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At first glance, it might appear that bikes have lots of places which would be suitable for carrying a laptop (think: pannier racks and front baskets for starters).
But beware! These, apparently handy, storage locations are laptop frenemies – guaranteed to shake and rattle your delicate computer’s innards as you roll along.
We’re going to take a look at the common places where people often carry laptops when they’re cycling and see what the problems are with each of these. We’ll then delve into the best solution for carrying your Dell, MacBook, HP, or Lenovo in air-cushioned safety from home to office and back again.
Late for work? Need a quick answer? Ok, then a good quality commuter backpack with a dedicated laptop sleeve is the best way to protect your computer. From extensive testing, our favorite is the Daily backpack from Able Carry featuring a cushioned laptop sleeve that ‘floats’ above the bottom of the bag for an extra safeguard.
How to carry a laptop on a bike
The typical commuter bicycle, whether it be a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid or ebike, will have a number of positions where you can stash your bike commuting essentials. Some of these might come pre-installed (such as a rear pannier rack for example). If not, they can be bought as an accessory that you can then fit on to your bike.
Each position has its pros and cons, and will be good for carrying some items and less good for carrying others. Let’s take a look at them all.
We’ll start with our favorite method for carrying a laptop on a bicycle: the humble backpack.
The fundamental issue with carrying a laptop fixed anywhere to your bike is that all of the road or pavement vibration is transmitted straight into the delicate electronics. With the only thing to dampen that shaking being the rubber of your tires and the small amount of air in your inner tubes.
Pop your laptop in a backpack, however, and there’s a massive amount of extra dampening to cushion your computer:
You still have the tire rubber and air-filled tubes. You also have all the joints in your lower body (ankles, knees, and hips). Plus the strap system that holds the bag onto your back.
Each point in this chain reduces the amplitude of any vibration so that by the time it’s travelled from the road surface to your laptop it’s barely noticeable (imagine dropping a pebble into a still pond and watching the ripples reduce in size the further away they get).
So, backpacks for carrying laptops on bike commutes are fantastic.
That said, you have to pick the right backpack.
Here are our tips for the perfect backpack:
18-24 Liters volume – space for everything you need but not too much that you’ll try and take unnecessary gear.
Comfortable strap system – you’re likely to be carrying around 8-10 Lbs / 4-5 kg on your back and so the pack that you use needs to be comfortable to wear for the length of your commute. Look for adjustable foam-padded shoulder straps, quick-release chest strap, and foam back support.
Integrated laptop compartment – whilst you can absolutely use a backpack that has a single compartment, it’s easier to have a pack that has multiple pockets (think: ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’). That way you can find all your gear without spending time rummaging around in the depths of a single-compartment bag.
Allied to this is that it’s good to have a bag with a dedicated laptop compartment – this keeps your tech away from squishy sandwich fillings and smelly cycling gear. The best commuter backpacks have laptop compartments which are suspended in mid air inside your bag giving much better protection than ones where your laptop sits on the bottom and can be knocked when it gets put down on a hard surface.
Pro tip – as a natural born skeptic, I always assume that any bag is going to leak if the rain gets heavy enough. For that reason, I always put my laptop in a resealable storage bag first before putting it into the backpack. Belt and braces, and all that.
“Backpacks for carrying laptops on bike commutes are fantastic“
Where you have a large amount of gear to haul to the office, then pannier bags attached to a rear rack can be useful.
The upside of pannier bags is that it transfers the weight off your shoulders and lets the bike carry it.
The downside though, for transporting a laptop, is that the back wheel can be subject to most of the road vibration (because most of your bodyweight is pressed down on it) and this gets transferred directly into delicate laptop components.
In wet weather the rear rack can also get hit with a lot of water – both splashing up as you go through puddles and coming down onto it from rain-filled clouds.
For both these reasons, carrying a laptop in pannier bags isn’t a great option.
On the same basis, carrying a laptop directly on a pannier rack can be even worse.
With a pannier bag that’s attached to a rear rack, the road vibration is dampened (slightly) as it gets transferred through the bag attachment system.
So, items (like your expensive laptop) which are attached straight onto the rack, get that vibration pure and unfiltered direct to their delicate insides.
Carrying a laptop in a front basket can be better than using a rear rack (without or without pannier bags) as (1) it allows you to keep an eye on it and (2) it should get less surface water spraying up onto it.
It feels like a handy position – just pop your laptop in and set off. But, unfortunately, it still suffers from all the downsides of attaching tech direct to your bike (i.e. vibration on delicate components).
And arguably it can be even worse because a laptop that’s stored loosely in a basket will tend to bounce higher and rattle around more than if it was strapped down tight.
An alternative to a backpack is a messenger bag – a crossbody single-strap bag that is worn over one shoulder.
Bike messengers use them, so they must be great. Yeah?
Well, not really for laptops, no.
Messenger bags are better than attaching laptops direct to your bike because your body’s joints and the shoulder strap will reduce the vibration that arrives at the computer.
However, the single-strap design means that the bag can swing around your body and clatter off your bike or another obstruction. This is a common occurrence when you brake sharply, for example.
The asymmetric style of the bag (single strap over one shoulder) can also be uncomfortable and cumbersome when you’re carrying a significant weight – as you need for a day of hard graft at the office. Far better to distribute the weight evenly across both shoulders with a backpack.
Lashed to any part of your bike with bungee cords
Just don’t, ok? Just don’t.
We’ve all done it from time to time: “Oh, I haven’t got a suitable bag/basket/whatever for this item. I’ll just grab a couple bungee cords and strap it direct to my bike frame”.
By now, you’ll be fairly clear on the major cons to this approach – road vibration and water splashes being the two most obvious. However, you also have the potential for real disaster if one of the bungee cords was to snap or slip dumping your precious laptop onto the pavement.
Hopefully this highlights the issues that come from stashing your laptop unsafely for zipping to the office?
The best solution is to get the right tool for the job – a bike commuting backpack, such as the Daily from Able Carry, is money well spent.