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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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Gear Up Your Ride: The Grocery Getter

Uploaded: Jul 25, 2013
When people think of bicycling for practical reasons, bike commuting usually comes to mind first. But since work commutes are often the longest trips we make all week, it may make more sense to bike around town for short errands at the pharmacy, post office, bank, coffee shop or grocery store instead. While it's easy enough to slip a bottle of pills into your pocket or a small package to mail into a backpack, for errands like groceries you'll want a bike that's set up to carry a load. You need what my friend Katie calls her grocery getter.

My friend Katie works in the bicycle industry, which means she has all the hottest performance-oriented bicycles: sleek road bikes, plush mountain bikes and a custom cyclocross bike so hot it made the rounds as a display bike at trade shows internationally. What she didn't have was a practical bike for errands.

But she did have an old 1990s mountain bike in the back of her garage. With a little work and the same cost as two trips to the gas pump we gave her old bike a new life as a grocery getter. First, we pumped her tires, checked the brakes, and lubricated the chain (just like I wrote about on May 24th) and wiped the bike down for good measure. Then we replaced her worn saddle with a spare she had on hand, and rode a couple of miles to her local bike shop to get geared up. She chose a rear rack, grocery-specific panniers and a kickstand which we installed ourselves in less than 30 minutes. Total cost was about $120.

We took a quick trip to the grocery store to test out her new set-up and found a new route through the neighborhood on the way back. Katie was thrilled. "I live within 2 mile of all the stores I need: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, coffee, restaurants, the farmers market, so doing errands by bike makes sense," she explained. "Panniers rock."

If you're thinking of setting your bike up for groceries or errands, here are some gear options to consider:

Rear racks support loads over your bike's rear wheel, making for a stable ride. Most attach to the frame near the rear wheel axle and to the seat stays, the frame area just below the seat.

Panniers are bike-specific bags that attach to racks. Touring panniers are designed to be more aerodynamic and weather-proof for long trips, while boxy open-topped panniers like Katie chose are convenient for quick stops and shorter trips.

Baskets are usually mounted on the handlebars but can also be attached to a rear rack. Handlebar baskets are great for keeping things close at hand, like purses and small pets. Having weight on the handlebars affects steering more than when the weight is on the back, so be careful with a heavier load.

Elastic straps work well when you have an odd-shaped object or a few too many items to carry. The best ones are flat instead of round with two or three straps emerging from a single hook at each end, but I also keep micro-sized bungees on my bike just in case.

Kickstands are handy for making quick stops on errand runs and almost required when you're carrying groceries on your bike. It's a lot easier to load up when you don't have to balance the bike too.

Bike trailers can carry far bigger loads than a bike alone. I use my cargo trailer when I'm buying the big stuff like 30 rolls of toilet paper at Costco, or when I want to buy more than three bags of groceries in one trip. Note that they're less stable when empty. I learned the hard way.

More Tips for Selecting Gear
* When you go shopping for bike gear, ride your bike to the shop or otherwise take your bike with you. You want to make sure what you buy will fit your bike.
* Start small like Katie did. You can always add a front basket or buy a trailer.
* Make sure your racks, panniers and baskets don't block your front or rear lights.

Tips for Shopping by Bike
* If you're worried about buying more than you can carry, shop with a hand basket instead of a grocery cart. You can also test packing your items in your bags before you check out.
* During grocery checkout, either pack your bags yourself or expect to repack them at your bike. If you're pinched for space, try removing some unneeded packaging.
* Realize that if you can't pack it all, you can return items. I've had close calls, but I've always squeezed it in.
* To keep frozen food from melting, pack the cold items together and put them in a small insulated bag.
* With a heavy load, you may have to shift down a gear and may find can't sprint for the light as easily. Take it easy.
* If you have multiple shopping stops, you can either bring the bags with you into the second store or take a risk and leave them on the bike, preferably covered. I've taken risks and never lost anything.

Is your bike set up for carrying groceries or other loads? What's the biggest item or load you've carried?

Bike Fun Grocery Bike Photos:
What is it worth to you?


Posted by parent, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jul 25, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Remember that bike theft is rampant at supermarkets since thieves assume you will be in the store for more than a few minutes. If your local store does not already have secure bike racks, ask them to install them, preferably not hidden in a back alley where thieves can work out-of-sight. Use a good hardened steel lock, never a cable lock which is easily clipped with hand tools. Leave room in your grocery bag to take the lock home with you. Fortunately, you're not traveling very far, so the weight of the lock is not important.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 26, 2013 at 10:51 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

Yes, bike theft is always an issue so it's important to lock up securely. It is really annoying when there's not a proper rack to lock up to which is why I avoid shopping at stores that don't have good racks.

The good news is that here in Mountain View, most stores have good racks, like Trader Joe's and Safeway at San Antonio Center, Safeway on Shoreline and Whole Foods on El Camino. I'm sure there are many more. These are the ones I use most.

If your favorite shop doesn't have a good rack, it does help to ask. My friend Jeri asked Sprouts to improve their rack (it was too close to the wall) and they did.

Posted by Scott Lamb, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Jul 29, 2013 at 12:08 am

Ava's back door faces a public parking garage on Bryant. That garage has the newer upside-down U style bike racks that work well for securing my road bike's frame and front wheel with a U-lock.

The Fresh & Easy and the Safeway on Shoreline each have that kind of parking on both sides of their entrances. (In the F&E's case, one in that little walkway, the other by the Starbucks.)

Piazza's and the new Sprouts on Rengstorff are not as good. They have the older style long rack with a top bar that is too low to get my wheel under. (I use the ends instead when I can, or put my whole wheel over the top bar otherwise.) And Sprouts had a "Boar's Head" dining table blocking the bike rack yesterday. I moved it out of the way. I should have complained but was a bit confused at the time. (I thought "Boar's Head" was a restaurant next door or something. It's actually Sprouts's own deli.)

Posted by Shapely Legs, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jul 29, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Can we all ask the manager of Nob Hill to improve their bike rack, or at least move it so that bikes don't block the sidewalk when using the rack?
I usually lock my bike to the gas main behind the rack to keep the walk way clear.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Shapely Legs Ah, you're hit on one of my pet peeves. Putting the racks where the bikes will block people walking makes the bicyclists look rude when it's an issue with the rack. If you haven't made a formal request with the manager, I would. I've seen it work before.

Posted by Shapely Legs, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jul 30, 2013 at 7:13 am

Janet: I know, right? I see people sneer at the bikes perpendicular to the sidewalk as they try to step around. I want to say "Its not the bike rider's fault, complain to the store who put the rack there."
I've also seen people "push through", bending the bike over or out of the way with their shopping carts, so avoiding using that rack helps pedestrians and saves my bike from damage.

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