First let's look at what (imho) makes a cute bike. I'm talking now about classic/Dutch/sit-up-and-beg style bikes which particularly appeal to me, not those super-slick fixies which are just as popular. Let's examine three beautiful bikes. Take a look at them and try to see what they have in common:
Poppy by Pashley
Now I'll show you how I tried to make my really cheap bike, which was a fraction of the cost of these beauties, look sleek but still be practical, on a budget. I introduced my bike, the Swan, in a previous post, as well as my motivations for cycling. My bike has a pretty classic shape and minimal branding and clutter so it was a good starting point.
|The Swan, my Raleigh Caprice|
I like my bike storage plentiful so I can go on shopping sprees like I used to in my car, so I fitted my bike with a classic wicker basket in the front, and a wire basket in the back. To fit a back basket, you need a pannier rack which is the thing that attaches to the back axle and supports a rear basket. If you're about to buy a bike it's important to look at whether these kind of accessories are included as this impacts the price. A back basket on a pannier rack can support a lot more weight than a little hanging wicker basket on the front, and if you load your front basket too much it can throw you off balance when you turn.
|Rear wire basket from Ikea|
When you buy a D-lock (the kind of lock recommended by police) they tend to come with a bracket, which would add bulk to your frame and look really ugly. That's why I just throw my lock in my back basket.
On my front basket I have added another feature using a cable-tie which is practical rather than aesthetic: a cluster of cat bells which jingle when I ride. This is not a joke, I do it to make myself audible to pedestrians who are just about as dangerous as cars. The problem is that pedestrians don't hear you coming and can suddenly step in your path; they have less momentum than cars and are much more unpredictable. Also they may be hogging the cycle path without realising it, and many (especially tourists) get offended/confused when you ring your bike bell. So a slight jingle lessens these problems.
My wicker basket is held on by some straps and a buckle, but I was worried somebody would steal it. Cable ties are by no means hard to remove, but at least the thief needs a pair of scissors to do so, which rules out theft from opportunistic criminals.
I've also looped two cable ties through my front basket as a place to clip on a front light. They are far more discrete than a black bracket which I'd otherwise have to mount on my bike. It's important to have removable lights unless you want them stolen.
My bike bell not only looks cute but is very loud, which is really important for shooing pedestrians out of the cycle lane.
|Bike bell: Tiger|
Handlebar grips: Amazon
I also replaced the ugly, sporty handlebar grips with some cheap, plastic white ones, to give my bike a coordinated look.
When it comes to visibility at night you should strive to be a veritable Christmas tree on wheels. Motorists don't want to injure cyclists, it's just that they don't see them which causes accidents. I replaced my standard, ugly rear reflector with a cute vintage one from Ebay in you guessed it: white. I also added spoke reflectors. They are hardly noticeable by day but at night they light up my bike and let motorists see me from the side, where my bike lights aren't facing.
|Vintage rear reflector: Ebay|
Spoke reflectors and beads: Amazon
I've also added "clacker" spoke beads to my wheels to help increase the noise. They make a nice rhythmic sounds at a walking pace but any faster and the centrifugal force takes over and they get stuck at the rim.
So that's how I've done-up my bike on a budget, and I don't think it looks too bad. I'd like to follow this post with a bike-buying guide, and maybe between now and then, an overview of accessories you might want to buy, and then what to wear for cycling, so stay tuned!