How I Got A Free Touring Bike (Almost) Plus Gear & Luggage

Lack of cash is a common reason to delay, duck out of, or otherwise procrastinate on committing to a big bike tour. But being on a tight budget is a ‘poor’ excuse indeed. No pun intended.

Rather than fill a thousand words with rhetoric, however, perhaps it’d be more useful to simply prove it…

In this article (which I’ll warn you right now is going to require at least two cups of tea), I’ll demonstrate how I’ve gathered everything necessary to set off on a big bike trip, for no more than the cost of a round of drinks.

And by a round of drinks, I specifically mean £25.17. (Three pints, two glasses of red, and a G&T – or thereabouts.)

Later, I’m going to take this further by cycling across an entire country for even less. But let’s go back to the beginning…

Introducing The No-Budget Bike Tour Experiment

Here’s the two ground rules I put in place at the start of this experiment:

  1. Do not use any methods to which most normal people wouldn’t have access, and
  2. Do not use any existing belongings besides those that would be found in most normal households.

And here’s what I got for my £25:

Ready to go

This experiment was carried out alongside my normal daily life, and did not require any special knowledge, nor any major outlays of time or energy.

And these ideas can be put into practice immediately by anyone. Read on to find out exactly how…

Free Wheeling

Ho hum. Let’s begin. Where would you find a free bike?

Where would you find a free anything?

Freecycle and Freegle immediately came to mind – online networks in local areas for giving away and getting hold of pretty much anything of use. I signed up to my local groups and kept my eyes open for relevant goodies.

But that’s not where I found the bicycle that became my no-budget tourer. I needed a starting point sooner than it would take for a suitable bike to simply turn up. Surely I could salvage a discarded bike and re-purpose it?

Walking past a bike shop in Leicester one day, I popped in to ask where I might find such a thing. The owner mentioned that the UK’s household recycling centres (a.k.a. tips or dumps) send usable goods elsewhere for resale, and that most of the shop’s recycled bikes came from such sources.

A little googling turned up a place called Recyclemart, which existed for the sole purpose of reselling dumped and discarded household goods. I took a trip as part of a visit I was making to the enchanted town of Corby anyway (my parents live nearby), and there I found a huge pile of discarded bikes. The staff said they got through hundreds every week.

Most were just tangled rust, but I spotted what looked like a reasonably intact adult road bike among them. The front wheel was absent, the bike had no grips or pedals, and was covered in a thick layer of black filth. But I negotiated £10 for the carcass, chucked it in the boot, and went about my day.

Carcass

At home I began cleaning it up. And what I’d actually brought home was a steel-framed men’s hybrid, made some years ago by British manufacturer Ridgeback, who make the very popular and well-respected Panorama touring bike.

Adventure

(It seemed fitting that the model of this particular bike was called the Adventure.)

A sticker suggested that it had once been supplied by a Cambridge bike shop, and judging from the lack of wear on the drivetrain it had been used little, years of grime obscuring the fact. I pictured some hapless student returning to his locked-up bicycle one day, finding the front wheel nicked and abandoning it to the whim of the city council — who would cut the lock and take it to the tip.

Drivetrain
Chainrings
Front forks
Brakes
Ridgeback

And so one man’s trash would become another’s treasure. A solid, 21-speed, rack-ready steel hybrid, with V-brakes, fenders and even a dynamo & lights — for just ten of my hard-earned.

That’s 0.8% of the price of a new Kona Sutra.

Tip: There are unloved but perfectly usable bicycles hiding everywhere. Keep your eyes open, do some detective work, and one will turn up eventually. Use Youtube, the Park Tool website, and that friend who knows about bikes to learn how to get it back on the road, and you’ll get free bicycle maintenance practice into the bargain.

Running total: £10.00

Sleeping Cheap

I’d previously asked at Recyclemart if they’d got any camping gear. “Not right now,” they’d said, “but come back after festival season’s over.”

I dutifully returned in the autumn to find a military-grade 3-season sleeping bag and a closed-cell foam mat on the shelf, just like the ones I used to ride from England to Turkey. The big sleeping bag was probably overkill, and had no stuff sack, but I’d find one for it somewhere.

“Three quid’ll do it.”

A third visit to Recyclemart yielded a Tesco Value 2-man tent, weighing just under 2kg, which had never been removed from its packaging.

(Almost free) camping kit

“That’ll be another three quid.”

Tip: Places like Recyclemart exist all over the place — you just have to look for them. Stock changes constantly, so combine visits with journeys you’re making anyway. You’ll be surprised how quickly bits and bobs begin to accumulate. And we all know that recycling is a Good Thing.

Running total: £16.00

Friends Are There

Needing a front wheel, grips and pedals for my shiny new tourer, I did what anyone in my position would do, and put out a message to my Facebook friends (few of whom are cyclists), asking if anyone had a spare front wheel, grips, and pedals — oh, and anything else that might be necessary for a bike trip.

Sure enough, a friend replied to say that his dad probably had a 700C front wheel lying around in the shed. I popped over for a cup of tea and fetched it. Result.

Cleaning up

(Everyone has a friend whose dad has stuff lying around in the shed.)

Another friend gave me a water-bladder backpack, and a third sent a stainless steel water bottle (plus bottle cage) she’d got for Christmas but didn’t want.

(Free) water containers

Tip: Ask your friends and family if they’re able to help you out. More often than not, people are glad to see unloved and relatively worthless items going to a better home. (Especially just after Christmas.)

