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I'm planning my first solo cycling trip this summer. While it's not my first cycling trip (I've already done 4 big ones over 1000 km), it's the first tour I'm planning to do alone. One thing concerns me a lot, is how it works with shopping. So far, we've always handled it by having one person wait with the luggage while the other person does the shopping. But how do I do that alone and what are your experiences? Countries on the route are Belgium, Netherlands, and France.

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  • Choosing large supermarkets with wide alleys and getting inside with your bike at quiet times is the alternative. I often get to my local farmers' market at opening and buy my weekly load while keeping my bike with me. Apr 1 at 9:08

11 Answers 11

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Four options:

  • Only take what you do not worry about and leave it on the bike when you shop.
  • Lock your bike and take your luggage into the shop with you.
  • Check into a hotel and leave your luggage in your locked room before you go out shopping.
  • Take everything you need from home and do without shopping.

Most people will do something that is a mix.
If you have a safe place to sleep, whether it is a campsite or some building, leave what you can there and go shopping. Always take the important items like money, passport, camera and phone, but do not worry too much about your tent and bedding.
For a short shop when you are in a small town lock your bike well but leave the luggage on, trusting that most people are honest.
If you manage to travel with little luggage you can take it into the shop with you, mostly people take in part of their things, not all.
But do plan on not having to do some shopping every day if you feel not right about leaving your things behind.

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    Yes, solo in the UK and France I've always relied on keeping my valuables on my person and the rest being OK. I try to chose shops with care - village shops rather than big supermarkets in major towns - both for lower risk of opportunists and because smaller shops take me out of site for a shorter time. But I'm also prepared to lock up at a nature reserve and go for a short hike, lock up by a river and sim, that sort of thing. I tend not to carry a massive lock, but I will on a long weekend I've got coming up, because a couple of my stops leave me with little choice late at night.
    – Chris H
    Mar 24 at 21:19
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    The downside of taking everything into the shop with you is that you're tied into having panniers and therefore a rack. Frame bags, (some) bar bags, saddlebags etc. are far harder to carry off the bike, and I would have been up to 4 bags excluding the ones that only held bike tools. Further, they have to be attached to the bike then packed, so you end up with all your kit spread out in a supermarket car park. But if you are running with a pair of big panniers, going to a supermarket with trolleys may be an option - if they'll let you take them in
    – Chris H
    Mar 24 at 21:22
  • @ChrisH: Since bags mounted to the bike are harder to remove it also makes it harder for a thief. Some bags (e.g. Topeak Backloader X) have an internal drybag you can easily take out and carry with you into the shop.
    – Michael
    Mar 25 at 9:19
  • @Michael I've got the backloader, The drybag is a bit of a pain, because it's not as big as the main bag,. The difference is enough that having bought a sleeping bag carefully chosen to fit in my saddlebag when compressed, it didn't fit compressed and protected from rain. I made a new, tapered, compression sack for it. OTOH a damp tarp can go in the saddlebag outside the drybag. Because of the drybag, my backloader is for my sleeping bag and clothes, and well stuffed (no simply slipping the drybag back in), so quite tricky to remove as you suggest, but also not a priority target.
    – Chris H
    Mar 25 at 10:32
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    I'd add that for The Netherlands (and big cities), looking for a 'bewaakte fietsenstalling' (guarded bicycle parking) can also be an option, if you don't mind walking a bit with your groceries/aren't very particular about at which supermarket you want to shop. The city near me for example has one that's free to use and pretty much across the street from a supermarket. They won't likely be found in small villages or towns though. Mar 26 at 15:20
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I agree on leaving low-value, replaceable items on the bike. You can further reduce the risk of losing them by making it harder for the thieve to take them discreetly:

