MMM Challenge: Try Getting Your Groceries with a Bike Trailer

I’ve got a big money-saving tip for you that will be completely obvious for long-time readers, yet is still completely necessary for me to review because there are new readers here every day who don’t have time to go back to the old Bicycle post.. and looking around on the city streets, I can see that the message obviously hasn’t caught on yet. As usual, it is best illustrated with a story:

The Mrs. and I had a craving for a fancy salad during a recent lunch time, and we were fresh out of fresh choppable items to throw into it. In fact the grocery list was getting pretty long overall (except for core staple items – we’re set for months on those thanks to my recent Costco run). So I hooked up my bike trailer and started coasting through the city streets – 2.4 miles of them to be exact – to visit the King Sooper’s grocery store.

This particular store is on a stretch of Stripmall Hell called Hover Road. I’m sure it is the very Aorta of Longmont’s city budget because of the sales tax it generates, so we can’t do away with it, but man, is that ever an unfortunate street. 2-3 lanes in each direction plus a jumble of turning lanes and medians in the center.  A grueling thousand-lane intersection every few hundred yards. And an absolute cacophony of stupid SUVs, delivery trucks, illegal-muffler Harleys, and regular cars roaring, rushing, idling, squealing, honking and crashing constantly. The street divides an oceanic stretch of parking lots on each side. There are thousands of parking spaces that are usually empty – probably built under a bizarre old city regulation that requires each business to pave enough space to accommodate the largest possible crowd – even though it is theoretically impossible for that to happen simultaneously for all businesses.

It’s very frustrating to drive to any of these stores, because you can see your final destination long before you reach it. “Oh! There’s the grocery store right there! Oh, shit, but here’s a long traffic light. Slow down. Stop. Idle. Wait for the crossing street’s left turners. Wait for the crossing street’s main traffic. Red light for everyone. Wait for the oncoming traffic’s left turners. OK, finally green for me. GO!!! Cut into a turning lane. Wait for more traffic. Enter parking lot. Wait for moms and kids pushing shopping carts. Wait for single lady to back out of parking space at 0.0007 MPH in the shiny black Escalade. Take spot far from store. Get out, lock car, start walking.

The reason all this sounds so stupid is because IT IS. Cars are EXCELLENT inventions for crossing remote mountain ranges and deserts and rolling country fields when travelling from one city or state to the next on a roadtrip with your family or friends. But they are STUPID for driving through your own town to get groceries – because everyone else is out there doing the thing, ruining the fun of the drive for you.

Compare this to the experience of riding your BIKE to the grocery store: Hook up the trailer. Hop on the bike. Get your legs and heart pumping as you ride the low-traffic route you proudly devised for yourself. When I approach Hover Road, I move onto the sidewalk, because I don’t want to mix it up with all those cars. I hit the pedestrian crossing button, and wait for a nice peaceful walk signal for myself. If it’s a long wait, I might even read an email or two on my phone. Green light. Pump the legs and accelerate smoothly through the intersection, right across the grassy median and into the grocery store parking lot instead of doing the 75-mile detour that cars have to do to access the busy main entrance to the parking lot. Cut directly across the entire parking lot at 20MPH and screech to a halt at the bike rack (or lamp post or tree) closest to the store entrance. Lock bike and head directly into the store.

In the olden days, I still bought groceries by bike occasionally, but I was forced to use the car for the giant weekend runs, because you can only fit a few things in a backpack. Two jugs of milk and you’re already almost out of space. But with the bike trailer, as it turns out, you easily can fit a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. I have packed spectacular quantities into even my small Nashbar trailer – one time I hauled $150 worth of items which I later weighed at 94 pounds – with very little effort.

So we’ve established that it is fun, and that Mr. Money Mustache likes to do it. But MMM can be intimidating at times, because he likes doing everything, right?. Once in a comment on this blog, he was even accused of being likely to remove his own appendix if it ever started acting up.

To bridge the gap between myself and the Still Aspiring Mustachians, I decided to conduct an experiment last week. I decided to see if I could get my wife Mrs. Money Mustache to try using the bike trailer to get the groceries, for the first time in her life, and report back to me on how it went.

