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Ways to make car-free life more efficient

Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

Ways to make car-free life more efficient

Old 02-19-11, 11:03 PM
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bragi
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Ways to make car-free life more efficient

I've been either car-free or extremely car-lite for many years now, and though the benefits of such a choice far, far outweigh the costs, I still struggle to find ways to make it more practical and, well, easier.

For example, one of my challenges is grocery shopping. I have a touring bike with two panniers, and I can carry quite a bit in terms of of weight, but volume is a killer; I keep buying a single roll of toilet paper at one time just so I have room for actual food! And I find myself going to the store a few times a week, rather than just once, just because of the volume issue.

Another problem I have is looking presentable when I get to my destination. Work isn't a problem, because I arrive much earlier than anyone else and can change clothes if necessary, but what about meeting friends at a pub when it's pouring rain? I've arrived at plenty of social occasions wearing dripping-wet rain gear, and fortunately for me everyone has been fairly tolerant, given the local culture, but it's still a bit awkward, and I can imagine that this sort of thing would be social suicide in some other places.

So, what are your car-free/ car-lite challenges and how do you deal with them?
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Old 02-19-11, 11:07 PM
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A quick idea I've been considering: find a cheap kid's trailer on craigslist or something and use that to haul groceries.

As far as rain goes, you either look ridiculous on the bike or ridiculous in the pub. Take your pick. Rivendell bikes sell the combo "gorton's limited edition" rain cape and hat.
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Old 02-19-11, 11:55 PM
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Originally Posted by WalksOn2Wheels View Post
A quick idea I've been considering: find a cheap kid's trailer on craigslist or something and use that to haul groceries.

As far as rain goes, you either look ridiculous on the bike or ridiculous in the pub. Take your pick. Rivendell bikes sell the combo "gorton's limited edition" rain cape and hat.
Yes, the kiddie trailer takes care of Bragi's issue with volume.

But another thought. My wife and I talked talked today about getting a small cart for walking to the store, which we could easily do and she would like to do more of. Something like this and a change of pace to the bike and panniers. (We live about 1 km from the grocery store, although it is uphill to get home...)

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Old 02-20-11, 12:16 AM
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Originally Posted by bragi View Post
For example, one of my challenges is grocery shopping. I have a touring bike with two panniers, and I can carry quite a bit in terms of of weight, but volume is a killer; I keep buying a single roll of toilet paper at one time just so I have room for actual food! And I find myself going to the store a few times a week, rather than just once, just because of the volume issue.
I am a huge believer in the promise of trailers. I have owned a variety of trailers (BOB, Nomad, Wike, Carry Freedom City). Recently, I bought the Burley Travoy and it's a real game-changer. Light enough to use constantly, stable enough for all normal loads, stable under hard and fast cornering, extremely maneuverable. My commute is 16 miles each way and the trailer does not impact my commute too badly.

The ability to bring the trailer in the grocery store spares the user from having to deal with locking up the trailer with the bike. And the bag system is excellent for groceries and work commutes. If there isn't a Burley bag that does the job, I can use their adjustable straps (two included with the trailer) to secure just about anything to the trailer.

I could really rave on about this trailer, but I'll spare you. The short of it is: the Travoy has been a major positive impact on my personal business, errand-running, and daily commute.

Originally Posted by bragi View Post
Another problem I have is looking presentable when I get to my destination. Work isn't a problem, because I arrive much earlier than anyone else and can change clothes if necessary, but what about meeting friends at a pub when it's pouring rain? I've arrived at plenty of social occasions wearing dripping-wet rain gear, and fortunately for me everyone has been fairly tolerant, given the local culture, but it's still a bit awkward, and I can imagine that this sort of thing would be social suicide in some other places.
I have often wondered what they purpose of Showers Pass rain gear is. One of my employees recently had his 30th birthday party and the purpose occurred to me as I sat in my soaking clothing: it's for people with social lives.

Originally Posted by bragi View Post
So, what are your car-free/ car-lite challenges and how do you deal with them?
Good thread! My largest issue has been enough cargo capacity, yet still retaining maneuverability.
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Old 02-20-11, 12:25 AM
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The bike trailer is a good idea. I live as close to a store as gerv and have tried the small cart idea and it works but the trailer is faster and holds more. The other thing is the trailer is covered and your groceries donít get wet if you put the top up. Lots of things donít like getting wet when you go shopping. Flour and Sugar sacks arenít water proof nor is salt. But for me the trailer works because I donít like shopping so I try to only go once every two weeks if I can.

