Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

15 Dec

Because of attention this blog has received from dedicated readers like you, I’m getting requests for stories from other media outlets. I’ve been writing a thrice-monthly Bike Fun blog for Mountain View Voice since May. Starting next week I will be contributing to Pedal Love, a California-based site dedicated to the joy of bicycling. And soon, one of my bike travel stories will be featured on Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights. Occasionally, I’ll cross-post content here, but to keep up with all I write, please bookmark these sites or follow me on Twitter. For those dealing with holiday shopping (and traffic), here’s my latest from Bike Fun in the Voice.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer. It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare, big load shopping trips.

Little Trailer

But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa, for my fun bike toy.

Microwave in Trailer

If you’re new to or haven’t done much shopping by bike, here are some tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most are built to carry 40 pounds or more.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk


6 responses to “Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

  1. boyonabike

    December 15, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Love my Croozer cargo trailer. Turns any bike into a “cargo bike.”

  2. Dianne Patrizzi

    December 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    So, what do you do about securing your purchases if you stop at another store?

    • ladyfleur

      December 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      That’s always an issue, isn’t it? Sometimes I bring them into the second store with me, sometimes I leave them in my bike bags or bike trailer. That’s why I like that my Croozer has a cover, as do most of my bike panniers. Out of sight is better. It also helps that I live in a low-crime city. I wouldn’t leave anything on my bike otherwise.

  3. gasstationwithoutpumps

    December 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    The most awkward thing I’ve carried by bike is probably the 4-drawer antique wooden filing cabinet. I stood it upright in my trailer (the steel one with the plywood floor: see ) and locked it in place with ropes and bungee cords.

    Other awkward loads:

    200 lbs of bananas for Bike-To-Work day (not a bulky load, but hard to pull up the average 4% grade to UCSC)

    a 10′ ladder (lashed to the rear rack, and with a trailer lashed to the end to support the weight).

    first Trail-A-Bike. It wasn’t really an awkward load by itself, but I had gone to the bike store with my son in a Burley bike trailer, so I came home with him on the Trail-A-Bike and the trailer hitched to the back of the Trail-A-Bike. Since I ride a long-wheelbase recumbent, this made for a rather long bike train.

  4. Jean

    December 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Gorgeous bike there! Do you actually lock it outside…?! That would be my concern..

    My main “problem” or concern has simply sheer bulk weight of heavy groceries. I just find I can’t seem to remount my bike from stopping at a traffic intersection without the danger of tipping. So I walk across an intersection to get to a bike path.

    Oh well..tiny concern.

    • gasstationwithoutpumps

      December 18, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      Filling panniers and keeping the weight low helps a lot with the tipping problem. A trailer helps even more, though I find that even 30 lbs of groceries doesn’t affect balance much.

      I’ve got a recumbent in which I can put my foot down flat on the ground with my bike still vertical, so I’ve not had to deal with tipping while remounting for years.

      You may be trying to start in too high a gear—that often makes tipping more of a problem when you try to start pedaling again, because it is hard to get up to balance speed.

      If you had said that you were having trouble with tipping when you stopped to put your foot down, I would have suggested that your saddle might be too high—for utility riding with a load it is useful to have a low enough saddle to put your toe on the ground without having to get off the saddle or lean the bike way over. That’s a lower saddle position than bike shops usually recommend, since it is slightly less efficient, but for touring or utility riding, the extra security of not having your bike tipping is worth the small loss of power.


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