  • Make the bags difficult to remove from the bike. Small padlocks or even just straps at difficult to access areas are great for this. You don't want to make the locking on the bags too obvious, as it will make them more attractive to thieves. Slicing the bag and spilling the contents is always more work and attracts more attention than just carrying the whole bag away.
  • Make it appear you will be only gone for a short time. For example, leave a cheap piece of clothing dangling on top of the bike.
  • Make it appear you have only cheap stuff - it's great if your bags appear a bit repaired and cheap, whether they really are or not.
  • Leave something obvious to steal: a small unlocked bag, or even an old smartphone. Once someone runs away with it, they are less likely to stick around looking through your other stuff.
  • If possible, park against a physical obstacle like a wall that makes it difficult to access bags on that side.
  • Park in an area that could be observed from somewhere, such as near the outdoor tables of a restaurant. Unless the thief has seen you park, they'll have reasonable suspicion that you are within line-of-sight.
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    For example, leave a cheap piece of clothing dangling on top of the bike normally in my case that's damp and not particularly fresh cycling gear that's been roughly washed out and I'm trying to get dry
    – Chris H
    Mar 25 at 6:44
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    Attaching a couple inexpensive "bear bells" to the top/sides of your bag can also act as a simple deterrent (in addition to the straps/locks you mentioned). When riding, you can use a magnet to hold each bell's thingamabob against the interior of the bell's shell to keep each bell quiet. Mar 25 at 7:43
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    The last one is especially useful in small towns and villages. Placing it in an area with witnesses around (and often small shops in villages are a social area with locals sitting around) is a good deterrent against thieves. (unless it's a very rough neighborhood where locals would sympathize with thieves, but with some experience you can recognize such neighborhoods)
    – vsz
    Mar 26 at 7:20
  • @vsz don't count on "witnesses being around" to be any deterrent at all thieves. Bike thieves are well aware that most people would perceive an ongoing bike theft as SEP and not make any attempt to stop it. What would be the deterrent in this specific case is that the thief would suspect the bike owner might be watching, who obviously owns this problem. Mar 26 at 23:28
  • @leftaroundabout : my focus was on small town or village, where the "somebody else's problem" is not as prevalent as in bigger cities.
    – vsz
    Mar 27 at 5:03
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The most important thing is to keep your valuables on your person, as others have implied. In my case, that means taking my phone off the bars - my wallet and keys stay in my jersey pockets. At little village shops and many cafes, that's all I do, not even bothering to lock up (or just using a mini cable lock against opportunists riding off)

I recommend reading Willeke's answer setting out your options, before getting much further with mine.

The less valuable stuff is protected by being tricky to steal. A thief would either have to start opening bags and looking for something worth having, or manage to get a whole bag off with its fiddly fastenings, on the chance that there's something worth stealing in it.

Panniers, if you use them, can sometimes be taken into supermarkets attached to a trolley (that's how I do my weekly shopping); other supermarkets don't like you taking big bags in, but have somewhere to leave them.

Even with panniers, I'd only take the more important one(s) and/or the ones I wanted to pack shopping into. This is my old heavy bike-camping setup, for a long weekend at the beach rather than touring - I wouldn't have the front panniers on a tour (one had a wetsuit, the other, hiking boots). heavy bike-camping rig In this case I'd pack the semi-valuables (e.g. a cheap camera) into the bar bag - this one has a shoulder strap - and use it for shopping. The rear panniers are usually locked together and to the rack with a light cable lock, and all the panniers are fiddly to remove.

Travelling lighter, this is my setup for a 1200km (just over a week) solo camping tour. bikepacking setup (more details and pictures of the bikepacking rig here, also illustrating my point under jpa's answer about draping unpleasantly damp clothing over the top, looking too scruffy to be worth stealing, and the camping setup here). I only had a light lock, and there were only 2 places I was nervous - the 2 biggest supermarkets, especially the one that was in a big town and not the nicest bit. I was very quick in that shop. The backpack marked "Empty" was my shopping bag so I could carry fresh food and extra water from a shop to a camping or lunch spot, or to hike, but all the other bags are fiddly to remove. The bags in this setup are fitted to the bike then packed, so removing them would be really tedious, and carrying them at least as bad.

