Car-free Shopping Strategies

This weekend I made another bulk product shopping trip by bike.  There’s no real game plan, every pannier in the closet gets thrown on Oma and Sir Raleigh, who make a rag-tag cargo team.  In the photos below, there is quite a bit of stuff smushed onto the bikes.

At the Dottie household, we have a good system for taking care of all our purchases without a car, while staying within a budget and valuing local, organic and natural products.

  1. Most of the food we eat comes from area farms, delivered by a CSA, Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks.
  2. A lot comes from Whole Foods natural grocery, which is a very short walk.
  3. The heavier and pricier purchases, like cat food for our three kitties, come from Amazon via the mail.
  4. Most of our clothes come from neighborhood thrifts shops and those are fun trips!
  5. Finally, occasional bike trips to the bulk product store take care of miscellaneous stuff like fancy olives, liquor and beer.  (Fun fact: while visiting local brewery Two Brothers, they told me that the bulk store is their biggest customer.)  Whether luckily or unluckily, the bulk store is on the edge of my neighborhood, a quick ride.

This system works well for us.  What is your system for shopping without a motor vehicle?

(A previous discussion specific to grocery shopping by bike can be read here.)

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27 thoughts on “Car-free Shopping Strategies

  1. Jake Rohde says:

    Large messenger bag filled to the brim. I can usually fit a whole weeks worth of groceries in there, and a seperate trip for other things like toiletries which come from a different store. Oh and another trip for wine and beer which we get from a local shop… Which is amazing.

    Plus carying all that on my back is a good workout.

  2. Roberta says:

    Here is a link as to how I do my grocery shopping by bike. This is an older post (over a year and half) but is fairly accurate. Right now we do own a vehicle so are not cycling for groceries in the winter. I usually have two children (age 9 & 11) who come with me and in the winter I don’t trust other drivers with my kids lives.

    This being said, I did get groceries via this method in November.

    • Fiona says:

      Thank you for your link as we’ve been looking for a trailer for grocery getting and this seems to fit the bill perfectly:)


  3. dukiebiddle says:

    Oh, but I have several vehicles. My bikes. ;)

    For groceries, It’s part of my daily routine to stop at the store on the way home, whatever that store may be on any given day. I have half a dozen different chain groceries to choose from, several city markets, 2 farmers markets and all within 2 miles and a Target 3 miles away. I have plenty of cargo space on the daily hauler, but on most days only need one canvas bag. I buy all my heavy stuff like cat litter uphill and to the Northwest so I can easily cruise the 60 lb loads back home with the wind to my back. Easy peasy.

  4. Aaron says:

    Trailer. The most practical (and obvious) way of hauling huge quantities, and quite likely among the cheapest options. And it nicely tucks away against the wall when not in use.

    • Cris says:

      for the last … four? five? years, my girlfriend and I host a Canadian Thanksgiving in America and usually do all of the shopping for that car-free. We also use a trailer — a Burley Flat Bed, along with panniers and racks. Each of my MEC Aqua-Not panniers will hold a turkey (we usually have two for Tgiving) and we have loaded up the trailer with 5 lb. bags of potatoes and squash and massive salad packs that we’ll grab at a farmer’s market.

      Outside of big purchases like that, we also tend to be about small, frequent grocery trips on weekdays (or perusing farmer’s markets near the office in Summer & Fall) while reserving the weekend for largerbulky jobs that might require the trailer; like grabbing 20 lb. bags of rice or charcoal from the nearby Asian supermarket.

      Also in the summer, I sometimes like to do ‘extreme grocery runs’ which basically involve hitching a couple of panniers to the bike, and riding out to farms in Concord or Natick to just shop from farmstands there, then ride home. Weekend ride, strength training and errand running all nipped in one afternoon wandering.

  5. We prefer to make small, frequent shopping trips – usually several times a week, and usually spontaneous. This keeps grocery shopping relaxed and interesting, as opposed to a tedious chore. I have a huge, expandable pannier that carries most of the food. My husband puts bottles of liquids in his saddle and handlebar bags. Most of the time, everything we needs will fit using this method. When there is more, we secure the rest to our rear racks.

    Ordering cat food in bulk via email is not something I’d considered doing, but it might be a good idea – thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Mike says:

    I used to use a Chariot trailer, usually with my sleeping baby girl in one of the seats. It makes a good shopping cart, and doubles as a nap-inducer. Now I have a bakfiets, which makes it even easier. I make one or two big trips to the local bulk-food store (i.e. scoop flour out of a barrel into my own containers), and smaller trips to the local grocery store. Eggs and milk come from a natural/organic-type store near the kids’ school/daycare. Almost all of our vegetables are delivered by an organic food delivery company that we wish carried more local stuff. The next stage of the plan is to turn the front lawn into a garden…

  7. Familyride says:

    I so need to find a way to make this work for me, too! I think my only solution is to move downhill from a Trader Joe’s ;) so I can make the return journey with two toddlers on board and a full trailer behind me. Ordering online is a great idea I should think about more seriously.

  8. Janet in NorCal says:

    I have a pair of those square open top grocery panniers and I find they hold more than I can comfortably carry into the house in one trip. They work great. Oh, and I probably shop for groceries 3-4 times a week. Big trip on the weekend, plus a few small trips during the week.