Running total: £17.74

Gripping Stuff

I was just a pair of grips and pedals short of a complete bicycle when I got an email from a family friend asking for some help ordering bike parts online.

I assembled an order with Chain Reaction Cycles (who I’ve used for parts for many years) for my friend. Then I checked out some voucher code websites to see if I could get any kind of special deal. Sure enough, I found a code for £10 worth of free stuff!

Checking with my friend first, I spent the free tenner on some cut-price handlebar grips (sorting the ‘Grips’ category by ‘biggest discount’, of course), with enough left over for a bottle of chain lube and some self-adhesive puncture patches too.

(Free) grips (grubby)

Just a pair of pedals to go…

Tip: Help people out, and you may occasionally reap rewards in other ways. (Also, never buy anything online without checking for voucher codes!)

Running total: (still) £17.74

Free Exchange Networks

One day, an email came through from a nearby Freecycle group advertising a “box of bike stuff” that was no longer wanted. Since I was going in that direction later in the week, I wrote back and bagged the box, collecting it a couple of days later.

(Free) box of bike bits

Most of the contents were not particularly useful. But it did contain a few key items, including the long-sought pair of pedals (yay!), as well as a rear pannier rack, a kickstand, a rear-view mirror, and a significantly more comfortable saddle than the bike’s existing one.

The rack didn’t want to fit the frame at first; the mounting points didn’t line up. But — a pair of pliers and a bench vice later — I managed to fit it nonetheless.

(Free) rack, bodged on

And — crucially — the pedals constituted the final missing component: I was now in possession of a complete touring bike!

(Almost free) complete bike

Next stop: luggage…

Tip: Local free exchange networks such as Freecycle and Freegle are great things to keep your eyes on, especially in January. Sign up for instant email notifications for the best chance of grabbing what’s on offer. If you happen to live in an area popular with outdoor types, keep a particularly close eye on them in autumn/winter.

Running total: (still) £17.74

Attracting Attention

I decided that I’d tell everyone that I was looking for bits and pieces for a bike trip, and the worst that could happen would be that people would ignore me or think I was a bit weird (and/or stingy).

I extended this to everything. I put a little postscript at the end of every email, even to people I hadn’t met in person.

And, believe it or not, this is how I ended up with a pair of panniers, two stuff-sacks and a handlebar harness.

(Free) panniers

It was a routine eBay sale I was making of some piece of clutter. And the buyer, who I have never met and whose name I am not even sure I know, put two panniers, two stuff-sacks and a handlebar harness in the post to me. Just like that.

Plastic bags

Along with a handful of plastic bags from under the sink, and a bin liner to waterproof the tent and rollmat, that’s my luggage sorted.

For 0% of the price of a new pair of Ortlieb Back Rollers.

Tip: If you’re scouting for freebies, you might as well tell everyone about it, as you never know what might come your way.

Running total: (still) £17.74

Cooking On Cans

I posted this video a few weeks ago, but what’s the harm in repeating a good idea?

The stove is free. The raw materials are probably in your recycling bin. The tools are in your kitchen. A bottle of methylated spirit cost £1.40. Borrow a spoon and a knife from the cutlery drawer, and repurpose your smallest saucepan as a camping pot (or a tin mug if you have one).

(Free) camping stove

Cooking on the road — sorted. For the price of half a beer.

Or, 1.4% of the cost of an MSR WhisperLite.

While we’re rooting around in recycle bins, find yourself a couple of empty 1.5l mineral water bottles. They’re lighter than normal bike bottles, hold twice as much water, wedge perfectly into bottle cages, and are completely free.

For added smugness, find a couple of those hinged ‘sports cap’ bottles and swap the tops over. Now you can ride one-handed whilst swigging.

Tip: Not everything needs to be bought. Some things can be made. Get creative!

Running total: £19.14

Super Cheap Retailers

I had a bike. I had panniers, cooking gear and camping gear. But I still needed a few essential tools and spares.

Now, as we all know, Poundland is a mainstay of the expedition fraternity. A quick visit to my local branch yielded a headtorch, a tyre pump, cable ties and gaffa tape (two indispensible pieces of on-the-road repair equipment), batteries for said headtorch, and a mini toolkit with tyre levers and allen keys and spanners for the most common nuts and bolts found on a bicycle.

(Almost free) toolkit

The observant amongst you will have deduced that these six items from Poundland, by the laws that govern this universe, can not possibly have cost more than £6.

Or 4.1% of the price of a Petzl Myo RXP headtorch, a Topeak Alien II multitool and a Topeak Road Morph G mini pump.

Tip: Expensive kit might well be lighter, last longer, need less fettling, and be more immediately convenient and practical (and shiny). But the difference is a small slice of the huge adjustment to life on the road. Basic stuff can be readily replaced, whereas posh gear can’t. You’ll learn more by relying on your wit than on your kit.

Running total: £25.14

Keep Them Peeled

Bicycle: check. Luggage: check. Camping gear: check. Cooking gear: check. Tools & spares: check.

Oh… a rear light might come in handy.

Something shiny caught my eye on a fast downhill. I stopped and backtracked to see what it was.

It was, of course, the reflective inner part of a rear bike light. The front shell and black plastic body were strewn across the road nearby. The light had obviously fallen off the bike of someone taking that particularly fun long right-hand bend at speed. The find finished off my gear hunt with a lovely touch of poetry.

(Almost free) lighting

It even came with batteries.

