Am I being too paranoid?
May 13, 2020 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I have to go in to work, and I bike. Am I being overly paranoid about my laptop?

Over the next couple weeks, I have to go in to my office several times to provide on-site support. Since, like many people, I've been working at home for a few months, this will of course necessitate bringing my computer to and from work with me.

I bike, and I use a rear pannier (Ortlieb Back Roller, because Portland) to carry my change of clothes, lunch, etc. This was all fine during "normal" commuting, because my laptop wasn't part of the equation (it stayed at work), but now it is, and I wonder, would the rough Portland city streets be bad for the health of my laptop?

It's got an SSD, which in my head makes it seem like it's basically a large mobile phone, guts-wise, and that it should be fine, but I worry that the bumping and jarring of the bike over the rough/broken pavement I have to go over as a big part of my commute (potholes, spidering, patched spots, etc) will be detrimental to the machine overall.

I have a messenger bag I could use, but it's small enough that I'd need to use both that and the pannier to get all my stuff to work, and I'd rather use only one bag if I can. I'll be at a temporary work site with no significant storage options, so I can't really leave clothes there - like camping, this will be a daily pack-in-pack-it-all-out scenario.

Am I worrying too much? Is it OK to put my laptop in the Ortlieb? I have a sleeve for the laptop, but it's one of the $10 fabric ones, not super protective against anything resembling a drop (it's more a guard against rain showers than anything).
posted by pdb to Technology (18 answers total)
Response by poster: One other note: my work prohibits BYOD, so I must use this laptop both at home and at the office.
posted by pdb at 8:04 AM on May 13, 2020

Best answer: I am/was a bike commuter in NYC, riding six miles each way on NYC roads (with a Ortlieb Back Roller, because I'm not a monster). I didn't bring my laptop with me every day--usually just over a few weekends a month, but I never had many concerns about it; occasionally, I would do this for business travel by packing two backrollers and biking to Amtrak.

I add some cushioning by putting a newspaper (like, the full weekday edition of the New York Times) between the laptop and the rack, both in the bag's pocket closest to the rack. That holds the laptop very steady while leaving plenty of space for my U-Lock, lunch and change of clothes.

I'm not sure how much grocery shopping you do via bike, but I regularly bike 3-4 miles with a dozen eggs in my panniers without any issues. A laptop will be fine with a little bit of precaution.
posted by thecaddy at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Panniers can be pretty rattley. I wouldn’t worry about it for one or two trips but if it’s a regular thing, I’d try to find a soft sleeve that can offer some padding. Like neoprene or something.
posted by aubilenon at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

(Also, I strongly recommend against biking with a laptop in a messenger bag. That's what I used to do before investing in real panniers, and I wound up dealing with awful cramps in my pectorals that would make me worry I was having heart issues).
posted by thecaddy at 8:19 AM on May 13, 2020

What are the consequences if something *does* happen to your laptop? Is it backed up on a regular basis? Could you/your company afford to replace it if necessary?

I've had the same MacBook Pro since 2013 and I carried it back and forth to work pretty frequently in the Before Times on a bike or motor scooter in a thin neoprene or lightly-padded sleeve (pannier on the bike, messenger bag or purse hanging from hook on the scooter, usually); I've dropped it badly twice (nothing to do with the bike/scooter, once I fell on ice and the other time I did that thing where something is slipping from your hand and you end up throwing it instead of catching it). The case is dented but it still works.

Basically I think you're fine, unless the laptop is super fancy and/or irreplaceable for some reason.
posted by mskyle at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I drop my SSD laptop approximately 27 times a day, for whatever comfort that brings.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on May 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I haven’t biked with a laptop for years, but when I was in grad school I regularly commuted ~5 miles with a MacBook Pro (2007, then 2011) in a laptop bag stuffed into a crappy pannier. Those laptops had spinning platter hard drives and never had an issue, even that one day I managed to somehow bounce the laptop bag out of the pannier and into the street when I took a corner too aggressively. Stopped, grabbed the bag, carried on.

