feature

Cycling cheap tricks: everyday alternatives to expensive bike products

Money saving tips that'll save your arse, clean your chain, and much, much more

Most of us like to treat ourselves to cool new bike stuff from time to time but there's a place for saving money too, so here are some tips for using everyday alternatives to expensive cycling products.

Some of these suggestions come from the road.cc team and some come from readers.

If you have any more to add, sling them in the comments at the bottom. Oh, and if you want to give us any Viz Top Tips-style suggestions, try to make sure they're funny!

Slap on the udder cream

Yes, udder cream; cream for udders. As the name suggests, it's designed to maintain good udder condition in dairy cows. Moisturising and often antiseptic, it's also a cheap alternative to chamois cream.

Chamois cream reduces friction between your skin and clothing, and so avoids chafing. It can be quite expensive, though — compared to udder cream, at least. Teisen Uddercream will set you back £21.06 for 2.5 litres.

If you don't want that much — and you probably don't — the same stuff is available in a 200ml tube for £3.90. Plus, there's a small chance that your milk yield will go through the roof.

Go for fig rolls rather than energy bars

A 55g PowerBar Energize energy bar contains 36g of carbs (21g of which are sugars), 2.6g of protein and 2.8g of fat. A bar will set you back around £1.50.

The nutritional data for three McVitie's Fig Rolls is similar: 37.2g of carbs (18.9g of which are sugars), 2.4g of protein and 4.5g of fat. A whole 200g pack, containing 12 biscuits, currently costs £1.45 from Sainsbury's, so you're looking at about 36p for the equivalent of an energy bar. Bargain!

Use your phone as a GPS bike computer

A GPS bike computer on the handlebar makes a lot of sense for a lot of people but the smartphone that you're probably already carrying in your pocket has a huge navigational capability and will do a great job for some. Use an app that allows you to download and save maps when you have access to WiFi and you won't eat into your data allowance either.

You'll need a mount for your mobile – something like a Quad Lock Bike Kit — but that'll be cheaper than shelling out on a bike computer.

What if you don't want to stick your posh smartphone on the handlebar?

"An old, unwanted smartphone makes a perfectly functional bike computer. Bonus: stick your SIM card back in it and you have an emergency phone," says Tim Meyrick.

Clean your bike with wet wipes

"Cheap baby wipes are great for cleaning bar tape, saddles and any sticky residue on your bike," says Peter Atkin.

Wipes that are labelled as bike or workshop-specific are available, but you can save a lot of money by heading down to your local supermarket and picking up a regular pack of wet wipes or baby wipes to use on everything from your chain to your fingers.

You'll still need to give your bike a regular clean and degrease, but the wet wipe solution is the equivalent of putting on an extra spray of deodorant rather than getting into the shower; it'll do for a while!

Of course, using a bucket and water is even cheaper, but this isn't always a practical solution.

Clean your chain with paraffin or white spirit

Paraffin makes a cheap chain degreaser (although some chain manufacturers will tell you never to remove the original factory lube).

Take the chain off your bike and soak it in a shallow dish of paraffin (some people use white spirit – including a number of the road.cc team). Give it a clean, perhaps with something like an old toothbrush, wipe it down, put it back on your bike and apply some lube.

Save the paraffin and you'll be able to use it again (it's a petroleum product so go careful; it's not nice stuff).

You can buy paraffin all over the place. £7.98 gets you four litres from B&Q.

Store your phone in a freezer bag

Most modern smartphones are waterproof but if you want to protect yours from getting scratched in your pocket you can use a a freezer bag/ snack bag instead of a brand name wallet.

A Ziploc Snack Bag, for instance, measures 16.5cm x 8.2cm so will fit perfectly into most jersey pockets, and it has a sealed top. Head over to Amazon and you can buy 90 of them for £8.33 or go to any supermarket and you'll find various options in different sizes, some more durable than others.

Make your own energy drink

A DIY energy drink is really easy to make and much cheaper than buying a ready-made sports drink.

One method is to add 500ml of orange juice to 500ml of water, add half a teaspoon of table salt and... that's it.

This drink gives you 235kcal of energy and 52g of carbs.

A litre of orange juice is currently 55p at Tesco, but you only need half that so you're looking at 27.5p.

Use safety glasses

"Wear safety glasses instead of Oakleys," says Pete Watts.

You can buy safety specs from any DIY store for £2 or £3. Bollé even makes some, like the Ness+, with a sporty look and a scratch and fog resistant coating. You can pick up a pair for £9.79.

Clean your disc brakes with propanol

Most commercial disc brake cleaners contain a form of the alcohol propanol. You can buy it on its own from somewhere like Amazon (five litres for £23.16) and use it to get oil and grease of your brakes.

Propanol is highly flammable and can cause serious eye irritation, so be ultra-careful.

Wear waterproof latex gloves

"Latex gloves work well under [outer] gloves in the rain," says Kris Pratt.

Disposable latex gloves aren't breathable but they are waterproof, if that's your number one concern. They're also cheap. You can buy a pack of 100 for £4 at B&Q.

If you're sensitive to latex or want a more robust barrier against solvents, you can get nitrile gloves from about £6 for 100 from Amazon.

Wear freezer bags as waterproof socks

"Use freezer bags inside shoes instead of expensive waterproof outer socks," says Dominic Epsom.

Not everyone agrees.

"I've tried that and water trickles down the inevitable gaps in the top, unless you gaffer-tape the tops to your legs," says Jo Burt.

Like latex gloves (above), freezer bags obviously aren't breathable but the fact that they're waterproof might be more important to you on some rides. You can buy 40 for £1.50 at Tesco.

Some people also wrap a layer of aluminium foil around the outside of their socks to keep heat in on cold rides.

Stash your tools/spares in an old bottle

A tool holder bottle doesn't cost a whole lot but the chances are that you have an old bottle kicking about that'll do the job equally well.

There are two ways to do it: either use a wide necked bottle or you take a tall bottle, chop it in two and use the top half as a lid section.

Use a pencil case as a tool roll

"My tool roll fits an inner tube, multitool, two tyre levers, a CO2 pump and two canisters. It's a 50p pencil case from Tesco that fits in a jersey pocket," says Gareth Gaffer George.

Push the boat out and you can get this one (above) for three quid! Other bags will do a similar job, of course.

"Last year I got a Muc-Off wash bag for Christmas that I now use it as a tool bag in my panniers," says Wolf Simpson.

Drink chocolate milk for recovery

This one is well known. Sports scientists will tell you that a good recovery drink should have a carbohydrate: protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1.

A 400ml bottle of Yazoo Chocolate Milk gives you 36.4g of carbs, 13.2g of protein and 260kcal of energy, while a 400ml bottle of Muller Frijj Chocolate Milkshake gives you 44g of carbs, 13.2g of protein and 300kcal of energy. They cost about £1 each from a supermarket.

These are very similar values to those of a recovery drink from a sports nutrition brand. You probably wouldn't want to survive on the stuff but chocolate milk does the job after a tough ride.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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