Time to get on your bike
The sun is shining and summer is finally coming. What better time to get in the saddle?
Credit-crunched commuters are ditching cars and public transport and turning to their bikes to get them to and from work.
According to research from Sainsbury's Bank more than three million people have started cycling to work to keep costs down. Sainsbury's says that commuters who switch to the saddle save an average of £34 a week - that's £1,768 over a year.
Of course, cycling doesn't just save you money - it has health and environmental benefits too.
Buying a bike
If you want to join the lycra-clad masses the first thing you need to do is buy a bike. A specialised bike shop, rather than the internet or small ads, is best for this. This is because it's a good idea to try out a bike before handing over your cash. I recently splashed out on a new set of wheels and test-rode about half a dozen bikes before deciding which one to buy.
How much you need so spend is up to you. You can pick up a standard bicycle for £100 or so but professional super-light models go for several thousand pounds. If you're just using your bike for commuting, rather than competing, a mid-range model of £200 to £500 should do.
Experts suggest spending 10 to 20% of the cost of your bike on locks and chains to deter thieves. If you have easy-release wheels make sure these are locked to something as well as the frame. Make a note of the frame serial number as you'll need this in the event of making an insurance claim. Also make copies of keys for locks and chains and keep them separate from the originals.
Interestingly when I bought my bike and was torn between the girly-looking pastel coloured one and a plain black one, the man in the cycle shop said girls' bikes are stolen less often than men's for the simple reason that it's mainly boys that nick bikes and they're unlikely to go for ones they wouldn't be seen dead on. So a girly bike it was then.
Get your employer to help
You might be able to get your employer to help with buying a bike through the cycle2work scheme. This is a salary sacrifice scheme whereby your employer buys you a bike and you repay it out of your monthly salary. The payments are taken from your gross salary so you avoid tax and national insurance payments on the amount.
You have to get your employer to sign up for the scheme and use your bike mainly for travelling to and from work (although, in reality, how would they check?).
However vigilant you are about securing your bike there's still a chance that it will get stolen at some point, so insurance is vital.
The easiest method is adding your bike your home contents policy. Some policies automatically include cover for bikes, up to a certain limit, but others will charge an extra premium. Look out for small print though - you'll normally be required to keep your bike somewhere safe and lock it securely. They'll also be an excess to pay in the event of any claim.
If you want more comprehensive cover you might want to invest in a specialist bike policy. Cycleguard, for example, offers public liability cover (in case you injure someone else) and roadside recovery as well as cover for theft.
Other specialist bike insurers include E&L Insurance and Evans Cycles.
Cycle Hire Scheme
If you don't fancy buying a bike and live in London, from May next year you'll be able to make some journeys by bike by using the London cycle hire scheme. Based on the Velib scheme in Paris, the scheme will allow you to pick up a cycle at a cycle docking station, use it as you like, and then return it to a cycle docking station at your final destination.
Initially, the scheme will only operate in central London but may be expanded in the future. Costs are still being thrashed out but it's likely that there will be a registration fee and a usage fee. A deposit will also be held against registered user's bank or credit card account.