There’s more to practical cycling than bike commuting on Bike to Work Day on May 8. The whole month of May is National Bike Month and you’ll find a full calendar of bike activities throughout the month, from urban skills classes to a theft prevention seminar to a family ride with Kidical Mass. And this year there’s a new event being launched here in Silicon Valley: Bike to Shop Day.
For me, shopping by bike is a great way to have fun and get exercise while taking care of errands that started back in 1993 when I bought an entry-level mountain bike so I could ride downtown. At one mile from my home, Castro Street was too far to walk comfortably with packages and it seemed silly to drive such a short distance. I installed a rear rack, bought some panniers and starting riding all over town, just like I do today. I’m not the only one out there either, as evidenced by bikes parked to every rack, signpost, railing and tree on Castro Street and by the busy bike racks at stores like Safeway, Trader Joe’s and at Stanford Shopping Center.
But somehow biking to shop doesn’t get promoted like biking to work gets, which has never made sense to me. My workplaces have always been 5-12 miles from home, whereas most of my errands are close to home. Groceries, pharmacy, post office, dry cleaning, sporting goods and hardware stores are all less than a 15 minute ride away. Even more important: I don’t have much choice in my workplace location, but I can choose where I shop. If there’s not a pleasant route or secure parking, I shop elsewhere.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with volunteers and staff at Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to launch Bike to Shop Day Silicon Valley. The concept is simple: You hop on your bike to shop, dine or do errands on Saturday, May 17, 2014 and participating local businesses will offer you a discount or other incentive for arriving by bike.
The team has signed up 16 Mountain View businesses to offer special deals for bike shoppers and another 16 within easy biking distance in Los Altos and Palo Alto. Plus dozens more throughout Silicon Valley for a grand total of over 75 shops. Participating merchants are listed and mapped on the Bike to Shop Day site using smartphone-friendly Google map that’s zoomable and clickable to view shop and special offer information. Starting next weekend you’ll see Bike to Shop Day posters in windows of participating stores.
If you’re new to shopping by bike, you have a few weeks to get prepared. For small shopping loads, all you need is a backpack. But now is a good time to gear up with a front basket or a rear rack and panniers to carry more. If you don’t want to burden your favorite bike with such attachments or park your precious baby outside stores, consider souping up an old bike as a grocery getter like I wrote about last summer.
If you’re a dedicated bike shopper who prides yourself on the crazy things you’ve strapped on your bike and rolled away with, the Bike to Shop Challenge gives you a chance to show off, and a chance to win some prizes. Businesses have donated gift certificates and other items as drawing prizes for people who take the challenge. To enter, all you need to do is take a fun photo of your bike and/or you on one of your shopping trips, then send it to organizers. Your photo will be posted on their web site and on social media and you’ll be entered in the prize drawing.
I’m really excited that we’re expanding Bike Month beyond Bike to Work Day, and I’m proud that so many of our local businesses are getting involved. Maybe next year Bike to Shop Day will grow to be a regional, state or national event. And then we can say that like so many other things, it was founded in Silicon Valley.
Do you shop, dine or do errands by bicycle? If so, where are your favorite places to go and why?
Quick Gear Guide for Shopping by Bike
- Rear racks support loads over your bike’s rear wheel, making for a stable ride. Most attach to the frame near the rear wheel axle and to the seat stays, the frame area just below the seat.
- Panniers are bike-specific bags that attach to racks. Touring panniers are designed to be more aerodynamic and weather-proof for long trips, while boxy open-topped panniers are convenient for quick stops and shorter trips.
- Baskets are usually mounted on the handlebars but can also be attached to a rear rack. Handlebar baskets are great for keeping things close at hand, like purses and small pets. Having weight on the handlebars affects steering more than when the weight is on the back, so be careful with a heavier load.
- Elastic straps work well when you have an odd-shaped object or a few too many items to carry. The best ones are flat instead of round with two or three straps emerging from a single hook at each end, but I also keep micro-sized bungees on my bike just in case.
- Kickstands are handy for making quick stops on errand runs and almost required when you’re carrying groceries on your bike. It’s a lot easier to load up when you don’t have to balance the bike too.
- Bike trailers can carry far bigger loads than a bike alone. I use my cargo trailer when I’m buying the big stuff like 30 rolls of toilet paper at Costco, or when I want to buy more than three bags of groceries in one trip. Note that they’re less stable when empty. I learned the hard way.