Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Gear Me Up

Posted by on January 1st, 2020 at 8:16 am

female cyclist standing in wet weather gear with bike

All set for a grocery run.

We’ve established my Ready, Fire, Aim personality and the caveats that may entail. Don’t worry. We are just getting started.

For this one, we have to go back in time. Back when I commuted a very long time to work in a sea of cubicles and wanted a bike for weekend fun. This is five or six years ago, and I got a “road bike.” At the time I didn’t have any beef with REI and didn’t really know what “road bike” meant; it was a previous year’s clearance so price was nice, it would fit my frame, and it was aesthetically pleasing to me. That was truly the extent of my needs at the time.

Is it cool just to stroll into a bike shop and start asking questions?

Back then, which seems like so long ago now, I went into Sellwood Cycle Repair and got a U-lock. Really nice crew, they actually did quite a bit on kids’ bikes for me and the U-lock was just something else I needed. The guy at the time said something about liking the mid-size model because it easily fit around bike stands and it still fit in his back pocket. To be honest, I was only half listening. Momlyfe requires 50% of all brain activity to be working on other issues during any conversation. You want me to remember something? Put it in writing. It’s not a legal request; it’s an efficiency request.

Apparently, I lost the U-lock bracket mount at some point. It didn’t matter back when I got it. I had always thrown the lock (and water bottles and full size air pump and all snacks and blankie and…you get the idea) into the Burley trailer when we had it. We’d do the weekend thing on trails and rarely ever hit a road unless briefly enroute. Now that I can bike around solo and my needs have changed, I tried putting the lock around my bike in various places. Nope. I tried putting it in my back pocket. HAHAHAHA. No. The backpack option isn’t the most ideal in every situation, so I dropped off my youngest at school, and headed over to the closest bike shop expecting to find a bracket, best case scenario, or worst case scenario I’ll have to buy a new lock.

Advertisement

Ok, first question…

“What’s the protocol here? Is it cool just to stroll into a bike shop and start asking questions? Can I just walk in and get whatever I need done, done?”

ulock laced through bike rack

The Abus and rack.

So far, I feel I have had really good luck in this department, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. I’ve only been snubbed at a few places, one of which, rightly so. I mean, let’s face it, no, I’m not buying a $5,000 Italian bike. That’s totally cool. No hard feelings there at all. This time I went to Kenton Cycle Repair, and Rich literally spent hours helping me right then and there. Which is why I’m asking – is that cool? To just go in, and take up hours of his time without making an appointment first?

I hear you. Hours for a lock bracket? Ok, well, they didn’t have any that fit my Abus. Rich offered to order one; but after hearing my story (I left out the part about the FBI), he asked if I was getting a bike rack at any point and showed me how the lock can thread through a rack. That was so cool. I honestly had no idea. The bike rack and bags was all stuff I was already researching, so when 2-3 hours later I had a bike rack and two panniers, I feel like I came out winning. Time saved, some poor guy had to listen to my 100 questions, even another worker, Claire, got roped into helping at some point. Money well spent, and now I can get groceries!

And that’s my second question.

“How are you getting groceries? Do you get delivery? Shop every 2-3 days? Have fewer children so don’t have to worry about it as much?”

While I respect the possibility the last of those questions may apply to you, I can’t put mine back, so I’m going to have to find some solutions here. I have found the max capacity of my tiny waxed canvas backpack, and I’ve found that my backpack + two panniers can work pretty well for some things. I have managed to fit quite a bit and not lose balance, but I’d love your input and advice. We don’t eat out; I’m an avid cook. I even make our weekly bread from scratch. Like I’ve said, many of you have been at this longer, and there may be more like me out here lurking, or maybe some that are curious and haven’t jumped on board yet.

Note from author: This is not an ad, native advertising, nor paid endorsement. Rich/Kenton really was very helpful, as was Sellwood, Block Bikes, and most other shops I’ve been into; I like to shop local as much as possible.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

70
Leave a Reply

avatar
18 Comment threads
52 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
29 Comment authors
El BicicleroAlan 1.0JasondanMarco Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Amy
Guest
Amy

Totally ok to go to a shop and ask a million questions, BUT if you find a shop that is willing to be kind and answer all your questions you have to make it your shop. Finding a good shop is HARD, everyone wants something different in a shop and when you find one that works for you keep going. They need your money, even if something might be cheaper at another shop or online keep going. Keeping them open and having a comfortable shop to come to is worth it.

As for groceries, this is the biggest challenge. Plan it out. Figure out your meals and go frequently. It sucks, and honestly, this is one of the chores that being able to pick up a car-to-go would be worth it but that is not an option anymore. This is also done best as a team if you can bring your partner with you they can take half a load and you can take half a load. And sometimes you actually can bring more home if the two of you bus it rather than bike.