I lived in Bellevue so I thought everyone was used to going out and getting wet. What does the Seattle T-Shirt say, ďThis isnít a tan it is rust.Ē
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Old 02-20-11, 12:28 AM
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I've got a couple of town bikes with really large metal baskets on the back. Today I bought two twelve packs (double rolls) of TP along with lots of other groceries. The TP was put in cloth bags with handles and bungeed on top of the rear baskets. Obviously, I only buy TP this way when it is not raining. If it is raining and I need something that will be damaged by water, I use a covered cart.

As far as other challenges, we had a trash issue. We live about five miles from the local trash/recycling transfer station. It is cheapest to bring three trash cans at once along with some recycling. However, it was always tough to get three garbage cans into the two trailers we had. A few months ago, one of our neighbors offered to go halves on a large flatbed cart made by the Center for Appropriate Transportation here in Eugene. I took my family of three adults' trash for the past ten months (3 cans) and a can of recycling to the transfer station yesterday. It always gives the staff at the transfer station a kick to see me show up with my recycling or trash on a bike. One of them even came over to take a picture of my rig next to the "pit".
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Old 02-20-11, 07:32 AM
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For groceries, I have 2 grocery stores along my commute path, so I drop in several times a week to pick up a few things. I find that more convenient (generally) than trying to do a big grocery run once a week. We rent a car once every couple of months for out-of-town trips, and usually try to do a big stock-up on groceries while we have the car as well.

I wouldn't bike to a social engagement unless it was very nearby (so I would be able to bike slowly and not get sweaty). I use public transit for that.

For me the big inconvenience is unforeseen trips, where we previously would have just hopped in the car. Yesterday my husband needed to rent a videocamera for work, and the rental place downtown (easily accessible by transit) wasn't answering their phone so he didn't know if they had it in stock. The one in suburbia had it for sure but would have been over 2 hours in one direction by transit to get to. So we rented a Zipcar, but the nearest one that was still available on such short notice was 3km away, and it was snowing and blowing. That certainly wasn't very convenient. Still better than if Zipcar wasn't around, of course!
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Old 02-20-11, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by slide23 View Post
Recently, I bought the Burley Travoy and it's a real game-changer.
Here's the link: http://www.burley.com/home/bur/page_416/travoy.html

That's a trailer I might actually use. My big issue with trailers is storage space. My apartment is only 425 s.f., so everything in here needs to earn its space. Of course, this is also the reason why I don't need to tote large volumes of stuff. Even if I could tote it, there's no place to put it when I get home.

Currently, I do really well with large grocery panniers. Grocery panniers do come in sizes. I didn't realize that until after I bought my first set. Here's my old ones vs. my new ones:


Nashbar Townie on the left, Arkel Shopper on the right.

The Shoppers were the game-changer for me. They've reduced my monthly shopping trips from 6 or 7 to 4, and they're so easy to mount when fully loaded that I take them right in the store with me. The Townies were a PITA to mount, even empty, so they stayed on the bike in the parking lot.

Strategy is another issue. When I had the reduced capacity, I used to stop on the way home from work, rather than make dedicated shopping trips. Car people stop and shop on their way home, so it's okay for us too.

As for meeting friends at the pub, if they're really your friends, outside of good-natured ribbing, they won't care if you're wet or in cycling attire. And even if they did, another pint and they won't care about anything. Alternatively, have one of them pick you up. Of course that means riding home with a drunk driver…

If "meeting friends at the pub" is really code for "on the prowl", well, you're on your own then.
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Old 02-20-11, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
I took my family of three adults' trash for the past ten months (3 cans)
This is a little OT, probably deserves its own thread, but could you clarify this? Our family of 3/4 output is way lower than most, but not even close to yours.
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Old 02-20-11, 01:41 PM
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Planning ahead is important, since the automobile encourages those unplanned (and often unnecessary) trips that are less convenient on a bike or bus.

I do a lot of light shopping on my way home from other destinations. I pick up things I might need in a week or two, especially staples. For example, yesterday I went to the supermarket to buy supplies for a spaghetti dinner. I realized I hadn't quite reached my carrying capacity, so I bought some cans of tomatoes and extra pasta to make efficient use of the space.

I have recently gotten in the habit of joining my son and his family in the minivan on their weekly shopping trip. This is a good chance to pick up bulky and heavy items. We often do another activity like a movie or lunch out, so it is fun for everybody.

