Bike on a Budget: Affordable Solutions to Improve the Bicycling Experience

By: Pierce Holloway

Making your bike more comfortable can shift your biking experience from granny to great – And many of these solutions can be done for $20, or even free!

First step: bicycle fit. Perhaps the easiest way to improve your riding experience is to make sure your saddle (seat) is at the right height. To check the height, enlist a friend to stand over your front tire and hold the bicycle steady as you sit on it with your feet resting on the pedals, with one pedal rotating one of at the 6 o’clock position (closest to the floor). Ideally, your knee should be slightly bent in this position. This may feel too high, but actually puts you in a position to achieve maximum force when pedaling while also avoiding knee and hip pain from a too-low seat. Feel free to lower your seat slightly to feel comfortable getting on and off your bike, but keep in mind that this will comprise some of your pedaling efficiency.

Setting up your bicycle fit
Image Source: BikeGremlin

Along with saddle height, another important aspect of bicycle fit is the position of that saddle. Some bicycle seats allow for a few inches of adjustment forward or backward in order to improve the fit. If you find yourself feeling stretched out over the bike, check to see if you can shift your saddle forward an inch or so to help you feel more confident and comfortable while also as avoiding back and shoulder discomfort! Preferably you will be able to sit leaning slightly forward with some bend in your elbows when gripping the handlebars.

Next: bicycle multitools. Investing in these small gadgets can empower you to perform nearly all the maintenance you’ll want to do. While you can find multitools priced upwards of 60 or 70 dollars, you can also spend 20 dollars and have a solid tool for life (I’ve had the same one for 10 years). Additionally, a small bottle of bicycle chain lube and a tube of grease can greatly extend the life of your bike and help you avoid squeaks and creaks.

Also: tire pressure. If you have access to a pump, keeping your bike inflated to the recommended pressure can instantly change how your bicycle ride feels. If the pressure is too low, you will be working much harder than you need to and might be more susceptible to getting a flat tire. The recommended pressure is printed on the sidewall of your tire, but often in fine print so take your time locating it.

And finally: education. Another great way to improve your cycling experience is to spend some time watching basic bicycle maintenance videos on YouTube. You’ll be amazed at how much of a confidence boost you can get from a 15 minute video for fixing bike issues if they arise!

Now that you have some knowledge on bike fit and basic maintenance, go forth and enjoy the beauty of biking! While this post attempts to provide a brief overview on these concepts, I encourage you to seek out more information and experiment with what works and feels right for you! Below is a short list of recommended tools and gear to get you started:

  • Helmet
  • Bike Multi tool
  • 2 Tire Levers
  • Chain Lube
  • Bicycle Grease
  • Rag for Cleaning
  • Extra Bicycle Tube
  • Tire Pump

Pierce Holloway is a first-year master’s student at the Department of City and Regional Planning with a focus on Climate Change Adaptation. Before coming to Chapel Hill he worked as a geospatial analyst for Urban3, working on visualizing economic productivity of communities and states. Through his coursework he hopes to explore the nexus between adaptation for climate change and community equitability. In his free time, he enjoys long bike rides, trail running, and any excuse to play outside.

Edited by Emma Vinella-Brusher