On that same trip, I had a couple of hikes and a few swims. For the longest hike I left the bike/tent at a campsite and didn't worry about it or my other stuff. This is perhaps from growing up spending time on campsites where only valuables were secured.

I've got a trip coming up soon, not exactly a tour but close (780km over 3 days, one night on the road with company but without sleep, then returning solo with a hotel stop). For that I'll use the big saddlebag pictured above (a Topeak Backloader, with its drybag inside) and a frame bag similar to the pale grey one, but sized to fit my other bike*. I'll carry a proper lock on that trip, because in a couple of places I'll have a very limited choice of where to stop (e.g. late on a Sunday evening).

I take a similar approach for long day rides (long meaning 200+km, so the temperature and weather can change quite a bit, and I need a certain level of self-sufficiency), rarely carrying a heavy lock and not worrying about someone looking in my bags to steal my jacket and snacks - but staying as close to the bike as feasible, trying to keep it in sight.


* I make some of my own luggage, including the pale grey and orange bags here.

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    The look of that humongous lever of a saddle bag dangling there freely with even more stuff strapped to it hurts my eyes (and other body parts, by imagination). Why would you do that to a poor seatpost, on a bike that doesn't even have suspension and could easily support rear luggage from below? Mar 27 at 13:51
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    @left The load from a sleeping bag and clothes is far far less than the load from my sit bones not being centred over the seat post by a few cm. The empty backpack strapped their weighs essentially nothing. When loaded with anythind more than a damp jacket, it's on me My lightest rack is nearly 1kg of deadweight, plus rack-top bags are heavier than saddlebags. Anyway it's a pretty sturdy alloy seatpost in a steel seat tube. Well packed and strapped that bag doesn't sway much, but on my lighter bike I can feel some movement, so it's not the best place for heavy stuff
    – Chris H
    Mar 27 at 14:13
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    You could just brace the bag with some light aluminium struts. I've made a complete (albeit minimal) rack out of 10mm tubes and wood, weighs about 200g but strong enough to directly strap a large tent and more on top of it with no dangling or bouncing. (I've even used it to transport my complete alpine skiing equipment once, though that didn't really work well.) Mar 27 at 14:41
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    @leftaroundabout that seems rather pointless. It's my driest bag, and the stuff that matters most if it gets wet is light - no problem.
    – Chris H
    Mar 27 at 15:05
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When I traveled alone, where there was a possibility of theft, when I go shopping for supplies, I looked for nearby bike shops, normally the owners were always very eager and would let me leave the bike there during this period. When I returned to the bike shop I would always try to buy something like energy bars or a new water bottle to provide minimal mutual help.

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  • that is a nice idea
    – Weiss
    Mar 26 at 14:34
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  • If you can, bring the bike into the shop or at least anteroom with you.
  • Bring the luggage with you if you can. Easier if your bags are easy to take off. For example a pair of panniers is easy to take off and put into a shopping cart.
  • At the least, bring your most valuable stuff with you (passport, money, smartphone).
  • Lock the bike. Even a small cable lock will prevent somebody from simply running away with the bike and all the luggage. You can also take the front wheel or both wheels out. You can even carry a wheel with you into the shop. If you can “lock” the bike and luggage with helmet or bag straps it also means a thief has to fiddle around for a few seconds more. If your bags are easy to take off (e.g. Ortlieb Backrollers with their quick lock system) make it harder by threading the lock through the bag handles or wrapping the straps around the rack.
  • Make it appear less desirable. A dirty bike with scratches with a bag of garbage or smelly laundry strapped to the rear rack makes for a much less inviting target.
  • Lock somewhere visible and spend as little time away from the bike as possible.