I grant that on occasion carfree living is a little less convenient. But one compensation is that I will fully enjoy that extra trip to the supermarket on my bike, while it would be drudgery if I had to drive.
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Old 02-20-11, 03:22 PM
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My trip home from work goes right past a grocery store, so there is no significant extra distance to go in order to stop on the way home, although there is the time factor. So, I keep a list in the kitchen, and when I think of something we need, I write it on the list. Then, I take the list, and one or two grocery panniers, with me to work. I stop on the way home and get what's on the list. (My work cargo is in a backpack, so the rack on the bike is free for the groceries.) Then when I get home I start a new list for the next day. Since I am not car-free, I can do a bigger grocery run by car on the weekend. I have not yet solved the problem of a major grocery run by bike, but the daily-trip strategy reduces the need for a major run. I do think that this is not an ideal way to do things just because of the time.

As for the specific issue of going to the pub, where it is dark, one could, theoretically, get some waterproof black boots ($40, Payless Shoesource) and some black rain pants ($48, Columbia) and wear those on the legs and feet, and in the dark no one would pay attention. Then (theoretically again), one could get a smaller Chrome messenger bag for social trips. Chrome would be the choice because of the waterproof liner. The plan would be, ride to the event in the boots, pants, and a rain cape. Upon arrival, just leave the boots and pants on; they will dry quickly. Shake off the cape and helmet and put them in the Chrome bag. The waterproof liner would keep them from making a mess. The messenger bag would by like your "man purse" which you would just set on the floor with you, or check at the coat-check if there were one. If you did all the disrobing in the foyer, then you would walk into the place wearing what appeared to be normal clothes, carrying a shoulder bag--not too outrageous-looking.
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Old 02-20-11, 06:35 PM
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A trailer is your best friend. I have a Yak which I use on occasion but whenever out, it saves time and space. I filled my Yak bag and two panniers then rode to the laundromat. I was able to wash 4 loads at once and bring them home to hang dry rather than doing it all at home. If I did not have the trailer, I would have to use several machines or do it at home which would have cost more. The trailer has come in handy when buying large and heavy items. If a trailer does not work for you, how about strapping down a basket to put your toilet paper in?
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Old 02-20-11, 06:42 PM
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An alternative to a trailer for hauling stuff is a dedicated cargo bike. I'm a fan of my Yuba Mundo, but there are many other options.
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Old 02-20-11, 08:08 PM
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My personal experience with volume was solved initially with an Xtracycle, but is now just handled by a front carrier. I've got a Globe Live 2, which is a bike with an integrated heavier duty front carrier and a low trail geometry.

My experience with it has been that those "front loading design" features like those on the Live or another front loading / porteur bike help with keeping good handling under heavy loads, but if you just wanted to carry lighter high volume things like toilet paper, bags of chips and bundles of clothing, it doesn't take a porteur bike. A front basket is a great way to deal with extra volume in my experience.
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Old 02-20-11, 09:39 PM
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Well, like the others, large panniers are the good answer. I use SunLite Grocery Getters which seem to do the job for me. I also have a variety of bungee cords wrapped around the rack so I can select one or more to strap big things like 8 packs of T.P. on top.

I have a regular Saturday morning grocery run and occasionally in the week. I shop at Kroger first and then into Whole Foods if needed. I take the bags into Kroger, but since about all I buy at Whole Foods is bulk raisins and thick oatmeal, I just leave the groceries on the bike, assuming that a Whole Foods customer won't be interested in Kroger spaghetti.

I have a Bikes at Work trailer for when I need it, but in reality, that is very infrequently. I also have a heavy duty hand-truck which is often more convenient than the trailer.

As far as clothing for when you go to a bar in rain with friends I can't help. I don't socialize that much and when I do, it's often with other cyclists. Arriving in the rain on bike only adds to street cred. And often, in inclement weather, I take the bus or just stay home.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal View Post
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.

Last edited by Artkansas; 02-20-11 at 09:42 PM.
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Old 02-20-11, 09:48 PM
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Originally Posted by tsl View Post
Well, I have you beat. My apartment has 440 glorious square feet. But it's almost entirely carpeted.

I can't help but notice that nice clean cassette. How do you keep your bike clean and maintain it without dirtying the apartment? I could go outside, but the walkway outside is sloped to let water run off, so parts tend to bounce right to the edge and fall into the bushes below. Other than that, it's a pretty inconvenient place to work in general.

