Shopping by bike

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 67.

I live two miles from the local supermarket and used to think that the only way to shop there was by taking the car. My four panniers have changed all that. I arrive at Waitrose, Trumpington with two large panniers (one containing a pair of smaller ones) clipped to the back carrier of my bike. Not only can I use paths at the approach that separate me from the traffic but there are plenty of substantial bike-racks in a covered area right beside the main entrance. I at least get the feeling that I am welcome.

Some practice is required to balance the produce so that the panniers are of roughly equal weights.
Some practice is required to balance

Waitrose offers a quick-check facility which means that you could place your panniers in your shopping trolley and simply fill them up as you go round. Lack of coordination and the desire to nose round for every bargain prevents me from doing this, so I attach my panniers to the back of the trolley, fill it in the usual way and then sort the shopping into the four panniers as it is checked out. And I don’t need carrier bags. Some practice is required to balance the produce so that the panniers are of roughly equal weights, otherwise I am due for an uncomfortable journey home.

I am amazed at the quantity of shopping that I can carry in this way. Setting off is sometimes a bit awkward until you get the feel of your somewhat weightier machine, but this is very quickly overcome. My only mishap in nearly two years concerned a large carton of yoghurt which somehow jumped out of a back pannier and landed in the road. A kind driver stopped and handed it back to me, still intact!

My front panniers are low riders that clip to triangular brackets screwed to the front forks and wheel hub. Designed by Altura, when fixed they literally lock in place. This does not mean they are difficult to remove, however, as this is done by the push of a button. Not only do most panniers now have handles that can convert them for carrying but waterproof covers are available in all shapes and sizes.

Why not use a basket? I hear some of you cry. Here are a few reasons: Your shopping can get wet. The basket and its straps can interfere with the brake cables and inhibit your steering.. You cannot see all the ground directly beneath you. Your centre of gravity can become dangerously high if you have a big load. Last but not least, your handbag, which is in your basket because you like to be able to see it, can also be seen by everyone else including the many cycle thieves that operate in the area.

I’d like to know of anyone who has tried bicycle shopping and what has been their experiences, good or bad. And remember that, when you count up what you’ve saved on petrol and what you’ve lost in calories, you can reward yourself by adding a cream bun to your shopping list.

Jane Chisholm