Melbourne sans car #5: Shopping by bike

Back in July the Herald Sun included an article titled “Lazy shoppers fuelling environment woes by driving” which claims “Shoppers too lazy to walk to the supermarket add nearly 1.9m tonnes to our greenhouse gas emissions each year”.

Those who live within a few kilometres of their local shopping areas can quite easily forego these short trip emissions by leaving the car at home and cycling to the shops instead. Typically this will mean you also leave the aggrivation of finding a park behind, as many shopping centres provide bicycle racks closer to the doors than even the closest car park (or failing that have suitable things to lock to near the doors). One of the other benefits of shopping by bike is you get to squeeze exercise time into your week at the same time, and if you happen to have a bike path along the way, it can be a great way to enjoy a bit of time out.

Getting your shopping home by bike, if you haven’t tried it before, can be a little different and means you need to think a little more about how you can transport things home, but once you’ve done it once or twice it becomes second nature. How you go about it depends on how big your shop is and whether you are shopping by yourself or with others in your household to help.

If your trip to the shops is small, or if you make different trips for different things (such as heading one direction to the market for fruit and vegetables, and heading in another direction to get the rest), you might be able to get away with a rear basket. I do a weekly shop for myself a couple of kilometres from home and get away with two rear panniers and a 30 litre backpack. This is basically three to four calico bags worth of groceries. I also buy mostly fresh things with little packaging rather than heavy cans, so what you can safely put on your back and into panniers will be different if your load is heavier. Perhaps a bit of a guide is that if you can’t carry it in your arms to your bike fairly comfortably, you probably would like to break your trips into a few each week (if that’s handy for you – for some its simply a stop off on the way home to top up on fresh bread and grab a few fresh vegetables) or getting a trailer. For trips requiring larger shops you’ll definately do well to get a trailer, (or maybe a specially designed “work bike” that are starting to become sold in some bike shops in Melbourne) to comfortably get the goods home.

No matter your technique of shopping by bike, the common rule is to pack heavy items at the bottom, and lighter, fragile items on top. This makes your bike the most stable and keeps your squishable goods unsquished. Make sure your load can’t move around as this can damage items or make your bike less stable. Also make sure that if you’ve bought something sharp or pointy, that you’ve packed it in a way hurt or damage you, your gear or anyone or anything you’re riding near.

Rear baskets tend to attach to a rack. Front baskets should only be used for light items as anything heavy tends to affect steering.

Panniers are like saddlebags for your bike. You attach a rack to your bike and the pannier bags clip on. As well as for the rear, you can add ones on the front as well. Balance the weight as much as possible between panniers, but if you have front ones as well, put 60% of the weight in the rear pair. I’ve read that “A bicycle fitted with panniers can usually carry a week’s grocery shopping (up to 10 kg in the front bags and 15 kg in the rear bags) without making it overly difficult to pedal.”

Make sure anything you attach to your bike isn’t obscuring your lights and reflectors, and doesn’t affect your brake cables. And make sure you don’t go over the recommended weight restrictions for your accessories.

If you don’t already have water proof gear, you can buy waterproof covers or line backs and panniers with thick garbage bags to ensure things stay dry in a downpour.

In terms of trailers, there are a few to chose from. Good ones include those made for touring as they are sturdy and handy general purpose trailers for most conditions. Look around the web, in different bike shops and talk to staff to find one that will suit your needs and your bike. I have seen some cyclists using the kid trailer bikes as part time shopping carts. Bike shops can also give you advice on choosing other accessories, and if you have little shoppers with you too young to ride their own bike in front, ask about ‘tag along bikes’ and baby seats.

Further reading:

If you have any other tips, or stories to share about Melbourne sans car, please add to the comments.


This post is the fifth in a series of posts about Melbourne sans car.
1. Benefits of not owning a motor vehicle
2. Getting some wheels… Bicycle wheels
3. Bicycling Melbourne safely
4. Keeping your bicycle yours (anti-theft)
5. Shopping by bicycle
6. Commuting by bicycle
7. Maintaining your bicycle
8. Exploring Melbourne by bicycle

1 Comment so far

  1. Bicycle News Roundup, 10/13/08 | Austin Bike Blog (pingback) on October 14th, 2008 @ 4:30 am

    […] Melbourne sans car #5: Shopping by bike, Melbourne Metblogs […]

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