Grocery Shopping on Your Bike

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BY KATHERINE HELMETAG

Raise your hand if you’ve attempted to go grocery shopping on your bike. Now raise your hand if you were successful!

The everyday adventure of grocery shopping is one of timing and packaging. The two main challenges we face are keeping the delicate stuff (eggs and bananas) intact and keeping the cold stuff cold. Sometimes, I do a very good job at both, and sometimes, neither. Here are a few tales and tips for making this trip a good one. None are particularly earth-shattering, but especially if you’re new to this, I hope they will help.

Rule 0: Yes, you are on a motorcycle

Be prepared to pose for photos with curious kids in the market. They will be driving their parents nuts and you and your gear will be a welcome diversion. Some might be convinced to punch your elbow to check out your armor if you are comfortable with that. These kids are the future and we can make a very positive impression in only a few seconds. Surprisingly, I have found that these interactions can change a parent’s opinion of motorcyclists, too. Many have never seen a kitted out adventure rider and may also have questions for you.

grocery shopping bike

Rule 1: Pre-plan your space

Grocery shopping on the bike is constrained by storage space. Storage can be any means of securing stuff to the bike, from big, hard panniers and a top box, to a milk crate zip-tied to the back, or even a simple bungee net. The volume you have to work with will determine your max payload and what you need to do to get things home safely. Someone with 100 litres of locking storage will have an easier time of it, that is for sure.

Knowing ahead of time how much you have to work with enables you to constrain while you are shopping. I recommend finding a reusable grocery bag that is about the limit of your packing volume and use it to pace yourself while you peruse the aisles. This will reduce the frantic attempts to get things smooshed in and also reduce the damage to delicates like bananas, eggs, and mushrooms. Keeping an extra bungee net on the bike is also a good idea for critical overflows.

Rule 2: Pre-plan your packing

Just like pre-planning volume, pre-planning packing is important to a successful grocery run. You want the heavy stuff down low, and as already alluded to, the delicate stuff up top. Know what fits where: I know a certain rider who crushed a carton of eggs by placing them at the top of her side case. It turned out that this particular spot was too narrow and one entire row of eggs suffered. Gross was a good word for that situation.

Speaking of crushed eggs, it’s really important to consider double-bagging items that can leak. You really do not want to have to wash all of your food and hose out your boxes! It sucks, let me tell you. It’s bad enough that you have to eat omelets for two days. The cleanup is just adding insult to injury. And if it’s not a particularly thorough cleanup, things will start to stink pretty quickly. I recommend really carefully checking and cleaning your seals on any hard luggage if you have this kind of event. Mice will find anything you don’t.

Knowing where the heat is is also important. Things that are heat insensitive can go anywhere. Things that are heat sensitive, however, need to be protected. Like eggs, which can cook in their shells. Or bananas, which turn to mush. Or meat, which can start to spoil. Typically the heat is near your exhaust pipe(s), and they can get quite hot. According to the old cookbook “Manifold Destiny“, hot enough to cook on! Thankfully, there is help for this issue…

Rule 3: Insulated bags are your friends

The bike is a woefully unprotected place to keep things, especially things that need to stay hot or cold. Thankfully, insulated bags exist and are plentiful. The silvery Mylar bags sold at the grocery are excellent for motorcycle use because they take up nearly no space when empty. A reusable freezie block will extend the temperature and time range of the bag considerably. I have a friend who uses only these bags because that means she always has one. Don’t forget to pack cold items – anything that is at risk of heat damage over the trip home – together. Make sure that if you have a freezie block to use, you pack it on the hot side of your luggage assembly. Usually this is the exhaust side, but could be the sunny side under certain conditions. Most food will handle a 30 minute ride home without any trouble when packed using Mylar bags and a freezie block can extend this time or, better yet, protect some ice cream!

grocery shopping bike

I’ve successfully brought home frozen foods many times using the Mylar bag and freezie block combination in my side cases, which are very exposed to my exhaust. I also find that butter and other solid shortenings will survive quite well when packed this way.

Rule 4: One/last stop

Food is delicate. Therefore, you should plan food trips to be the only stop or the last stop on a string of errands. This is simply to minimize the exposure to any heat or vibration. This part is the same no matter how you are traveling, unless you happen to have a refrigerated truck on hand.

What about vibration? Yes, it’s there, and it’s the bane of potato chips and crackers everywhere. It does not take long for a bag of chips to be reduced to crumbs. Again, now I know. The first few trips, I had a lot of crumbs. It will take some trial and error to find a good place to pack these delicates, but I’ve found that generally a backpack or on top of some clothing seems to be a good bet. Anything to dampen those vibes.

Big vibrations like bumps, jumps, and hard stops can be rough on those delicate items, too. I would not recommend transporting a decorated cake over a trail, although a paved road might work out ok. Take-out pizza is another iffy item – the boxes aren’t that sturdy and the cheese might end up on the lid. If possible, mount either of these items directly to a top box baseplate for at least a fighting chance. I, personally, have yet to get a pizza home intact. I’ve given up on that one.

The main point here is that grocery shopping by motorcycle is very doable as long as you put a little thought into it and find a good place for the eggs and/or the pizza. Every part of your life will be better if you don’t damage them, and you will have gotten in a ride. What is more awesome than that?

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