Sharing the Load

Grocery Getter

For grocery getting and everyday utility riding I prefer a bike that can carry a full set of panniers in back and at least one small grocery bag or a change of clothes and a lunch up front. Having the option of throwing extra items on a front cargo/porteur rack is one of the handiest features a utility bike can have. Plus, most bikes will tend to ride better with a balanced load.

People talk about the need for low trail geometry for carrying loads on the front fork, and perhaps for touring or randonneurring that’s true, but I haven’t found it necessary for utility riding. Much more important is a good center stand that lifts the rear wheel off the ground so the front wheel stays planted when the load is distributed between the front and rear racks. A centering spring or strap to hold the wheel straight during loading helps as well. When we’re talking about short trips to the store or library, ease of loading and overall carrying capacity are much more important than light steering that mitigates for fatigue over a long day in the saddle.

So, if you’ve considered a porteur/cargo rack for your grocery getter, but you’ve hesitated because your bike’s geometry isn’t optimized for carrying a front load, I’d encourage you to give it a try; personally I feel it’s a non-issue for the typically short distances most people travel for grocery shopping and errands. More important is a set-up that’s optimized for the loading process with a good, double-legged centerstand and a front wheel stabilizer. Once the bike is loaded and rolling, you’ll quickly adapt to the steering and you’ll be glad for the extra carrying capacity.

9 Responses to “Sharing the Load”

  • brad says:

    Agreed, although I’d emphasize lightness for the front rack/basket. I have a Gomoh basket on my city bike, and while I love its sturdiness (rated for 40 pounds!), its great looks, and the built-in bottle opener in front, it is just too heavy for me. Even empty it affects handling, and when loaded with 10 or 20 pounds of stuff up front it can be positively dangerous. My strategy in the future will be to put the heaviest stuff in the panniers in back and use a light front basket for small incidentals and things I want to keep in easy reach (camera, for example, although in my city there have been incidents of passersby stealing things from front baskets when cyclists are stopped at traffic lights).

  • Eric says:

    I love having a place to carry items on the front. The alternative to a porteur rack (and this may be a bit less expense as well), is to use a small front rack such as a Nitto M12 (or Riv’s Mark’s Rack) and mount a wire basket to it. Granted, the carrying capacity is much less than a porteur rack but for some bulky but light grocery items (I like to put my delicate produce in the basket), a few books, or a jacket it’s just right.

  • Alan@TreeFort says:

    Yeah, I love front style flat cargo baskets for short commutes with heavy loads, its easy to drop a grocery bag, sixer, backback, etc in the front with little hassle, compared to panniers which generally require straps, clipping, velcro, etc and be tedious for shorter rides. As you alluded to, they are less practical for longer rides (and in my opinion, even longer commutes, say over 7 miles) since they throw the balance off a little in handling and don’t secure stuff as well as panniers.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    I have a CETMA rack that has been mounted on about four different bikes, two mountain bikes, a “sport touring” bike, and a loaded touring bike.

    My experience is that you can notice the difference in front end handling when loaded. The two high-trail mountain bikes were much more sluggish and difficult to control while loaded, especially compared to the two road bikes.

    I’ve also found that the width of the handlebars is at least as important a factor. Currently I am running 58cm riser bars. The amount of leverage these provides makes it a lot easier to manage the extra weight. The other bars I’ve used are 48cm Nitto Promenades, which worked just fine. I mean, I used them on a MB-4 that I rode, with CETMA, from Northern California to Seattle fully loaded. So, by no means impossible to control!

  • Rider says:

    I agree — I’ve got rear racks on my commuter and a porteur-style rack up front.

    I use the front rack more than the rear, by far.

    I don’t get any trouble with handling whatsoever.

    Basically carry a small tackle box with lunch, wallet, phone and all the stuff you usually have in your seat bag (which I don’t use on this bike).

    Works great. I put some wood trim on it, and it looks great, too. It also holds, and protects, the headlight.

  • JulieM says:

    interesting on several levels.
    I have a 1990’s Gary Fisher Alfresco 7-speed internal. Years ago I had a rear rack and the metal folding panniers on the back and a basket on the front. I didn’t own a car so it was the commuter bike/car substitute. I started using it again last year for commuting with a clip-on front basket and a rear rack and small panniers but the handling was back-heavy. This year, I removed the rear rack and decided to try a VO porteur rack I chose this one because it was designed to fit different sized wheels and wasn’t too wide. I also have the infamous VO wheel stabilizer as well as have a rear saddle bag with saddlebag support. Bike actually handles better. I even hauled a 20# box of tomatoes on it. Handling does change with the amount of load but not as much as I thought it would.
    For my next bike, I think I am going to try the Wald basket on top of a small front rack (like the VO and Nittos). I’ve had regular Wald baskets with the supports and found myself having to continually make adjustments to the strut connectors because of pot-holes. I also prefer not to have anything dependent on the handlebar itself for support.
    As for groceries, I find myself doing quick trips on the way home for things like milk, bananas, chicken, etc. There is something about having to have it fit on the bike that is making me a more efficient, less wasteful shopper. Somehow, I have less “stocked up” and I am eating healthier. The irony is, with the bike its easy to say I going to stop at this little market on the way home and get a few fresh ingredients. When I use to drive home from work, it was far easier just to go to the supermarket and stock up with more than I needed.

  • SM says:

    Lots of good information. I was always curious about the weight and bike geometry ratios when considering front and rear racks. Very helpful. I’m looking to purchase a transportation/utility bike for riding to work (8 miles round trip) and for trips around town and short leisure rides. Considering all my options at the moment. I hope to have a new bike by the spring; racks are something I’ve never considered before – opting for carrying backpacks.

  • dwainedibbly says:

    if you already have a good bike that you like, yes, don’t worry about it too much. OTOH, if you’re shopping for a new bike, look for low trail geometry. If enough people do that, it’ll show the manufacturers that it does matter. Let the market work.

  • Alan says:


    Moving from backpacks to racks will be a revelation. Be sure to invest in good, stout racks; they’re a relatively small investment in the larger scheme, but they’ll make your riding experience far better.

    Bes of luck!

© 2011 EcoVelo™