  9. julia leigh says:

    Amazon for pet food! Genius! That had always been something that used to trip me up in terms of grocery getting: dog food.

    Sensational! :) I will do this.

  10. scott t says:

    some metro areas may have grocer delivery services for without good bike apparatus for toting bulky items.

    i use a 16×15 milk crate (with elastic netting over the top) bunjeed to a rear rack… so i can put the crate on when i need it.

    this has carried a few 25-30 lb controllable loads. i couple the crate with a keychain stuffable backpack i keep in a small bike bag in case of excess…it will hold like 2 rolls of paper towels and when done it suffs into itself about the size of 3 golfballs.

  11. Nicole says:

    Cat food and podwer for washing clothes is the only thing that weighs me down and stops me doing the whole shop by bike. I stuff my panniers as full as I can, load the rack and secure with my cargo net and carry the rest in my rucksack.

    I do that as often as I need to, usually on my way home from work. The children come with me at the weekend and they carry a little something in their backpack too.

    I do a bulk shop for detergents and catfood once a month by car. I hadn’t thought of getting just those items delivered. When I think of grocery shopping online, I think of the whole shop from one supermarket and I’m much too disorganised for that. Amazon for cat food? Didn’t even know it was possible. I must check and see if they do it in the UK.

    Great post.

  12. Nuresma says:

    Shopping is one of my favorite things to do on a bike!
    I live in the town centre and I have all my usual shops in a short walking distance.
    So sadly I only shop by bike few times a year.
    Sometimes I would like to live far away only for the opportunity of riding my bicycle more often, is that insane? Probably is :)

  13. velojoy says:

    In our neighborhood in Manhattan, we’re fortunate to have lots of great resources for food shopping — including a large green market — within a radius of a few blocks. Like Lovely Bicycle above, we prefer to make small, more frequent shopping trips throughout the week, so I can usually get by with my rear-mounted bike basket and cargo net. We transport larger loads on foot, using a French wicker rolling basket that looks sweet, but is built like a battleship. One note: Although NYC has made significant strides in recent years in adding infrastructure for bicycling, the bike lanes aren’t well networked yet to support ease of use for daily local errands. Something worth striving for to attract more people to city cycling!

  14. philippe says:

    Large panniers from Clarijs and Basil, huge racks (including a front one on my workhorse) … and home delivery for the weekly supply !

    Most of the shopping is done by bike, but, after that, most of the groceries and heavy stuff are delivered to my door.

  15. Doug says:

    A big old milk crate on my bike’s rear rack and a backpack are enough for about a week’s worth of groceries for my family of three. Whatever I can’t haul on the bike is easily accessible in quick trips around the neighborhood on foot when I’m out doing other things anyway.

    I live in Brooklyn, so it’s possible to do this somewhat easily.

  16. adventure! says:

    I usually stop by a store several times a week, so shopping by bike is not usually problem. I usually have enough (or somehow make enough) cargo capacity for the small trips. When I know I’m going to do some more serious shopping, I try to remember to bring a set of panniers. And now that I have a Cycle Truck, I’ll usually do a weekly run to Trader Joes.

    We’re lucky here in Portland that we have lots of grocery options, and I’m always able to incorporate a stop on my trip home.

  17. seejenbike says:

    Living in Seattle we are lucky enough to use Amazon Fresh for the majority of our groceries and they’re delivered to our door the next day. Whole Foods is along my bike ride home, so for produce, meats, and any other little things I need to pick up during the week I just make a quick stop, load it in my panniers, and continue my ride home!

  18. Kelly says:

    My proudest bike-shopping moment was this Thanksgiving, when I cycled my Pashley across town with a 7-kilo turkey in my back basket and all the other fixings in the front wicker basket. Getting all that stuff home was a hell of a workout! On an average week shopping by bike isn’t very arduous as I’m only shopping for one person.

  19. Danielle says:

    Like you, the majority of our food comes from Fresh Picks, it is such a delicious and convenient option!

    The rest, we haul by boxcycle. (Here’s a link to our recent trip:

    Living in the city we could certainly do more frequent, shorter trips. But I’ve found that doing one big stock up and using the food we get delivered (meat from a CSA and fresh picks for fruits/veg/milk) keeps our grocery costs way down because we are forced to use what we have and we don’t have nearly so many impulse purchases.

  20. TomG says:

    Grocery shopping is divided into two – can I fit everything in the panniers, or do I need the trailer? Once a month, when hauling the bulk items – dog and cat food, cat litter, etc.,
    it’s the trailer. The rest of the time it all fits into the panniers.

  21. Big panniers (Basil or Vaude) for the 10-block trip to the grocery (Treasure Island, Michael’s) or to Binny’s. And we use Peapod delivery service for heavy stuff (cat litter, canned goods) and bulky paper goods. Peapod’s great.

  22. […] Go Ride a Bike just ran a post about Car-free Shopping Strategies and a lot of readers shared that they make use of ordering online for groceries or just heavy […]

  23. Guest says:

    Nice pics.You have explain each & every point very well.Looking forward to see what else you post in the

  24. […] to the nearby shop once or twice a week.  (You can read about our car-free shopping strategies here.)  This fall, in an effort to slash our grocery budget, we decided to invest in a Costco […]

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