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Beyond commuting - shopping by bike

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Article posted: 27/08/2013

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It's not all about getting to work on time. Once you've got your bike sorted for commuting, you'll also find that your machine is also highly evolved for grocery-getting too.

That rack and panniers you fitted mean that you've got about 40 litres of carrying capacity at the rear of the bike, which equates to around three bags of shopping. Not a full weekly shop of the kind you'd do in the car, but certainly enough for a few days. And while it's true that you can't get a full weekly shop for a family of four on a normal bike, there are ways and means...

A light drawstring gym bag in the bottom of your panniers is ideal when you encounter an ‘overspill emergency.'

Make your shopping trips more human sized

We've all gotten so used to bulk-buy, fill-the-freezer, multibuy, supermarket car-based trip we've forgotten how to shop like our grandparents did - human-sized. They would buy enough groceries to last for maybe two days and they'd carry or bike them home. This is also an ideal time to reassess where you shop. Downsizing your shopping load can also mean using smaller local shops, proper butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, and farmers markets.

If you use a supermarket select a small trolley

Sod's Law is in effect here - If you take a big trolley you'll be tempted to fill it, then you won't be able to get your stuff home. The mini trolleys found in many supermarkets equate pretty well with the amount of stuff that you can carry in a pair of large panniers.

Take your panniers into the shop with you

If you do this, you can load your goodies straight into the panniers and dispense with wasteful carrier bags, thus saving time decanting stuff into your panniers later. Haggle with the cashier and try to claim some extra green points for using your panniers.

Take a ‘reserve' bag

A light drawstring gym bag in the bottom of your panniers is ideal when you encounter an ‘overspill emergency.' This is when you've miscalculated how much stuff you panniers will take. You'll invariably end up with an aubergine, half a dozen eggs, a bottle of Speckled Hen and a baguette, and a puzzled expression on your face. This is when you deploy the reserve bag, pop the offending items in, pop it on your back and ride home, avoiding the hazardous 'carrier bag on the handlebars' scenario.

If you really can't say goodbye to the weekly shop...

Say hello to the heavy artillery. We're talking trailers and cargo bikes here. Cargo bikes come in all shapes and sizes. Some carry the load at the rear in huge extended panniers (e.g. the Surly Big Dummy, Kona Ute, Yuba) while others carry the load up from (e.g. Long John). All are a fairly big investment however with the cheapest bikes starting at around £600.

If you can't run to £600 and don't want to ride a bike with the turning circle of an oil tanker, a cargo trailer is a better option. Again these come in a plethora of shapes, sizes and wheel configurations. But a large trailer will allow you to easily bring home a full week's shopping for a voracious family. You'll also be able to shift all manner of oddities in it, should the fancy take you. Some fold down fast for easy storage, so you don't end up with an interesting piece of bike related ‘furniture' in your hallway (and the inevitable marital discord that ensues).

Avoid going to the shops altogether!

If none of the above approaches appeal to you and your rationale is more about removing the car from the equation rather than doing everything by bike, consider internet shopping or walking to the shops and jumping a cab home. Not as much fun as carting home your goods in a trailer but just as good for the planet/your conscience.

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