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By Janet Lafleur

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?

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