I do have some small hall rugs that I put under each bike to keep the general dirt off the carpet, and that works well. But maintenance is still an unsolved problem.
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I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.
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Old 02-21-11, 01:03 AM
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There may be some other ways to help with volume. There are many janitorial supply companies online that deliver TP for free. You have to buy bulk but it is cheaper per roll. My wife and I do this for TP and Papertowel, TP lasts about 6 months and Papertowl a year or so. Can PM me for the place I use if you like.

Also, to Gerv about walking carts. I do have some experiance both good and bad. The things that break down/wear out for me are usually the tires. Honestly they dont seem to be made to be used much, bikes are better in that respect. From a few brands average about 4-5 months (worst was one month) going to grocery store about 1 mile away. Also anything made to carry less than 100lbs seems to just fall apart extremely quickly.
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Old 02-21-11, 07:14 AM
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Originally Posted by slide23 View Post
I am a huge believer in the promise of trailers. I have owned a variety of trailers (BOB, Nomad, Wike, Carry Freedom City). Recently, I bought the Burley Travoy and it's a real game-changer. Light enough to use constantly, stable enough for all normal loads, stable under hard and fast cornering, extremely maneuverable. My commute is 16 miles each way and the trailer does not impact my commute too badly.

The ability to bring the trailer in the grocery store spares the user from having to deal with locking up the trailer with the bike. And the bag system is excellent for groceries and work commutes. If there isn't a Burley bag that does the job, I can use their adjustable straps (two included with the trailer) to secure just about anything to the trailer.

I could really rave on about this trailer, but I'll spare you. The short of it is: the Travoy has been a major positive impact on my personal business, errand-running, and daily commute.


I have often wondered what they purpose of Showers Pass rain gear is. One of my employees recently had his 30th birthday party and the purpose occurred to me as I sat in my soaking clothing: it's for people with social lives.



Good thread! My largest issue has been enough cargo capacity, yet still retaining maneuverability.
Slide23,
How about a comparison review of the Burley and the Carry Me? (and any others if you wish). Those seem to be two trailers that would lend themselves well to people that need compact living.

I have personal experience with a Cannondale Bugger (the second generation one), Bob Yak, and a Burley Cargo type clone.

I have been considering the Carry me City as part of a downsizing exercise.

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Old 02-21-11, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by bragi View Post
I've been either car-free or extremely car-lite for many years now, and though the benefits of such a choice far, far outweigh the costs, I still struggle to find ways to make it more practical and, well, easier.
You need a large stable of special purpose bikes. A cool single for those short, flat commutes. A steel road bike with a rack for longer commutes. A long tail for small-medium package duties. And a front-loader for those big loads. If you like to travel you may need a folder. Might as well get a touring bike for those pure, bike-only trips.
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Old 02-21-11, 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by gerv View Post
Yes, the kiddie trailer takes care of Bragi's issue with volume.

But another thought. My wife and I talked talked today about getting a small cart for walking to the store, which we could easily do and she would like to do more of. Something like this and a change of pace to the bike and panniers. (We live about 1 km from the grocery store, although it is uphill to get home...)

LOL!

I remember my parents using those grandma carts back in the day! You can haul four bags of groceries with those carts but the wheels have built in obsolescence as they would only last about 4-6 months.

I find printing out a small bus schedule with several lines very helpful. I like many people didn't use bus schedules and had to spend too much time waiting on corners for a bus. Those schedules usually have small letters and can be difficult to read during an emergency. Plus, you have to estimate when it will arrive at your stop. Not easy to do on the run.

My solution is to printout a small compressed list with several lines and the time they leave my block. It's quite simple and I attach a small list on my monitor and keep one in my wallet for convenience for the return home.

Time Line Line Line
7:00 #19
7:21 #20
7:35 #22
7:55 #20
8:00 #19
8:15 #22
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Old 02-21-11, 05:51 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by bragi View Post
For example, one of my challenges is grocery shopping. I have a touring bike with two panniers, and I can carry quite a bit in terms of of weight, but volume is a killer; I keep buying a single roll of toilet paper at one time just so I have room for actual food! And I find myself going to the store a few times a week, rather than just once, just because of the volume issue.
Can you add front racks and panniers as well? Obviously as others have mentioned is a trailer. I rarely used my trailer for groceries though unless I was buying kitty litter as I was already used to buying food in smaller quantities more frequently. It saves having to figure out in advance what to eat and ensures fresher produce. Its especially handy if there are places to stop on route from work to home and particularly if they aren't the big box supermarket which just getting in and around and through it takes excessive amounts of time.

