Grocery Shopping on a Bike

I’ve never posted about grocery shopping on my bike before, because I live very close to a grocery store and simply walk. In these tough economic times ™ I decided to head up the road a bit and see what good stuff (i.e. beer and wine) I could find cheaper at Trader Joe’s.

Loaded Oma

Loaded Oma

As expected, all my purchases fit with no special panniers. For the weight she was carrying, Oma rode smoothly. There was a barely perceptible squirrely-ness to her front handling – a slight but constant shift side to side in the handlebars.

The Groceries

The Groceries

If I had to bike to get my groceries on a regular basis, I would either make more frequent trips, drag Mr. Dottie with me, or buy less beer and wine (maybe). I’d also buy some special grocery panniers. I imagine grocery shopping gets more logistically complicated with a kid or two, but then I would have an excuse to buy a bakfiets.

Anyone else grocery shop without a car? Silly question – I know lots of you do! What’s your method?

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67 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping on a Bike

  1. Doug R says:

    I carry groceries on my Xtracycle.It makes car-free shopping soooo much easier. I can easily carry 4 fully loaded grocery bags, and them some, with ease.

  2. We live 3 miles from the closest Trader Joe’s and 1.5 miles from the closest Whole Foods, and I can easily shop at both by bike. (We have a few other grocery shops even closer, but I don’t like to shop there.)

    I can fit an amount of groceries equivalent to the stuff in your photo on my Pashley, distributing it between the front basket and the smallish rear saddlebag that is a permanent fixture on its rear rack. If I had more stuff, I would remove the saddlebag and just strap the grocery bag directly onto the rack. The Pashley’s front basket (the large one that comes with 20 and 22″ frames) surprised me by being remarkably capable of bearing heavy loads. The bicycle does not handle any differently when the front is loaded except having to switch into a lower gear when going uphill.

    Eventually I would like to get the Brooks roll-up panniers for additional capacity, but truth be told, I have not needed them thus far, so it is mostly just me wanting the panniers!

  3. dukiebiddle says:

    I’ve got a silly big basket on the front of my bike, which can carry 3 full brown paper grocery bags easily. If I need more cargo space, I can mount a milk crate over the rear rack with a quickish release that I hacked together, which could carry at least another brown paper bag full, although I hate carrying weight high over the rear wheel and I rarely need that much capacity. I’ve got plenty of options for grocery stores within riding distance, so I always shop around for quality and/or deals, which is sort of an excuse for more rides. My two favorite stores, regardless of the groceries, is one 3.5 miles uphill through a big urban park, and another 3 miles downhill through downtown and across several waterfront promenades. Both are beautiful rides, but if I’m carrying 40+ pounds I try to go to the one uphill, for a far less laborious cruise home.

    • calitexican says:

      i also carry bags in my front basket, and rarely use the milk crate that i will attach to my rear rack, but i’ll do it when the duty calls. i also shop just for me, so i don’t have too much, but sometimes i do errands at the stores around my grocery stores so i don’t have to take two trips. if i had the room & budget for an xtracycle, i would say that’s a better bet for shopping around.

      i sort of have help by belonging to an organic grocery delivery service. it’s not totally CSA approved, but i do comb over the list to make sure the grocery list of produce is local to where i live. sometimes it’s not. i’ll simply take off what isn’t & add something that is. i also do that about once a month, so it’s not too often.

  4. RowdyKittens says:

    Great post! I shop by bike all the time. I actually just did a post about carfree shopping. We divorced our car over 1 year ago and it’s been an amazing experience. :)

    You can see the post here (if you’re interested). Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  5. Chris says:

    I use two Banjo Brothers market panniers. Together, they hold two full brown paper grocery bags. When I need more space I usually take the car. :(

    I like the “silly big front basket” idea, especially if such a thing were removable.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Marrying your bicycle to a Wald Giant 157* is definitely a commitment, but once you become accustomed to it, it becomes a total game changer to the utility cycling experience. It gives you close to the capacity of an xtracycle (sans kid carrying) without the clumsiness of the extra length. Buying that basket was the most practical bicycly decision I’ve made, but it helps also having another bike that doesn’t have the big, dorky basket.

