The Budget Biker

The Crafty Art of Biking on a Boot String

These are tough times we're going through; they will punish man and biker alike. Like everyone else, motorcyclists have been suffering the woes of a sputtering economy. But this does not mean we have to cry like a bunch of leathery babies, moaning about the good ol' days, when we could afford gas and food. We just need to be a little more creative, tighten our chains and use our brains. There are ways, my broke friend, to stretch nothing into something.

Wily veterans have long used sneaky secrets and crafty tricks to get the most out of what's left of their last tattered dollars and to maximize their saddle time, which puts miles between them and the bill collectors. After 30-some-odd years of biking and bumming and piling up a wealth of valuable experience at being broke along the way, I am institutionally certified to deliver some free advice. My plan is simple, too.

Man In the Mirror

Here's the hard truth: we blow bucks on a lot of unneeded stuff. Topping the list is eating out. It is one of the prime differences between old school and new school, or frugality and frivolity. New school throws down cash at the first inkling of an appetite; old school can’t waste time pulling over to satisfy a hunger pang when a home-cooked meal is only six hours away. When I was a boy, the notion of eating out meant gathering roots and berries. This, my dad would say, toughened you up, built character, and made you appreciate the value of a dollar. At the time, I would have traded that all in for a simple sandwich, but now I see the stingy coot was right.

Even though we've become a nation of softies, you can still find economical compromise. For one, you can pack your saddlebag with a picnic. Include cold beverages, hearty sandwiches, maybe even a piece of fruit for once. Pick a spot along one of your favorite scenic roads, pull over at some piney place, and teach yourself to relax and enjoy the view.

Best of all, it's cheap. Bring a date and you’ve got a damn romantic getaway package. Variations on the saddlebag picnic include the backpack breakfast and the Tour-Pak dinner (candlelight and iPod optional). If you munch your lunch by a secluded little swimming hole, clothes become optional, too. I'm sure there's a little-known amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the biker's right to get naked somewhere. (Look it up and let me know.)

In your saddlebag or tool roll, next to the ham sandwich, keep a good all-in-one tool. It’s okay to invest a little money in a good one since, you know, your life may depend on it. Toss in a flashlight, spare fuses, tire inflator, matches, a couple of granola bars and you've got a full-blown repair kit.

Steak and Shake

You can even go caveman, though some of your more refined pals may frown at the thought of buying raw meat to go. But with a little resourcefulness, aluminum foil, and a couple of hose clamps you can make ingenious use of that portable oven you're straddling.

Djordji, the gypsy pastry-cook, taught me this trick:

Carefully wrap whatever raw meat you've purchased in two overlapping layers of heavy-duty foil, and clamp that to your exhaust pipe. The higher up the pipe you locate the meal -- the closer to the heads -- the more well-done the dish. Figuring out cook times takes a bit of trial and error, but soon you’ll be enjoying many a hot mobile meal, which, legend has it, is where the term, "piping hot" comes from. I remember Djordji also muttering something about not seasoning with blooming wolfbane during a full moon...

Goodwill Hunting

The Budget Biker says, "Riding naked will save money on leathers and T-shirts, but is punishable by fine, imprisonment, and/or public flogging in some states." Don’t do it -- rather, try shopping at the local Goodwill.

The great thing about thrift stores is that you can walk in and smell the mighty purchasing power you wield. For me, this usually amounts to somewhere around six dollars and 75 cents, but within those walls, that's plenty. Upon crossing the store threshold I have often felt a royal, giddy, I-can-buy-any-damn-thing-I-want rush.

In properly trained hands, these shops are beneficial and sensible, offering a painless way to fortify your riding gear in the unexpected event of miserable weather while on the road, or adding a touch of tasteful retro style to your seasonal wardrobe.

But the Goodwill has got a hold on me. Its lovely, aromatic pre-worn leather and denim jackets, T-shirts, faux sheepskin gloves and stretchy sweatpants galore are like a drug. If you aren’t careful, you will become a secondhand fiend, like me— addicted to the irresistible temptation of thrift-shop flotsam. I admit it freely.

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I shopped at the usual retail outlets, you know; bike shops, dealerships, the mall. There was the occasional lark to a harmless flea market, but that was just for fun, nothing I couldn’t handle. Or, that’s what I told myself.

If you can manage your bargain buying impulses, moving and estate sales can also offer a treasure trove of stuff for practical motorcycle applications. A few of the things I have rescued from homelessness include compact tools, Mexican wrestling masks, bungee cords, various lubricants, sunglasses, chaps, leftover camping gear, mismatched rain suits, lightweight luggage, and a couple of shabby-chic leather jackets, among other less sensible stuff I should have done without.

The Budget Biker says, "Ride smart, shop cheap, save money."

Point is, there is no point in paying full-tilt retail for most of your biking needs, unless you positively have to have it sooner than later. Parts, tires and bolt-ons can be ordered wholesale or through eBay. Hell, I even found my girlfriend on Craigslist.

Multi-Tool Tip

I know firsthand how dangerous low blood sugar can be. On one long lost ride, at the first gas station we had seen in 133 miles, a hunger-dazed buddy accidentally filled his tank with diesel (though he realized his blunder before starting the motor). The tank had to be drained and, unfortunately, he hadn’t bothered to pack any tools. Luckily, I had my handy mini multi-tool, which we used to unclamp the fuel line and drain the diesel away in a proper EPA-endorsed manner. If he had only eaten that granola bar, this potentially expensive lapse in cognition would never have happened.

1305 crup 01 o biking on a budget pose
1305 crup 02 o biking on a budget picnic
1305 crup 03 o biking on a budget thrift shopping
1305 crup 07 o biking on a budget goodwill
biking on a budget thrift store sign