Tip: Keep your eyes peeled – things you need might turn up in the most unlikely places.

Running total: (still) £25.14

Use What You’ve Got

Don’t you need special cycling clothes? Well, no, actually, assuming the climate isn’t too cold or wet (in which case you’re probably best off taking a break anyway).

Long sleeved cotton shirts keep the sun off your arms, and an upturned collar will do the same for the back of your neck. Any knee-length shorts or outdoor trousers will do. A smart-casual change of clothes will be useful when you get invited to a wedding. Underwear is a consumable item.

What about cycle-specific clothing, though? Won’t a pair of padded cycling shorts take the edge off an uncomfortable saddle? Well, yes, but on the other hand, you could just HTFU. Special waterproofs? Pah! Grab the one you got from TK Maxx a couple of years ago. It’ll get you to the next cafe in a downpour. Warmth at night? What, you don’t already have a fleece, a woolly hat and a pair of winter socks lying around? Sure. Whatever.

(Free) technical clothing

Tip: Technical clothing is for sports cyclists and extreme conditions. Most long-terms tourers wear comfortable ‘normal’ clothes. So you’ve probably got everything you’ll need already. Two sets clothes is fine – one for riding, the other for not-riding.

Grand Total: £25.14

So here it is: everything you need for a typical one-day ride and overnight camp, for £25 (or $38, or €29).

(Almost free) complete bike
No-budget cycle touring packing list

By extension of logic, that’s everything you need to continue across a country. And once you’ve crossed one, you can cross another. You’ll be ticking off time-zones before you know it.

Off on the next trip?

What has surprised me most about this experiment is just how easy it has been to get all of this gear together, simply by keeping my eyes open for opportunities, asking for help to achieve something slightly silly that raises a smile, and tapping into a few time-honoured frugality techniques.

Believe it or not, it has actually occupied far less time and energy than wading through the monolithic world that is the bicycle and outdoor industry did a few years ago, in which I remember going around in circles trying to figure out which of the gazillion options I should spend my money on to get the best value for money. Instead, I took whatever was available – and it turned out that what was available was perfectly adequate, and involved almost no money at all!

Standing outside my flat with the bike, a compulsion passed over me: I really could just swing my leg over the top-tube, ride off down the drive and begin an entirely new adventure right now. I really did have everything I needed, and with the world spread out before me, I felt a sudden urge to leave everyone and everything behind and do just that.

But my wife was taking the photo, and that would simply never do…

Bye!

Of course, I am not claiming that this set-up is going to do the job of cycling across a country/continent/planet better than all-new kit. But I’m as guilty as anyone in assigning way more importance to gear than it really deserves. Maintenance and fettling and problem-solving when things go wrong – it’s all part of the journey, regardless of what you set out on.

You make the trip, not your equipment.

Putting It To The Test

Lest things be in danger of becoming hypothetical again, I headed out one chilly morning to simulate a day in the life of a cycle tourist. To make sure I put the bike through its paces, my route took in the steepest road in England as part of a 70km day – pretty average for a rider on tour.

Stunning clouds in the morning
Morning panorama in the Lakes
Duddon valley
Victorious yet aloof
Steep
Descending Wrynose
Cheesy chips (aka rocket fuel)
Wonderful homecoming sunset

And what a stunning ride it was…

Next Time: The No-Budget Bike Tour Itself

A day’s ride isn’t going to prove anything, obviously. So the next part of this experiment will be to cycle across a country with the kit described above.

And I’ll be taking a specific look at the practicalities of keeping on-the-road living costs to an absolute minimum, which is of course the flip side of the no-budget touring coin.

* * *

This article comes with my usual caveat: what I’ve described here is one way of doing things. Specifically, it’s the way of doing things if you believe finances to be an obstacle to setting off. People with money would likely prefer to shell out a couple of grand on a shiny new setup. But not having cash is no excuse to stay on the couch. Get out there, keep your eyes peeled, use your initiative, and you’ll be on your bike in no time.

Can you get a touring bike and kit together for less than £25.17? Let me know if you do…

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104 Responses to “How I Got A Free Touring Bike (Almost) Plus Gear & Luggage”

  1. Chris Goofman

    Wonderful! It is sooo easy to get sucked into reviews of the latest gear, to talk yourself into another £20 for the better spec version, then another £50…£100. For everything. Sometimes we need reminding (showing!) that we don’t need to to do that. Thank you.

    Now – about that adventure bike I’m about to build… :-/

    Reply
    • peter

      I rode a 200 dollar road bike around southern japan in 1998 for 6 weeks…in the middle of winter…. had a backpack with spare jumperetc… wore a cheap ski suit $50….. stayed in low priced travel inns…and ate noodles……best experience I ever had.And I only had one flat tyre in 2000 kms!

      Reply
  2. Ben

    Using spare tubes as bungees for luggage in the back, how efficient! I wonder, how long did it take you to create this masterpiece?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      I began at the end of summer last year and was ready to go by February (that’s when the ride photos were taken), so 6 months. But if I’d really committed time to it I could have done it quicker. The point is that you can do it little by little…

      Reply
  3. Dave Baxter

    Cracking read, would love to know where that ride is you went on. Pictures are stunning.

    Dave

    Reply
  4. Saeid

    Wonderful ! I am about to build one like that too, instead of purchasing.

    Reply
  5. Johno

    Is that Chimney Bank near Rosedale?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Nope, it was the Duddon Valley!

