Will my laptop be safe if I commute to work on a mountain bike?
April 9, 2012 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Will my laptop be safe if I commute to work on a mountain bike? The trail in question is 6 miles long, quite bumpy with sections passing through rocky (Dry) creek beds.

I'm game for either using a pannier in the back or putting in a backpack on my back. My biggest concern is that I worry that the constant bumpiness from the boulders on the trail might make my laptop harddrive angry. Is there anything I can do to dampen the bumpiness? Or am I being overly cautious?
posted by ShootTheMoon to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should be fine as long as the computer is turned off. It's when you drop/bump a laptop while the drive is spinning that you should worry about. (I had an old Thinkpad that automatically turned off the drive whenever the accelerometer thought it was falling off a table.)

Of course, it's still possible to bump a drive to death even when it's unpowered, but you'd have to throw it off a building or something.
posted by theodolite at 2:11 PM on April 9, 2012

Yeah, the constant bumping probably isn't great for a platter drive over the long run, and of course, one good fall and your laptop would be toast.

Any chance of upgrading to a solid state drive? That would obviate most of these concerns.
posted by Oktober at 2:14 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I cycle commute on roads, but they are quite bumpy. My hard drive has been fine. My screen did crack though.

I took a previous laptop for a few months in my 4x4, and did a lot of bumpy roads. I put it in a box lined with foam. It was fine.

Why not get a bit of foam to fit round the bottom of the laptop, to act as a shock absorber. It'll still be light and it will provide enough absorption to stop sensitive things hitting hard things.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have added: the laptop in question is a 2011 macbook pro. I do keep it in a neoprene case when I am not using it, so it has some protection.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2012

Assuming you got the "glossy" glass screen and not the matte option, do be careful. The casing will survive a pretty serious drop just fine, but the screen with crack if it lands on a corner.
posted by Oktober at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2012

Excessive shock and vibration over an extended period of time will likely reduce the expected life of your system. This is not only a problem for the hard drive, but many of the components, including the motherboard, chassis, and display, are susceptiple to shock induced reliability issues. Insulation from the shock/vibration will certainly help, but it is not a guarantee against early failures.
posted by blurker at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wearing it on your back will dampen vibration quite a lot, actually, compared to if you had it rigidly attached to your frame. Having it in a pannier would also probably be OK, though. But your back is basically a shock absorbing system as it is.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:34 PM on April 9, 2012

Laptop-specific panniers are a good idea. There are several brands available. Make sure to protect it from moisture as well.

I used to ride on rather rough pavement daily with my laptop in a padded briefcase shove into a pannier. It was fine. Just dont land on it if you crash.
posted by twblalock at 2:36 PM on April 9, 2012

(If you ride on the street with a single pannier, put it on the left side of the bike so you can fall away from traffic without landing on it.)
posted by twblalock at 2:38 PM on April 9, 2012

Pelican laptop case.
posted by sararah at 3:05 PM on April 9, 2012

Also lots of good info at Commute by Bike blog.
posted by sararah at 3:06 PM on April 9, 2012

Definitely get a better case than a neoprene sleeve. What about the higher-than-usual chance of your taking a spill?
posted by amtho at 4:38 PM on April 9, 2012

Here's my procedure for riding with my laptop on New Orleans streets, which are painfully, boneshakingly rough much of the time at least on my road bike.
  1. Laptop in hibernation mode. This turns off the hard drive and pretty much everything else, and is the most critical step.
  2. Laptop goes in neoprene sleeve.
  3. Neoprene sleve goes in padded laptop compartment of messenger bag
  4. Messenger bag goes on my back.
  5. Ride bike, no worries.
This has worked pretty great for me. The way I see it, I've got four layers of shock absorption protecting my hard drive, which is by far the most fragile part of the machine as far as vibration is concerned. The drive itself is on shock absorbers inside the laptop, the neoprene sleeve absorbs impacts and vibrations, the padded laptop compartment provides an extra layer of protection, and my back is basically one big spring where the laptop can hang out and kind of sway around a bit and generally be insulated from the shocks of the road.

So far my little beastie hasn't uttered one word of complaint about this treatment, and I feel totally fine about doing this. I've got a thinkpad and they're known for being a bit tougher than average, but then macs aren't exactly infamous for their poor build quality either. It sounds like your commute is rougher than mine, but then presumably your bike has a suspension whereas mine does not. So that's an extra what, two inches of shock absorption? If you're really concerned I'd maybe take a rolled up dishtowel or facecloth or something and put that at the bottom of the laptop compartment in my bag so that when the laptop came down it would have something cushy to sit on. Other than that I think you're pretty much golden. Just don't forget to put it in a mode where the disk drive is off.
posted by Scientist at 5:41 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like much of the advice you're getting is concerned with keeping the outside of the system protected, however, I think I should point out that the inside of the system is not designed for this kind of continual shock/vibration, and will not get much protection from external padding. This is not to say that external padding isn't a good idea, but it's not necessarily a panacea.

Reducing the overall reliability of your system may not be something you need to worry about, since most systems are designed to last longer than they will be kept, but, since reliability issues can occur over a wide range of stress levels, it is possible that your particular system will be more sensitive than the 'average' and you'll see a failure within the expected life of the product.
posted by blurker at 9:25 PM on April 9, 2012

My thinkpad has went numerous, numerous miles on the road in a a Timbuk2 messenger bag with the inner liner of the bag and a homemade laptop bag made of upholstery scraps as it's only protection with zero issues.

I should say that I haven't wiped out because I'm sure that would be pretty devastating to the laptop regardless of any non-purpose built, hard-shell case and that your ride sounds a bit on the bumpier side than mine. I'd say go for it but take precautions and ride defensively.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:27 AM on April 10, 2012

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