Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping on bicycles can be a simple and enjoyable process with just a little planning and a properly set-up bike. It doesn’t necessarily take a specialized cargo bike; simply keeping your carrying capacity in mind while creating your shopping list makes the process go smoothly (less capacity = more trips). We manage to keep it down to a couple of trips per week, with the occasional fill-in trip here and there. In our case, it helps that we sometimes shop as a pair, doubling our carrying capacity while reducing our trips by one half. If you have a partner who has been reluctant to ride, here’s the perfect excuse to get them on a bike and give that “practical biking thing” a try.

Combining a bike ride with a shopping trip makes it more of a fun event and less of an unpleasant chore.

Certainly a dedicated cargo bike is ideal for grocery shopping, particularly if only one person is shopping for a large family. On the other hand, a single person shopping for one or two, or a pair of bicyclists shopping for four or more, can make due perfectly well on standard bikes with a rear rack and a pair of grocery panniers. Front racks and baskets add even more capacity and we’ve found them good for bulky, but lightweight items such as paper towels, toilet paper, bread and so forth.

We keep toying with the idea of building up a Big Dummy for grocery hauling, but so far we’ve done so well with our standard bikes that we haven’t been able to justify the expense. We mix it up a bit, but recently we’ve been using a Breezer Uptown 8 and a Surly LHT for our shopping trips. The Breezer is outfitted with a rear rack and a pair of grocery panniers, while the LHT is set-up with a grocery pannier, an Arkel Bug pannier, and a Pass & Stow front cargo rack. The front rack is used for things like bulk TP or our CSA veggie share (see photo above), while the rear panniers are used for all the usual heavier staple items. The Breezer came stock from the factory fully-equipped and ready to go as a grocery getter. The Surly required a number of additions including racks, fenders, lights, and a chain guard.

One added benefit to shopping by bike is that it will likely encourage you to purchase less packaged food. Anything that comes in a box increases its footprint by at least 25-30%. Individually wrapped items can be even worse, sometimes increasing the space required to haul them by over 100%. The plus side to purchasing less packaged food is that whole foods tend to be less expensive and healthier, and there’s less garbage to go to the landfill. The only downside is that they may require a little more care when packing into your panniers.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d highly recommend giving grocery shopping by bike a try. Besides the obvious benefits of saving gas, providing a little exercise, and reducing pollution in your own neighborhood, combining a bike ride with a shopping trip makes it more of a fun event and less of an unpleasant chore.

34 Responses to “Grocery Shopping”

  • Dan says:

    What about Yuba Mundo over a Big Dummy? It would be less expensive and in some ways more capable.

  • Jack Kenward says:

    An interesting and effective alternative is to attach a Burley Nomad trailer to a tandem. My wife and I have been shopping in Davis with this setup since March. She is now to the point of expectations that she is surprised when I say we’re taking the car to the store rather than the Co-Motion.

  • Alan says:

    @Jack

    Trailers… of course! I’m not a trailer person myself (prefer the weight on the bike itself), but they are certainly popular and do the job very well. Thanks…

    Alan

  • lyle says:

    I like the occasional frozen pizza but my panniers aren’t large enough so I’ve started making my own pizza. It’s a lot cheaper, tastier and more fun.

    My bulk purchases have gone up while my pre packaged purchases have plummeted and of course I’m eating a lot healthier.

    This will be my first carless winter so my attitude may change come January!

  • Lush says:

    Here’s my grocery getter:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lushmojo/sets/72157620927931213/

    Although, I think I’m going to sell her to get a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. The Kogswell is a very fun bike though.

  • Julie says:

    I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I recently scored a kids trailer from Freecycle…won’t hold as much as a cargo trailer, but I’m thinking it will be good for plants and bigger items.

  • Adrienne says:

    If you just plan, you can really get a lot of stuff home on your own. I shop for a family of five, and even if I go to Costco, I shop by bike. While we have an xtracycle, it is set up for my much taller husband, so I have to adapt my dutch bike to do the job. I can get enough groceries into my Basil panniers to feed us for most of the week, especially if I shop at the farmer’s market. If am doing a really big trip, I throw my son’s old Burley on the back- it folds up to store in dead space in the garage and it makes my existing bike able to bring home 100 lbs of stuff plus my son on the Bobike seat.

    Usually, though, I just stop at the store during the course of my running around and grab what I need for the next couple of days and that usually fits in my pannier baskets.

  • Thom says:

    I do our weekly grocery shopping on a 1971 Columbia three-speed with a small Wald front basket and the wire Wald pannier/basket setup on the rear. The whole works cost me less than $150 and it’s perfectly adequate for our needs. Couldn’t be easier, and I find I’m more willing to buy non-packaged food (i.e. the ingredients to make my food rather than just defrost it) because it’s easier to carry. I’m getting more exercise, eating better, and riding more. For me, there’s no downside.

