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.
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.