If you are looking to get maximum use out of your bike commute, or just your commuter bike, then adding grocery shopping to your list of activities is one way to add another level of practicality to your commuter journeys.
Having recently got into the habit of doing the grocery shopping on my commuter bike, I wanted to share my top 8 tips for a bike commute with grocery shopping:
- Use 1 big bag to carry all other bags
- Get a cooler bag for your bike
- Expect to shop less
- Pack your food into your bags as you shop
- Keep it light on wet days
- Place excess bags on handlebars
- Scope out bike parking in advance
- Take it easy!
So, these are my tips from having done the groceries with my commuter bike, but that’s only in brief.
To give you the full lowdown on these points, I want to go into more detail in the sections below to make it crystal clear you can bike commute and do your grocery shopping.
Use One Big Bag to Carry All Other Bags
One of the tricks to being able to easily do the grocery shopping as part of a bike commute is to have one large pannier bag (that fits onto your rear rack) to carry several other bags to put your groceries in.
The point here is that you can then travel to work with just 2 bags – one for your usual waterproofs, lunch, etc., and the other in preparation for carrying your groceries home.
Spreading the bags out across your bike is the best way to carry your groceries back from the store as this does not put too much strain on any one bag.
In addition to carrying the one large bag for your groceries, you can also take another pannier bag and a backpack, as well as a couple of plastic bags for any overspill if you don’t have to travel on roads much of the way home from the store – I say this because these can be hung on your handlebars without causing too many problems but I would not recommend doing this while riding on a road.
Get a Cooler Bag for Your Bike
Getting a cooler bag for the rear rack of your bike means that you can then transport all kinds of food items with you by bike from the store to your home.
These are also good bags since they are usually big, open bags, just like the one described in the section above.
I’ve found that the IKEA bike bag that my wife bought a few years back is great for this, and in fact, it’s the light green bag that you can see in the image above.
This means that you don’t need to stress about rushing home as the bag will keep your items fresh regardless of the climate.
OK, so it’s not going to be super chilly inside the bag, but it will at least act as a barrier to the heat outside, especially when it comes to frozen items.
With that said, if you do need to buy frozen items, you can also look at getting a smaller bag for this to put inside this same bag, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Expect to Shop Less
One of the catches to doing the grocery shopping by bicycle is that you obviously can’t take quite as much as by car.
Knowing this then means that you can plan to do your grocery shopping either when you are not doing a ‘mega’ shop, or just more often and taking home the same amount of food in more trips to the store.
This idea of grocery shopping might seem like a step backward for some of you, especially if you like to get everything done in one go. However, if you do it on your bike commute journey home from work, then it is more embedded into your routine and is a little less hassle since it doesn’t require an extra journey/activity simply to get some food.
I’ve also found it to be more enjoyable since I don’t need to worry about parking, navigating a stressful and busy parking lot since I can park my bike right outside most stores.
You can also opt for a shopping basket instead of the full-blown shopping cart as a reminder to keep things a bit lighter than usual.
Pack Your Food into Your Bags as You Shop
Another tip for grocery shopping on two wheels is to place your (open) bike bags into your shopping cart and add the food as you go, provided that this won’t cause you any problems in the store! I should add that I regularly do this and have had no problems with security or staff since it’s open and visible for anyone to see.
In addition to the point above about choosing a shopping basket, seeing your food actually in your bags will help you stay on task and better decisions on the right kind of food to buy given the limit on what you can carry by bike.
Personally, it’s been an interesting lesson in constraint as I have a tendency to throw in lots of extras as I go along when doing the grocery shopping (much to my wife’s dismay!).
Having the space limit for all the groceries that I can physically take home with the limitations of carrying things by bike means that I am more inclined to skip on the junk and focus more on the healthier, fresh food options. This can obviously be a nice added bonus for anyone looking to stick to a budget with their grocery shopping or simply follow a diet.
