Saturday, 13 February 2016

Shopping by bike

Many opponents of cycling claim that they cannot carry all of their purchases after they shop by bike. This is not true.

There are many bicycles that let you carry your purchases well. For smaller ones, like a few new T shirts you can roll them up, put them in a bag and carry it on a luggage rack. For larger/heavier purchases, a set of panniers, and I've seen models that go up to 65 litres (this is a measure of volume, not a measure of liquids, this also happens to be why aviators measure fuel in kilograms not litres) for the two of them. 40 cm by 33 cm by 23 each. So that is quite a lot of space. You can add to this by adding a front rack and a crate in the front, some models offer 25 litre capacity, but if even that isn't good enough for you, you can always use a 50 litre crate. And let me tell you, 105 litres (combining 65 litre panniers and 50 litre crate) is going to be a lot of groceries. Don't' use the crate without a front steering damper though.  That amount of volume is roughly a 47.5 sided cube if you were to get the cube root of 105 litres (whatever that means).

But even that might not be quite enough for some. A cargo bicycle, or as the Dutch refer to it, a bakfiets, is a word that is almost a loanword to some writing bike blogs in English, has much more space. Often used to transport kids around (for kids who can't ride on their own, that's fine, for kids who can, this is a problem because it shows that the parent's are not OK with letting their kids ride independently by reason other than the child's own ability to ride), but another use of these is for shopping trips. Bakfietsen boxes are larger than they look. And don't forget, bakfietsen also have rear racks as well, allowing you to carry an extra 65 litres on panniers or so. I doubt you'll need the space, but if you need it, then use it. They often have multiple gears, often 8 on newer models, still enclosed, some have e-assists if you want them. And of course these bakfiets also come with everything you need when you buy them. Lights, dynamo powered, enclosed gears, enclosed chain, enclosed brakes, good seating position, an included lock on the rear wheel (seriously, who is going to pick up a bakfiets?), handlebars that are bent back, and a built to last bicycle. Or sometimes tricycle.

And their cost isn't unreasonable, much less costly than the price you pay for a car. I've seen one for $3500, which is pretty good. And after considering that my mom goes to a walmart about 5 km away, each way, so 10 km round trips, at a normal price of gas (aside from the price wars with Saudi Arabia) at about a dollar per litre, for the van she drives, is 12.3 l/100 km (meaning how many litres it takes to go 100 km, as opposed to many many miles a single gallon will take you), so 10 km, this is easy, 2.3 litres of gas, at a dollar per litre, is 2.3 dollars per trip. Assume she goes around every 8 days. That is 45 times per year. 103 dollars per year. And this isn't counting the other uses you might have for a bakfiets though. You could be using the same bakfiets 25 years from now, so the price of fuel alone is going to be about 2500 by that time for shopping trips to that store alone, which while less than the bakfiets cost, you still have to pay for other things, like registration each year. That's an extra 84 dollars per year. Cyclists don't need registration, so that doesn't matter to them. 187 dollars per year in fuel and registration costs isn't good. It means you will entirely pay off the bakfiets in 18 years.

Now you don't have to get groceries every week or so, you could get them perhaps every 3-4 days, meaning your load is about half as big. And it means your food will be a bit fresher when you get it, and you will think better about how much you've actually been using.

What else is needed to foster a good shopping by bike climate?

Well, you need the safe places to ride between the store and your home in a direct and fast way. I've covered this before, cycle tracks on through roads, cycle tracks and sometimes cycle lanes on distributors, mixed cycling in the 30 and 60 km/h low volume zones, and the safe, fast and easy to use intersections that connect them with as few stops as possible, ideally none. This includes feeling like it is safe to ride, socially as well as the feeling of danger by things like cars, motorcycles or bollards.

There needs to be safe and easy to access, and especially, secure places to park your bicycle, both at home and the shop. The parking must be close to the entrances to the stores. The fact that so many bicycles in the Netherlands have wheel locks and good kickstands is an extra aid to this. I tried seeing what would happen if I didn't use my wheel lock to secure my bicycle a few times. It took much longer and was much less convenient to lock my bicycle any other way. They make a big difference. And that you can just pop the key in and go, or pop the key out and leave with the bicycle staying where it is works well. Having a good kickstand means that it won't fall over, and you can park your bicycle wherever, especially useful when it becomes very busy in the shopping streets. There are usually little racks that keep your front wheel upright near the door, occasionally coming with a long arm with a loop at the end to use a chainlock if you have that, so it is easy to park your bicycle, and the fact that it stays upright means that you can easily load your bicycle with your purchases when you come back.

The pedestrianized shopping streets help a lot to encourage people to cycle. First, you don;t feel like a car is going to come along and crash into you, so that helps. Second, it encourages people to go and visit, to actually be there and take the place of cars. And by having the smaller scale stores and the pedestrianized street means that you can fit more stores in one place. You can also easily just walk around and decide on what you want while leaving your bicycle parked in one place, and you can easily ride around a little bit further to see what you might want, making it more door to door. Much more so than a car is. Think about how much space a car needs to park, to get around, to make U turns and turns in general, it is a lot. And it also restricts car use, making arriving by bike or foot a more attractive thing to do.

Cycling also needs to be seen as an activity that can be done in ordinary attire, only changing for the weather, no special safety gear needed. Imagine if you had to dress up in all sorts of arm and ankle bracelets that reflect light, a bulky helmet, you needed to fit a light every time you wanted to ride, you needed to attach clips to your pants to stop them from getting in the chain, and you needed to oil the chain every time? Would you want to go and shop like that? I don't do that, except for the helmet, mainly because you can get fined for that in Alberta (if you're under 18) and also because it actually feels a bit unusual to ride without one, which shows just how effective the helmet promotion when you were a child can be. It would go away over time. but it needs to be fostered by governments never sponsoring this sort of promotion at no level, national, provincial or municipal, cycle campaigners not asking for people to wear helmets or do these kind of promotions, and the safe routes that make helmets, high viz and race bikes look like overkill.

A lot of things can be done by bicycle, and given good conditions, shopping is among them.

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