  • Aaron says:

    If I can’t fit the groceries into my two wheeler with the pannier bags and baskets I use this one – http://lifewithatrike.blogspot.com/2009/06/how-much-can-one-trike-fit.html

    I never have to do two trips when I use the trike to do the weekly shop!

  • Alexis says:

    My boyfriend an I live carfree in inner Portland… we live 2 miles from the Fred Meyer we use once a month for a big trip (restock on frozen foods and household items) which we do by bus, hauling as much as we can in four reusable grocery bags. We live 1/2 a mile from a New Seasons, which is a nice little bike ride, perfect for dairy stuff, produce, and most of my “I have a really cool idea for dinner but I need…” trips. Biking to new seasons, I can carry two bike buckets on my rack and a backpack (though I rarely need more than one bucket)

  • Ryan says:

    I love my Big Dummy. I use it almost every day. I love shopping and commuting on it as well as giving my dog Hydi a rife in her side car. Here are some photos and a video of grocery shopping and my dog on the bike. http://Www.ficker.com/wakenstrum

    I do recommend the Xtracycle for shopping it is great. I can carry 2 weeks of groceries for my wife and I. We bought some hot/cold bags from the grocery store so frozeN items and meats and dairy can stay cold for the ride home during the summer.

  • Duane says:

    my windcheetah clubsport has the rear fender pack and is otherwise highly impractical for grocery/other shopping. but i make it work by limiting the load to a full pack and a bag (or two) looped over the headrest and hanging to my right. it’s an easy thought to go from store to store and get better buys because i don’t have to worry about losing the savings through the extra petro used by my pickup. my favorite store is the coop in southtown corvallis; approximately a 10 mile round trip.

  • David says:

    We do all our shopping using either out tandem or triplet.
    We have three pair of Jandd panniers the biggest is their Mountain Expedition which is huge.
    We can carry quite a bit of groceries in those panniers but if we are going for a really big shop I will strap on the Large Mountain pannier or the regular Mountain Pannier.

    We can carry just about anything we might need.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    Here’s another vote for a trailer. I don’t use it every trip but you can’t beat it for hauling the 20+ pound bags of dog food and other heavy bulky things.

  • Saddle Up says:

    For us getting the groceries home is the easy part. Having to hall all of the empty containers (cardboard, plastics, cans, glass) to the recycling depot is a pain. It’s amazing how quickly it adds up. Being carless also makes us hyper aware of how terribly wasteful food packaging is.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/21617002@N02/2983081148/in/photostream/

  • Donald says:

    I also use a trailer for grocery shopping. I use a Burley Nomad. I like the fact that I can attach it to my Trek 520, but remove the extra capacity when not needed. It makes the 520 a very versatile machine for everything from grocery getting, to commuting, to loaded touring. (I use panniers for touring.) The down side, (or up side) is the huge capacity of the trailer. Loaded with 6 bags of groceries from Trader Joes and it takes a bit of umph to get it rolling. Once rolling though it goes along OK and the set up really flies on the downhills.
    Donald
    Sacramento, CA

  • Fiona P. says:

    I love Grocery shopping by bike!! Right now I have the Largest Axiom Grocery Panniers and I haven’t even managed yet to overstuff them. The clasps are kind of flimsy but nothing a bungee cord cant fix. I also have the Banjo Brothers Market Panniers on order to try out.

    I’m actually getting ready right now to head out on the bike for groceries:) We’ve been almost carfree for 5 years and bike happy for a few months and its so much easier shopping by bike than walking or taking the bus or paying for a taxi.

  • Juan says:

    I did my first grocery run with my bike just last week. Though grocery panniers would work better, I got two bags of stuff into my Novara Transfer panniers minus one box of cereal. Had to strap that onto my rack.

    http://bike21.blogspot.com/2009/08/grocery-run.html

  • Ahmad says:

    Shopping by bike is great fun and might be even ‘greener’ than you think: Although I’m a big fan of buying locally grown food, the Carbon emitted in transporting food all the way across the country by truck is a mere pittance compared to the oil we shoppers burn driving individually to the grocery store to pick it up.

    A quick and stylish fix for extra cargo space – Bolt a long board deck to your rear rack to form an extended platform.

    Ahmad

  • Larey says:

    I use a trailer with a locking box larger grocery runs but more often stop at the Whole Foods Market on the way home from work. I like those re-usable grocery bags but constantly forget to take them in with me.

    Last time, the lady running the register said I should put my purchased items back in the basket and transfer them at the bike. I don’t know why that never occured to me.

    My everyday bag is a Carradice shopper.

  • Alan says:

    It’s really cool hearing about the different solutions everyone has come up with. Thanks for sharing (and keep them coming)!

    Alan

  • bongobike says:

    Very cool indeed.

    Lush, I love the old Coca-Cola crate! Brings back memories. Does anyone know a good source for cool old wooden crates in Austin, TX?