Honestly most of the time I don’t bother with all of the above. If I can see the bike from inside, the area is not too questionable and it looks like it will only take a few minutes I’m happy to just lock the bike with a small cable lock and trust that nobody will start rummaging through my luggage. Especially true if I just hop into a small bakery in the countryside.

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    For the lock, a frame lock (spoke lock) will do.
    – gerrit
    Mar 25 at 15:58
  • @gerrit: Frame locks tend to be surprisingly heavy. For that amount of weight you can basically bring a small U-lock which offers much more security.
    – Michael
    Mar 25 at 16:03
  • A frame-lock is for low-risk scenarios, where one doesn't need much more security. A frame lock is convenient because it's impossible to forget. When bikepacking, bike+rider+luggage are probably around 100 kg at least, possibly more than 120 kg. For me the added weight of a frame lock is not an issue at all in this case (not sure if I could even tell a 0.6% increase in mass). Bonus: if you bring enough gear, a thief cannot lift bike + gear so they can't run off with it either :D
    – gerrit
    Mar 25 at 16:09
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    If you want the minimal security of a frame lock a long shackle padlock between the seatstay and a spoke is similar - no riding off easily - but can be combined with a very light looped cable to lock to a fence and prevent easy lifting
    – Chris H
    Mar 27 at 15:08
  • Bringing bikes into a shop or the anteroom will depend on where you are and how many bikes there are. In the Netherlands it will be a no go, too many bikes and not much space inside. It might work in a big supermarket in France which is in the middle of nowhere but I would not be surprised if they do not like it there either.
    – Willeke
    Mar 28 at 5:26
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Alarm.

Audible alarms are almost useless for vehicle theft prevention. They are worse than useless for car theft, providing an easy way to check if the owner is nearby - the thief will kick the tires, take a smoke, make sure they're in the clear.

But for this one tiny narrow scenario, preventing external luggage theft, they can be useful. Lock your bike with a U-lock, lock your luggage with cable locks to provide a small delay, turn on the alarm.

Within a very short range and a very short timeframe, they work. Provided you keep your phones, laptop, and cash in your backpack. Disclaimer: Not guaranteed to work if you're traveling with the scoop on who exactly gave the kill order on JFK to the undocumented party from Roswell.

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A case study to consider:
Long, long ago, in a hostel far, far away, one fellow traveller stood out from the rest owing to his out-going and always friendly demeanor. A memorable individual with a backstory (summarised below).

"Bob" had paired-up with another 'traveller', "Charlie", spending a few days of touring together.

As they waited for an long-distance bus to take them to the next town on this holiday island, they grew thirsty.

Bob headed off to purchase two drinks, trusting his pack to the watchful care of Charlie. A very short time later, Bob returned with the drinks, only to discover Charlie (and both packs) were nowhere to be found.

First meeting Bob, and hearing his story, roughly one week after this "misfortune", he politely (and cheerfully) refused any/all commiserations. He said, "I'm here for only 2 months, and I've wasted the first month stressed and fretting about being ripped-off... Now that maybe being robbed no longer an issue, I've been enjoying the freedom and liberation, finally able to enjoy being here on this beautiful island!"

Advice: Leave "home" at home. Bring along only essentials and expendables. Travel light and worry less. Disconnect from the status quo.