      Reply
      • Mike

        I have spent the evening looking at your stuff starting with the can stove. Excellent stuff all around. Thanks for sharing the adventures. Let me know if you make it to the states. I live literally under the Brooklyn Bridge and would welcome a hook-up if you come past this way. My kids and I will take you for some local pizza. Cheers

        Reply
  6. Amaya Williams

    Super tips, Tom!
    I like what you said about just asking friends and family if they’ve got stuff they’re not using.
    We’ve mentioned this to hospitality hosts and have ended up with all sorts of stuff that was destined for the charity shop (or the bin).
    Over the years we’ve acquired several next to new cycling jerseys, a small collection of MP3 players, high-viz gear, various food stuffs slightly past the expiration date and much much more.
    In fact, at least half my clothing is hand-me-downs from people we’ve met on the road.

    In New Zealand, we picked up a discarded tire which I used to travel the length of Australia and part of Japan until it final wore out.
    Budget cyclists can really benefit from the world’s excess stuff.

    Thanks for sharing this excellent experiment.

    Reply
  7. Fraser Baillie

    Great article Tom, I can’t quite believe what you managed to acquire for so little money – amazing!! Makes my recent bike build look ridiculous, I look forward to reading how your country crossing goes.

    Reply
  8. Ryan @ Pause The Moment

    Wow, such an awesome article Tom!

    It almost seems as if everything went your way throughout the whole process of finding the bike, acquiring the accessories, etc. I’m amazed how everything came together, almost streamlined in a way.

    Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read part 2!

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Cheers Ryan! I have experienced this kind of phenomenon before – the year I spent planning my first tour is a good example. Once you put an idea into action and convince yourself that it is possible to achieve, it rubs off on people and begins to affect the world in ways which are quite unmeasurable. At the same time, you’ll see opportunities that you previously couldn’t, simply because you weren’t looking for them…

      Reply
  9. Tim Moss

    This. Is. Brilliant.

    Top work sir!

    Reply
  10. Chris Maylor

    Great article, Tom. I always hear people saying, “if I win the lottery I’m going to see the world” or “I’m going to visit exotic places”. I always say to them, “Don’t wait to win the lottery otherwise you’ll probably never do it. If you want to do it, then do it.”

    Your article is a great example of how people can live their dreams without needing to ‘win the lottery first’. Simply inspirational!!

    Reply
  11. Simon Freeman

    It’s good to see someone practice what they preach.
    I’m so sick of these tour bloggers who say you can tour for cheap and when you look at their kit list they have a £2000 bike £500 tent £300 sleeping bag etc. I haven’t managed the £25 kit but did go from nothing to full kit inc. bike bought 100% new at full retail price for less than £500 which till I saw this I was quite impressed with. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  12. Andy S

    Nice article. It’s interesting to see someone actually do it rather than just say “oh it can be done”.

    The problem I have found is that even to get out of the UK (ferry, tunnel or fly) costs a hell of a lot more that £25!

    Oh and the chips and cheese must have set up back a bit if it’s anything like the price were I live 🙂

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      It’s £19.50 with P&O to get the ferry from Dover to Calais. Or you could hitch with a vehicle on the way into the port and go for free! Or, get a Lloyds Avios Duo credit card, collect the free airmiles, cancel the card, then use the airmiles for a free Eurostar ticket to Paris etc (or a £25 business class flight to Europe with your bike already included in the luggage allowance).

      All problems are surmountable!

      Reply
      • jane

        Or £15 Dover to Dunkirk

        Reply
      • Laura

        I’m trying to work out how to travel to France on my bike with my dog, all the ferry operators say, ‘sorry, we don’t accept dogs if you are travelling with a bike.’

        Reply
  13. glen

    Less is more.

    It will be interesting to see how many people tour as a result of your article. Perhaps the most important article ever written on bike touring.

    In keeping with your philosophy, I like to acquire stuff that I find on the side of the rd like gaffer tape, tupperware, sweets, multitool etc. It makes one feel that much more self-sufficient.

    Reply
  14. Mr. Sohron

    Great writing Tom!
    I just went and bought a Nishiki Trekking Master Pro 2012 last autumn for almost 1000€ and now i see this!
    I bet Your CroMoLy scrape frame bike will last longer than my aluminium Nishiki frame 😀
    And, I just paid for the brand, i could have had a better bike from Bike-Discount for the price :-[

    Reply
  15. Darron

    Hi
    I was recently given some very cheap cloth panniers. They wasn’t waterproof, but had no holes in them. I kept my stuff in drybags, in my panniers. It has rained heavily a few times, but my stuff (mainly clothes) have kept dry.
    It has saved me a fortune.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      That’s the spirit. And bin-bags make great dry-bags…

      Reply
      • phil darby

        I know this is an old post but ive just finished reading this article.

        There is commercial waterproofing agents too, aerosol based, with silicone added, originally designed for tents I think, but, ive seen them in pound shops too, basically, although it may not make stuff 100 % waterproof, it certainly helps.

        Hint use it on the clothes you are wearing and anything u don’t want saturated with rain, it might be adventagous to carry some in your travel kit, in case of adverse conditions to.

        Reply
  16. Sydney

    Hi Tom,
    Great article. Can you offer any advice on the best way to eat while touring on a tight budget please?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Bread
      Cheese
      Jam
      Noodles

      🙂

      Reply
    • Hannah

      ~I’m a big apple fan. Great for dry mouth- a refreshing snack that stops you wasting so much water. They bruise less easily than other fruit and are easier to dispose of. My friend argues that they are a waste of space for their calorie content but they are great for making a cheese sandwich moist if you don’t have access to butter. I like to make a massive batch of stodgey flapjack.

