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I live close enough to work that I'm able to bike there and back every day. I also pack a laptop in a backpack. I am seeking ways to reduce the weight on my back. I've only seen people use saddlebags on a bicycle 1-2 times my entire life so I'm looking for advice. Has anyone tried to pack a laptop in a saddlebag before and how did that turn out? What are common issues/features I should look for in a saddlebag? I can only think of two things to look for at the moment: 1) impact resistance (not crushing my laptop) and 2) water proof if possible.

  • If you're still doing your PhD then I would advise against. No matter how well backed up you are, you'll always have stuff on the laptop that would be a problem to lose. IMHO a laptop is safer on your back. Spoken as a supervisor who has seen too many students lose their work :-) – andy256 Apr 13 '15 at 22:14
  • @andy256 Really your students lost work because it was in a bike bag. That is not a bicycle problem. – paparazzo Apr 13 '15 at 22:19
  • @andy256 - As reformed PhD student (aka graduated) who carried their laptop on their bike everyday I humbly disagree. I backed up daily and never once lost data to a bike trip. I even toured between conferences (across Norway by dirt roads) with no problems. I think this is even less of an issue now with most laptops being solid state storage. Perhaps the grad student "lost data" is like the undergrad "dead grandparent" syndrome at exam time? – Rider_X Apr 13 '15 at 22:51
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    @Rider_X Lol! There were sooo many dead grandparents! Eventually I sprung one undergrad who claimed the same one had died twice :-) Yes, you're right about SSD's, and I'm impressed that you carried your laptop on your bike. It's good to give the OP multiple viewpoints. – andy256 Apr 13 '15 at 23:08
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    @andy256 - Anyone who has critical data on a laptop that they transport around and who does not have a scheme for doing daily backups is a fool. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 14 '15 at 0:06
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I have carried a laptop on my commute bike for closing in on 15 years now. Mainly in panniers (saddle bags). For a little while in a courier bag when when I was young and dumb. For what it is worth (aka the dangers of anecdotal evidence) I didn't have any laptop failures directly related to a bike trip. I even toured with a 17inch laptop across 800 km of mixed terrain (road and dirt) in Norway with out incident (riding to a workshop and conference). That laptop is still going strong 5 years later.

  1. Waterproof pannier. Water is the enemy of most electronics. So is dust. It pays to be able to keep things very well sealed.
  2. Well padded case. I used to use a well padded sleeve to house the computer and moved to a pannier with a built in padding.
  3. Strong mounting. Not all bags are created equal. Get ones that have rigid re-inforced back plate and strong mounting system. You don't want the bag flopping around. Cheap panniers can sometimes twist into the spokes which will likely result in damage to your laptop during the ensuing carnage.
  4. Strong pannier rack. As a corollary to (3) if you have a cheap flexible rack this could also cause problems, but I haven't personally had any problems across a variety of rack types. Some racks also support panniers against twisting better than other racks.
  5. Back it up just in case... This is really good advice regardless of transportation method. I always keep at least two backups going, one in the office and one at home (offsite). I once came into my office to observe my desk under water. If I had left my laptop there I would have lost it and the backup sitting on the desk.

Other Deep thoughts...

I have always wondered about the impact of vibration, but so far I haven't seen any clear indication (warning anecdotal evidence). I had one hard drive die spontaneously while working on a report. Perhaps vibration shortened its life? It it was also very hot that day and I was without air conditioning and I was running some simulations so the temperature could have fried it too.

I have also had a lust for well built laptops, which may have stood up better. I am a hipster poser so you can guess which brand of computer I have continually purchased.

  • It is worth worrying about vibration, as that is probably a bigger killer of electronics than "shock". But you covered most of the bases -- make sure the rack is rigidly mounted to the frame and that the bag is securely mounted to the rack and will not flop around. And I figure that it's good to have the laptop in a padded case, and maybe a little extra foam on the bottom of the bag. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 14 '15 at 0:13
  • Thanks! You brought up a lot of good points. I would not have thought of #3 and #4. I'll have to do a little more research into the question about vibration damage. My riding is on paved roads/sidewalks so a well padded bag may solve that issue. – Josh Bradley Apr 14 '15 at 0:42
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    Good point about two backups, one at home and one at work; that's the way I always work (IP rules permitting). The OP mentions in comments backing up using DropBox. I would not be comfortable if all of my PhD work was reliant on the vagaries of one backup system. You only know your backup system has failed when you needed it. Past tense. – andy256 Apr 14 '15 at 1:57
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    @andy256 - To cover IP I use full volume encryption on all backup drives (and the laptop). Backup via Dropbox is even worse than it first appears as it is a sync service, not a backup service. All the potential short comings are best left to another SE forum. – Rider_X Apr 14 '15 at 3:43
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    When it comes to vibration (and some shocks) , solid state drives are great but with spinning disc hard drives be sure to shut down or hibernate so that the heads away from the platters. – Chris H Apr 14 '15 at 16:41
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I haven't carried a laptop in a saddle bag but I have used them a fair amount.

You can definitely find a waterproof saddle bag that will carry a laptop. If your commute is smooth (i.e. pavement) your laptop should be fine.

Two things to consider when choosing a saddle bag:

1) Ease of removal/attachment. Unless you are going to leave it on all the time, this could become a factor in quality of commuting life.

2) Heel clearance. Depending on your position, shoe size and rear rack you want to make sure your heel isn't going to hit the saddle bag.

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    +1 for the point about heel clearance. Many road bikes won't have enough clearance with many panniers. – Carey Gregory Apr 14 '15 at 3:55
  • Thanks Carey. I have the issue sometimes with my bags which is why I mentioned it. I have a little bit of wiggle room with where I mount my bag, but not a ton. – JamesG Apr 15 '15 at 18:52
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There are good bike bags for lap tops.
Need water proof, padding, and solid mounting.
Mount and unmount rapidly.
Also consider how it carries off the bike.
Does it look like a brief case so you can use it like a brief case during the day.
To deal with length on the front wheel can help - that is how I carry.
I don't like putting out a names but like the Otlierb Office.

As far as damaging it takes a bit of shock to break a lap top.
The vibration on a bike is not likely to harm a lap top hard drive.
I have dropped lap top hard drives on the floor and not broken them.
One thing is power it all the way down (not snooze) so the drive is parked.

A pack tends to be soft so it will conform to your back.
I have lost a couple screens due to the flex.
I think a semi rigid bike bag is better than a pack.

The quality of the laptop is a big factor
Look for a laptop with a metal case
Soft plastic will bend and hard plastic will crack
Cheap hinges will wear out
I used to do lap top repair

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