How to Shop by Bike

When it comes to shopping by bicycle, you’ll have greater success with the right accessories.

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My partner and I picked up the habit of shopping by bike shortly after we first started riding together. On the way home from a ride, we’d stop in at a butcher shop or pick up some take-out for dinner. At first, we’d hang bags from our handlebars, but we knew this was putting our purchases at risk as they swayed and bounced off our front wheels. We soon had the urge to carry more with us – without having to take transit or resort to borrowing a car.

Get the Right Gear

When it comes to shopping by bicycle, you’ll have greater success with the right accessories. At a minimum, install a front basket, a rear rack, or both. While you can use a large backpack, letting your bike do the carrying is less cumbersome. Front baskets vary in size and are often large and sturdy enough for one or two bags of groceries or a medium- sized box. Rear racks provide a flat surface for strapping down larger items with rope or bungee cords. To really increase the capacity of a rack, get one or two panniers (bags designed to mount to a rack). If you need to pick up larger items, the increased hauling capacity of a detachable bike trailer may be right for you. Many trailers can fold down for storage and can also be used for carrying kids, pets, and more.

Cut the Waste

Once you have a basket or rack (or both) on your bicycle, it’s time to consider what kind of purchases you’ll be making. At the grocery store, I rarely buy anything individually packaged in a box or container. These take up too much space and end up in the trash anyway. Buying from the bulk aisle allows me to bag items that typically come boxed, taking up significantly less space on my bike. Often, I’ll decide not to buy an item if there’s too much packaging waste. If you’re buying delicate items like fresh fruit and vegetables,ask whether the shop has any medium-sized cardboard boxes. You can strap the box securely to your rack to prevent your groceries from squishing together.

Buy Less, Shop More Often

Shopping more often may sound time-consuming, but once you get used to it you’ll find that you can actually save time. Grocery runs are often much quicker when you’re shopping for just two or three meals in advance. You get to use the express checkout lane, and you don’t have to push a loaded cart around. When you’re buying less per visit, it’s also easier to combine a shopping trip with other trips. You can stop by the library on the way home from work or pick up a few items on your way to an event across town.

Look for Businesses That Support Shopping by Bike

It’s hard to shop by bike if a store lacks bike parking. While many business owners still value car parking over bicycle parking, some communities are starting to create bike- friendly business districts. If your favorite shop lacks bike parking, make a point of asking for it and encourage other shoppers to do the same.

Three Quick Tips for Shopping by Bike

  1. Cords — Your local bike shop will have a selection of different bungee cords and tie downs. Pick up a few different sizes and try out a variety of materials to find the combination that works for you.
  2. Racks — Most racks and baskets are attached to your bike at various points with screws. Occasionally check that these are secure to avoid problems while transporting heavier items.
  3. Locks — Use a strong and versatile lock that works with your bike and can attach to an array of bike rack styles.

20 Comments

  • JB Slough

    Made my wife a set of bucket panniers out of old kitty litter buckets. The things hold a lot and those reusable shopping bags fit right in.

  • Claire

    Besides panniers, I use a large backpack for delicates like eggs, bananas, and apples that I don’t want broken or bruised.

  • Lloyd

    I like the Wald Folding Racks because they fold flat when not in use, making it easier to load the bike into parking racks, and are sized right for the reusable grocery store bags. I also have a front rack, but only use it for light items; heavier items such as canned food, liquids, etc go in the lower rear racks.

  • Gerald

    No mention of back packs? I can fit a full hand basket worth of contents in my large Jansport backpack. I prefer this over panniers or bicycle baskets.

  • Paul

    Toothpaste, cereal, soap, and countless other items come in cardboard boxes. Leave them with the cashier for the grocer to recycle.

  • Casey

    Thanks, Stephen, that’s actually the only answer I see here — take them in with me. But I think this is a problem that has to be solved before the ordinary shopper will use a bike. More gear — panniers with covers that lock? Or maybe I should carry two locks — one for the bike and front wheel and one for the back wheel and panniers.