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    Not sure if the victim of the Great Mongolian Bicycle Robbery would reason that way. I would not be pleased if my tent and sleeping bag were nicked and I have to sleep in the open air in a remote wilderness (at official campgrounds it may not even be permitted). Travelling lightly is not realistic if bikepacking in remote parts of the world or in poor weather.
    – gerrit
    Mar 25 at 7:14
  • @gerrit Appreciate the "reality check". I agree... somewhat... The reason for submitting this response (in March) was an attempt to have the OP "chill"... This question, months ahead of their solo "Summer trip" suggests anticipation of loss, stress and misfortune is already tainting the experience. "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." OR! One could book an all-inclusive river boat cruise with a locking door on a private cabin. Jus' trying to provide "perspective." (I do have some bicycle touring experiences. Key word: "experience".)
    – Fe2O3
    Mar 25 at 7:38
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    The other alternative would be to book an all-organised cycling holiday with luggage transport, so that during the day one is travelling lightly and can bring all belongings into the shop (except for the bike itself). Not for me, but an alternative to some.
    – gerrit
    Mar 25 at 8:57
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    @gerrit the alternative if you've got money is to book... (also, typically, if you like short days, big campsites, and you want to go where such a service is an option). I have done a tour like that, and enjoyed it, but on a more recent trip with the same people we went for carrying (a fairly minimal) everything ourselves and staying in hotels.
    – Chris H
    Mar 25 at 11:46
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Bikepacking is traveling light. But regardless...

Carry one large thin bag that can hold all the others. Put them all in the large one, go to the store, ask to stash your bag while shopping (so they know you aren't hiding items you haven't paid for yet in it). Retrieve it when you pay and leave.

A wheeled trolley to hold this large bag is probably excessive, but I have seen shopping panniers with wheels - two of those might fit your needs.

Considering the pictures others posted along with their replies, I would think full front and rear panniers is impractical for this, but the bikepacking picture looks quite reasonable.

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    Not all bikepackers travel light. Some may go on multi-month expeditions, bringing winter tyres, packrafts, hiking gear, weeks of food, and end up with 50 kg of luggage.
    – gerrit
    Mar 27 at 8:55
  • Yeah and I have to transport the camping material for 2 peoples :)
    – Weiss
    Mar 27 at 13:47
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well, i have some theoretical thoughts, on this subject, because i was planning, outdoor trip in mountains, for very long and my conclusions was of some practical manner

that, if you have only backpack, then you can try to, go straight, across the mountains, which is more extreme sport, because you try to jump, across the line of mountains and, this gives you idea to make, camp if you find place for fire

but, this is considering you have really good clothes, which i collect too, because i am fan of sport , and tourism but as you notice there is many brands, and beginning from hard-shell blouse, and soft shell, like texas shield you have variety of more and less expensive equipment

so, in this subject obviously, you see that you can also, travel very fast but, bikes are horrendous prices, and this is very rare choice, but i suppose many people think that this, very extreme sport is really funny or attractive

i say, this mostly about sudeten mountains, which is in poland west border, and i think that this is, true about mountain that there is, weather and temperature and, you must realise, that principles are not to frost

so, its just thoughts that i had, and basically i think that, it is true also about lower altitude, but 5000 meters is alot the same thing , so unless there is wood you can make fire, and this is point to remember, that you must take alot of dry food, because preparing food, can be to big problem , and metabolism still works

so, despite low temperatures are not, favoured by everybody i still think, this is attractive way, to spend time and i wish, everybody could visit mountains in winter, looks is really impressive, especially water flowing from mountains

something, you can remember your whole, life is just impression that this is wild nature, and weather changes , but you remember place and, only you must first book hotel , which some people forget because they think, its spirit of adventure, but even weather can be dangerous, and this is it

best wishes

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I like to find public lockers to leave my luggage at, they can usually be found in train stations. If you happen to be staying at a backpacker hostel with a reception, it's also usually possible to leave your stuff at the reception as you explore the city!

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It is possible to get a lockable "hard shell" case. Of course, this will not stop the complete bicycle from being stolen (it makes more sense to break the primary lock, so you get everything), but for a very short stop, this may work. It is obviously not advisable to keep anything valuable inside, just against random kiddies that may pick stuff like a spare tube and a package of chips.

If the initial driving-off effect does not work, I keep my case unlocked so it can be easily opened. What is inside often has less value than the price of the case itself if it is broken while opening.

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  • This is more useful if it does improve your speed, as a tail faring on a recumbent bike, holding luggage is not the main reason to have one but a nice side effect.
    – Willeke
    Mar 30 at 22:06

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