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Gear Prudence: I don’t have a lot of extra money in my budget. But I’ve recently scraped together $100 and I want to spend it on my bike. Since it’s probably the last time I’ll be able to spend any money on bike stuff for a couple of months, what purchases are going to give me the best bang for my buck? —Scoured Pennies Leave Utilitarian Readily Grasping Embetterment
Dear SPLURGE: One of the truly amazing things about using a bicycle to get around is how remarkably little you need to spend to keep yourself moving. There’s no recurring payment, it doesn’t matter how much the price of a gallon of gas might fluctuate, and insurance mostly consists of ensuring that you don’t crash. Even the most beater of bikes, the one with a squeaky chain and wobbly headset, can readily, if not sturdily, convey you about town. While not ideal, at least you know that a lack of sufficient scratch can be overcome with leg power and gumption. While the immediacy of your needs is lost in the vagueness of your question, there are a few areas where you might want to focus your spending.
The first is preventive. If your bike runs fine, don’t bother messing with upgrades. Poor Richard, turn your Benjamin into tubes and lube. One thing that’ll surely slow you down is a flat tire, and a couple of spare tubes ensure that you’ll keep riding through the misfortune of a ill-timed puncture. Plus, they’ll never expire and you’re bound to catch a flat eventually, so you might as well be prepared. Chain lube is another good investment because a well-lubed chain both functions more efficiently and clogs less. If you’re low on dough, you’ll want to keep your bike performing as optimally as possible lest you face major expenses down the road.
In the same vein, it might be a good idea to spend your money on a proper tune-up. Be mindful though that a good mechanic might discover other needs that might need addressing. This could be depressing, but forewarned is forearmed and you can plan ahead for future outlays.
Assuming your bike works great and you’re already prepared for emergencies, then your options are pretty open. A new set of tires can go a long way and last you a long time. Same with an upgraded seat. You’re probably not able to afford brand new wheels, and spending on other mechanical bits is pretty unfulfilling. And if your bike is more than adequately equipped, think lock, kit, tools, or helmet. The first rule of biking is don’t fall down, but the second rule is there’s always something else to buy. If you want to stretch your funds the most, think used. There are deals, but you have to search. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email email@example.com.