Now, despite her relative badassity, Mrs. M. is actually a bit cautious when it comes to biking. It always takes a bit of nudging to get her to step up to the next level – from a bike ride in the park way back in the 1990s, to biking the 8 miles to our high-tech jobs in the 2000s, to pulling our son around in the trailer in the 2010s, and now to this final frontier – foregoing the car in order to join me in my established habit of bike-trailering the groceries. I knew it would be tricky, but I was able use my newfound status as Mr. Money Mustache to issue her an MMM CHALLENGE!!. “Are you badass enough to ride to the grocery store, then have the results reported to our Valued Money Mustache Readers!?!?!”

With the public pressure of thousands of people watching her, Mrs. M. proudly rose to the challenge, hooked up the trailer to her own bike, and pedaled off down the street. When she got back, she offered this report:

I admit that I am a fair-weather, convenience biker. If I decide it’s too cold or too far, I wimp out pretty quickly. For me, biking requires the right frame of mind and in my mind, biking to the grocery store seemed like a monumental task. After all, that’s a lot of weight to lug around town, right?

So, when MMM casually challenged me to bike to the grocery store, I was hesitant. But, then I thought of you fellow readers and decided to finally take the plunge and give it a go.

I must admit I expected it to suck, but it didn’t.

The bike ride was extremely pleasant, even though it was all by road. MMM outlined a special way to get to the store where I cut through a park and took the small back roads to end up behind the grocery store (I’m sure you can find a special route as well). I got there quickly and was amazed at how easy and relaxing the bike ride was – it was quiet and I hardly saw a car. I locked the bike right next to the front door (how convenient is that!?) and walked in with my KeepCool bag and a variety of other beautiful cloth bags made by a friend of mine.

When I came out with my big load (which I later learned weighed 52.5 lbs — only about 10 lbs heavier than my 5-year old), I parked the shopping cart right next to the bike trailer and loaded it up. This is the part I had been worried about: biking home. But, again, it was a breeze! I even stopped at the park to watch the geese on the lake. In fact, that bike ride to the grocery store brightened up my whole day. So, MMM, I can now publicly admit that I was wrong. Biking to the grocery store is easy, fun, and awesome!

So where’s the money saving aspect in all of this? It’s in the surprising amount of driving that most people do to get their groceries. I find that I need to visit the store about twice a week. That’s 104 grocery trips per year. Each one would be a 5-mile roundtrip for me, meaning 520 miles of driving. Now, there are a variety of ways to calculate the cost of driving a car, but short trips are the most expensive since they involve more engine wear and lower fuel economy. We’ll use the IRS rate of 51 cents per mile, meaning $265 of driving expenses that I avoid every year by biking to the grocery store. The real savings are of course much higher, because I get enormous health and stress reduction benefits by riding instead of driving too.

So with that 1500-word justification, I now pass on the MMM challenge to you: If you’ve never done it before, try getting your next grocery load by bike. If you don’t yet have a trailer, you can start with a small trip using a backpack. Get into the swing of things. Remember to bring your bike lock and your cloth grocery bags. I picked up a gigantic insulated bag with thick handles and a sturdy zippered top for about $7 at Costco that says “KeepCool” on the front. It keeps the frozen stuff cold while biking in the sun. I throw that into the bike trailer before heading out each time.

Once you realize how fun it is, you’ll want to upgrade to a trailer (search for “trailer” on Craigslist under baby/kid stuff), or if you want a more Hipster-style trailer and don’t mind paying a bit more for it, get one like this Dog Trailer on Amazon.

Existing Bikers: tell us how much you like riding to the store. Soon-to-be-bikers: tell us how you tried it for the first time and loved it. And ask if you need any more advice on how to make it work. Then spread your new skills to your other still-driving sucker friends.

Because of YOU, worldwide grocery store parking lots will soon be abandoned, and we can replace them with gardens and solar farms to power the grocery store itself. All from one MMM challenge.  Yeah!

