We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Gear Prudence: I’m new to bike commuting, but one hurdle I haven’t yet overcome is shopping for groceries by bike. It seems like the likelihood for disaster is high (Broken eggs everywhere! Ice cream melting all over my clothes!) and it doesn’t seem nearly as practical as driving to the store on the weekend and loading up my trunk with what I’ll need for the week. I could see stopping for one item, but I don’t get how people do it on the regular. Any tips for getting started? —Sure Hope Overly Packed Provisions Emerge Reliably
Dear SHOPPER: Shopping for groceries by bike isn’t nearly as complicated as you make it out to be and with a little forethought, it can easily be, integrated into your regular bike commute routine. The big weekly shop, abetted by an SUV and ample parking, isn’t an option for everyone—most obviously those without a car—and even when it is an option, the mere thought of fighting through a crowded suburban Whole Foods on a Saturday afternoon is enough to cause GP to break out in hives. Unless you have a cargo bike or some otherwise capacious storage method, shopping by bike will likely mean buying less stuff and doing it more often (and swapping out watermelon for cantaloupe), but it’s easily achievable with a few simple tricks.
1. Be realistic about how much you can buy at once. Use your backpack or pannier as your shopping basket to ensure that you never purchase more than you can actually carry. Can’t control your shopping impulses? Pack a drawstring bag inside of your regular bag for some emergency backup storage.
2. If the idea of your food mixing with whatever else you’re carrying bugs you out, invest in a basket. Not every bike easily accommodates this (and there are aesthetic trade-offs), but a front basket is more utilitarian than Jeremy Bentham. A grocery mishap won’t ruin your clothes, plus everyone you pass gets to see just how much you love Hungry-Man dinners and learn your favorite brand of dandruff shampoo.
3. Heavy objects (24 packs of domestic beer, wheels of parmesan) could be a real bear to pedal home, so the best place to shop is probably the store closest to where you live. This minimizes how long you’ll have schlep the load and reduces the amount of time the groceries are exposed to bike-related risks.
4. Learn where the best (or only) bike racks are. Some stores have racks in parking garages close to the entrance, but other times, the best bike parking will be on the street or lot outside. If you’re shopping multiple times a week, you’re going to want to be in and out as quickly as possible, and that means finding the spot closest to the door.
Like everything else with bike commuting, it’ll get easier over time. Give it a shot and if it doesn’t work out, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. —GP