Car Free OKC: Grocery Shopping

When I lived in Chicago, grocery shopping was never really an issue.  For example, at my last apartment, my grocery story was literally 25 yards away from my back door.  Thanks to the re-opening of my local grocery store by El Mariachi, this is still true for me.  However, this isn’t the situation for most people in OKC and there are times when I need to get stuff that my local store doesn’t carry, so I thought it would be great to talk about grocery shopping by bicycle.

This is actually a really simple thing to do and it only really requires only two things: a set of good panniers and a slightly increased number of trips to the store.  Firstly, I know people who swear by their front baskets or their rear cages for carrying groceries and if you have a permanently attached system, I’m sure they are great and extremely durable.  Because I’ve only have the one really working bicycle, it has to serve all of my purposes: fitness, transportation, etc, the rack and pannier system has always been a must for carrying stuff on my bike.  However, anyone who does use a permanent basket arrangement, such as those made by Wald, please add your two cents in the comments section.

When it came to groceries, for years I went with the cheapest possible store-bought option which was and still is the Nashbar Townie Basket.  Usually these go for $20 a piece year round which means you don’t have to make a huge investment to get started making grocery store runs.  They fit nicely and fold out-of-the-way when you aren’t carrying a load.  However, they aren’t particularly sturdy and I never had a pair that lasted much more than a year or so.  Additionally, they can’t support an enormous load so you have to limit how much to pack into them.  However, if you aren’t sure you want to go shopping via bike, they are a great place to start.

A little over a year ago I finally got fed up with replacing my grocery panniers every year.  I decided to make a more substantial investment and purchased a pair of Jandd’s Grocery Bag Panniers and I’ve never looked back.  These are extremely well made bags with a metal bar support system that can really support some pretty substantial loads.  I can easily pack a full reusable shopping bag (which generally carry more than a paper grocery sack and can support 20+ lbs a piece) in them and never worry.  However, just like the Nashbar Townie Basket, they fold up nicely out-of-the-way (see photo below) .  They also come with a great shoulder strap that is perfect if you want to go to a farmer’s market and browse the various stands.  At $55 a piece, they certainly aren’t a starter set, but for me they are well worth the money.  You can count on many years of dependable service.

A third option which I’ve never tried but comes highly recommended by people I trust is the DIY bucket pannier (see instructions).  Usually made out of kitty litter buckets, these waterproof sturdy panniers can take almost any load in any sort of weather.  I won’t say they are the prettiest option, but fashion and cycling often don’t mix  and sometimes pure practicality must win out:

Now I won’t tell you that you can do a whole week’s worth of shopping for an entire family in a single trip by bicycle.  However, you can carry more than you think you can.  For example, here is my load from last Saturday (there were some juicing experiments going on which is explains the large variety of fruit):

  • 1/2 gallon of milk.
  • 1.75 liters of orange juice.
  • Box of cereal
  • 1 lb of sandwich meat
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 1/2 lb of breakfast sausage
  • 2 onions
  • 3 bulbs of garlic
  • 5 limes
  • 3 kiwis
  • 6 oranges
  • 6 apples
  • 3 peaches
  • 4 mangos
  • 1 coconut
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Bag salad

All of that I had still had some extra room left over.  However, even though you can’t stock up on everything at once, this also means that you will have less stuff go bad in your refrigerator.  Those impulse purchases just aren’t as appealing when you have to find space to squeeze them in.  When I shop by bicycle, the amount of food I have to throw out drops dramatically which is a definite help to the pocket-book.  However, if you do need to buy more, this is also a perfect opportunity to go shopping with your significant other or even with the whole family.

Below are two pictures of my bicycle carrying a full load: