Your bicycle is a great alternative to the car for getting to work, as you know. You can also use it for other journeys that tend to be done by car. Drop your little one off at nursery? With a childseat it’s easily done. The weekly grocery shop? If you can push it in a trolley, you can transport it by pedal power. You will need a bike with luggage capacity; that massive box of Cornflakes and multipack of toilet rolls will fill a backpack by themselves…
Big box solutions
It’s possible to shop at a supermarket just like you would by car, lifting the bags of groceries out of the trolley and straight into your vehicle. There are two ways to do that. One is to invest in a cargo cycle with a big luggage box; the other is to buy a cycle trailer that attaches to your bike.
You can get a cargo cycle through Cyclescheme. While few local shops stock cargo bikes, there are are Cyclescheme partner stores that specialise in them - for example, Practical Cycles and London Green Cycles. Almost all cargo cycles cost more than £1000, which is the limit for Cycle to Work. So you will need to pay the difference between that and the purchase price at point of sale. You’ll make the usual Cyclescheme savings on the remaining £1000, which is paid for via salary sacrifice and an Ownership Fee payment. So if you fancy a Christiania trike to enable you to carry, well, anything - no problem, you can get one!
Trailers are much more widely available. However, they’re neither ‘a cycle’ or ‘safety equipment’, so you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to obtain one through Cyclescheme. Fortunately they’re relatively cheap. Raleigh’s Avenir Mule Utility trailer, pictured, costs £130 (raleigh.co.uk). Its rated to carry 40kg, which is plenty for groceries, where volume and not weight is the issue. It will hold about 100 litres. That’s more that one of those shallow, tray-like shopping trolleys (approx 80 litres) but less than the big trolleys you find at out-of-town supermarkets, which are about 190 litres. You can get cycle trailers that large, but they’re more expensive. With a smaller trailer, you might also need panniers - see below.
The alternative to a cargo trailer is a child-carrying trailer. Without its passenger, a child trailer will generally swallow a trolley’s worth of groceries. You can even carry some groceries and a child or two, if you pack the trailer carefully.
Racks and panniers
The largest rear panniers are 56-58 litres per pair; some are just 40 litres per pair. If you plan to carry a decent-sized load, you’ll want front panniers as well, adding another 20-28 litres per pair. That gives a maximum volume of a little under 90 litres. A saddlebag and bar bag might raise that a bit further, and you can strap bulky items (nappies, toilet rolls etc) to the top of the rear rack. But you’ll still need to shop carefully, only half-filling a huge trolley or pushing one of those shallow, tray-like trolleys instead.
When you arrive at the supermarket, don’t leave you panniers on the bike. For one thing, they might get stolen. For another thing, its quicker and easier to pack them indoors and then attach them to the bike. Try this: clip your empty panniers to the sides of the trolley. At the checkout, instead of refilling the trolley, put items directly into the panniers hanging on the sides. It goes without saying that tins, liquids and other heavy items should be packed at the bottom of the panniers. That stops them squashing other items and improves stability when you put them on the bike.
Putting four panniers on a bike is only practical if it has threaded eyelets for frame-mounted racks front and rear. The bike will need chain-stays long enough that your heels don’t hit the big rear bags, as well as low gears and good brakes so that you can manage the load. Rigid-fork hybrids, particularly trekking bikes, and touring bikes are the best bet.
One big advantage of shopping by bike is that parking isn’t a problem. This means that you don’t have to go where the football-field sized car parks are. You can visit shops in town instead.
You can more easily make multiple stops because you’ll be parking right outside the door. So you could visit, say, a mini supermarket or corner shop for store-cupboard stuff, a deli or wholefood shop for special items, and the local market for your fruit and veg - either all in one trip or spread over several days. On a bike, you can stop when and where you like, as the fancy takes you. Need some milk or something for tonight’s tea? No worries: get it on the way home from work.
Even if your commuter bike is a road bike that will only carry a water bottle and a seatpack, it’s still not essential to drive to the supermarket each week. Just order your groceries online. You know how long your commuting journeys take by bike, so you can pick delivery slots others can’t; you won’t be stuck in a traffic jam when the delivery van driver is knocking on your door!
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