Tips for Grocery Shopping by Bike
Cascade staff and volunteers deliver groceries by bike while staying 6 feet apart

Cascade staff and volunteers have been delivering groceries from the University Street Food Bank in Seattle to neighbors in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along the way, they have learned a thing or two about the best methods for carrying large grocery runs by bike. Here are their tips:

B. Michelle Johnson, Director of Development

You definitely need panniers or saddlebags of some kind. You could use a backpack but that s**t gets heavy.

One of the lessons that I've learned is that so much of our food comes in rectangle plastic packaging of some kind. That makes it really difficult to pack up. So when you're shopping, consider buying whole lettuce vs a box of lettuce for example.

Another thing is to be thoughtful of your smaller items - if you can't zip up your bags all the way (which is ok) they could bump out of your bags. It’s best to wiggle smaller items down the side of the bag.

Be sure to balance your bags so that they're not too heavy on one side vs. the other.

And finally, be patient with yourself. If there is someone at the bike rack waiting for you to finish packing your bags, let them wait. It's worth it to pack them correctly.

Davíd Urbina, Rides Program Manager

Large panniers are best. A larger backpack works too, but puts stress on your back. Bike trailers are also a good option, but more expensive than a good pair of large Ortlieb panniers.



Claire Martini, Leafline Trails Coalition Coordinator

Wrap anything that could leak (meats, sauces, etc.) in plastic before putting them in your panniers! That way your bike bags stay clean.

I learned this the hard way when I brought vermicelli bowls to a dinner and the fish-sauce-rich dressing leaked ALL over my panniers.


Rebecca Sorensen, Events and Rides Community Director

I love having panniers that can stay on the bike while I shop and are large enough to fit my entire grocery bag into -- so easy. So the bags stay on the bike and I keep a reusable grocery bag tucked inside. When I stop, I take my reusable bag in and then just slide it right into the pannier!

If I forget to pack my reusable bag :( I bring in the whole pannier and always grab a cart so I can load all my bikey stuff (helmet, panniers, etc) on the bottom and fill just the small top portion. Also, I make sure that I can fit it all in my panniers and I don't over shop my one bag limit. Keeping your eye on capacity is important when you shop by bike! I've held random items like a bunch of bananas on my ride home due to lack of space without squishing.

Stephen Rowley, Fleet Manager

Any business links in the following are for Seattle regional businesses. Get ready to pedal harder, and enjoy the feeling of conquering the quotidian errands of everyday life by bike!

Being stranded by the side of the road is a bummer. Being stranded with a pint of Full Tilt Mexican Chocolate ice cream melting in your pannier is a downright tragedy - Rowley

  • Anybody can grocery shop with any kind of bike. You can drop $7,000 on an E-assist Riese and Muller, or you can use your junker 70's Schwinn with a $25 rack and homemade basket. You can use your ridiculous fixed gear with a backpack that's so well-used it's got a hole that you really should've patched a while ago.
  • Riding characteristics: If you are setting up a rack system, be sure to consider the weight distribution and how that will affect the handling of the bike while it's loaded. I recommend using threadlock on bolts and fasteners. Be sure to check all fasteners regularly, because they will loosen over time. Regardless of your set-up, give yourself some time to adjust to riding with a load if you're new to it. Make sure you check your load before riding out to ensure that all items are secure and not going to fly out while bombing the cobblestones in Post Alley.
  • Tires: You will be more prone to pinch flats, especially if riding thinner tires, so be sure to check your tire pressure before heading out to load up. The fatter the tire, the more stability you'll have and the less prone you'll be to pinch flats. 
  • Emergency Bike Maintenance: Definitely learn how to fix a flat and make minor roadside repairs. Being stranded by the side of the road is a bummer. Being stranded with a pint of Full Tilt Mexican Chocolate ice cream melting in your pannier is a downright tragedy.
  • Drivetrain: If you got the skrilla, give yourself some nice torque by installing a smaller front chainring or a cassette with a larger low gear. Visit your local bike shop for tips on this as it can get complicated faster than you can say, "E-type Front Derailleur"
  • Brakes! Brakes are the most important part of your bicycle. More important than your $300 SRAM Red Wifli Rear Derailleur. Invest in a nice brakeset, if you can, or at least brake pads, regardless of the type of brake you have. Check your brake pads regularly. They will wear down more quickly. 

And if you’re interested in purchasing panniers for your shopping news, be sure to sign up for a Cascade Premium Membership for discounts at Trek Tukwila and Swift Industries!

Sara Kiesler's picture
Sara Kiesler