Last year I sourced a touring bike, luggage, camping & cooking gear, spares, tools and clothes for £25.17 and then rode it the length of England on a budget of 25 pence.
It was fantastic proof that money is no pre-requisite for adventure, and that you can get everything you need practically for free. However, finding the gear did require time, energy and luck in considerable amounts – not to mention the challenges of travelling without money (full story here).
This article, therefore, is for those who do have a bit of cash to spend on getting up and running, but aren’t quite flush enough to be slapping Hilleberg tents and Koga bikes on their cycle touring equipment wishlists.
In other words, it’s for people buying gear on a low budget, rather than no budget.
For those with no qualms about feeding the oft-hideous world of mass consumption, you’ll find a few familiar high-street retailers on the list, as well as tips for finding the best deals at a variety of online stores, and some thoughts on when to buy as well as where.
You’ll also learn about some slightly less obvious places that have proven very reliable when it comes to finding cheap gear for cycle touring.
(Apologies in advance to readers outside of the UK — this is going to be very Anglo-centric. If you’d like to write a guest post for another part of the world, do get in touch.)
Cheap Cycle Touring Gear On The High Street
The British high street (or out-of-town retail park) can be a surprisingly good place to pick up many items on your kit list. As well as the good old charity-shop scouring session, try some of the following:
Until a few years ago, Decathlon was barely known outside France. Today they have branches of their giant multi-sport megastores at various locations in the UK, and as far afield as China, Russia, Brazil, India and Turkey. (Which, incidentally, has made it quite a lot easier to replace gear when on tour long-term.)
The big difference between Decathlon and other sports ‘supermarkets’ is that they primarily stock their own product lines, which are sold under a handful of brands including Oxylane, Quechua and B’Twin.
Also, like supermarket own-brand groceries, they are able sell the basic ranges at extremely affordable prices. Examples include a Therm-a-Rest-style self-inflating mattress for £20, a fleece for £7, and cycling sunglasses for £4. They also have a good range of light outdoor footwear.
Go to Decathlon for clothing and accessories, and put the savings towards the more mission-critical stuff (bike, tent, panniers). There are 14 branches in the UK, and hundreds on the European continent and elsewhere.
Another warehouse-style outdoor gear supermarket, Go Outdoors* cover a vast range of outdoor pursuits.
As opposed to Decathlon’s own-brand gear, Go Outdoors sell discounted high-end branded gear, as well as more basic lines from lower-end manufacturers. They sell a discount card for £5, which gives you a minimum of a 10% in-store discount on all products, as well as regular short-term coupon codes. Spend £50 and this already makes sense.
I’d recommend checking Go Outdoors regularly for short-term sale items from your wish-list, rather than a place from which to buy everything in one go. There are around 50 branches across the UK.
As a brand targeted towards competitive sports, much of what Sports Direct* sell is irrelevant to cycle-touring, but the bigger stores do have Field & Trek departments which specialise in outdoor gear and accessories. The quality of goods on offer is generally basic but rugged, with good, sturdy brands like Karrimor on offer.
Like Go Outdoors, the trick is to be there when what you need is on sale, as they regularly flog product lines off at up to 70% discount. (As with all such sales, it’s good practice to make sure that the original price wasn’t horribly inflated in the first place, and that you really are getting genuine value for money.)
I’d suggest Sports Direct for outdoor clothing, travel accessories such as bike locks and lights, and outdoor footwear. (Bear in mind that the company is currently evil and you may wish to avoid it on these grounds.)
TK Maxx has become one of the UK’s premier expedition outfitters, mainly because they sell at knock-down prices clothing and accessories previously on sale in places where rich people shop for gear they’ll never use.
They’re a fantastic stop for anything that fits the category of travel clothing — shirts, trousers, fleeces and the like. Look for the ‘active clothing’ section. Waterproofs are a common find; unless branded, they’ll be of the get-you-to-the-next-cafe variety at best.
You’ll also sometimes find cut-price bits and bobs for the bike, such as rear lights. Be very careful of the “ooh, this might come in useful” effect while you’re waiting at the checkout. That cast-iron skillet isn’t going to seem so practical when you’re climbing your first big hill.
Aldi & Lidl
Alongside jars of unidentifiable pickles, you’ll occasionally find deals on outdoor and cycling clothing and accessories at Aldi and Lidl – at prices that sound too good to be true.