      Reply
  17. Adventure Podcast #: Alastair Humphreys, Round-the-World Cyclist and Microadventurer | Roz Savage, Ocean Rower

    […] 8:55 Microadventures – why you don’t need lots of time and money to be an adventurer. Alastair mentioned our mutual friend Tom Allen, who had got himself a touring bicycle for around the same price as a round of drinks. […]

    Reply
  18. James Gasko

    I am about to embark on my first long tour (1200 miles), and do it all on the cheap. Your tips have given me both inspiration, and the confidence for this adventure. When I say “On The Cheap”, I mean that literally. I am leaving with no money whatsoever, but I am a skilled carpenter and am bringing my hand tools with me. I too am doing this trek on a bike that was free. It was a gift after mine was stolen. Another friend has lent me his BOB Yak trailer. All told I have spent nothing except $3.00 US on some patches.
    It’s good to ride.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Really fantastic to hear this. Good luck! Drop us a line if you remember and let us know how you’re getting on!

      Reply
      • James Gasko

        Thanks, Tom. One week on and I am enjoying the ride immensely. I may have overestimated the distance I could travel in a day, But the slower I go, the more wonderful sights and and great people I get to see. Stealth camping is a bit sketchy in some towns, but love it all the same.
        It’s good to ride.

        Reply
  19. Steve Sylvester

    This is great! I’ve just spent a few days wrangling with posters at adventurecycling.org concerning a post by someone who is looking for a touring bike that will give her a more upright position for $1500. One poster mentioned her “low budget” before giving advice that she would need to exceed it in order to get what she wanted. Another said it would be better if she could go somewhere between $3k and $4k. Others mentioned “priorities” as a way of moving past her too low target. When I mentioned I had purchased a mint ready-to-ride 1985 Miyata 610 for $150 that could be modded with even brand new parts for far short of a total of $500 the reaction was shock that I would suggest someone spend time finding and working with used instead of just buying new off the shelf. What’s the fun of buying new off the shelf? And why would one want to spend $1500 when you can spend $300 or $400 and end up with a bike that is as good or better? Great, great post. Keep it up!

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hope you posted a judicious link 🙂

      Personally I find it difficult to tolerate the single-minded belief that throwing money at a problem is the best/only way to solve it. Sure, you could, and it’d probably work. But it’s not the only way.

      Reply
      • phil darby

        And also provided you have a bike of roughly the right size no matter how much it cost, you can, merely change the handle bar stem and bars, if you want to radically alter the reach and the riding position.

        Which provided you already have a bike, of roughly the right size, would cost approx. 35 to 40 quid tops, provided you didn’t need to alter fittings, buying new or used, from a popular online auction site.

        great article by the way tom.

        My personal bike cost me approx. 500 quid all told, for a new bike, with new fittings, which I considered quite cheap, but, this article has reminded me that fun need not cost a lot, of money, what is important, is getting out there and doing something, regardless.

        Reply
  20. Billy

    Hi Tom, a great and inspirational article you have there. Especially the newer generation of pampered kids sure have lots to learn from your articles and experiences.

    Reply
  21. Steve Sylvester

    Someone is always literally or nearly throwing something away that is perfectly useful and deserves not to be filling up landfills. My latest project is a $15 1984 Miyata 210. It was covered in grime, but the frame is in mint condition and all it really needed was to be stripped down entirely amd scrubbed. A new chain, tubes and tires and I have a “brand new” bike that is perfectly suitable for touring. Added value is the satisfaction I will gain by knowing I brought it back to life.

    Reply
  22. Andy

    Hi Tom. Not sure if you ever stop at Tesco but the club card points are great for using for free bike / camping gear and also the ferry :o)

    Reply
  23. Don’t Bother with the whole Sponsorhip Thing | Alastair Humphreys

    […] There are two great equipment things I’ve read on your website… one is your uber-cheap touring bike… Can you give us a summary of that, and then I’ll direct people towards your website? […]

    Reply
  24. Laurence Smith

    Brilliant article…and accurately sums up the way I imagine many people progress as cycle tourers.
    All the gear, no idea –> thrifty and understanding of the value that is all around us in amongst other people’s waste!
    I am just getting myself set for a ride up to Norway (and who knows thereafter). My equipment list is as follows;

    A couple of pannier bags made out of two army side pouches (free from a friend who has just left the forces).
    A Marin Muirwood steel touring bike, sold by a guy on Gumtree for £80 – including a nearly new set of Ortliebs (now sold to pay for the bike), a Tubus rear rack (sold to make a profit on the deal!), and a Cateye Enduro bike computer (kept)
    A Coleman Viper 1 tent – amazing bit of kit, under 2kg & 10 years old…but almost unused – £20 delivered from Ebay (received that today in fact; going to put it through its paces by sleeping out in it tonight. I’m looking forward to that feeling of being in a little cocoon in amongst the fierce weather that’s battering Northamptonshire)
    My other super bargain – a Mountain Equipment Xero 250 down sleeping bag…sold to me for £25; actual value of £250! So warm & so light.

    Yes, there is nothing better than creating a beast of burden from the change at the bottom of a money jar! Great article Tom – just what cycle tourers need to hear.

