The pros and cons of shopping by bike

Most days, cycling to and from work is a fairly pleasurable experience. Yesterday wasn’t one of those days, on account of the weather, which was cold, windy and wet.

As it happens, I needed to go shopping (to a supermarket which is a couple of minutes’ walk down the road from my office) yesterday. As I was cycling home afterwards, I reflected on some of the benefits and drawbacks of this approach to shopping.

Probably the main downside is the fact that it limits the amount I can purchase at once to what I can feasibly carry on my bike. Fortunately, with the aid of a pair of panniers I can carry a reasonable amount. Even when I had a car I always preferred to avoid using it whenever possible and, until last year, I always lived (at least since I’ve had to do my own shopping) within easy walking distance of my regular supermarkets, so I have developed the habit of making fairly frequent trips to buy fairly small, manageable amounts of stuff rather than buying in bulk on fortnightly or monthly shopping trips; this approach translates well to shopping by bike.

Another problem seems to be that the regular loading of the back end of my bike with fairly heavy loads of shopping does seem to put quite a strain on my rear axle, so this ends up needing replacing rather more often than I’d like (about a year seems par for the course). It may be unfair to place the blame entirely on my shopping since I am a fairly well-built cyclist (aka built like a brick outhouse – although I have lost a fair bit of weight since starting to cycle regularly) and even without the groceries my poor bike has to bear quite a bit of strain.  In any case, £5 or so a year for a new axle, even added to the other maintenance costs of the bike, pales into insignificance in comparison with the regular running costs of a car.

In general, the benefits of shopping by bike are much the same as the general benefits of cycle commuting, given that I live about 3 miles (and only one serious hill) away from my workplace and regular shops. I outlined these in my first post about cycling, just over a year ago.  On a windy day like yesterday (which also happened to be a day when I was buying fairly heavy things like milk and potatoes) there is an added advantage, which can be summed up in one word — ballast.  Having an extra load centred fairly low on the back of my bike definitely helps to keep the bike steady against the wind, which makes it somewhat easier work (slightly paradoxical, as you’d expect it to be harder to cycle with a heavy load) and probably a good deal safer too.

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