Riding bicycles just to ride is a lot of fun, but one of my joys is utility cycling. From day one in my modern cycling epoch I made sure my main commuter bike had a rack, plus a pair of grocery panniers to hang on the rack.
A grocery pannier can carry quite a bit of junk. They are so deep and expansive that I usually don't get grocery bags at the store. I just pack my own groceries into the panniers. The Trek Interchange grocery panniers that my wife and I use also have cinch straps so the bag can be made really snug against the contents contained within.
The picture above shows 57 pounds of groceries contained in two grocery panniers. A trivial amount was carried in the plastic bags on my wrist.
The biggest problem with grocery shopping by bike is overbuying. If I'm not careful, it's easy to get too many groceries so that they don't all fit in the bags. Wrapping up boxy items into brown paper bags and then securing to the top of the cargo rack using bungee cords is one solution to carrying extra stuff. Another is to pack lighter, more voluminous items like bread, nacho chips, paper goods, etc., into a double-bagged plastic sack and carrying on the wrist or handlebars.
I've also discovered that a bottle of wine fits perfectly into a water bottle cage, while adding a touch of class to any bike. While my multi-tool can open a beer, there is no corkscrew on it, however.
A few times I tried loading groceries into the panniers as I was shopping. This is a good way to ensure I don't overbuy, but I always feel a little funny, almost like I am shoplifting.
I patronize three grocery stores by bicycle. The first is a neighborhood Bag and Save about one-half mile away. It doesn't stock many of the health food items we use, but is great for simple and quick shopping. The second is a Hy-Vee about two miles away. Their health market sections do carry many of the vegetarian items we like. Finally, the Whole Foods Market is about 9 miles away and carries the rest of the specialty vegetarian and vegan items we like. A weekly ride to Whole Foods has almost become a Sunday morning ritual for me.
Carrying 50+ pounds of goods on a single bike is quite a bit. However, if I needed to carry more, or to carry larger items, I'd have to add a trailer, an Xtracycle long-tail, or get one of those awesome Dutch cargo bikes that's almost like a bike interbred with a wheelbarrow.
If you try using panniers to carry a load of groceries, be careful of the changes in your bike's handling. Before mounting your bike, it will want to fall as it leans over. Once you're moving, you won't even notice the extra weight, however, pay attention to cornering, and also watch out for bumps that might jostle your groceries out of the bags.
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