With an SSD and a real pannier, I imagine you’ll be fine!
posted by Alterscape at 8:27 AM on May 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Before I started WFH a few years ago I did laptop in Timbuk2 panniers on Philly streets (not even the good ones) and was totally fine. I think it was in a special laptop sleeve of the pannier but nothing padded beyond that. As long as it's not directly bumping up against aluminum tubing with a layer of fabric in the middle you're almost certainly fine, and anything that still comes up would probably just be cosmetic.

You'd be surprised how much shock and vibration still happens to a backpack on a bike. The human body doesn't absorb that much, maybe unless you're posting all the time.
posted by supercres at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2020

Add some padding (like a sleeve + tactically packed clothes around / under the laptop in the pannier) and backup regularly and you're covered.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:39 AM on May 13, 2020

Best answer: Hello! I bike commute in Portland, have for many years, and have hauled SSD laptops around in backpacks, messenger backs, and rear panniers. Most of my commuting is in normal-crappy streets, but I've certainly gone over the cobbles in the Pearl enough.

Modern laptops will be fine. Put it in a sleeve - any additional protection/shock absorption is good! - and put it in the pannier and you're good to go. Honestly, the jolts on shitty pavement/potholes are more of a danger to your tubes than the laptop.

What you do want to be careful of, obviously, is a crash. -That- is the reason to have it in a good sleeve/secondary case. Normal bike jolting isn't going to be an issue. If you bring a change of clothes with you, put the laptop on the inside edge of the bag, clothes on the outside (to take the initial hit if you fall). Better cases aren't very expensive, something in the $20 - $40 range should do it, and your work should totally be willing to cover that vs full laptop repair/replacement.

Also, no liquids in the bag with the laptop, just to be on the safer side.
posted by curious nu at 8:43 AM on May 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I carry mine in a backpack because I crash occasionally (about once a year) it's never been damaged. Your back does get sweaty with a backpack, even if it's cold. I don't really like panniers, so I accept a sweaty back.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:56 AM on May 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I broke a laptop which was contained within a padded sleeve in an Ortlieb back roller pannier.

The problem is that the screws which fix the rack attachments on the outside of the pannier jut out inside the pannier itself. They have plastic covers on them, so there are no sharp edges, but you can still break a laptop screen over one, even inside a padded sleeve.

Ever since that unfortunate error, I have been inserting a thick piece of cardboard in between the contents of the pannier and my (replacement) laptop. The effect of this is to stop the laptop being potentially bent over a single screw head - the force is distributed across the entire surface of the sleeved laptop instead.

So, speaking from personal experience, I would say: 1) You’re not being paranoid. A simple sleeve is not sufficient to protect a laptop inside an Ortlieb pannier, but 2) if you insert a thick piece of cardboard down inside the pannier in between the contents and the inner (rack) side of the pannier and use a decent padded sleeve then you should be fine.
posted by pharm at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Your body is going to have problems with the rough conditions long before your laptop does.
posted by sideshow at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2020

Agreeing with pharm. As a bike commuter I've never had problems from the jostling but the screws that jut into the pannier can be damaging. I never broke a computer but the dents in the hard protective case my company provides with our Surface Pros shows some damage. If you're careful to make sure something protects your computer from those screws, and from your lock if you are carrying that in your pannier, you should be fine.
posted by misskaz at 9:11 AM on May 13, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all! I appreciate the info and tips.
posted by pdb at 9:50 AM on May 13, 2020

Good advice here. Also, if you don't already, having a charger for the office and a dedicated one for home makes a big difference.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:01 AM on May 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I too bike commute in Portland and sometimes with my laptop in my Ortlieb! I don't hesitate to carry it. I'm not sure it's less bumpy on your back versus the bag. For what it's worth, I think I've carried eggs home in my Ortlieb and they haven't broken. (I'd certainly remember if they had broken!)
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2020

I bike-commuted for about a year with an Ortlieb pannier carrying my laptop over rough streets. No problem. I then switched to a backpack just because I thought I might like it better (I did). Also no problem with that.

I'll second the advice about getting a second AC adapter.
posted by adamrice at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2020

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