    Reply
  25. Brian Scoffield

    How refreshing! Inspirational! Particularly liked your comment (and link to Urban Dictionary) regarding padded cycle shorts and other “specialist” gear. HTFU – LOL.

    I’m knocking on a bit now and have lived a sedentary and dissipated life for the last 10 years at least. My spare tyre is worn around my waist. I discovered your article after I had reclaimed my old Claude Butler from the garage and spent a small amount of money replacing a tyre and tube and buying a good track pump. I had promised myself a second hand Dawes Galaxy Classic (If I could find one) once I had proved to myself I was getting good use out of the C-Butler.

    After reading your article I have decided to enjoy what I have and to use it to the full. No more procrastination. No more excuses. No more hankering after better kit. Just get on with it. So, even though I’m not going to build myself a bike for peanuts I am going to get on with the kit I’ve got and build up to a big adventure when my mind and body are ready for it.

    Absolutely delightful read and your enthusiasm and “right-headedness” comes through in every word. Many thanks.

    Brian

    Reply
    • Gareth Edwards

      Nice to see you’re getting out your old C-B and getting on with it.

      I’m in a similar position, cycled as a child, lifetime of driving to work, current job and I’m parking at the station and taking the train…and then I worked out that for the price of 5 months car parking, I could buy a new bike and take it on the train. OK, I only use it in the summer (my excuse is that no lighting in the town park that comprises most of my ride to the station means too much risk of running into some wild animal in the dark), but it pays for itself EVERY year.

      I actually came to this site looking for advice on upgrading to a “proper” tourer, but this article reinforces the feeling that what I’ve got works fine, so why change?

      Reply
      • Pete

        You can buy excellent MTB lights on the UK government c2w scheme as “accessories only”, without the need to buy a bike. I bought 2 Exposure Diablos and they transformed my off-road winter commute into 2 mini-adventures each day!

        Reply
    • Derek Edwards

      Hi Brian,
      Go for it and good luck. I got back in the saddle four years ago after almost five decades of virtually no cycling. Best thing I ever did for health and meeting new friends.
      Dell

      Reply
  26. Harry

    Read this AFTER I copped out a load of money for a bike and a few bits of gear. :/ HOWEVER, I’ve still got gear I need to get for my tour this summer and I shall certainly be looking for cheapies and freebies from now on. And I’m certainly going to be trying my tour ‘no-budget’.
    Colour me inspired! Thank you!

    Reply
  27. Dan

    Awesome! so edifying to read this, as i just picked my cromo tourer out of a dumpster, then some rack, then some \mudguards, tyres… omg its cost me about $50 new zealand… the most expensive bit will be shipping it and me over to europe! any tips on flying a bike and gear?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Sure… find some airline credit cards with decent signup bonuses, get the free airmiles and use them to upgrade your flight & luggage allowance for free 🙂

      Reply
  28. My Bike, Cécile. | biketoremember

    […] say that you can just as easily by a touring bike for less than £100 and still have a good time. ( A great experiment here) I can’t deny this and a part of me applauds those who are willing suck it up and just ride. […]

    Reply
  29. Andre Brito

    How amazing your blog is! I’m fascinated with it!! Congratulations, not just for the blog, but for your mind! I would like to see myself in your position… unfortunately, with 3 kids… will be difficult to leave with no destiny!!
    However, I believe I will be able to do it, one step on each time!
    I will start start with the “free” touring bike collect.. piece by piece and then… try to depart to my real life!
    Keep going! Well done!

    Reply
  30. Holly

    I have wanted to(and been talking about) taking a bike tour for years. This article was the catalyst that made me set a date! Mid-June Canada to Mexico along the Pacific Coast!

    Reply
  31. Leen

    Just got an old mountain bike for free a few weeks ago. It was just standing there for years in the garden and the owner was going to chuck it away! So I took it with me.
    Your article made me think about fixing it better and doing a weekend tour as a test. Just some trouble with the derailleur and shifting to fix… But on the cheap, I’ll just keep on tinkering and try to fix it myself 🙂

    Reply
  32. Hiking on the Cheap - Dj Matioka Blog

    […] to love walking), then by all means, get out and do it.  You can always find cheap gear (example here), find cheaper ways to participate (they hiked Yosemite for two weeks recently, I can't afford […]

    Reply
  33. Robert TURNER

    Great article. .. I am a 50 yr old unfit getting fit to do a bike trek uk initially. Was mithering about bikes money blah blah. Yur article was..is a good and timely leveller. 🙂

    Reply
  34. Luis

    I have to say I’m very impressed and absolutely thankful that I found your article. I’ve been traveling with my wife on a low budget way since five years now, but this year We met some french guys crossing around Asia on their bikes and since then I told myself that’s the next adventure We should go for.

    Reading this in my low-budget perspective and written by someone that really knows the cicle-touring world, it’s a nice way to see that It’s possible to do it without loosing all of our money on new gear.

    Thanks Tom!

    Reply
  35. john healy

    I have cycled toured( scotland) since i first read richards bicyle book, in 1972, i found most things i needed for free, a good way to get them is to work one day a week in a local charity shop, tents camping gear ect if you look at zen the art of alcohol stove on the web , lots of free stove making plans+ templates loved reading your site tom , realy good advice for those thinking about cycle / touring on the cheap.

