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I commute to work and have been experimenting with various ways to bring my 16" laptop along with lock and few other small things. I currently just use a standard backpack.

I'm looking for putting less stress on my shoulders and have a back-free ride. Here's some things I wanted to try:

  1. I thought I could just install a rear rack with panniers and put my laptop there. But honestly I just don't like how it makes my bike look - having a rack all the time there is not ideal and taking the rack on and off when I want to ride for fun is a big hassle.

  2. I thought why not a saddle bag. Problem is that I can't really find any of these that actually fit a laptop since the weight would have to be closer to the saddle. Also putting these on and off seems like a bit of a process.

  3. Finally I thought why not just get a simple bag that attaches to the frame such as:

enter image description here

  1. Another approach was to get a hip pack. These are smaller looking packs that tie to your hip. Kind of like large fanny packs. Problem with these is again I can't seem to find one big enough to carry my 16" macbook pro:

enter image description here

I was wondering if anybody has tried any of these and what were your thoughts on trying to ride with a laptop in this kind of back-free approach.

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  • 3
    Paniers are hard to avoid in that case I think. If it's the look of the rack that you don't like, a suggestion would be the rack integrated to fenders like Hebie Wingee (if you don't mind having fenders) — those are 'reinforced fenders with tubes on which you can attach panniers' . Or if you have a quick release for the saddle: a seat post rack, and second seat post/saddle. Then just swap the seat post depending on the need.
    – Renaud
    Aug 17 at 14:25
  • I have seen at least one Carradice-style seat bag that will carry a laptop.
    – Adam Rice
    Aug 17 at 15:15
  • Do you have the option of remote-access? Use a different computer at home to remote-access the one at work? Might negate the need completely.
    – Criggie
    Aug 17 at 20:39
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    Ha! As @Criggie points out, the N+1 solution could work for laptops as well as bikes! Just have a nice laptop or desktop wherever you will be using the computer; doesn't work for coffee shops though.
    – Armand
    Aug 17 at 20:52
  • Your best bet is honestly to just get over not liking the aesthetics of a rack and panniers. It is hands down the best solution to carrying a laptop without a backpack. And there's really no functional consequence to having a rack on there all the time. In college I had one mountain bike that I raced and commuted on. I left the rack on when I went on training rides and didn't even know it was there. I took it off for races to save weight but there was never a time when those extra couple ounces would've changed the outcome of a race.
    – jimchristie
    Oct 22 at 18:57
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A 16" laptop you’ll either have to carry on your back or in panniers (or in a cargo bike or trailer). Frame bags, saddle bags, handlebar bags etc. are all too small.

A rear rack can weigh as little as 360g while being able to carry 18kg or more. My favorite rack is the Tubus Fly which doesn’t look too bad even on a road bike. The heavier and drag-inducing part will be the panniers with around ~700g for a single, high quality waterproof pannier like the Ortlieb Sport Roller Plus (or 1290g for the Downtown Two with bigger, padded laptop compartment).

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  • What about hip bags? Aug 17 at 12:32
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    Way too small. And they are made to curve around your hip. A rigid, flat object like a laptop would press against your spine even if it would fit. It would also have a tendency to slide down your left or right side and hang under your belly. It’s already difficult with some backpacks.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 12:42
  • If you had a very large bike frame or a frame with twin top tubes ( i.imgur.com/U8iPGY1.jpg ) a custom frame bag could work.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 12:47
  • not sure I agree about hip pack. Check out this video showing how it was made to fit a 13". So something slightly larger to fit a 16" might not be too different youtube.com/watch?v=ttjazyrn8pk Aug 17 at 12:54
  • The long side of a 13" is short enough to carry across the width of your hips/back. I’m also pretty sure you’d need lots of thick padding to avoid it pressing against your spine. A 16" you’d have to carry length-wise and it would cover more than half your back. You also don’t want anything dangling below hip level because it can catch on the saddle when dismounting (had this problem with worn, old, long jerseys and lots of stuff in the jersey pockets).
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 12:58
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I never found a good solution for this problem. One of the better than worst options is to search for a 'hiking knapsack'.

You will not get the weight off of your shoulders, but the ventilation will be a relief.

hiking knapsack

Incidentally, another good feature to look for in a laptop bag is for an (isolated) laptop compartment with the zipper on the side, not on top of the bag. No matter how well designed, a zipper will still let a few drops in during a sudden downpour (and it takes a bit longer on a bike to seek cover). A zipper on the side has a much better chance of keeping your laptop dry. It's quite hard to find a backpack—of any kind—with a zipper on the side, but they do exist. I haven't yet seen a hiking knapsack that has a laptop slot with the zipper on the side.

