Shopping by Bike: How to Use Panniers to Haul the Load by Tamia Nelson

So you’ve decided you’re going to try doing your food shopping by bike, and are ready to load up the panniers. Good for you! This time around, Tamia offers some tips on how to do just that. Practice makes perfect!

If you’re going to try grocery shopping by bicycle, then good for you! This can be a healthy and rewarding way to bring home the bacon, or any other foods you fancy. And if you’ve outfitted your bike with panniers to do the job, you may have a number of questions about how to pack everything for the trip home. Last week I answered some of the most often expressed questions I’ve been asked by the uninitiated watching me load upat my local HyperMart. But Shopping by Bike: Your Questions Answered dealt with the very first steps of how to get a bike set up as your mule, and there’s more to making this work than having the right kit, plan, and mindset.

This time around I’ll touch on the basics of using panniers for carrying the load. And the best way to show you how we do it is to invite you along on a typical grocery run. Ready? Good! Then let’s first talk panniers.

While you can carry the shopping in panniers designed for touring, packing is made easier when your panniers are designed for carrying groceries. We use Nashbar Townie panniers. which are still available, while ours are still going strong after almost a decade of use. Here’s what they look like when folded flat against the rear rack:

Nashbar Townie Pannier Folded Flat

And here’s how they look when open and ready to accept a load:

Nashbar Townie Panniers Ready to Be Fed

There are other brands of shopping panniers on the market, so shop around for a pair that will suit your needs.

Now let’s prepare to shop. Once we arrive at the HyperMart, a shopping cart corrals bike gear when going indoors to shop. 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. Why haul all this stuff while shopping? You could say I’m trying to keep honest folks honest.

I open the panniers inside a shopping cart and load goods into the panniers — seen in a shopping cart in the photos below — while moving through the store. Doing this helps avoid buying more than can be carried.

At checkout, I unload the panniers so the clerk can scan them, then return your purchases to the panniers. Then I roll the cart outside and mount the panniers on my bike. The bike is unlocked and moved out of the way of pedestrians while I rearrange 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. As panniers are loaded, the imbalance of the introduced load could topple the bike, so be prepared to brace it so this won’t happen. After both panniers are secured on the rack, I assemble the rest of my kit and make ready to roll out.

When saddling up, remember that the bike will feel a lot different now. Gravity will compete with you when you stop and lean at traffic lights, stop signs, and at additional stops on your way home. Take it easy, don’t try to set any records, and enjoy the feeling of bring home your food under your own power. You’ll have earned your dinner!


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

This entry was posted in Bikes & Cycling on by .


For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.