      *Not me. Just an example of the basket.

      • dottie says:

        That is a big effing basket! Well done!

      • Xtra says:

        That’s a nice big basket but comparing it to an xtracycle is bit of a stretch. Besides kids, there are long things like ladders, wide things like big boxes and in general more capacity and more flexibility

        Plus xtracyles are not CLUMSY at all. Just more stable and smoother.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          It’s a relative issue. The comparison I was trying to make that was that from a cargo standpoint, a properly set up bike with a wald giant is to an xtracycle what a CR-V is to a full size true SUV. Yes, with an xtra, you can haul a bed… and I cannot. The clumsiness I was referring to was dealing with the storage and handling a bicycle that is over 8 feet long. I would not be able to get that into my elevator, I would not be able to pop it onto its rear wheel and move it around indoors standing up, storing an xtracycle indoors would be problematic without a garage, turning it around in a hallway would be difficult, which I consider to be clumsy.

  6. Mamavee says:

    I just wish I could buy alcohol at trader joe’s here. Just non alcoholic wine over here… and yes, a big box bike will do groceries and kids well!

  7. Carolyn says:

    I can carry a lot of food/supplies in my Basil Panniers (even stuffed a 24 Double Roll package of Toilet Paper in one side), easily a week’s supply for just me. I am constantly amazing myself with how much I can take home.

    But I am considering purchasing a bike trailer next year, like a Croozer cargo one, so I can carry home even more. I love shopping using a bike..

    I do not have a car, so my bike is the best way that I can bring it home. It would be a pain having to take it home by bus, and it would be expensive to rely on cabs. I think you honestly don’t need a car to do shopping. Even if you have a family, I am sure you can carry a lot on a trailer.

  8. Aaron says:

    My wife and I use panniers and a Burley flatbed trailer to minimize the frequency of our trips, as we no longer live near a fun market like TJs and now must shop at a mega-market. I’ve used the same cheap, large TransIt panniers for almost two years now, and they’re holding up well. They’re made of rubber/plastic, making cleaning up from the occasional leak fairly painless. We pull the trailer on our tandem when the weather is pleasant; otherwise, we ride separate bikes, and I pull the trailer.

    • Carolyn says:

      How do you like the Burley trailer?

      The Croozer looks especially good as I heard that it converts into a handcart to take into store. But I’ve also been eyeing this one. Some bicyclists I met from Northern Canada, said I don’t have to spend a lot for a decent trailer..mentioned Wike Trailers. This is one I am looking at, but not sure how durable..uses resin wheels..

      • Aaron says:

        I like it a lot. I wanted a large and durable trailer to carry various sports gear (e.g., a paraglider, a mountain unicycle), in addition to groceries. It’s rated to 100 pounds and is much wider (19″, I think) than the one you link to. The 20″ wheels roll smoothly and quietly with Big Apples. We’ve actually used it on a tandem bike tour with some success; its only downfall for touring is that it doesn’t play nice with shoulder-less country roads.

  9. e says:

    I try to include my shopping trips on my way home from work. That way, I can pick up wine one day, veggies the next, and I don’t worry about taking up too much space. Everything fits in one of the two paniers I use for hauling books and groceries.

  10. Jon Grinder says:

    I have a kid trailer that I’ve repurposed for grocery shopping, trips to the laundromat, etc. I can get a lot of groceries, dog food, whatever, in the trailer.

    For small loads, my panniers and messenger bag allow me to pop in and out of the store, with a minimum of fuss.

  11. evie says:

    I have a Topeak wire basket on the back, and I always carry a large canvas bag in it. When I need groceries, I fill up the canvas bag, put it in the basket, and cover it with bungee netting. Works like a charm.

  12. Keri says:

    I use a pair of Trek grocery panniers. They hold an amazing amount of groceries, and weight. I also have an insulated JANDD trunk which is good for frozen things in a hot climate.

    One annoying feature of Trek bags is that they are designed to work with Trek racks (which I do not have), they have to be rigged to work with other racks.

    • cratedigger66 says:

      +1 on the trek panniers. We added some Union Jack patches to the sides to obscure the Trek Logo…

      I did not have a problem using the panniers on any of our bikes- some Planet Bike, Topeak racks and an old Blackburn rack-very easy to put on and take off. I like how they can be snapped so that they take up less space.

      I also use a generic trunk bag for the rear rack when I am just picking up a few things- like produce.

      I like the idea of an insulated trunk. I have been known to put one of those reusable blue ice things in the non insulated trunk when it is hot.

  13. Catherine says:

    The day after I picked up my Amsterdam from the shop, I went to an antique type shop near my house (the kind with fun and interesting odds and ends–not the $800 mirror/Ming vase/Thomas Jefferson’s glasses type place). I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for (my initial thought was a vintage fruit crate) but I wanted a nice big box or basket to put on the rear rack. I wound up with a 1940s/50s vintage wire grocery basket. Basically that means that when I go to the grocery store (infrequently), I can just fill up one of their baskets and know it will all fit in mine because they really are the same size. It’s just me and two darling kitties ’round these parts, so one basket’s worth of food is usually more than enough. I highly recommend anything like this for people who don’t need to buy much or who shop more than once a week.

    However, I’m not at the grocery store all that much anymore–and it’s because of my bike! I live in the kind of town (small city, really) that has a butcher, a cheese/milk/eggs shop, a few bakeries (of both the confection and the day-to-day bread kind) and a farmer’s market twice a week. All along the same 2 mile long main street, so I just start at the top and work my way down, stopping at home (the convenient halfway point) along the way to deposit things if needed. It makes me very happy :)

    The bike helped with this change because parking is so tough in town that driving to do errands anywhere but the farther away big-box type stores is not a good idea–and I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of dragging around a week’s worth of veggies, milk, bread and meat so just walking up and down “Main Street” doing shopping is laborious and time consuming. The bike fixes both problems! The addition of the bike to my life has led me to not only ditch my car, but be able to do the butcher/baker/cheese shop thing easily, all but eliminating Safeway from my life. Every now and again I’ll go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to get some prepared foods or speciality items, but for the most part, it’s Main Street for me. It’s just great!

    • I just got an Amsterdam as well and I’m pondering cargo-carrying options. Do you have a pic of the crate you put on yours?

      • Catherine says:

        Here’s a pretty good shot:–there are a few others in that album that I think you can maybe see….

        It is literally just a grocery basket like you might see in any grocery store. It’s just wire instead of plastic so it’s more attractive (to me) and looks more part of the bike (again, to me). I’m pleased with the purchase :)

  14. Ira says:

    I also walk to the store for most groceries. My key to shopping by bike is smaller purchases, more often. I only go to big supermarket which are close by or on my way to and from work. If not, I just don’t go. Car-free living is synonymous with local shopping.

  15. Sungsu says:

    My kids have outgrown a chariot double trailer, so now I use that for groceries, soccer gear, etc. It’s great because it can easily hold over 80 lbs.

  16. Melanie says:

    I do my main grocery shopping at a Trader Joe’s about 2 miles away from my house. Shopping weekly for one person is a breeze. I have a Basil basket on the front and a folding pannier that I stick on the rear rack.

    I like that TJ’s lets me pack my own groceries- glass and cans and packages go in the pannier and fresh stuff goes in the front basket. Putting the light stuff up front (on the left side of the basket, if the pannier is on the right side) has helped to improve the handling and get rid of the wobble on the way back up the hill.

    What kills me about bike grocery shopping is that it actually takes me less time than when I had a car, in spite of it being about the same distance to the store.

  17. Felicity says:

    I have these awesome things for my bike…they are like fold out boxes that fit on the back. They each hold about a bag of groceries. If it gets too heavy, it’s a little interesting riding home!

  18. ChipSeal says:

    I am six miles away from where I do my grocery shopping. I carry all my purchases in a messenger bag. As I am single, it is rare that I need to make two trips. I carry slippers to wear in the store rather than clump around in cleats, and I don’t lock up my bike, but take it inside with me.