I found at first that it was hard to buy certain things being car-free, and then later determined they were crap and I didn't want to eat crap food anyway: cases of soda, large quantities of milk, frozen prepared food etc.

Since the loads were already light I've never had a problem buying 12 or more rolls at a time, and that means not having to shop for toilet paper very often. If your grocery store is far away is there somewhere closer (drug store?) you could pick up some TP? Otherwise just bungee on top of the rack across the two panniers.

Another problem I have is looking presentable when I get to my destination. Work isn't a problem, because I arrive much earlier than anyone else and can change clothes if necessary, but what about meeting friends at a pub when it's pouring rain? I've arrived at plenty of social occasions wearing dripping-wet rain gear, and fortunately for me everyone has been fairly tolerant, given the local culture, but it's still a bit awkward, and I can imagine that this sort of thing would be social suicide in some other places.
That's what I would do, just peel off the rain gear when I get there. If its somewhere that's a bit awkward and its either slowed down raining or there's an overhang, I'd probably peel off the rain pants, booties, and stuff the helmet and cover etc. in my bag before going in.
So, what are your car-free/ car-lite challenges and how do you deal with them?
I think that since I've become car-lite rather than car-free I have gotten a bit more used to using the car so am perhaps more wussy when it comes to conditions I would have easily dealt with before. We usually park the car off-island so we can't use it for local trips, but have access for longer trips. Things like wondering why isn't the car over here when I have to go to X place in the pitch dark (country) and pouring cold rain. Also not fond of 13-15% hills with cargo

Going to potlucks perhaps with hot food that should stay that way. Hard to keep it flat sometimes too without bringing a trailer. Solution: bring salad instead
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Old 02-21-11, 10:57 PM
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Originally Posted by crazybikerchick View Post
Going to potlucks perhaps with hot food that should stay that way. Hard to keep it flat sometimes too without bringing a trailer. Solution: bring salad instead
I've gone the salad route several times myself (Tupperware is a cyclist's friend). Or just brought extra wine.
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Old 02-22-11, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by bragi View Post
I've gone the salad route several times myself (Tupperware is a cyclist's friend). Or just brought extra wine.
Dessert (cookies), nuts, whole fruit, cheese, or bread are easy options also. All are light and can be carried in a backpack or messenger bag.
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Old 02-22-11, 06:17 PM
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My grocery solution so far has been to go light on liquids (which take up an inordinate amount of space and are consumed quickly relative to the amount of space they occupy) and buy dry/powdered stuff to which water is added when possible (e.g. powdered milk instead of jugs, powdered laundry detergent, dry pastas, tea bags), and to incorporate grocery trips into my commutes if possible (as others have mentioned). Another part of my solution is to eat two meals a day at the military dining facility at work (the food is government subsidized and doesn't cost a whole lot more than it would to buy it from the grocery store).

I use a set of Ortlieb bike packer plus panniers for shopping, I've found I can hold about 40 lbs of groceries, and I also don't need to use plastic sacks from the grocery store. The bagger girl at HEB always has a heckuva fun time trying to fit all the groceries into my panniers.
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Old 02-22-11, 09:37 PM
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Originally Posted by WalksOn2Wheels View Post
As far as rain goes, you either look ridiculous on the bike or ridiculous in the pub. Take your pick. Rivendell bikes sell the combo "gorton's limited edition" rain cape and hat.
Besides, is anyone in the pub even going to notice after three beers?

Originally Posted by Roody View Post
I do a lot of light shopping on my way home from other destinations. I pick up things I might need in a week or two, especially staples. For example, yesterday I went to the supermarket to buy supplies for a spaghetti dinner. I realized I hadn't quite reached my carrying capacity, so I bought some cans of tomatoes and extra pasta to make efficient use of the space.
I do this too. Another option is to leave some of your work things at the office to give yourself extra carrying capacity. My work shoes, for example, live under my desk. It's not unusual for me to stop off on the way home from work and pick up $60-70 worth of groceries at the supermarket. My touring experience means that I have no trouble carrying the load.

About the only time I've been stuck in recent times was when I won a 41-litre esky and had to go to some ridiculous location to claim the prize. In the end, though, the occasional taxi fare still works out a lot cheaper than owing a car.
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