  • David says:

    Saddle Up says:
    For us getting the groceries home is the easy part. Having to hall all of the empty containers (cardboard, plastics, cans, glass) to the recycling depot is a pain. It’s amazing how quickly it adds up. Being carless also makes us hyper aware of how terribly wasteful food packaging is.

    That’s what we use our Burley deLite trailer for, haul the recyclables . We call is cycling to recycle

  • James McConeghey says:

    I’ve used my Long Haul Trucker with a rear rack. Just the other day I was surprised at how much you can actually carry with a just a rear rack and panniers.

    Check it out

  • Sharper says:

    While I’m amazed at all of the cargo opportunities mentioned earlier, I can’t bring myself to spend my money and closet space on the wide variety of bags and bolt-on attachments a few of you sport.

    Granted, I’m only running errands for my girlfriend and I, but if my rear rack and bungee net aren’t enough cargo space for a run (whether to my CSA pickup spot or the local grocery store two miles away), I strap on one or two of my bog standard grocery panniers. The couple of times I’ve needed even more hauling capacity, a milk crate handled the overflow well enough (and even helps secure the panniers better). No trendy brand names, but everything gets home safely and comfortably, and that’s what’s important.

  • Donald says:

    RE: The Cost of Accessories/Added Equipment vs Convenience
    I originally drove my car to work on Thursdays so I could take my instrument (Concertina) to music lessons after work. I was hesitant to buy a Burley Nomad trailer because of the expense until I calculated the savings by riding instead of driving to work that one day a week. I kept track of its use that first summer and it paid for itself in just a few months. (At $10 a day) That usage in combination with my many grocery trips with the trailer now means it has paid for itself many times over. I would not always rule out the initial expense of something if it makes your trips more convenient and more likely to be done by bicycle.
    Donald
    Sacramento, CA

  • Lush says:

    bongobike – Thanks. I love the crate, too. Coca-Cola is the only energy drink I need (but Mexican Coke with real sugar vs high-fructose corn syrup, thanks). I found mine after a day perusing antique stores and flea markets in and around Boulder. $11 of goodness and sturdy as hell.

  • bongobike says:

    Lush,

    Yep, nothing like real cane sugar. The difference in taste is tremendous. Eleven bucks is a good deal for that crate. I bet they are hard to find. I will start scouring the antique shops around the ATX.

  • Jeff says:

    Dang that Uptown 8 is a sweet looking bike! Love those pedals too!

  • Larey says:

    Here’s a snap of the trailer I use for large grocery runs (usually 10mi round trip).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/larey/3508381005/

    Larger items, like giant packs of paper towels or lawn chairs, ride well strapped on top.

  • dave says:

    I use either an xtracycle or a cannodale loaded with panniers, depending. I do end up going to the store or market more frequently, but I don’t mind. There is a whole other side of the equation, which is storage back at the house. It’s not uncommon in other countries to use a half-counter fridge, the assumption being one gets to the market more frequently.

    that can be an aspect of the bike – the trip becomes less of a hassle and more of pleasant outing. That can also be an aspect of a fledging sense of community – ah, there’s dave, he’s always coming here and how are things going? That can be an aspect of buying fresher food, of spending a bit more time on what and how we eat. And I’ve noticed an increased awareness of packaging, also. I’m much more inclined to buy less processed food – less to carry (usually water in some form, it seems)

    I do like the idea, counter to the current, that maybe it’s time to get a smaller fridge. Funny how one decision can lead one into an unexpected dilemma.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    We’ve been reprovisioning by bike for five years, and out commute to the stores is 12 miles of hilly roads. For four years we’ve done it all by bike, year round, with Nashbar Townie panniers and then after the first year, with a Nashbar kiddie trailer. Julie, you can get more into a kiddie trailer than you think. See pictures here:

    http://www.tamiasoutside.com/practical-cycling/shopping/trailer/

    This year we got a Croozer Cargo trailer and it’s a lot easier to pack than the kiddie trailer, because it’s got a rectangular floor and is unencumbered with seats. So far the Croozer works a charm.

    Alan: You’re exactly right about the importance of taking a grocery list. I’ve gotten to the point where I know exactly how things will fit in panniers and trailer because we get so many of the same items each week, and I know how to pack it. Grocery cycling by pannier or trailer is within the grasp of anyone of reasonable fitness, and I highly recommend it for the sense of accomplishment you get, the fitness it promotes, and of course, because it saves on using up precious petrol.

  • Emitt D, Dixon says:

    I like to ride a bike and always be ready for the impossible job with no worry.

  • Jake says:

    I recently added an xtracycle kit to my Breezer Uptown 8. I’d love a Big Dummy, but this is way cheaper (already had the bike).

    I’ve never hauled a surfboard or anything particularly crazy with the xtracycle, but it’s wonderful for groceries. You don’t have to think about cargo capacity, and best of all, you just plunk your grocery bags in and go — no fussing with packing up the bike just right.

    Get the kit for one of your bikes. You won’t regret it.

 
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