  • Stephen

    Some places will let you (or ask you to) leave your panniers at a register or customer service desk. Most times I’ll put them in a shopping cart or just carry them (shoulder straps are handy); I’ve never been challenged about my previous purchases but I keep the receipts handy. Very rarely will I leave them on the bike, only when they’ll never be out of my sight.

  • SweetNSalty

    I have a cheap plastic Sterilite storage crate attached to my rear rack. I carry my things in a large handled bag that fits perfectly into the crate. (like this: http://www.reuseit.com/reusable-shopping-bags/pack-n-tote-pack-n-tote-grocery-cart-helper-bag-blue.htm ) It also has plastic rails that allow it to be clipped into a grocery cart. I can easily remove and replace the bag, so it goes with me when I’m away from the bike.

  • Casey

    I make multiple stops and carry my groceries in both panniers and front basket. But last week I had items stolen from my panniers while I was in another shop. I try to be quick, but the checkout line was long. There’s no way I can carry both panniers and front basket into each store. What do you do?

  • Sylvia

    I have panier bags on the back of my bike and also a removable basket at the front. I detach the basket to take into the store or at the market and then bring my shopping back to my bike to load into the panier. The basket isn’t huge, but its much easier than removing and reattaching the panier.

  • Jeff L.

    Great article. one of the problems I’ve encountered is making multiple stops. Panier bags are great when they’re on the bike but can be a awkward and heavy to carry, and depending on the make/model you have they can be time consuming to get on and off the bike. I recently purchased a Burley Travoy. I have no interest in the company other than the fact that I’m really happy with this trailer. If you’re thinking about making a trailer purchase, I would definitely consider this one. It disconnects from the bike with a simple release, and is small enough that you can roll it into the store like a shopping buggy.

    • Amber

      I wholeheartedly agree regarding the Burley Travoy trailer. I just used it yesterday on my trip to Costco and shoppers were amazed at everything I was able to put on it! (Case of beer, 2 pounds of spinach, 5 pounds of onions, avocados, quinoa, and butter) :)

    • Graham

      As a shopping tool for bigger trips, the Travoy is unbeatable. Park bike, lock it, unclick Travoy, use it as shopping trolley in the store, run stuff through check out, put back in bag, click on bike, ride away. Hard to tell it’s there when empty, other than pulling the weight, has very little effect on the bike loaded. I have cargo bike, partner has Travoy, together we can do a Costco type run that will see us supplied for a month!

    • Mary

      We’ve had our Travoy trailers since shortly after they were released, and we use them along with Dahon Curve folding bikes. The combination folds into very little space but carries a large amount of stuff easily, with the additional benefit of having a wheeled trolley to transport things to and from the bike.

  • Joe

    Just did a HUGE fruit and veggie shop (we’re drinking more juice these days) at a local market on the weekend. Filled a double trailer with leafy greens and carrots and fruit. So much easier than a car (i had a good workout going home too), plus I snagged a bikepost right out front.

  • Duncan Hurd

    Definitely agree on both points!

  • Rico T

    I purchased a Instep trailer on craig’s List for $20. Stripped it down. I’ve attached a plastic bin (14″wx24″lx18″deep) with bolts to the frame and then bungie cord an ice chest (for the cold items).

    • Duncan Hurd

      Certainly, a trailer really can boost cargo carrying capacity beyond what is suggested above. There is always a wide variety of them parked out front of my local grocery store.

  • Mandy

    Lots of sensible tips in this article! I particularly like the one about supporting businesses that do provide racks… but making a point of giving feedback to the ones that don’t. How will they know why they’re missing out on potential customers if we don’t tell them?

    I’d like to add one more equipment suggestion that you don’t cover: *rear* baskets, on top of the rack or on the side, pannier style. I find my bicycles handle grocery weight far better when it’s at the rear instead of the front, but unlike panniers you don’t have to constantly take baskets on and off! (I secure with a few zip-ties to discourage thievery.) Good for throwing purses in, too, when not grocery shopping.

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