Why We Need a National Bike to Shop Day

31 Mar

“I can see people biking to offices here and even to the movie theater, but I can’t see people biking to shop here. Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up,” said the planning commissioner at a city meeting on the redevelopment of a major shopping center. I was stunned. I had just stood up and spoken about why bicycle access there was important to me.“The center is where I buy my groceries, my clothes, my household items,” I had explained. “It’s only two miles from home, so I ride my bike.”

I was so angry at not being heard (or believed) that it took me an extra two hours to fall asleep that night. Didn’t the commissioner see the busy bike racks outside the center’s two grocery stores? Didn’t he realize that purchases from a jewelry store are small, and that when people buy mattresses they have them delivered?

Trailer at Trader Joes

For the past 20 years we’ve pushed hard to promote bike commuting through Bike to Work Day, and it’s worked to get many commuters hopping onto bikes instead of into their cars. Like me, back in 1997. I got a little route advice from an expert at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, then pedaled to work. I kept it up once a week until daylight saving time ended, then went back to driving until Bike to Work Day the next spring.

My dedication to bike commuting waxed and waned over years. My next job site didn’t have a shower so I drove. The next one had showers and was close by so I started riding again. Then I took a job 14 miles away and was back down to once a week in summer only. It wasn’t until I realized I could ride in my work clothes for short distances and combine my commute with transit that I became the daily bike commuter I am today.

But even when I didn’t commute to work I biked for my weekly errands. Most things I needed were within a few miles of home, I could wear whatever I wanted, and I could schedule trips during daylight hours. Errands were fun, as evidenced by this Facebook post five years ago: “Long day in saddle again: Farmer’s market/noodles/bookstore/bike shop/Target/Bev Mo/Trader Joe’s. Only 8 miles, but it took some creative packing.”

Errand Bike

I wasn’t the only one doing errands back then and there are even more today, especially in shopping areas with limited parking and/or slow moving traffic. The bike racks are getting fuller and no one blinks twice when you roll away with big vegetables sticking out of panniers or toilet paper indelicately strapped to a rack.

Still, shopping by bike isn’t seen as mainstream. Few bikes come equipped with racks or baskets and bike shops and bike manufacturers rarely actively promote that kind of riding. I could elaborate on this, but I already have before, and if you’ve ever shopped for the perfect bike bag or basket you probably know what I mean. And there’s no national Bike to Shop Day program like there is for Bike to Work Day.

Grocery Bikes

But I think its time has come, and I’ve been working behind the scenes to make it happen this year in Silicon Valley. I sketched out a plan, convinced the staff at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to sponsor it, recruited some hard-working volunteers and we’re all off and rolling. In two weeks we’ve recruited 22 businesses to offer incentives to shoppers who arrive by bike for Bike to Shop Day Silicon Valley on Saturday May 17, 2014.

Oh, and we have a Bike to Shop Day web site with merchant profiles, sign-up forms and a zoomable merchant map. Plus lot of how-tos, from how to convert an old bike into a grocery getter, how to pace yourself at Costco, and what you can stuff in your road bike’s seat bag for impromptu shopping trips.

Bike to Shop Day web site

I have no idea how far Bike to Shop Day will go, but dammit I had to do something. Anger is a powerful motivator. Maybe next time city commissioners discuss plans for shopping center redevelopment, we’ll hear this instead: “There’s not much space for car parking, we’ll need more bike racks.” That’s my dream.

Do you do your daily or weekly errands by bike? What makes it easy (or makes it hard)?



Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure


29 responses to “Why We Need a National Bike to Shop Day

  1. Martin

    March 31, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve been doing all our grocery shopping by bike for years now.

    PRO: It’s fun to ride to store! A pair of Jandt panniers are sturdy, spacious, and easily loaded. One easily holds 6 bottles of wine when Safeway has a 30%-off sale. Plus I put breakables (e.g. eggs) or squashable (e.g. bananas / tomatoes) in a separate rack-mounted zipped pannier. Mid-town Safeway, which is close and has most of the food I want, has good bike racks.

    CON: Wet weather. (I’m entirely a fair-weather cyclist.) Intersections where the vehicle detection doesn’t recognize bikes. And it’s a longer trip to a different store to get the bread I like, and fresh fish. Also, it’s necessary to be careful when unloading the bike to do it carefully, and in a balanced manner, so the bike doesn’t fall over. (This doesn’t happen at the store when I load it because the bike rack supports it when I’m loading it.)

    • ladyfleur

      March 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      I hear you about unloading the bike carefully. My bike has fallen over a few times in front of my house. I have a good two-legged kickstand which helps immensely, but when you’re carrying 40 pounds spread across three locations on the bike you have to unload properly.

  2. KGH

    March 31, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Bike to shop day is a great idea! I run little errands on my bike, usually just picking up a few things at the grocery or a making a quick trip to the drug store. The only other errand we normally have is the big weekly trip to the grocery store, and my spouse usually does that (using the car) on Fridays while I’m at the office. We do go to Costco about once a month, but it is way out in the suburbs and would require navigating a big highway, so we drive there.