  • Elise October 15, 2015, 8:28 am

    Using your math, driving to the grocery store once/week costs me about $53/year. A bike trailer bought on Craigslist will cost me between $50-90. I’m all for saving the environment, but I’m also a wimp when it comes to biking in the rain. So is a bike trailer really a worthy investment in this case? FWIW, I walk to the grocery store during nice weather and when I have the free time.

    • Elise November 4, 2015, 12:33 pm

      Update: I’m hoping to pick up a $40 bike trailer from Craigslist this weekend after having to drive the 1.2 miles to the grocery store on Monday night because I knew I couldn’t carry all the groceries home by myself. I’m sucking it up, getting my rusty bike chain fixed, and starting to invest in not being a complainypants. Over the years, it will eventually be worth it!

  • Randall December 18, 2015, 2:12 pm

    I don’t have a bike trailer, but I *do* own a portaging pack. I used to load up my pack, and bike home with everything on my back. My personal record thus far – 110 lbs of food!

    The hot dog vendor outside the grocery store used to stop serving customers when he saw me, just so he could watch me get on the bike, get going, and then give me a high five as I passed him :)

  • Jen March 6, 2016, 8:33 pm

    Xtracycle, baby! I hauled my first kid around in a a 10-year old, made-in-USA Burley trailer. Behind my mid-eighties Fuji road bike. Biked like that till I was about 36 weeks preggo with the 2nd one (THAT got me some looks)… then we took a break because I believe in helmets and from what I’ve read, babies can’t support the weight of a helmet till about a year.

    But it didn’t take long with TWO kids and a load of groceries to start thinking about A Better Way. I finally bit the bullet and bought an Xtracycle and I feel like a born-again biker. Biking is awesome, but this is Better. Two wheels on the road, lots and lots of gears… my husband hacked an iBert seat and we bolted it to the back deck for the little kid (now almost 3). The 5-yo gets a piece of a Thermarest zip-tied to the deck and he hangs on. I can carry both of them AND a week’s worth of groceries, and I have to say we look pretty badass. You can even tow another bike, so now the 5 can bike halfway to the Coop, get whiney, and hop on the Big Bike for the rest of the ride. I want to build a shade for it (we live in Albuquerque and the summer sun is horrific). I am no badass at the financial side of Mustachianism but we are working on it.. the biking part is pretty much straight fun, though. And it makes you strong, yes it does.

  • Hallie April 12, 2016, 2:47 pm

    Looks like the link isnt work for the Croozer Cargo Trailer – do you know where I could find one? Striking out on craistlist for any trailers. Thanks!

  • Kenneth Gregory May 4, 2016, 12:16 pm

    I have been riding to the grocery store once a week for about six months now. My wife thinks that I am crazy. However I have loaded about $200 worth of groceries on my modified trailer and ride home every week. I will say that at 48 years old I do take a while to get home. I do enjoy the ride, my job is only one mile away and the grocery store is 4 miles away. I am working on a new trailer for the bicycle. It will have better stability and haul more weight. I ride daily.

  • Shane July 18, 2016, 4:52 pm

    MMM – challenge accepted, albeit years later. Round one, road my bike to the grocery store and picked up a small backpack load. Here in Portland, cashiers smile encouragingly when you pack your food in your own bag (plastic bags have been banned from the city). Quite a pleasant experience. Round two, went grocery shopping on the bike again and this time with a medium sized backpack. Successful trip, yet I ended up carrying a brown bag in one hand while biking home due to buying too much food. The backpack is getting pretty heavy at this point in the challenge. Round three, I will return to the grocery store with a milk crate on the back of my bike. If that doesn’t cut it, I will have to get a bike trailer….or build one. Thanks for the ever-inspiring posts. I’m slowly trying to convert the husband to the Mustachian ways. He’s an avid bike commuter (nodded with approval during my grocery bike trips), but he has some work to do on the whole “spend less than you earn” thing. Will report back…still in training.

  • Val October 3, 2016, 7:50 am

    I realize I’m posting yeaaaaaars late, but I’m only recently an aspiring Mustachian (although I’ve had a lot of the tendencies all my life). I’ve been riding my bike to work every day, and yesterday, I tested out grocery shopping. Aside from the challenge of fitting 27 liters of food into a 24 liter pack (easily fixed with a Chico bag and carabiner!), grocery shopping went smoothly. The only foreseeable issue with a trailer might be that we tend to get different groceries from different stores (weekly sales to keep things cheap), and leaving your booty unguarded in Boulder may not be the wisest life choice. However, it could be solved by shorter but still pleasurable bike rides to different stores over a number of days, or one of us could be left to guard the goods while the other runs into the next store. So far, I’m finding that bike commutes are far more pleasurable and rewarding (sometimes with free coffee and pastries on the trail, thanks to Community Cycles!) :)

    • Andrew Mullen May 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

      Try the Aosom cargo trailer. Stick a locking plastic bin or tote in there and you’ll be good to go.

  • Pavel Kadera April 15, 2017, 5:09 am

    Anyone with real experience with http://www.nashbar.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_10053_10052_556152_-1___#ReviewHeader?
    I would like to buy the trailer for short trips with my kids.

  • Ray in Dublin May 16, 2017, 5:39 am

    This kinda doesn’t put a price on your time. Despite not owning a car I use the supermarket delivery service for €10 per month. As many deliveries I need with a €50 minimum order. When you are a full time working single parent with 2 small children it’s a valuable service. :)

  • Andrew Mullen May 17, 2017, 9:56 pm

    I have been riding my bike for all in town trips. I started out with trips to the grocery store pulling the kids trailer and now I have a acquired a cargo trailer for hauling my tools, and I built a flatbed for hauling my lawn mower around. I absolutely love it and my wife likes it too. We do get some strange looks from the car clowns, but just the other day a fellow biker asked about the trailer and said that it was just what he needed. It is a shame that seeing someone shopping via bike is such a strange sight in this country. I have been thinking about wearing one of those classic disguises (nose and glasses) while I’m out riding just to be funny…maybe it will make people realize that I’m actually not the weirdo…or maybe they’ll just laugh and say- look at that idiot…he must’ve gotten a DUI! Haha

  • Kim August 1, 2018, 12:05 pm

    I love grocery shopping by bike. I’ve started doing after shortly after I began following these blog posts. I find much joy riding to a destination and transporting items back home. I strapped a pizza box to the back rack of my bike last week. That was way more fun than driving and parking. Bike on!

  • Zachary Johnson May 3, 2019, 10:20 am

    Hi MMM,

    Longtime reader, short time biker.

    I have recently purchased a low cost bike at Walmart, assembled myself with constant maintenance needed. It has been great learning the components of bikes and how to maintain them.

    I live close to the gym and grocery store. I have started to bike to the gym, workout, and hit the grocery store on the way back home. Totaling less than 4 miles for round-trip. I’ve been using an under armor backpack to carry a small amount – I don’t mind making multiple trips as it encourages me to visit the gym and restock avocados.

    If your currently not biking at all, this distance sounds far. after almost 2 months, its a good start to the warm up for the gym workout. If your out of shape start slow. Buy a bike, then bike to the end of street, rest a few days then go a couple blocks, couple days rest bike a mile, ect. Building up distance will make you a more confident biker and allow you to get in better shape. Don’t get discouraged if it’s difficult at first just make progress.

    Today was my first day biking to work 4 miles one way – 18 minutes – better than most co-workers car commutes + all the biking benefits!

    Rock On, MMM! Still improving lives 8+ years later!

  • macohughes February 18, 2020, 1:57 pm

    I’ve been a reader for about a year and a half, and a long time biker. I had stopped commuting on my bike when I finished high school, but I started back about 6 months ago, and it feels great. I’ve been reading from the first post and I had passed over this challenge, but today I finally took it on.
    I used a backpack and bought home about 8kg (17pounds) worth of vegetables! (plus my laptop and notebook). Its not such a feat, but I sure felt like a real badass!! My wife thinks I’m crazy but I just love the idea of combining commuting, working out, and running errands, by just doing one thing. The ride is just under 4 miles, one of them on dirt, and 340 ft height. I sure hope it feels lighter as I do it more often because on the steepest incline, I really felt like dumping the backpack and picking it up later with my car!


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