While biking to work gets a lot of attention, it’s not the only way to incorporate bicycle travel into your everyday life. We’re big fans of the quick neighborhood trip—to the pub, the library, the coffee shop. Doing your shopping by bike takes the neighborhood outing to another level—getting your groceries home under your own power adds a sense of accomplishment to an otherwise dull trip.
Some of the benefits of shopping by bike are obvious, like skipping the hunt for a parking spot and getting some fresh air and exercise. But other plusses are less plain. Shopping by bike can help you stick to your budget and make more healthful choices. With less cargo space than you have in a car, you’re forced to be selective about your purchases on any given trip. I’ve found that having to strategize my shopping choices results in less waste from overbuying (I’m a sucker for beautiful produce, even when I know it’s not likely I’ll be able to eat it all before it goes bad), and I save money by avoiding impulse purchases. Hint: lists help a lot!
Maybe you’re sold on the idea, but you’re not sure how to get started. We’ve compiled our favorite tips and tricks here. Some we’ve learned by doing; others are great ideas we borrowed from other cyclers. There’s always more to learn! But really, the best way to find what works for you is to start doing it. Take one short, small shopping trip by bike this week. See what works and what doesn’t, then try it again next week. You can shop by bike!
Here’s what’s worked for us:
Use your pannier as your grocery basket—when it’s full, you’re done (or you’ll know to start planning for overflow). Keep a spare bungee or cargo net on hand to secure extra items on your rack or in a basket.
To make the most out of your cargo space, choose items with less bulky packaging (or ditch extraneous boxes after checkout). Take those granola bars out of the box and tuck them into tiny spaces around other groceries. Buy items like nuts and rice and dried beans in bulk to avoid big boxes and heavy cans.
Shopping more frequently makes for smaller loads each trip, and allows you to eat fresher food. Make sure you’re not overlooking a good market closer to home, work, or a route you already ride regularly. If we were to try stocking up on a month’s worth of groceries, the supermarket would be the obvious choice. But if we’re picking up just a few things to eat this week, our neighborhood market has us covered. And don’t forget the tailgate market! If you’re fortunate enough to have one near you, it’s the best way to eat fresh and local whole foods.
When I first started shopping by bike, I worried about getting the goods home safely—did that pothole just crack all my eggs? What if the ice cream melts? Years later, I’ve relaxed quite a bit. My eggs are fine, the frozen stuff stays cold, and I haven’t irretrievably crushed, broken, or maimed anything yet. My approach is pretty similar to how I pack my groceries when I’m shopping by car: heavier stuff on the bottom, rigid items packed to protect more fragile stuff, and squishy things on top. I don’t mind if my leeks or lettuces poke out to wave in the wind a bit. And I haven’t yet had to worry about padding my eggs. (But I do really dig the idea of using springy bunches of kale for padding if you do—thanks to Tales from the Sharrows for that creative tip!)
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned about shopping by bike also happens to be the most important thing I’ve learned about cycling in general: you’ve got to be comfortable. Use the right bike—my upright city bike is way more well-suited to shopping excursions than a sporty road bike. A kickstand (or, better yet, a center stand) can be a lifesaver. Racks are a must for me, though you might prefer to haul your goodies in a backpack. The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition has a nice short piece on setting your ride up as a grocery getter.
Shopping for a crowd? There are tons of resources online for folks with more than one or two mouths to feed. Hum of the City writes about incorporating bike shopping trips into a busy family life, and Car Free Days shows us how to fit an impressive amount of stuff on a couple of Xtracycles.
Finally, take it slow! Take the time to adjust to carrying that extra weight on your bike. Stopping and starting, braking distance, and overall handling will be a little different. You might need to become a little more fit. Give yourself time to get into this new chapter in your biking life. And, above all, enjoy the ride! Luxuriate a little in the fresh air, the exercise, the independence, the connection with your surroundings that a bike outing brings. After all, if we wanted grocery shopping to feel like a boring chore, we could always just take the car, right?