    Reply
  36. Stephanie

    Also….. check out your local community bike workshop! We have a fantastic one here in Wellington NZ where you can essentially walk in and get a complete bike for nothing more than your time and effort and small donation to keep the place running. Great for when you need to do repairs that require specialist bike tools, or when you don’t feel confident about pulling things apart.

    Reply
  37. Col le Chat

    Don’t forget car boot sales! I have looking for a rack for a while and today I bought a Topeak rear rack for £4!! Unused with all parts included!!!

    Upon checking Evans site they are around the £30 mark.

    On the way back found a (clean) sleeping bag in a field, already washed it and suitable for decent weather camping… go me!

    Reply
  38. Col le Chat

    Oh, and having trouble adjusting my gears correctly, popped into Halfords and the very nice chap fixed it there and then for free (and showed me where I had gone wrong).

    Bravo Halfords.

    Reply
  39. Johann kuester

    Strange that I should read your article on touring on the cheap as I rebuild my cheap, entry level, ten speed, German made, out of business Heidemann bike. I’m adding a triple crank to give it the fifteen speed capability with lows in the mid-twnties and a high gear in the low nineties. This will work. Taking all I need from my junk collection of discarded machines from the dump and garage sales to rebuild it with old parts with older tec’ but from past experience knowing what works. Your article has inspired me to keep at it and ‘keep my eyes open’. Thanks.

    Reply
  40. Review: Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring by Tom Allen

    […] It’s a wonderfully thought out guide. It’s informative, it’s layout is beautiful, and it’ll prove a small fortune isn’t a requisite for an adventure cycle tour. Tom managed to outfit an entire touring rig less than $50.00 CAD. […]

    Reply
  41. Laureene

    my biggest fear is having my bike fall apart while out on the road, like seriously i have thoughts of the front wheel just falling off as i ride, haha — C’est tous dans la tete!

    Reply
  42. Aayan Mazumder

    It’s really great journey, Tom, its a big inspiration for me.

    Reply
  43. Chris

    Nice article. It’s easy for cyclists to become obsessed by equipment.

    One of the things people don’t realise is high end parts are not meant to be particularly durable.. Extra money saves weight and means a nicer finish, but reliability falls if anything.

    Coming back to touring after a break of a few years, I have built myself a new tourer. It’s based around an old Claud Butler mountain bike. It’s cost about £200, so not in the same league as yours, but still a bargain. I am big and heavy now, so I built my own wheels with ceramic rims, cassette hubs and strong spokes which accounted for about half the price of the project.

    One of the things I did is make my own panniers from canvas rucksacks. Durability will be as good if not better than the Ortleib stuff I owned BITD.

    Riding it most days, and although I won’t be touring till next year I’m confident it will be as good as any of the purpose built tourers I used to own. I probably won’t do the same distances I used to do on my tourers, but who cares? 50 miles in a day is plenty.

    Reply
  44. Jennifer Hill

    Tom: these days I can barely get off the couch w health issues, but I’ve always loved to bike. Nothing far or fast, it was my go to transport for myself & children until they got their own. Love to follow along.

    Reply
  45. Ion Vladutu

    Your friend’s dad’s front wheel seems to have a rear wheel’s cassette?
    But what beautiful build. I’m currently planning my own cross-country tour (America’s Mid-Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest) and the most frightening aspect is the cost of the gear. You sir have quelled those fears!

    Reply
  46. Peter Wootten

    Having cycle toured in my teens, about 300 years ago, I have always wanted to do it again. I own a 1994 Dawes Street Sharp hybrid which, having read your brilliant article, I am now considering converting rather than saving up for that super galaxy I have oft dreamed of. Do you think this would make a suitable donor bike, and what mods/improvements would you advise. Thanks again Tom.

    Reply
  47. Joe

    You are my hero. Very nice job!

    Reply
  48. Choosing a Bike | Simple Touring

    […] Want more inspiration?  Check out this guy. […]

    Reply
  49. Dan

    Hi Tom,
    Great article (and site). It’s inspired me and my partner to head off on our first long distance cycle tour from Mexico to Colombia. We’ve also chosen to do this using a free hand-me-down Raleigh Mantis for me and my partner’s old bike from when she was a teenager. All polished up by me and with discount gear. It does the job and as a bonus nobody seems to want to nick either of the bikes due to their age! 1000km so far and still going strong. Keep up the good work.
    Dan

    Reply
  50. Shaun

    Inspiring article man!

    Reply
  51. Terry McGeary

    Great stuff, including the stove. Makes me want to clear out my shed and make it a project workshop (where I could have a beer then boil water for a tea!).

    Reply
  52. Lucy

    Your lovely article has just given me hope after receiving several rejection e-mails for sponsorship for my long trip and realising I will probably have to rely on my own meagre finances for most of it. lightened up that little niggling ‘you are much to poor and inexperienced, you definitely can’t do this…’ feeling in my stomach 😀

    Reply
  53. Biking Ben

    Hi Tom,

    Will part 2 be available anytime soon?

    Reply
  54. Casey

    Thanks for much for the breakdown and pictures. I am so guilty of thinking it has be top shelf to work when touring is about you not the bike. :^)

    Reply
  55. Pugsley

    All very inspiring… but wait… you’re also trying to flog a £2,050 custom made bike you’ve designed with your chums at Oxford Bike Works. Confusing message you’re sending, sport.

    Reply
  56. Marty

    Tom I love this article . When I find myself obsessing over expensive gear and wishing I had a Surly Disc Trucker I try to think about Dervla Murphy , an Irish travel writer who cycled to India in the sixties. You should check out her books if your not familiar .I’m sure the cheap hybrid I’m now using combined with my argos panniers and clamped on bottle cages would have been a deluxe tourer back in her time .

    Reply
  57. alex

    Hei Tom! Massive thank you-s! I am about to embark on a bike trip from Romania to…..let’s say first Estonia and then open road. But budget-low. I really think that absence of massive money should ve an impediment, especially of you have the mindset of a traveller, and not tourist…Now..how do you really make your money on the road?:) Massive thumbs up!!!

    Reply
  58. Kev

    only just stumbled on this,thanks very much for the advice.I fell off a ladder sept 2014 breaking both heels,its been a tough 10 months and some days i still cant walk!BUT i can cycle so am training to do a preston-glasgow charity ride august 2015,obviously i will start off with smaller journeys but need a focus and goal in life.This article genuinely made me smile and also made me realise that it is possible to do on the cheap(unfortunately i am now reliant on benefits).
    Thanks again and keep touring,
    Kev

    Reply
  59. How To Start Cycling Around The World For Free Or Cheap | Young Philanthropists

    […] If you’re going to cycle around the world – you need a bike! And one of the most common mistakes touring cyclists make is to think that they need some extra-special bike. You don’t! We use new bikes from Wal-Mart (or the equivalent) to go across Europe or the Americas. Or we’ve used old steel-frame touring bikes from Craigslist. The benefit from getting a new, expensive touring bike is that you won’t have to make so many repairs. Our Founder, Matt, purchased a Huffy 10-speed on Craigslist (for $40) and participated in the Great Bike Ride Across Iowa this past summer (2015). So don’t think you need a fancy bike to go a long distance. Or, if you’re having an especially hard time finding a bike, get in touch with We-Cycle-USA, a non-profit that helps people get super cheap bikes or bike parts! You could also do like Tom, and sort a bike for about $25! […]

    Reply
  60. David Babinski

    The genius of consumer capitalism is to turn every human enterprise into some species of…..shopping. Thanks for adding Scrounge and Re-Jigger and Ask Around to the recipe.

    Reply
  61. Rod

    hj,have you seen the write up about tesco in manchester,putting £4000 of bikes in rubbish skip,nov 2015.im just starting my bike and gear for as little as pos.and all your tips are spot on,thank you.ps wish i was in manchester that day.thanks again… Rod

    Reply
  62. Nobin Kurian

    I wish to do a 1000 Kilometer Cycling trip, in protest against the Tolls in India. My trip will be against the Tolls, Demanding a complete FREEDOM to TRAVEL FREE anywhere in India/World without paying Tolls. (because we pay road taxes when we buy vehicles ) #TollFreeWorld . My idea is to create awareness to alternate routes avoiding tolls. For example ,if you know an alternate route to avoid Paliyekkara toll , Use #TollFreePaliyekkara and Publish the alternate route. #TollFreeWorld #nobinkurian

    Reply
  63. Ken

    Had to laugh at your recommendation to keep your eyes peeled for what might appear lying on the side of the road. My wife and I were on a monthlong tour in Canada in 1988. I like being (overly) prepared and my toolkit could take a bike down to its component parts EXCEPT for one thing – the headset. Sure enough, her headset started to get loose – thunking forward and back every time she put on the brake. With no significant civilization coming up for a few days, she was resigned to just living with it for the time being. Then one day, I was riding ahead of her and looked down to see a 16” crescent wrench lying on the shoulder of the road. I stopped. She rode up. We adjusted the headset. She rode around for a minute. I made a final tweak to the adjustment, pondered the wrench for a second, and then dropped it right where I found it and we went on our way.

    Reply
  64. Setting Off On A Bicycle: A Letter Of Thanks To Tom Allen | Paul L Ferguson

    […] in from the Googles and slowly the anxieties cleared, it was possible to survive this and actually I didn’t need the latest trends cooked up by the outdoor and cycling industry to make it out the front door. The honest stores were […]

    Reply
  65. John

    Great article. I had an old Giant Mountainbike in the shed. Will that work for a long trip or should I try and find a more classic touring bike design?

    Reply
  66. The Idea… – Ryanair or Cycling Threadbare?

    […] reading Tom Allen’s excellent tale of economy cycle touring (tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-go-cycle-touring-for-the-price-of-a-round-of-drinks-part-1/)and reflecting on the European banger rallies I have taken part in, such as the Scumrun […]

    Reply
  67. Marvo

    Hi,

    I’d love to do this as well, and I have a question for you: as long as the frame is big enough, do you really think the type of frame that you use matters? Since you specifically picked a touring bike frame. What makes frames from normal commuter bikes less suitable for long distance touring?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Generally it’s in the construction. Racks and heavy panniers introduce greater forces. Tourers often want more tyre clearance than commuters. Long-haul tourers often also benefit from a more stretched out and comfortable riding position in the long run. For light touring in the short term, none of this need matter, of course. In any case we’re talking about optimisation, not basic suitability.

      Reply
  68. Silvia

    Hey Tom, thanks a lot for this article! I got lost in trying to find what kind of bike I needed for a couple of months (hopefully even more) trip and was almost surrendering to the idea that I needed to spend a huge budget just for the bike. Now I found a “people” cycle repairing place and just asked them if they can help put something up for me, hopefully this will be the end to my search and I might also learn what I need to take care of the bike when I’ll be all alone on/off the road.

    Reply

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