Keep it Light on Wet Days
There will no doubt be a day when you plan to do the grocery shopping while cycling but it’s raining outside.
The simplest option here is to lighten the load a little more. I say this because having your bike weighted down by groceries is fine when riding in good conditions, but on wet roads or surfaces, it can reduce the control you have while riding, making things a little less safe.
It should be noted that riding in the wet is always a little less safe than riding in dry conditions, but the added weight can slow down your handling and affects the turning ability of your bike, making for an extra aspect to think about when riding.
By reducing your desired grocery shop by about 20-30% on a rainy day should help you here. Think about skipping items that contain liquid since these are likely to weigh you down the most.
Remember that you can still safely do the grocery shopping on your bike in the rain, it just needs a slight modification to reduce any of the issues it might cause.
Place Excess Bags on Handlebars
By taking plastic bags with you as back-ups, you can then have the ‘spillover’ capacity to carry any extra items that don’t fit in your bags once at checkout.
I’ve found that it is usually the shape of items that often means I need to use these plastic bags as I’ve got quite good a estimating how much I can actually carry on the bike. However, odd-shaped items with hard corners can be a problem as they don’t fit or bend in a bag, sometimes meaning that you can’t close the zipper or buckle on your bags, even with some space left over.
If you place the bags on the handlebars, this does not affect braking and is not that noticeable when it comes to turning, except for the occasional bump against the front fork on your bike.
I’d also recommend placing a plastic bag on each side to help balance this out. Just remember to ride a little way to check this is not totally imbalanced; you’ll want to be sure that it does not pull you to one side before properly setting off on your ride home.
That said, I would not recommend carrying bags on your handlebars if you have to travel on the road for much of your way home from the store since sharp changes in direction/turns can cause some issues, making this option not recommended. If in doubt, just stick to buying a lesser amount of food and stay safe!
Scope Out Bike Parking in Advance
Before fully committing to doing the groceries on a bike commute, you will want to check out the bike parking options available outside the store.
I know this might sound trivial but you’d be surprised at how few options there are at the supermarkets and stores I’ve been to by bike – hopefully your area is better equipped than mine!
To check this out, try riding past your chosen grocery store or supermarket on your way into work, taking a moment to note any good locking up points.
Also look at which posts would fit your lock because extra fat posts might be too big for your U-lock (something again that I’ve found out at the last minute, which only added to my stress!)
Check also that any locking up points have good visibility from within the store, if possible. If not, then at least make sure that your bike will be visible to most people in the parking lot since this will help to deter bike thieves from stealing your bike.
Take it Easy!
To round off these tips, it’s important to remember to take things a little slower when doing the grocery shopping by bike.
Remember that it’s a different process than doing the grocery shop by car and that some things will be quicker while others slower. The more you do it, however, the easier and more normal it will feel so don’t give up after the first time out if it doesn’t feel quite right at that point.
I have found that it makes me go a little slower, but not by a huge amount, and this has actually made grocery shop a little bit more enjoyable, which is not a word I would have ever thought I’d use to describe doing the groceries!
How to carry large items on a bike? The best way to do this is by adding a cargo trailer to the back of your bike as this gives you a huge amount of possibilities for carrying larger items. For long, flat items that don’t weigh much, you could also look into a surfboard rack.
This is something that I’ve used to carry a stepladder on, but I would not recommend it for any heavy items.
A rear bike cargo trailer should be fine for most items that you could want to carry on a bike. Just be sure to attach it properly before setting off.
How to add a basket to your bike? Bike baskets usually fit onto the front handlebars of your bike and come with straightforward instructions on how to do this. Before buying one, check that your bike’s handlebars are straight enough to hold a basket as curved handlebars might be a problem.
I have fitted a couple of baskets onto various bikes that my wife has used and I would recommend looking for one that clips on and off easily as it then means that you can take it with you when doing any shopping.
I’d also say that front baskets are only good for light loads as they do affect the handling and control of the bike, so look into getting a rear bike rack for anything substantial.