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    This is nice as it also has a hip belt which i think is super important for removing the weight from your shoulders. Aug 17 at 16:44
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    My day bag, an Arcteryx Pender, has the side zipper. It’s fully waterproof too, including zippers.
    – MaplePanda
    Aug 17 at 20:49
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    The problem with this type of backpack construction is that the net requires a curved steel frame which means that flat, rigid objects like laptops fit badly inside. Hence why backpacks intended for laptops (e.g. Deuter Giga Bike) usually don’t use it. The flimsy hip strap on such small backpacks also doesn’t really take any weight off your shoulders, it’s just there to keep the backpack in place. And in any case, in a leaned forward position most of the weight is resting on your back, not on the shoulders. I’ve never gotten even close to sore shoulders when riding with a backpack on a bike.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 20:53
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My experience with carrying stuff on the bike is that:

  • You don't want to use a backpack. The problem is that they cover the entire back, meaning your back gets very sweaty.
  • Messenger bags don't cover your entire back but there is a limit of how much weight it's comfortable to carry in a messenger bag since the shoulder strap puts a high point load on your shoulder -- and only one shoulder unlike backpacks that distribute the load evenly on both shoulders. A very lightweight laptop might be possible to be carried in a messenger bag but any regular weight laptop is in my opinion uncomfortable.
  • Saddle bags are usually small
  • Handlebar bags are usually small (although Bromptons have a front bag that doesn't turn with the handlebars and generally the Brompton front bags are large enough for a laptop; however, Bromptons have large front bags due to necessity since panniers around the small rear wheel are really not an option with lots of storage volume)
  • Frame bags are usually small and may interfere with U locks and/or water bottle, should you want to carry either or both of U lock and water bottle
  • Rear or front panniers are the main option for carrying large weights that are too large or heavy to be carried in a messenger bag

My advice is to first experiment with messenger bag and if you agree with me that a laptop is too much weight, then switch to panniers, either front or rear. On most bikes, rear is easiest since most forks don't have the attachment points that front panniers need.

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I commute with a laptop, and I settled on using a front rack and basket. The front rack provides a flat platform which I can put any sort of bag or container into. It also lets me push the extra weight in front of me, which I find more pleasant than dragging it behind.

You stated an aesthetic preference against the rear rack; I tend to agree, the rear rack isn't very attractive. I find the front rack 'racier' looking, as well as better handling (the weight is securely in my hands). I ride my same commuter bike on longer rides and light trails without removing anything.

Front loading lets you keep an eye on the cargo without taking the other eye off of the road.

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  • There is, or more likely used to be, a computer bike bag you can click into a holder on the handlebars, like some handlebar bags but bigger and build for laptops. They might come round again.
    – Willeke
    Oct 23 at 17:13
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You could use a a messenger bag as a "frame bag" by folding the top flap/lid over the top tube and positioning the bag in the frame.

I sometimes do this on my Merida Speeder 200 with a large (56) frame and a messenger bag sized for a 15.6 inch laptop:

Bike with a messenger bag as a frame bag

Honestly, if I fill the bag too much it becomes bulky and starts rubbing on the inside of my leg. However, if I only load it lightly (e.g. my 15.6 inch laptop, a charger and another shirt) it fits well and does not touch my legs.

The messenger bag I use is designed to hold camera gear and a laptop, so it has quite thick material. I imagine if you use a more lightweight bag it would fit even better.

Advantages

  • No need to install anything on the bike
  • Existing (fitting) messenger bag can be used
  • You can wear the bag comfortably when not on the bike

Disadvantages

  • Bottle cages (if any) need to be removed
  • No easy access to the bag when in the frame
  • Limited loading volume (as the bag becomes too wide quickly)
  • If you don't have any fenders I imagine the bag might get dirty on the underside.
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I bought a bag that attaches to your rear luggage rack like this one. It fits my 15" laptop, though overall I will say the bag carries less than you might imagine looking at it from the outside. I definitely notice a difference between cycling with or without the bag, but is more pleasant than riding with a backpack in hot summer weather.

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    He said he doesn't like the look of panniers. Oct 19 at 12:35
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Although aestethics of the bike is important, I suggest you having a look at this answer to a closely related question.

There are some very nice rack, that has almost no visual impact. You can then attach to the rack something like this enter image description here or other basket, possibly with handle for easy mounting/dismounting, which when not needed can stay at home with the backpack

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  • Opie said "I thought I could just install a rear rack with panniers and put my laptop there. But honestly I just don't like how it makes my bike look - having a rack all the time there is not ideal and taking the rack on and off when I want to ride for fun is a big hassle." Oct 21 at 19:46
  • @DanielRHicks Because OP thinks rack are huge&heavy things with panniers always installed. I understand that when OP wants to ride for fun, OP does not want to have the rack&panniers, so I propose him to have a light/minimalist rack, where OP can put a basket and deposit the backpack in the basket so OP can ride free. I did not suggest a removable basket on the front because a 16" laptop may be a tad too big.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 21 at 21:29
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    Those baskets in particular are permanently mounted, and one of the last things I’d look at if I had objections to the bulky appearance of luggage carriers on my bike. (And I have a couple of bikes with those baskets, because they are very useful)
    – RLH
    Oct 22 at 5:33

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