabouts are rated 166F, meaning that they must withstand the impact of a steel ball with a mass of .9 grams or so, launched against them at 162 km/h without the lens shattering, while the lens stays in the frame and the frame reamins intact.  Are any 'cycling specific' glasses that cost 10 times as much rated as such (should be marked on the frame)?

If you were to somehow ride into the back of a car at 162 km/h, I don't think the rating on your eyewear will matter one bit as regards the outcome.


Backladder replied to Xenophon2 | 1 year ago
1 like

unless your mass is less than 0.9 of a gram in which case you should be fine!

ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Backladder | 1 year ago
Backladder wrote:

unless your mass is less than 0.9 of a gram in which case you should be fine!

Yet another unrealistic body goal. Thanks for the fat-shaming  3

ktache replied to Xenophon2 | 1 year ago

Oakley used to use a pair of coloured mirrored Ms with shot gun pellet dents as part of their display cases in the early 90s.

fenix replied to ktache | 1 year ago
1 like

I think Greg Lemond took field testing to the extremes on those too.

fenix replied to Fursty Ferret | 1 year ago

I think you're misunderstanding what safety glasses are ?

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