  3. adventurepdx

    March 31, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Good job! It seems like planners/advocates concentrate way too much on the idea of “bike to work”. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea and do it, but for for some, it’s the only thing discussed. For example, a lot of bike counts are based on bike commutes to/from the central city or work hub, and a lot of bike routes are designed to/from central city vs cross town. Some people just live too far from work or have a wide work radius, so bike-to-work isn’t always practicable. (For example, my friend works in construction, so his daily commute could be anywhere between 1 to 100 miles.) But if the idea is to reduce the number of car trips, we have to look at other ways than just how people get to/from work. I haven’t owned a car in 14 years, so all my shopping has been by bike, and I’ve been managing just fine. So it’s good that we can show others it can be done too!

    • Margaret

      March 31, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      @adventurepdx put into words exactly what I was thinking. I’d like to see “National Bike to Shop Day” replace “Bike to Work Day”

      “My” stores are on my route home from work. Fortunately I have an old Dutch bike with equally as old Dutch canvas panniers. The panniers hold two full size (like the green bags in your photo) grocery bags, plus the rear rack has a spring clamp that can hold a decent size box.
      Weather is never an issue (I’m in SoCal) even when it rains. The nearest stores are only 2 miles away.

      Congrats LadyFleur on putting together your Silicon Valley campaign.

      • ladyfleur

        March 31, 2014 at 10:33 pm

        I applaud the Bike to Work Day efforts for how they’ve elevated the message that bikes are viable transportation. I wouldn’t want to stop or even slow down that effort. What I’m looking for is extending the bikes as transportation discussion to include the vast range of trips people make.

        The average American puts 15,000 miles on their car per year and only half of that mileage is their work commute. Clearly we need to do something to capture the other half of people’s transportation.

  4. Susanne Wright

    March 31, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Sadly no, I don’t do a single errand by bike. I live on a steep hill on the outskirts of an even hillier town. I hate getting into my car for everything, so I’m cheering you on for this. It’s women like you who change the world, one attitude at a time, one bike at a time. I love your photos of women shopping with their bikes, panniers loaded with groceries and plants! Since I can’t do it, it seems positively exotic to me! Keep up the good work! –Susanne

  5. TinLizzie72

    April 1, 2014 at 5:28 am

    This is a totally awesome idea and I’m sharing it at work!

    I get annoyed running errands by bike if my errands are not close together because that often means multiple lock-remove panniers-remove lights/etc.-reshuffle how stuff is packed. I don’t if I dislike that because I’m lazy or I think it’s inefficient. A lockable truck (trailer? pannier?) would be useful! But it doesn’t usually stop me. : )

    • ladyfleur

      April 1, 2014 at 9:04 am

      I’m lucky incidence of theft is pretty low so sometimes I just leave panniers with stuff in it on the bike while I go in for a quick trip. It helps if they’re covered. My laptop pannier is a Dutch design that has an easy on/off design so it’s not tough carrying it in the store. I have had lights stolen so I do pull those off. Fortunately they’re quick on/off ones too.

      A lockable trailer would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

    • kghotz

      April 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

      A lockable trunk/trailer/pannier is a brilliant idea! Is something like this available? I know of panniers you can lock to your bike, but not of ones that are themselves lockable.

  6. lorrileelown

    April 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Love this! Are you familiar with Monterey-by-Bike? They offer discounts to bike riders in the Monterey area.

  7. Samantha

    April 2, 2014 at 4:12 am

    Congrats on all your work to get the day started in your area – such a super idea!! We do most of our errands and shopping by bike! Costco, Target, the grocery store, the garden store, you name it. We will go to extreme lengths to avoid using the car. This winter, the weather challenged us more than it ever has though. I’ve also been writing about bike parking (started with grocery stores) on my blog for years . Over time more retailers are seeming to ‘get’ bike customers a little more – but having a bike to shop day like yours would really help everyone get the message!

  8. Deanna

    April 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

    What I found is not that shopping can’t be done by bike, but that one has to rethink their shopping style. If you think of shopping as a weekly trip to fill up the SUV (as the planning commissioner thinks people think) then it’s hard to imagine using your bike for that. But, if you think about getting food (or anything you buy) as you need it (more European style, where people have small homes, small refrigerators, and shops easily accessible by walking) then not only do you benefit from the exercise, you get fresher food to boot! Additionally, it is easier to waste less food (an initiative Palo Alto has recently been promoting) because you will naturally buy less when you can’t fit it into your bike bag 🙂

    On top of all that goodness, some shopping centers are SOOO much more accessible by bike than they are by car – Town & Country in Palo Alto, for example, is a horrific place to park. The amount of time it takes to wait in traffic to enter, navigate the parking lot, and wait to exit totally negates the time I would save during the drive! I even bike to Stanford Mall now because of the easier parking. And some advice from experience – buy a lightweight, reusable shopping bag from your favorite mall store rather than trying to stuff a heavy paper bag into your bike bag, or worse getting crumbs from your reusable grocery bag on your spiffy new clothes!