    What I purchase is often dictated by my limited capacity. No liquid drinks, only powders. And no potato chips. The more I plan ahead, the fewer trips I have to make.

  19. Elisa M says:

    I carry it all on my back (Banjo Brothers Commuter backpack carries about 3-4 days worth) and make lots of trips per week. I just put a rack on my bike so I will be using a grocery pannier bag from here on out. Can’t wait!

  20. Mr. CrankyPants says:

    I use an Xtracycle for the larger shopping expeditions and a grocery pannier equipped older MTB for the smaller trips. The grocery panniers are Axioms. They’re OK but could benefit from having a rigid wire around the top like the Jandds’. Heavier items such as a 4l jug of milk tend to flop around if you don’t shore things up with a bungee cord. I guess thats why they’re 1/2 the price of the Jandds.

    No complaints about the Xtracycle though! It truly is the one-ton dually of the bike world!

  21. Braxton says:

    Like Elisa, Ashley and I just make frequent trips to the store as needed. We both carry a bag or two in each hand just fine and I fill my messenger bag with heavier items when necessary. Sometimes we go alone and sometimes we go together.

    Perishables have to be bought frequently anyway since they spoil but they’re also usually light, small, easy to carry, etc. We try to buy non perishable food and other household necessities in bulk to save money and to worry about them as infrequently as possible. I like to keep two of everything and buy a replacement when one runs out. This way I never feel an immediate need to run to the store in case it is a very inconvenient time. Such as: needing something before bed, if the weather is terrible to the point of being dangerous (tornadoes!), reasons like that.

    Online grocery shopping and local grocery store delivery services are also attractively priced for many items when considering the time and stress saved. The idea of coming directly home from work and having the things we need from the store waiting on us is pretty cool.

  22. Scott says:

    I do the high frequency method. I stop for food most days on my way home, usually for vegetables at Stanley’s. Sometimes I put the front rack on the oma and take a case of wine home from Binny’s.

  23. alice says:

    I get my local veg delivered in my veg box and get a delivery of essentials every couple of months from the online supermarket – things like toilet paper, tinned tomato, beans, and rice etc. So really I only have to shop on my bike every now and again on milk and cheese (and maybe wine!) : )

  24. Frits B says:

    Aren’t things like this available in the USA?
    Can be used as shopping trolleys or be hooked onto the rear carrier.

  25. In my old cruiser, Red Beast, I threw everything in the front basket and used the rear rack as needed. Now that I have the Amsterdam, I’m pondering what to do about cargo. I do have a rear rack with a really strong elastic strap, but I miss the basket. I can’t buy a front rack for the bike just yet (eying the Cetna racks from Portland) so I’ll probably be getting panniers for the bike for now.

    I love the look of a bike with panniers.

  26. 2whls3spds says:

    Depends on whether it is a solo run or not. For solo runs I take my Staiger which has folding Wald baskets in the rear and a removable mesh basket in the front, good for solid 3 large brown bags full. If my bride is home we may take the Raleighs for a smaller run or use her Raleigh with the front wicker basket and my Redline R530 with the HUGE Basil Karavan II panniers. Life is great when you have options! ;-)


  27. Andy in Germany says:

    Personal method:

    1: Ride through fields to shop, usually with the Xtracycle.

    2. Leave bike (locked when I remember) outside on covered rack.

    3. Do shopping.

    4. Remember something on the back of the list.

    5. go back and get it

    6. Spend longer in queue than it takes to ride home.

    7. Dump everything in Xtracycle.

    8. Put whichever son I have with me on Xtracycle

    9. Meet someone from same village with car who asks of they can carry anything for me.

    10. Decline offer with smile

    11. Exit car park behind friend in car.

    12. Ride home wondering if I’ll ever really fill the Xtracycle

    13. Arrive home before friend in car.

    • lorenza says:

      Brill! :D very very close to what we do, minus children ;) We too get asked (even by strangers) if they can carry stuff for us in their car saying ‘surely it’s too dangerous cycling with ALL that grocery’ lol! We smile and decline too ;) a smile goes a long way ;)

  28. I have two Ortlieb Panniers on the Rear Carrier and a little Yellow Plastic Basket on the front Carrier and I can carry a huge Load if I want to. I live about 3K or 1 1/2 miles from the Supermarket Tesco’s in Artane Dublin and no Hills on the way so this is great. I can carry much more if I want to instead of going 5k or 3Miles into Dublin City and facing the Hill Home. One Day I noticed that the Kick Stand was loose on my Azor Kruiseframe Pastoorfiets/Crossframe Priests Bike. It was a bit Wobbly and so I had to Tighten the Screw above the Crankcase BB Bracket with a Spanner,this is something to watch out for over the course of Time. You certainly were able to carry a big Load without using Panniers, I would be very worried about the Wine and Beer Bottles being dropped Sacrilege.

  29. I have two Ortlieb Panniers on the Rear Carrier and a little Yellow Plastic Basket on the front Carrier and I can carry a huge Load if I want to. I live about 3K or 1 1/2 miles from the Supermarket Tesco’s in Artane Dublin and no Hills on the way so this is great. I can carry much more if I want to instead of going 5k or 3Miles into Dublin City and facing the Hill Home. One Day I noticed that the Kick Stand was loose on my Azor Kruiseframe Pastoorfiets/Crossframe Priests Bike. It was a bit Wobbly and so I had to Tighten the Screw above the Crankcase BB Bracket with a Spanner,this is something to watch out for over the course of Time. You certainly were able to carry a big Load without using Panniers, I would be very worried about the Wine and Beer Bottles being dropped Sacrilege.

  30. Ghost Rider says:

    I actually have two “grocery getters”…the first is an old French Astra with wire baskets front and rear for smaller loads, and my Xtracycle, which carries six bags of groceries and one 50 lb. little boy.

  31. Now that you’ve mastered the art of the grocery bike, you can start taking passengers! ;^)

    My shopping’s easier because I shop 3 or 4 times a week. Plus, it’s often on the way.

    Without passing judgment on Trader Joe’s, I’m happy to be still affording my Coop, the Wedge. Nice to have a grocer that’s concerned about where stuff comes from and how it’s made. Cheaper is sometimes too expensive.

  32. I do most of my grocery shopping by bike. I have a pannier bag and a small rack bag on my Trek 7200; they don’t hold much, but that forces me to go more often (I need the exercise). I even have a reusable shopping bag to make my carbon footprint just a teensy bit smaller.

    The exercise is doing me a world of good, and I find myself being very selective about what I purchase because, well, I’ve got a very limited amount of space. My wife makes a trip in the car once a week to get the really heavy/bulky stuff.

    As I’ve ridden more over the summer, I find myself heading for stores farther and farther away. My usual grocery jaunt is now about 10 miles round trip, and I’m looking for something just a little more challenging!

  33. Astrid Honeybee says:

    I work in a supermarket, so I pick up things every day, but we do a big shop once a week in my boyfriends car :( i’m sorry.

  34. miss sarah says:

    Oh, I’m hoping to test ride a bakfiets while I’m in Vancouver next week! I’ve already purchased a Madsen and am waiting for its arrival), but I still want to try the bakfiets with Dexter.

    Will report back.

    If a local bike place imported bakfiets and I didn’t have to pay for the excessive shopping (that’s a heavy bike), I’d be all over it. Have heard good things.


  35. Dean Peddle says:

    As many have pointed out bike trailers really expand your options as I call mine my SUV. Together with my large Dutch paniers I can really haul some stuff. Last haul this weekend included, 3 2liter bottles of pop, 2 large pumpkins, 3 bottles of wine, a 12 pack of beer and a 28 quart cooler…..and my 4 yr old son joined me for the ride in the trailer.

    I don’t know why more people don’t do it. It is way more convienent than driving especially when you have many stops as you can park right at the doors of the store and easily navigate the parking lots. Cars are just a mess in these large strip malls. Plus with the Dutch O-lock you just ride to the front and click the lock and you are in….while others are still driving around looking for the closest parking spot cause god forbid they get a good walk in.

