Apr 07 2009

Practical Cycling: Shopping With Panniers

Panniers designed for carrying groceries are better for shopping than are touring panniers. (Of course, your bike must be outfitted with a sturdy rear rack.) These Nashbar Townie panniers fold flat when not needed, reducing wind resistance. They open up in seconds, and are made more rigid with stiffened panels which swing out to the sides. They’re sized to accept a standard brown grocery bag, and bright hi-viz rain covers are stowed in a zippered pocket when not needed.

A shopping cart corrals your gear as you move through the store. Bar bag, gloves, water bottle, tool bag, and helmet fit nicely into the fold-open kiddie seat. I clip the helmet’s chin strap to the cart to help insure against its being knocked out to the floor.

Staging Ops

Load goods into the opened panniers — seen in a shopping cart in the photos above — as you move through the store. Doing this helps avoid buying more than you can carry. At the checkout, just unload the panniers so the clerk can scan them, then return your purchases to the panniers. Roll the cart out to your bike, rearrange the items in the panniers so that the heaviest items are low and evenly distributed side-to-side, and then slip the rain covers over the panniers. The covers serve other purposes than keeping out rain. They contain the goods so nothing bounces out, they keep road dust off your purchase, and they’re bright enough to alert motorists of your presence on the road.

Loading Up

Unlock your bike and make sure it’s in a place where it’s out of the main traffic flow of other shoppers. As your panniers are loaded onto the bike’s rear rack, the imbalance of the introduced load could topple the bike — brace the bike so this won’t happen. After both panniers are secured on the rack, assemble the rest of your kit and make ready to roll out.

As you saddle up, remember that your bike will feel a lot different now, and you’ll have to swing your leg over the loaded panniers when getting on and off your bike. A loaded bike wants to keep on going if it’s leaned, so if you usually pull the bike towards you when swinging your leg over the top tube or saddle, keep this in mind. Prepare for your first shopping trip with a trial run around home with loaded panniers so you know what to expect. If you think that you’ll be carrying loads heavier than about 40 pounds, or if you don’t like the feel of a loaded bike, consider using a bike trailer.

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