Reposted from Chicago Bike Blog
OK, so maybe you don't want to ride your bike to work. Maybe it's too far, too early, too dressy, too fussy, whatever. That doesn't mean that, in addition to being a fabulous recreational vehicle, your bike can't be a super utilitarian machine for getting around the city when you are not going to work.
I love to use my bike for grocery shopping. There are several enticing grocery options within 3 miles of my house, as well as several Farmers Markets on weekends. If I forego the car, I can get a nice morning ride in, and I can carry quite a bit with well-chosen equipment.
The number-one, most useful item is a rear carrying rack -- an aluminum platform which sits over the rear wheel of you bike. It provides a good place to carry your u-lock, and, with a couple of bungee cords, it will allow you to carry an unanticipated load in an emergency. Best of all, bicycle racks are designed to fit a variety of standard bicycle bags (or panniers) made specifically for carrying tons of stuff on your bike.
A versatile option is a large open-top pannier known as a grocery pannier (see photo above). It's a collapsible carrier shaped to fit a paper grocery sack. Such panniers are available from a variety of brands, and range in price from about $45 to $90. Another option we like is Ortlieb Backroller, a pair of large, waterproof bags without dividers or organizational distractions. These will carry your groceries securely even in inclement weather.
Regardless of brand or type, panniers attach to the bike rack with a combination of hooks and/or straps. Unlike heavier metal baskets, these bags can be taken off in seconds or folded flat when not in use. You can use them to carry your "regular" bag of briefcase (no need to move stuff back and forth between bags when you are cycling). Panniers can be carried singly or in pairs, and are great for carrying take-out, six-packs, library books, packages to be mailed, groceries (of course!), and many other things you can think of.
If you are serious about carrying loads with your bike, but don't need to carry cargo all the time, you may be a candidate for a cargo trailer. We don't currently stock cargo trailers at Cosmic Bikes, but they are always available by special order. For most trips, I am partial to two-wheeled trailers, such as the Burley Nomad. It's basically like having a trunk of a small car attached to your bike, and is a great choice if you're getting groceries for a family, and even for Costco expeditions. Unlike single-wheel trailers, this one offers terrific stability while it's being loaded, or maneuvered around a full parking lot with a load in it.
Quickly gaining popularity among load-carrying cyclists are various types of cargo bikes with heavy-duty carrying racks or platforms integrated into the frame of the bike. These bikes will accommodate several kids or large and loads up to 400lbs (charcoal bags, potting soil and kitty litter, large musical instruments, etc), while the sides of the rack can be used to mount extra large carrying bags. At Cosmic Bikes, we stock cargo bikes from Yuba, and it's an option that makes a lot of sense if you shuttle passengers or carry significant loads on a regular basis.
Don't forget, that you may be able to use what you already have. An afore-mentioned rear rack makes a great base for an ordinary milk crate, which -- if you can find one -- makes a fabulous bicycle "trunk". If you have a child trailer that your kids are not using or have outgrown, use that for shopping expeditions. Urban commuting doesn't have to be about spending money on more bike stuff. It's about using your resources creatively. So have fun with it, and stop by Cosmic Bikes for gear, or for free advice.