    • ladyfleur

      April 2, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      Yes, a lot of people who shop by bike make more frequent trips. Given my bike can carry three full bags of groceries, I probably do about the same as I did by car. I do my main grocery shopping once a week with the high-capacity bike and often do a mid-week stop on my way home from work for things I forgot. Pretty typical.

      One thing I do differently is when I go to multiple stores on different sides of town I’ll often stop at home, empty my bags and go to the second store. It doesn’t add much mileage and it means I can stock up easier.

  9. Eunice

    April 3, 2014 at 8:17 am

    I love this idea! Before I biked as an adult, I would have insisted this was impossible because of xyz. Thank you for showing how do-able-by-bike everyday tasks can turn into enjoyable riding. Wishing you much success for Bike to Shop day 🙂

  10. Jean

    April 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Great day! You may need the power of your anger to bike away with the “tonnage” of groceries. Just kiddin’ . Bike on!

    • ladyfleur

      April 3, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      The anger has been replaced by pride. Our team of seven volunteers has already signed on almost 40 shops and we have six weeks until the big day. I am very happy.

      • Clark in Vancouver

        April 15, 2014 at 10:44 pm

        That’s what I do. Whenever I get abuse “as a cyclist”, from wherever, I channel the anger into doing something constructive to change things for the better. I don’t bother wasting time trying to change one person’s mind (no matter how angry I am), I look at the larger picture and change the situation so that in the future people like that won’t even have their thoughts go in that direction any more.

  11. ROZA

    April 4, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I like shopping at Nob Hill and Whole Foods by bike. Their racks are upfront, either the sidewalk in the front or the very first parking spot. I will not shop at Trader Joe’s by bike since the only bike rack is set back by the Baskin Robbins. And it really angers me that the new Target has it’s bike racks set back by the seating for the bus stop. Really? I haven’t seen any bikes in it yet, but plenty of people sitting on the racks smoking.

    • ladyfleur

      April 4, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Rack location definitely can make or break the shopping experience. I love Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto for their bike rack locations.

      Which city/neighborhood are you talking about with the Target by the bus stop and the TJ’s by the Baskin Robbins?

  12. RoZa

    April 7, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I work in Almaden Valley. Costco and TJs are in the same strip mall. I live in Blossom Valley and the new Target has a bus stop directly in front of it. They have a lot of bike parking, but it is out of sight from the doors.

  13. dsmcommutercorner

    April 12, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Great article and an even better idea!

    I’ve been riding to the grocery store for 9 years. I used to get a lot of strange stares from other shoppers, but nowadays the reception is much warmers. Also many more bicycle locked up at racks…

  14. Christopher R Guevar (@pyrtwist)

    April 12, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Great to read this. A few years back i kept track of how much I biked home from the store. I was curious to see if I could bike a ton in one year. I did. 2 tons the next year. Since then I stopped tracking. My favorite is when I filled the panniers up and then strap a 30lb bag of dog food on top.

    • ladyfleur

      April 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      I love the idea of tracking cargo carried by weight. It’s like Strava for transportation cyclists! The heaviest cargo I’ve brought home was about 70 lbs in my trailer and 40 lbs on my Dutch bike.

      Did you feel the frame flex when you put the 30 lbs of dog food over your other purchases? I find each of my bikes has its limits.

      • Clark in Vancouver

        April 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm

        I once brought rocks home for a rock garden. It took a few trips.
        I had a bunch of spokes break a week later. Probably related.

  15. fuel

    April 16, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Just found your site today from a comment you made on the Atlantic about women, fashion and bikes.

    My wife and I gave up our car last summer after it broke down one too many times. The first thing I did was turn my old Kona mtn. bike into a commuter and then bought a burley trailer for me. We got her a heavy duty rack with paniers. We average about 60 lbs a week on our 7 mile round trip grocery excursion. There isn’t much we can’t haul between the two of us.

    The heaviest load by far was a solid 100 lbs of books we donates to the public library. Thankfully this trip was short and flat. But my favorite, is when we repainted our apartment. Hauled all the supplies we needed on our two bikes. Got quite a few looks, and one “Wow that’s great, never thought you could do that with a bike!”

    • ladyfleur

      April 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      Do you have a photo of that? Must have been amazing.

  16. Michael Wong

    October 29, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I bought a Yuba Mundo cargo bike in June, 2014. I live in a suburban town (ElkGrove,CA) and try to do all my errands with the bike. So far, my heaviest load was 14 gallons of drinking water. Once I delivered 35 lbs of apples to the food bank, recycled e-waste at the hazardous waste disposal facility, bought nine gallons of water, and dropped off donations to Goodwill. Love the bike and love not using my car.


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