How to Shop by Bicycle

Guest post by Duncan Hurd, managing editor of Momentum Mag

Some days, I like to do the impossible. Or, that is, I like to do something that many people believe is impossible.

I prefer to shop by bike.

My partner and I picked up this habit after we first started biking together. On the way home from a ride, we’d stop in at the butcher’s shop or pick up some take-out for dinner. At first, we’d hang bags from our handlebars, but we knew this was putting our purchases at risk as they swayed or bounced off our front wheels. Sometimes my partner’s purse was large enough for a few items, but we soon had the urge to carry more with us, without having to take transit or resort to borrowing a car.

When it comes to shopping by bike, we are not alone. Studies in Toronto, ON and Portland, OR have shown that people who shop by bike often spend more money per month than those who drive. It may be because we don’t have to worry about car payments, insurance, parking or gas shrinking our monthly budgets. We may also spend more simply because while on a bicycle it’s easy to drop into a new shop or restaurant because we’re traveling around at a pace that allows us see in store windows or read daily specials posted on sandwich boards.

Ready to run your next errand by bike? Tips to help you haul home purchases big and small:

Photo by Ben JohnsonGet the Right Gear

When it comes to shopping by bicycle, you’ll have greater success with the right accessories. At minimum, install a front basket, a rear rack or both. While you can use a large backpack for many purchases, letting your bike do the carrying is less tiring and cumbersome. Front baskets vary in size and are often large and sturdy enough for one or two bags of groceries or a medium-sized box. Rear racks provide a flat surface for strapping down larger items with a rope or bungee cords. To really increase the carrying capacity of a rack, get one or two panniers (bags specifically designed to mount to a rack). If you need to pick up larger items, the increased hauling capacity of a detachable bike trailer may be right for you. Many trailers can fold down for storage and can also be used for carrying kids, pets and more.

Another important item: a secure bike lock. You get what you pay for so don’t be afraid to pay $100 or more for a lock with added security features.

Cut the Waste

Once you have a basket or rack (or both) on your bicycle then it’s time to consider what kind of purchases you’re making. At the grocery store, I rarely pick up something individually packaged in a box or container as these take up too much space and end up in the trash anyway. Buying from the bulk aisle allows me to bag items that typically come boxed, taking up significantly less space on my bike. Often, I’ll decide not to buy a specific item if there is too much packaging waste. If you’re buying delicate items like fresh fruit and vegetables, ask if the shop has any medium-sized cardboard boxes. By placing my purchases inside one box I can strap it to my rack securely while preventing my purchases from being squished.

Buy Less, Shop More Often

Shopping more often may sound time consuming, but once you get used to it you’ll find that you can actually save time. Grocery runs are often much quicker when you’re purchasing items for just two or three meals in advance. You get to use the express check-out lane and don’t have to push a loaded cart around. When you’re purchasing less per time, it’s also easier to incorporate a shopping trip with other trips. You can stop by the library on the way home from work or pick up a few items while heading across town for an event.

Look for Businesses That Encourage Shopping by Bike

It’s hard to shop by bike if a store lacks bike parking. While many business owners still value car parking over bicycle parking, there are communities starting to better accommodate shopping by bike. Of note are the bike-friendly business districts in Long Beach and San Diego, CA that ensure adequate parking for bicycles and may offer discounts to people who shop by bike.


Duncan Hurd is managing editor of Momentum Mag, an independent media company that promotes, encourages and inspires “Smart Living by Bike.” He lives in Toronto, Canada and believes that every ride is a group ride, even if those around him don’t know it yet. Subscribe to Momentum Mag’s free newsletter.


Photo: Ben Johnson


  1. Bruce Alan Wilson

    Also, if you find that you regularly make large purchases difficult to get home on a regular bicycle, even with a basket, panniers, racks, or a trailer, consider getting a bicycle specifically designed for cargo.

    With an Xtracycle ‘free radical’ you can convert your existing bike to a long-tail, or there are various extended-rear bicycles on the market, such as a Surly Big Dummy, a Madsen, a Trek Cargo, a Kona Ute, a Yuba Mundo, or a Rans Hammertruck. Or you might want to get a ‘long john’ type bicycle like a Dutch bakfiest or something similar.

  2. Dave H

    I shop by bike, and have built a portfolio of stores which don’t require me to lock the bike up outside. Some even let me wheel the bike around the aisles. I load up at the check-out – sheltered from the weather and often requiring no double handling (load cart from till, wheel to vehicle, unload cart to vehicle becomes load directly from till to bike).

    One day recently I went to the bank, collected trousers from cleaners, called at 2 plumbing stores to find a part, and a general store to buy some workboots between 16.30 and 17.00 in the city centre evening rush hour (spread apart over roughly 1 Km)

    On Sunday I did a big shop and put around 50kg (about half full) in the trailer, which of course has another high scoring detail over the car when I get home – I wheel it through the front door, and for groceries it wheels straight in to the kitchen where I simply transfer directly to freezer, fridge or cupboard.

    The report Cycling the Way Ahead in Towns & Cities (EC DG13) included a section on cycle-based shopping. Per sq m of parking space provided cyclists spend 20% more than motorists, and equally only 25% of motorists bought more than 2 bags full of goods, basically a load they could have walked home with, or to the bus stop. Conversely 17% of cyclists bought more than 2 bags full of goods.

    Consider challenging local retailers to have cyclists’ shopping times, when the store is quiet and the perceived problems, are even less likely to arise. They might be surprised.

  3. Excellent article! Shopping by bike is super fun, and it feels great to know you brought all your purchases home under your own power.

    When I was starting out I was slightly daunted by spending money on a rack or pannier. But I convinced myself by thinking about how many car trips I could skip with my newly improved capacity. Good bags will last years, and at current petrol prices they pay for themselves quickly.

    Once you get the bug you’ll find there’s not much you can’t bring home by bike. (Click my link for a peek at what I mean.)

  4. Charlie

    I have two trailers for my bike. a b*o*b Yak and a Burley Nomad. Once or twice a month I’ll make my ‘big’ grocery run with a trailer. The rest of the time, I use my panniers for the fresh stuff. I have a trunk bag that is the perfect size for either a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs – never squashed or crushed.

    Having a trailer also permits you to make more than just the grocery trip. I’ve combined up to five different store visits in one trip using the trailers.

  5. Jens Peter Kold

    Ever heard about Denmark – Copenhagen. Cars are not praticale in big cities. But bikes in Copenhagen rules. Check or

    Bikes rules.

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