As a large family that runs on calories as fuel, we make a lot of trips to the grocery store. Our Store of choice is an Albertsons about 2 miles from our house. Short trips for staples can be handled with panniers or our cargo bike, but a few times a month we require a full food reset, and for that we need our trailer. This is a huge part of how we have survived by bike for so long and been successful.
It’s a team effort from the start. Rachel and I start working on a grocery list to make sure what we get is what we need. While we prep the list, the older boys prepare the trailer. Addy and Charlie take a moment to clean any debris left from their younger siblings, check air pressure and do the equivalent of the bicycle ABC Quick check on our D’lite trailer.
Once the tasks and gear are set, we decide on the vehicle. If I have passengers, I take the cargo bike(a Surly Big Dummy with Yuba Monkey Bars) if I have passengers or my beloved Surly Cross-Check if I am rolling solo. From experience with trailers, I know the Burley D’lite will behave the same regardless of bicycle, so it allows us to pick which set-up works best. Lower end trailers (e.g. Schwinn or Instep) behave differently depending on the vehicle/weight/road conditions. That makes it hard when you leave with trailer weight and return with that plus 100lbs of food.
We live on the second story of an apartment building, but making two trips isn’t always possible. To get around this I used my experience driving truck and trailer to connect the bike and trailer and maneuver it by the elevator, hitting the button as I pass and positioning my bike so that as soon as the door opens I can smoothly back the trailer into the lift. This is a normal sized elevator so, once the trailer is guided in, I raise the bike up to allow clearance for the door to close. There is even still room for 2-3 passengers to comfortably join us(though if anyone is already on the elevator I usually wait)! Getting the trailer back out usually requires a bit more maneuvering but ,with enough practice, it has become much more smooth.
Now, I’m getting ready to load this trailer up so the trip there is about testing and correcting any issues with the trailer. Do the shocks feel good? Are the wheels secure? Any odd noises coming from anywhere? The answer is almost always know, but even with the at-home check, things can happen. I am very happy with Burleys choice to abandon Quick Release levers on their wheels, their current system makes for a much faster and more accurate check.
As I am monitoring the trailer itself I also make one more very important observation, road conditions. Glass and debris can be annoying at any time, but fixing a flat with a loaded down trailer, possibly with the addition of young kids at the roadside, can make the experience difficult enough to abandon altogether! It’s also a good time to spot any other potential problems or obstacles for your return trip, keeping in mind that soon you will be slower and much less nimble.
Arriving at the store I like to park out front where there is a lot of traffic, a good U-lock and little opportunity is a good way to feel safe while shopping(Look for a more in-depth look at security soon). I used to lock both bike and trailer out front, but it was always a guessing game to figure out what would or would not fit back into the trailer. Our D’lite has the one wheel stroller attachment, so rather than lock it up, I just pop the wheel down and roll through the front door of our local Albertsons.
The actual shopping is the shortest part of the whole routine, but there are tricks to make sure your Burley is used as efficiently as possible. Starting in the freezer section is always a good bet, as is creates a nice cool area for some of the more perishable foods. I typically hit dairy second, as a few gallons of milk add quite a bit of weight and things like yogurt and cheese benefit greatly from being packed with cold items from the freezer aisle. It’s usually best to hit raw meat next as most things you have so far are packaged and cold and you still have quite a bit of room for allotting special space to avoid cross contamination. I usually prefer using the rear storage area of our D’lite for this task, flipping up the rear flap so I don’t forget it when its time to check out. If your trailer is equipped with a rotating stroller bar, you can take this time to create a small table surface using the front and rear part of the cover, which comes in very handy later on. Canned food comes next, its hard, heavy and adds up fast, its very easy to overload a trailer with these items so its important to be constantly assessing the additional weight, a few times I have had to stop a shopping trip because the can weight crept up on me. Boxed food, grains and baking supplies can be bought mostly in whatever order, they all have awkward shapes but weigh a bit less. With a variety of shapes and sizes, nearly all of which are fragile, produce comes last. This is where the extra internal room in our D’lite comes in handy, it is always surprising how much can be fit inside still set so as not to fall out while shopping. Now I know I just said produce comes last but there are two exceptions. The first exception is eggs, feel free to use the small surface you created using the front and rear flaps to hold a nice big flat of eggs. The other is special requests, I like to bring a little Sushi home for Rachel whenever I can. To meet this task I keep my helmet clipped to the handlebars, this can hold drinks, food, whatever you want to keep separated at the end of your trip.
So now you have all of the food all packed up and organized, you’ve marked off your list and you are ready toooooo…unpack all of it as quickly as possible and then load it again! But this time faster and with people staring at you! Honestly it’s not nearly that bad, and there are tricks to help feel less exposed in this situation.
When I started shopping by trailer, I would have one of my boys go grab a cart from up front, allowing the bagger to load normally, then wheeling it up front to re-pack the trailer. This is not always possible for a few reasons, kids get tired and patience runs low, the store doesn’t have space to perform the task, etc. Using bags can be a blessing or a curse, plastic bags can end up damaging a lot of goods, but paper bags hold their form well enough to allow bags to fit neatly into the trailer.
If you luck out, you end up with some really awesome checkers and baggers who make you feel totally comfortable with your “unusual” approach to shopping. Kyle and Teagan were those people for me, and always worked together to pack my Burley as efficiently as possible! When they eventually moved to different departments, I had to re-learn how to do it myself again, both of them were and still are absolute Rockstar’s!
Next up, Shopping Cardag Style-Cargo Bike!