In the course of spending 20 years in the cycling/running journalism space, I’ve gotten to test a lot of gear in every price range. Some of it is absolutely worth spending as much as you need in order to have good, quality pieces that last and fit right. Some of it is entirely fit-dependent. And some of it can fall into the ‘this would be nice, but isn’t necessary’ camp.
We’re starting today with the ‘SAVE’ category. But it’s worth pointing out that I’m a big believer in supporting the small brands you love, who’s values align with yours, rather than opting for the cheapest option all the time. There’s nothing wrong with splurging on some of the things I’m listing here, like jerseys. If you have the cash and you love the look of a $400 jersey, by all means, spend away! And for some people, there will be individual differences where you do need a specific product for a specific reason, i.e you find that cheap socks bother your toes. (Though… have you tried them lately?)
But if you’re on a strict budget, hopefully these lists help you make some more informed decisions on what to spend your hard-earned cash on, and what you can get on the sale rack/buy off-brand. Let’s get into it!
The funny thing about socks is that I’ve probably spent about $300 in the last two years searching for ultra-run-friendly socks, and that’s in addition to probably another $300 worth of socks I’ve gotten to test. And style points aside for cyclists in particular, the best socks I’ve found that last a long time, don’t give me blisters, and stay comfortable even over the course of 100 miles were—drumroll please—my $10-for-6 pairs no-show black athletic socks from Walmart. Cue sad trombone.
Seriously—last weekend (and the moment that prompted this article), I went out wearing ankle socks from a running brand that I won’t mention because I otherwise love them, and came back with feet absolutely covered in blisters. But my cheapo socks from Walmart? Flawless.
I love a good merino wool top. But when it comes to basic long-sleeve, short-sleeve or sleeveless running shirts, it’s all about fit and comfort versus cost. The best running shirt I’ve ever had? $9.99 at Walmart 14 years ago, and I only chucked all three this past year because the polyester was finally getting too darn funky smelling to keep wearing. Those shirts outlasted every other run shirt I’ve had. My latest favorite? A $14 long sleeve from Target’s AthleticWorks brand. It’s not fancy at all, but it’s comfortable and fits great—not too loose, not too tight, and with little thumbholes on the wrists. *chef’s kiss.*
This is a try-on situation though: Don’t assume that any one brand will be great for you, be prepared to try a few to find your perfect size. (And if you’re serious about your sport, don’t opt for plain cotton tshirts, because they will be super sweaty, chafe-y and smelly. Trust me.)
Like athletic tops, there’s nothing wrong with a splurge on cycling jerseys if you love the look and feel of a pricey one. But if you’re on a budget, you can absolutely save in this area by opting for a cheaper brand or going with the clearance rack. One of my all-time favorite jerseys that I still choose to wear over the dozen or so much pricier ones that I own was a $30 one from Performance Bike (RIP that brand!) from 10 years ago. It still looks like new after all these years, and the fit and pockets on it are unparalleled.
These early days of winter/late days of spring often call for some kind of glove, but it doesn’t need to be a name-brand option to work. We like Dollar Store-level black knit gloves (sometimes referred to as ‘marathon gloves’) for non-rainy situations, and Peter’s a huge fan of cheap Home Depot bricklayer gloves for on the bike, since they also have great traction.
If you’re like me and you are HARD on sunglasses, meaning they get tossed in your bag and beat to crap, you may want to stick to cheaper ones like Goodr rather than going for Oakleys. (No shade on Oakleys, they’re great… I just can’t be trusted with nice things.) Pro tip though: Go for Goodr’s mirrored cycling sunglasses if you do grab them, because they’re the most scratch-resistant of the bunch.
Probably the most controversial thing on this list, but hear me out… Cycling shoes, unless you’re a top-level pro, should be all about what’s comfortable, not what’s aero or lightweight. And to that end, often, the cheaper models tend to be more comfort-focused, while the higher-end ones are a bit less comfy. This is for two reasons: the higher end ones are made with stiffer materials like carbon in the sole and even stiffer leather/fabric on the upper, and often, the toeboxes and the shoe overall is more narrow to save weight and boost aerodynamics. Personally, I’ve found the less-expensive options from brands to be much more comfortable, and if I sacrifice a watt or two at the price of having feet that don’t go numb on a ride, that’s fine by me.
You may find that the pricey shoes are more comfortable for you, and if that’s the case, splurge away—but do yourself the favor of trying on the cheaper ones as well, because you may be surprised.
I love a good gear bag, to the point of obsession. However, it’s usually not an area you need to spend big… save that for the bike bag! We love cheap hockey bags that offer tons of room, and then we use smaller bags inside to organize gear neatly. It’s not worth spending on highly-specific bags that have spacers for sport-specific gear, you’ll always end up packing more random stuff than you think!
Any new sport gear when you’re not fully committed
This is a bit nuanced, so bear with me… If you’re testing a sport or you want to do a sport outside of your normal specific sport, it’s usually best to keep that gear on the cheap side. Two specific examples come to mind for me: First, when the first Shred Girls book was coming out and was all about BMX, I knew I’d be doing some events at BMX parks and wanted to have some experience with a BMX bike. But my main sport at that time was triathlon, and that’s where my gear spending $$$ was going. So, at that point in time, Performance Bike was still around as a brand, and they had a BMX bike for under $250. Rather than spending on a fancier one, that was the perfect starter bike for me.
Second, this past summer, living near the bay, I knew I wanted to get a paddleboard since I can walk to the water and I’ve been wanting to get into it for a while. I knew I had no interest in long paddleboard trips or competitive racing, or even really using it as a workout. I just wanted to test out the sport. So, when I found an inflatable option for under $150 that had a ton of good reviews, it was a no-brainer. I got it, used it a ton, and absolutely loved it.
The same has applied to snowshoes, skis and ice skates for me, all of which I bought secondhand since I don’t need anything fancy, just stuff to play on in the winter here in Ontario.
You may eventually decide to upgrade if you love a sport, but in that case, you can often just pass the cheaper gear onto a friend who you really want to get into said sport with you, or put it up for grabs on your local freecycle group. I definitely am not a fan of junking the gear… there’s almost always someone who can use it. I gave my BMX bike to a local kid… the rest of the gear is still going strong, including the XC skis and boots that I got 9 years ago used for $50!
Digging this list? Let us know in the comments if you want to see more versions on other types of cycling equipment!