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Shopping By Bike

What do I need on my bike?

Well, the most obvious necessity is something to put the shopping in!

This could be a backpack, which is the one you have taken on your ride to work, and has a bit of space left for a few things you need for dinner.

Panniers can hold quite a lot of shopping, but the more you put in them the heavier they get. So it is best to take a pair if you are buying heavy stuff, so that you can balance the load to make riding home more comfortable. It is worth noting that a set of heavy duty panniers can carry a whole slab of beer (but you should drink some if you have to climb any decent hills on the way home!).

If your panniers are full and you still haven't packed the celery, an octopus strap is useful for tying it to the top of the rack. Don't try this with the eggs though, unless you have very smooth roads and big bouncy tyres. Some panniers are designed with a flat compartment over the top of the rack, which is known to have been used to transport a large dish of home-made tiramisu without spillage.

Back pockets in your jersey make good containers for delicate things like avocados or mangoes (and of course bananas!) which could get squashed in a pannier if it's not carefully packed. They are not so good for butter or chocolate, and remember to empty them before you sit down in a chair!

Of course with all these things to put your shopping in, you can do without the hoard of plastic bags that usually follows you home from a shopping expedition.

What sort of bike makes the best shopping trolley?

A trike of course! A tourer or MTB is likely to be fitted out with a rack, so this is made to order for shopping. Many roadies prefer not to fetter their steeds with racks, so must rely on the trusty backpack/jersey pockets alone.

Plastic bags suspended from the handlebars is not a good look - avoid this if you can, it puts both you and the eggs at risk! Depending where you shop, a good quality bike lock may be necessary.

What sort of shops are best for bikes?

Most large shopping centres are devoid of cycle parking, and any that is provided is certain not to be secure, so don't take your favourite Colnago or Pinnarello. If you have no choice of shopping place, get an old clunker and tie it up to the nearest pole. Sometimes you can wheel the bike into the supermarket, but it still isn't all that secure.

Your local shops can often be the best bet. These often contain a small supermarket - usually a family run business stocking the essentials and a few extras, a cake shop, a hasty-tasty (great for a quick lunch on the weekends after a Bike North ride), perhaps even a fruit shop, a butcher, or a newsagent, and usually a grog shop.

Whilst small local shops don't have the range of goods that the large supermarkets have, everything you need most of the time is there. We have found that if we really want something that our supermarket doesn't have, they are happy to stock it if we give them the barcode.

The prices on some things may be a little higher at your local shops than at the big supermarkets, but remember that you are saving money by not using any petrol, so in the long run the finances work out the same.

Security is a major advantage. Your bike is safest when somebody can see it, and shopkeepers will keep an eye out, especially if you are a good customer. Other advantages include friendly service, no standing in queues, learning local gossip, and even one partner being advised that the other has already bought the dinner not long ago...

Do I need to change my regular shopping routine?

If you are used to doing a weekly shopathon, then yes, your shopping routine will have to change. If you commute by bike it is easiest to get just a few things for dinner on the way home most days, and stock up on essentials as you need them.

Otherwise, do small amounts of bike shopping every couple of days - you go out riding anyway to keep fit, so this isn't nearly the chore that car shopping can be. When you do need things that can't be bought at the local shops, then a major shopathon with the car may be needed.

If the big shops are within walking distance of your home, then consider loading up the family with empty backpacks and hiking up to the shops for a good supply of stuff you can't get at the little shops. This is also a good way to sneak out of the shops before those nasty plastic bags try to follow you.

Who else benefits if I shop by bike?

Firstly, you benefit by getting more exercise, less stress, meeting your neighbours and getting to now the shopkeepers, and having a much more pleasant shopping experience than you have in a large shopping centre.

The shop owners and their employees benefit from your business. They find it difficult to compete with the large multinationals that own the big supermarket chains - who would you rather give your money to?

By shopping locally you contribute to the well-being of the community in your area. This in turn increases the level of personal safety that people perceive, which encourages them to get out and enjoy their local surroundings without feeling threatened, or thinking that they need the (false) sense of security provided by a car. They might even get out on bikes one day!

In this era of stranger danger, where people often don't get to know even their next door neighbours, the suburbs can be very lonely places, especially for the elderly and people living alone. Social contact in large shopping centres is impossible, but it is the best thing about small local shops, and can really improve the quality of life for these people.

What can I do to make shopping by bike easier for others?

Annoy your local council until it installs some appropriate street furniture for bikes in small shopping areas. Security is not a great problem (depending on the suburb of course) as the bikes are not left unattended for long, and are most likely clearly visible from inside the shops. Pester the managements of large shopping centres to do the same, except their facilities will need to be more expensive due to the need for added security. This could be in the form of bike lockers, or an enclosed and supervised bike parking area.

Shopping etiquette

Some shop owners don't like you leaning your bike against their nice clean windows, you'll soon find out which ones, but be nice when they ask you to move it.

Put your bike where it is not in anyone's way. Obviously you won't put it in the doorway, or against the only seat or rubbish bin. Obscuring the newsagent's advertising is probably not polite.

Try to keep calm when someone tries to back into you as you enter the parking area, it is probably a friend of your next door neighbour, or your kid's best friend's mum... better to keep them onside and gradually educate them about the benefits of cycling.

Take the time to converse with anyone who shows interest in your shopping behaviour. This has hidden benefits - people get to know you and your bike, and will keep an eye out. If they see you on the road they will recognize you and give you room, they might even do this for other cyclists they see. Indeed, they might even consider getting bikes themselves!