2 wheels can haul the goods
By Walt Seifert
Bikes are stars for recreation and travel to places not too far away. They can do more—such as help you take stuff with you or bring purchases home. With a little planning and minor investment, you can transform a butter knife bike into a Swiss Army knife multitasker.
You can make it easy to tote essentials for work or the gym, and pick up groceries and other goods from nearby stores and markets. These errands can be as fast as driving and more convenient. Opting for your bike will improve your health and let you joyfully experience your neighborhood with all senses engaged.
The simplest way to carry things is on your body. Bike jerseys have multiple back pockets to stow items such as bananas, tubes, keys and money. But you probably don’t want to wear specialty recreational clothing to the drug store—and even those large pockets don’t hold much. For bulkier items, you can use a backpack or messenger bag.
Plus, putting that extra weight on your body has its downsides. It can make you sweat and strain your muscles. It raises your center of gravity, which affects stability. For heavier loads and longer trips, you’ll probably want to put the weight on your bike instead of your body.
At the very least, having a small bag attached beneath your saddle to carry a spare tube, patch kit and tools is a good idea. For small, light loads, a wire or wicker basket attached to the handlebars is an accessible, practical and photogenic choice. Wicker is especially charming loaded with baguettes and flowers.
Adding a rear rack, which can support 60 pounds or more, can make your bike a real workhorse. You can mount a bike “trunk” on top and strap it down. Panniers can hang from the sides of the rack thus putting the weight low to the ground.
I have a single pannier on my bike that is not quite big enough (a mistake) to hold a grocery bag. When I’m not hauling groceries, hardware items or tennis gear, it holds my lock. My wife has two panniers and I’m continually astonished by the mega loads she manages, including gallons of milk or produce from the farmers market, often cushioned by bubble wrap. Her panniers are easily removed and can be carried and filled while she shops.
Loading the panniers can take some getting used to. You want the loads equally balanced. Bungie cords or a cargo net can prevent items from bouncing out. My wife has found that a rear-mounted kickstand helps prevent the bike from falling during loading.
The ultimate in bike hauling comes from special cargo bikes and bike trailers, some of which can be pricey and may present parking issues. They can carry hundreds of pounds and items ranging from appliances to mattresses.
Kids and pets are common loads. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids are safer in a trailer rather than on the bike itself, though trailers can be hard for motorists to see.) There are a wide variety of styles for both cargo bikes and trailers. There are Dutch-style bikes with boxes in the front for the kids and cargo. There are other bikes with a cargo bay between the wheels and tricycles. Research and try these before you buy.
With an electric bike and trailer, or cargo e-bike, almost anything can be hauled. When I worked for a local bicycle advocacy group, before the popularization of e-bikes, we bought a custom trailer to haul the materials for our bike parking compounds. Relying on muscle power alone to move those hundreds of pounds was a stretch, and probably a mistake. Most people aren’t strong enough to start up a heavy load like that or tackle even a small rise. An electrical assist makes it much more practical.
But you don’t have to move a ton. If you’d like to try carrying things by bike, your friendly local bike store can help make the most of your existing bike or advise on a new bike. They offer essential services during the pandemic and any time.
Walt Seifert is executive director of Sacramento Trailnet, an organization devoted to promoting greenways with paved trails. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.