How dangerous is a bumpy ride to work for my laptop?
June 18, 2007 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Commuting by bike and carrying a laptop in a pannier: good idea or recipe for a data disaster?

I've started commuting 11 miles to work on a Brompton fitted with a front carrying bag, with a PowerBookG4 (and lots of other things) in the bag. The ride is sometimes quite bumpy; how bad is this for my laptop? Any ideas for how to dampen the vibrations? Would wrapping it in a sweater be sufficient, should I rig up some kind of foam cover, or is there a bag or sleeve that would be helpful? Or should I just not be putting a laptop in a bike bag in the first place? (I know I could carry it in a bag on my back but would really really like to avoid that).
posted by agent99 to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your body (your knees, really) will dampen much of the ride's vibration, and therefore will kill most of the vibrations of anything you carry on your back. Fewer vibrations will lengthen the life of any delicate machine. To keep your laptop happy you will probably want to carry the laptop on your back.

Failing that, as much dampening material (foam) as reasonably possible in the front pannier will accomplish close to the same thing. You won't be able to store as much in your pannier, however.

Still, my PowerBook G4 lasted six years and I beat the hell out of it bringing it to and from music gigs. They're pretty well-made machines. You may not need to be as gentle with it as with other kinds of laptops. YMMV, of course.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your hard drive is probably the most delicate part of your laptop with its precision moving parts. Back up every night and you won't have as much to worry about.
posted by grouse at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2007

I bike commute with my laptop in this bag, which has a padded and suspended laptop sleeve. I have been doing this for three years and have had no laptop problems. I have even wiped out a couple times and my laptop has been fine.

I back up my entire laptop hard drive onto an external hard drive regularly (every couple days), just in case.
posted by betterton at 11:50 AM on June 18, 2007

I carried my PowerBook in a pannier for 2 and half months, riding 60+ miles per day, every day. Didn't have a single problem. Make sure it's wrapped in something to dampen the jolts and that it isn't sitting in a place where it'll be damaged if you have a crash and you'll be fine.
posted by felix betachat at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2007

I would suggest a crumpler bag and some egg crate just in case.

also: I do think you are setting yourself up for disaster but it's not vibrations I am thinking about. 11 miles gives others a lot of chances to cut you off, hit, hurt, clip and damage you. you are bound to eat it some time or another if you are in an urban enviroment and your laptop won't take kindly to that.

that being said, all you need is a backup and apple care.
okay, and band-aids.
posted by krautland at 11:59 AM on June 18, 2007

My husband wrecked his G4 laptop when he got doored (it was in a pannier in a laptop sleeve -- the case was cracked but the hard drive was okay). So make sure you watch for heads in parked cars. Of course, this is a good idea whether you have a computer with you or not.
posted by mingshan at 12:39 PM on June 18, 2007

Re: carrying it on your back, that probably will dampen the vibes, but as we motorcycle commuters say, don't carry anything on your back that you wouldn't want impaling your back when (not if) you go down. Personally I'd go with the foam-lined pannier.
posted by scratch at 12:54 PM on June 18, 2007

I had my G4 powerbook in a Spire backpack on my back when I summersaulted (had to brake way too fast because kid jumped on road from behind a big tree) and landed on said back. Laptop was fine, me... not so much.

I'd vote for the backpack. Especially since I also ride a Brompton (not during above incident though) and they're not the most stable bikes. I've unvoluntarily folded mine on occasions when cars cut me off and I had to brake fast.
posted by maremare at 1:43 PM on June 18, 2007

Wal-Mart sells neoprene laptop sleeves for ten bucks. I always put my PowerBook in that before putting it in my carry-on luggage. That will help dampen it a bit.

Also, I would suggest you shut it down, not just put it to sleep. I have had my laptop latch open accidentally in my backpack, and it starts to fire up. Accessing hard drive + rough bike ride = head bump = loss of data and bad hard drive sectors. Be safe and shut down so there is not the slightest chance of this happening.

Macs are pretty rugged. My G4 12 inch aluminum has withstood repeated slips off the ottoman onto the carpeted floor. And think about how often you set it on a table or desk with a clunk.

As long as the bag is secure and not banging against the handlebars or frame you should be ok. Also, "unloading" the bike on bumps and curbs should soften the blows.
posted by The Deej at 3:27 PM on June 18, 2007

I commute about 8 miles every week day, with my laptop in a Trek grocery-bag style pannier. Have never had any issues. I don't use a laptop sleeve, but now that I know Walmart sells inexpensive ones, I may go get one.
posted by everichon at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2007

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