Rudi V
Guest
Rudi V

Sellwood to Kenton, you get around. I wonder about stuff like this as well. Nobody’s getting rich running a bike shop, so how much of their time is it fair to take up on a small purchase?

Carl
Guest
Carl

I use a child trailer for groceries. The trip takes me through some quiet residential streets, and some busy roads with wide bike lanes. At the store there’s a bike rack away from most of the pedestrian traffic so it’s not in the way.

axoplasm
Subscriber

To a lot of my coworkers and extended friend circle I’m The Bikiest Person We Know so I get asked a lot about “what kind of [X] should I buy” (usually: what kind of bike). My advice is always: “before you shop for [X] you should shop for a shop.”

The corollary is “if the folks at a shop act like they’re too cool to take your money, they are.”

We replaced our cheapo burley trailer with a longtail cargo bike & TBH this was not an upgrade. I miss the trailer, it was much more practical.

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Question 1: Just like in dating or any other part of human life, the person you’re asking is expected to indicate whether they consent, and you then are expected to honor that indication. And if they help you they deserve the usual gratitude and repeat business.

Question 2: You said you have a rack, so get a pair of these: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=ortlieb+backroller&t=ffab&iax=images&ia=images
Each one will hold at least a standard grocery bag’s worth. If you’re used to buying more than that at once, plan on making smaller, more frequent trips. Gone for you are the days of infrequent industrial-sized grocery runs enabled by industrial-scale machinery fed by an industrial supply chain. Bonus: Everything you eat will be fresher because you just bought it like a day or two ago.

terryi999
Subscriber
terryi999

Groceries: Many London commuters buy 1-2 days worth of groceries while walking home from the Tube station after work. Works for bike commuting as well. Save the home delivery charges for the once-a-month big bulk items.

MonicainPDX
Guest
MonicainPDX

Something that helps me for two-pannier-full grocery runs is a good center-stand instead of the old kickstand. It reduces the chances the bike will fall over when I’m loading it, which makes all the difference. When I was completely car-free, a trailer was an essential.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I was getting groceries with my panniers for a while, tore up my rear hub. I don’t recommend it. Especially if you have the penchant to buy a lot of groceries at one go. Even if you get the weigh distribution perfect, you still may thrash things. The rear wheel takes a lot of wear and tear.

Trailers are the way to go, you can get something simple like a Burley. Or you can go extreme with Bikes At Work adjustable length trailer and mount some Rubbermaid bins to it.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

I’m late to the party, but my life has changed since I started using a trailer for grocery shopping. We got one for free (a Schwinn, FWIW) because the seat part was ripping out, we replaced that part with some plywood and It Is Awesome. I’ve even used it while walking to the grocery store if I know I’m going to buy heavy things and don’t want to carry it all home on foot…..

curly
Subscriber
curly

Great article with many thoughtful responses!
I’d like to add a couple of suggestions;

1) More frequent trips to the grocery store is easy if you’re close. Carpool to the store with a friend, or neighbor, for the heavy, cumbersome articles once a month.
2) Secure your lock to your rack with Velcro straps to reduce the noise and wear from bouncing along Portland streets.

SD
Guest
SD

My comfort level with bike use for transportation grew a tremendous amount after I had more experiences bike separately riding for recreation and fitness. Long group rides, racing, intervals on an indoor trainer or cyclocross really put my commute into perspective, inspiring me to ride at a relaxed pace where I can see more, ride in work or casual clothes and feel comfortable with all of the other riding styles that are out there.

Liz
Guest
Liz

Delta Bungee Cord Net + front basket mounted to a front rack=grocery shopping galore. I also immediately recycle cardboard boxes, like those that come with cereal or pizza at the store which helps a bit. I have a frame bag and shove things in my pockets and tend to shop directly into my bike bag (I get some looks, but they it’s less germy and totally common in Europe!) so that helps me stay mindful of what I can pack home.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

Ive tried everything else discussed here. This works best after 35 years . . .

Suit up for winter ride. Update grocery list into handlebar bag with wallet, U lock etc. Open front door. Roll steel touring bike with full fenders out to patio. Close door. Ride 3 miles to store. U Lock bike to chainlink fence outside garden section. Pull 4 Ortlieb rolltops off bike and place in full size shopping cart. Purchase weeks food. Show, or learn from, a bagger how to load Ortliebs 60rear/40front. (Fear hub crap was nonsense) Roll cart and packed panniers out to bike. Hang the panniers onto bike. Pedal 3 miles past my stored stereo in a metal box to patio. Open front door and roll loaded bike across vinyl runner to kitchen. Undress from winter outfit. Unload Ortliebs directly into fridge and cabinets. Park bike.

Bike takes 1 hour of smug one upmanship and bliss. Auto takes 55 minutes of stress. BTW, this can be done in Reno where I didnt miss one week.