  36. Elisa M says:

    This is reinforcing the notion that I need an Xtracycle!

  37. E A says:

    Just stopped by the fruit market (Stanley’s) last night on the ride home. My load fits nicely in my Banjo Bros. pannier. :-) (and I’ve used a backpack for extra big loads, too). Most of my trips to the store are on the way home from work — most stores are within a 2 mile distance of my place and en route, so it works out quite nicely. And I have no problem making multiple trips in a week.

  38. Cyclin Missy says:

    This reminds me of when I lived in France! I wish I had had a bike then. I actually took a hiking pack and one of those huge, blue Ikea bags to the store and filled them up, then walked about 2 miles home. It was absolutely exhausting.

  39. chibikegal says:

    Oma’s been wearing a festive red milk crate on her rear rack, holding melons, pumpkins, you name it – I’ve perfected stuffing things in vertically over the years. Creates that festive “harvest” look … but seriously, too much weight on the handlebar basket throws me off – I like to have it all behind, though sometimes an intricate bungee cord system tie up is required. I usually have a backpack with me just in case I get a little overly enthusiastic at Stanley’s. In winter, however, I order all the heavy stuff from peapod – cans of tomatoes and such for chili …

  40. Tony H says:

    Trailer here…been pulling a BOB trailer for 13 years, and I can do all the usual shopping. I bought a 5′ Bikes At Work trailer for big loads, and use it every now and again (furniture, lumber, Christmas trees, etc). On the BOB trailer, I keep a Rubbermaid bin that I can pack with groceries (“no bags please, I’ll just put everything in this”), and I also have two plastic buckets on my rear rack to handle the overflow. The buckets came free with the kitty litter.

    I admit that I get a certain smug feeling picking up things like compost,fertilizer, cases of wine, furniture, and so on. Other folks drive their cars, with politically correct bumper stickers, to get less stuff than I carry with my bike.

    And it’s great. I can usually park right next to the door of the store. Toting our purchases is easy, both from the store to the bike, and from the bike into the house. I genuinely look forward to shopping!

  41. dottie says:

    Great to hear how everyone does it! Sounds like trailers are the most common tool for the job. Makes sense, since you can use it only when needed. Xtra cycles are popular, too. I’ve never met an xtracycle owner who did not rave about them.

  42. Max says:

    In my child free days I used the standard front and rear pannier set on my touring/commuting setup. When kids arrived so did the trailer, and I agree, it is pretty handy for a weekly grocery run. As the kids no longer tolerate each other in the tight trailer, our new ride is the Yuba Mundo, and that bike really feels comfortable carrying weight. The “Go Getter” bags are huge. If I need more space I also have the front rack and panniers.

    I have to say I think that most people overlook the benefits of front racks and panniers. The “low-rider” front panniers I have have only enhanced the ride of my touring and cargo bikes.

    The bikes with longer wheelbases, whether it be touring geometry or long cargo bikes, really make a difference in terms of stability. How do the dutch bikes compare to touring frames in terms of wheelbase?

  43. jo says:


    I use my Simplex bicycle from 1934 for shopping and for going on holiday.
    It has bags on the side, a fietstas as we call it in the Netherlands.
    These are HUGE and have more then enough space for my shopping and even the tent, sleepingbag, clothes, and all my other 1930s holiday stuff!

  44. Steven Vance says:

    My grocery shopping cargo technique has evolved into many iterations. You can kind of follow them through all the pictures I take. Like, Dottie, I take LOTS of pictures of my bicycles.

    This link will show you all of the grocery and bike-related photos I’ve taken, including a couple photos that show the volume of goods I carried.

    I picked up this pocket size reusable bag from Target (it folds and secures itself into a little bundle) that I keep in my work and school pannier so I can always be ready for a quick jaunt to the grocery store.

  45. […] I have done basic grocery shopping and even bulk shopping (a few times) by bike, but the trailer makes the operation much […]

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