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. For example, I love to use my bike for grocery shopping. My supermarket of choice has a nightmarish parking lot. If I ride my bike, I don't even have to set foot in it, and I can carry a lot more than if I walk.
With some well-chosen equipment, your bicycle is capable of carrying significant loads. 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 bunji cords, it will allow you to carry an unanticipated load in an emergency. Best of all, racks are designed to fit a variety of standard bicycle bags (or panniers) which make carrying stuff on your bike a breeze.
A versatile option is a large pannier, such as a grocery pannier (a collapsible carrier shaped like a paper grocery sack, available from a variety of companies) or an Ortlieb Backroller. They 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). These 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, 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.
Gaining popularity among load-carrying cyclists are long-tail cargo bikes. They come with an extra-long carrying rack that is integrated into the frame of the bike. The top of the rack will accommodate kids or large and heavy loads (charcoal bags, potting soil and kitty litter come immediately to mind), while the sides of the rack can be used to mount extra large carrying bags. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing cargo bikes from Yuba (stay tuned!).
And, don't forget, that you may be able to use what you already have. If you have a rack, strap a milk crate to it. If not, use your backpack. 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.