I do use that genuine motor vehicle once monthly to haul any and all liquids, canned goods and other heaviness etc, cuz thats what those are for.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Alan 1.0
No offense intended, but I remain curious about why a reputable hub or wheel would fail under normal usage, and skeptical that it had anything to due with grocery loads.Recommended 0

My point is, loading my Ortleibs with four grocery bags worth of food stuffs is not normal use. For me, replacing my car for groceries, meant just that. That’s groceries for two adults for one week. Which, is better handled with a bike trailer.

OEM does not mean reputable. It means “the cheapest option for the bike manufacturer”. And it is very common for production bikes to have crappy wheels. A good wheelset will set you back as much as the price of that new bike you are buying. Or more.

Like I said, I was conflating the hub as the issue. In retrospect the rim (WTB) was splitting and at that point it was cheaper to get a prebuilt wheel with a Shimano 105 hub and a DT Swiss rim.

Fun fact, when this was happening, I called the bike shop to schedule service to get the wheel trued. The mechanic said to check for rim for splitting because they were seeing the WTBs do that alot. Sight unseen, the mechanic diagnosed a problem that I hadn’t noticed. I thought it was just a broken spoke and a slight un-trueness.

Speaking of mechanics, if you really want to noodle on this subject, go chat up the mechics at your local shop. Ask them, what is the expected outcome of loading up Ortleibs with four grocery bags worth of food stuffs. What if there’s a weight imbalance of 15 lbs, what if the load is perfectly balanced? At what point does an imbalance between the two sides become an issue? For that matter, what payload are bicycle panniers designed to carry?

Bicycle touring would have you carrying more gear than food. Presumably you’d buy food as you go. So, panniers were not originally designed to carry very dense payload. Camping gear and various clothing options would be most of what you are carrying. Bulky, but relatively light weight. That’s not to say that a touring rig would be light. That’s why touring geometry is longer and the frames are heavier. Just makes for a more stable platform for carrying loads, as well as being comfortable.

Commuters have latched onto panniers as a go-to resource. But there too, commuter payload is bulky but not dense, with the exception of a laptop and lunch. Shoes and clothing don’t have high density.

And so, with that, I put it to you, if you don’t believe me, go ask a mechanic.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Your milage may vary, but the risk is inherent.

You said you have four panniers, do you use them all at the same time? Or is it two pair of rear bags? How many grocery bags of stuff do you load them up with?

Jason
Guest
Jason

Distributing the load across the whole bike is wise. I was just loading my rear paniers to the brim. Sometimes I wasn’t able to close them. My bike is steel but has carbon fork. This limits the load I can put on the front wheel. I suppose I could put *some* weight up there, but I never got a clear answer about how much it can carry. I attribute this to the manufacturer not specifically stating a limit. So, for me, the trailer is best answer. And I am compelled to share my experience as a cautionary tale. I won’t be the least bit offended if my advice goes unheaded though.

Marco
Guest
Marco

What helmet do you wear, Becky? I recently saw this foldable bike helmet (you can actually win one here this month, fingers crossed https://www.bikeride.com/giveaways/) from a company in UK. When I do my grocery ride, I am always worried about leaving helmet outside. What do you do? Do you take it with when you go inside? Do you somehow lock it with the bike or leave unlocked? Or is it even a concern? Cuz people steel all they can in my city; even once I came out and to my surprise … my beloved Brooks saddle was gone 🙁 The helmet above you can just fold and then put it in your purse or shopping bag 😀

dan
Guest
dan

David Hampsten
Becky Jo, I agree with Alan & HK, as long as you aren’t either super heavy yourself or carrying an anvil in one bag, you should be fine. But it’s also worth noting that if you are unusually heavy or carrying unusual loads, it’s reasonably possible to find relatively inexpensive solutions for carry such loads without prematurely destroying your bike, using standard bicycles and parts. The lighter you are (and your loads), the more you can get away with less good parts, wider tires, loose spokes, and lower tire pressure. But for both light and heavy use, maintaining the bike in good working order is still necessary.Recommended 1

This whole discussion is very interesting to me because I have commuted for years and years (say 15 years), and typically use just a single pannier. That’s all the space I need on most days: laptop, lunch, and raingear is all that’s really in there. I always felt that carrying 2 panniers just multiplies the number of things to carry on arrival to no purpose. I have some stonking big panniers, and I will sometimes stop at the grocery store for a quick shopping trip on the way home, loading everything into that single pannier. So it’s not a huge load, but I’ve probably had 15 pounds back there on occasion.

Now, having a single pannier does affect the bike balance noticeably (but not excessively), but it never occurred to me that this would damage the wheel. And in fact, I’ve had the same rear wheel for probably close to 10 years.

So…is wheel damage from off-center loads really a thing to worry about? Relatedly, does an off-center load really exert lateral force on a wheel that’s different from, say, banking as you go around a turn?