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:

Car Free OKC: Shower Alternatives

I’m often asked by non-cyclists about how I clean up after my daily commute. After looking over the comments from my recent post about the contents of my commuter bag, this subject is of great interest to cyclists as well. Up until just a few months I had the best possible option, an actual shower. I’ve now tried a number of products and as you might expect, nothing lives up to the real thing. However, just because you don’t have an access to a shower doesn’t mean you have to give up riding to work.

The first option is the simplest, don’t pedal so hard. The fact is that under many circumstances it is possible to make decent length trips without the need for any substantial cleanup if you just make your ride as leisurely as possible. Any sweat that you do build up can be cleaned up with  a quick trip to the restroom and some paper towels. However, this is Oklahoma and we all know what the heat can be like. I tried the leisurely approach before a meeting earlier this week and given the high heat and humidity, the results were pretty disastrous.  Additionally, many people, including myself, enjoy getting a workout as part of our commute.  Therefore, other alternatives are needed . . .

The usual alternative is the baby wipe. The most important thing to getting yourself cleaned up after a ride is to not only remove the sweat but to kill the bacteria that feed on that sweat which really produces the unpleasant odor. Baby wipes are an excellent way to fulfill both of these goals. However, they have a few draw backs that keeps me away from them. First of all, I’m not a big fan of the scent. So unless the smell is something you like, I highly recommend finding some scent free wipes. Secondly, the wipes, no matter what the scent, contain mostly alcohol which I find makes for dry skin. Thirdly, the fact that you generally go through more than one in a session and then throw them away makes them a bit wasteful in my view, though a box can certainly go along way.

Because of these reasons I sought out some alternatives to the baby wipe and I came across a couple of promising options. The first is something called Action Wipes. These are essentially an over sized and very thick baby wipe (about the size of a normal wash cloth, see picture above). These use a water based formula containing coconut oil, frankincense, eucalyptus and tea tree oil. The scent is pleasing but it does linger a bit longer than I would like.  However, they do an excellent job of cleaning the skin of sweat and grime.  Additionally, unlike a normal baby wipe, these are made of a sturdy material that can be put through the washing machine which can then be re-purposed as a shop rag or for washing dishes. Of course, this leaves you with probably more rags than you know what to do with, so the waste is still a bit too high for me since I would use one every day.  While I don’t use these for my daily commute, I do keep these around though for my weekend rides and longer trips.  They fit nicely into your seat bag and are perfect when you finish a ride and don’t have access to shower facilities.   Additionally, they can be recharged with more of the Action Wipe compound but this seems a little cumbersome.

The product I ended up settling on is something called Rocket Shower (yeah, I don’t like the name either). This is a spray bottle product that uses witch hazel, alcohol, grapefruit peel oil, peppermint oil and vitamin E. You can buy a kit that comes with a microfiber wash cloth, a 8.5 oz spray bottle and a mesh carry bag.  You just spray the product on your body, let it set a bit as it will cool you off as the product evaporates and then wipe off with the wash cloth. The cooling effect is great and the scent quickly dissipates after application. Additionally, while the product does contain alcohol, the vitamin E does a great job of keeping your skin from drying out. A single bottle lasts for 40-50 applications and you can buy refill bottles. I’ve used the Rocket Shower for the last three months throughout an extremely hot summer and it has worked great.

The important thing to note is that there are a variety of workable options (any of the ones above will work well) and while none of them are as good as a real shower, they all will serve you extremely well for daily use. Hope that this will allow some of you to get out there and find the joys of a bicycle commute . . .

Car Free OKC: Commuting Bag

So far in my little experiment, I’ve really only been bicycling between home and work, which isn’t really a big change for me except that it’s my only option now.  However, because I’m now completely reliant on the bicycle to get me around, I have been attempting to make myself absolutely prepared for as many problems as possible.  I’m glad I did, since yesterday I had a nasty multiple puncture flat which thanks to equipment and planning was easily handled.  In light of this and because for some reason I’m personally always fascinated by “what’s in my bag” posts, here are my commuting bag contents:


From left to right:

  • Kryptonite U-Lock and Cable
  • Cateye  Strada Cadence Cycling Computer
  • Sunglasses
  • Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless Headlight
  • PlanetBike Superflash Taillight
  • Tool bag
  • Topeak Road Morph Pump
  • Two spare tubes
  • Park Tool Multi-Tool
  • Tire Levers
  • IPad (excellent light weight replacement to hauling around a laptop)
  • Rocket Shower and washcloth
  • Deodorant
  • Lunch and Dinner carried in a ice cooled lunch bag.
  • Work clothing
  • All of this goes is my excellent and highly recommended Arkel Commuter pannier.