Merino wool or bamboo baselayers, cycling gloves, helmets, lights, head-torches, and even panniers and waterproofs can sometimes be had, and you’ll rarely find anyone complaining about the quality (admittedly this is perhaps because they’d rather not reveal their shopping habits).
You’ll need to keep an eye on their special offers, requiring either regular in-store visits or signing up to their email newsletters. Availability is seasonal and changes on a weekly basis, so most such lucky finds are rather short-lived.
If your tour’s a long way off, though, make a list now and see how much those handy German supermarkets can help you tick off — you’ll probably be surprised.
Don’t laugh: the pound stores are a fantastic place for the super-low-budget tourer to bag a few choice items. These stores also sell the same cheap Chinese crap you’ll end up buying at a market in a former Soviet republic when your posh, expensive version breaks, so you might as well start out with it.
Common bargains include head-torches, cable ties and Gaffa Tape substitutes, as well as puncture repair kits, bike lights, tin-foil emergency blankets, tent pegs, phone cases, alcohol for your DIY stove, and enough biscuits and noodles to get you to the other end of (or even out of) your home country.
Army Surplus Stores
There are plenty of ‘pretend’ army surplus stores in little alleys just off the nation’s high streets. If you can track down a real one – that is, one that grades, reconditions and sells previously-issued kit – you’ll find it a great source of durable and cheap (if heavy and basic) camping gear.
Bivvy bags are a common find, as are tarps, ponchos, mess tins, cordage and other assorted accessories. Military kit is built to be functional and to last forever.
Avoid getting too cammed-up, lest you be mistaken by foreign security forces for making a one-man ground invasion of their country and cause a major diplomatic incident in the process.
Cheap Cycle Touring Gear Online
eBay / Gumtree / Craigslist
eBay* is the place to go either for small, generic and relatively unimportant items made in China and sold at inflated prices next to the checkouts of big high-street retailers (travel adaptors, sporks, memory card readers), or to buy high-end gear (sleeping bags, multi-fuel stoves, Brooks saddles) second-hand from private sellers.
The post-Christmas period is a classic time to snap up unwanted items given as presents by well-meaning aunties to outdoorsy people who already possess them.
Gumtree and Craigslist are two alternative websites worth checking out for classified ads.
Specialist Forums & Messageboards
Mountain-bikers will be familiar with Singletrack Magazine. The mag’s online discussion board has a classifieds section, which has grown into one of the best places to get your hands on bicycle components and related items.
It’s great for those looking to build their own bikes or upgrade existing bikes. If you can be bothered to wade through the swathes of mountain bike equipment, there are some excellent bargains to be had here, particularly on drivetrain and finishing kit that’s often overpriced in the first place. The forum also has a useful ‘wanted’ section where you can post specific requests.
Thorn Cycles have a forum on which you’ll often find complete touring bikes for sale at a fraction of their original prices, as well as parts and accessories on a separate board.
Another good place to find second-hand high-end outdoor gear is the Outdoor Gear Exchange UK Facebook page.
Sport Pursuit* is a ‘flash sale’ website (similar to Groupon) for premium sports clothing and equipment, and often this’ll include outdoor and cycling gear.
Discounts are impressive but short-lived; announcements are made by email to members and you’ll then have a few days to put your orders in. Membership is free*; the site is worth signing up for if you’ve got a few months ahead of you before your tour and you have a wish-list to tick off.
You won’t get everything you need from here, but consider it a nice bonus if you do score a bargain (and there are some very good ones to be had).
Online Bike Retailers
Big online retailers of premium bike gear, such as Chain Reaction Cycles* and Wiggle*, can be a goldmine of heavily discounted bicycle components. If you’re building or modifying a bike, or looking for tools, spares and accessories, these websites are worth digging through.
Use the sites’ filters to sort listings by ‘biggest discount’ to find the best bargains; don’t forget to check out the clearance sections.
With a bit of hacking, it’s possible to use Amazon’s advanced search tool to dig up insanely discounted products in specific categories.
A quick search for cycling products with at least a 90% discount* turns up a variety of tools, spares and accessories which could easily be combined into a single order with free delivery.
What tips do you have for finding cheap cycle touring equipment in the UK? Let us know in the comments.