Commuting is great for exercising and for the planet but it comes with some challenges: most people need to carry their laptop on their journey to work. It can look unsafe to do so on a bike, but is it really? Let’s see how you can carry a laptop on your bike safely with a few tips to make sure it doesn’t get damaged.
Is it safe to carry a laptop on a bike?
It is safe to carry a laptop on a bike as long as you make sure it is stored in a waterproof compartment and turned off while riding. Water is the worst enemy for your laptop: only a few drops can damage it. Also, having a sleeve to add another layer of protection won’t do harm.
Cycling can be unsafe for cyclists, especially when commuting in big cities. Indeed, this is when traffic is generally at the worst; in winter, it also means to ride at night… so there is always a risk of falling or even crashing. If you carry your laptop with you and you fall, it could damage it.
This is why I recommend being as much visible as possible, especially at night. That means wearing high-visibility clothing and using a good set of lights. I do some recommendations of lights and explain how much reflective materials improve your visibility in this article: is it safe to bike at night?
How to carry a laptop safely on a bike
There are different ways to carry a laptop safely on a bike: putting the laptop into a backpack or using pannier bags mounted on your bike frame. Both options have their pros and cons and will depend a lot on your need.
Let’s see these options in detail.
Using a backpack to carry your laptop while cycling is the first solution that comes to mind. It is very practical, can store quite a lot of items (like a change of clothes, a lunch box…) but it can be heavy easily.
To keep your laptop safe, you need to consider a few things with regards to this solution:
1. Use a waterproof backpack
It is really essential to make sure your laptop will stay dry. The best option to achieve so is to use a waterproof backpack. Rain is not so easy to predict, and even if it doesn’t rain very often where you live, you might not be able to delay your commute to avoid the rain when it happens. You need to be prepared for it to happen.
If you don’t feel like buying a waterproof backpack, I recommend using a waterproof pouch to protect your laptop which will have the added benefit to protect your laptop at all times and not require that your backpack specifically integrates a laptop sleeve.
2. Having a backpack specifically designed to carry a laptop
Ideally, you want to use a backpack that is designed for a laptop. Why? Because it will keep the laptop nicely tight against your back. This means the laptop won’t annoy you when cycling because it’s moving with the terrain. And most importantly it is safer for your laptop: it will be under two thick layers of protection and not able to move.
If you already own a backpack that was not designed to carry a laptop, you can use it but in this case, you need to protect your laptop with a laptop sleeve or case against impacts.
3. Using a laptop sleeve
Always best to protect your laptop with a sleeve if you are not confident in your backpack. This will prevent scratches, impacts, etc. As mentioned earlier, you may even find waterproof sleeves for added protection.
4. Use a backpack with front straps
From my experience, riding with a backpack not fully strapped to you is really annoying. The bag will move a lot in your back. I recommend having a chest strap and a sternum strap on your backpack. This will secure the bag in your back: your laptop won’t complain 😉
Panniers are generally used by people touring with their bikes. It is a solution to carry your laptop when cycling: plenty of space, nothing to carry on the shoulders (so the extra weight you carry is different), and no extra sweating.
With pannier bags, in terms of safety for your laptop, you must consider the following points:
1. Buy waterproof panniers
Same as for the backpack, water is the enemy of your laptop. So, just be safe and buy waterproof bags.
2. Use a laptop sleeve
The vibrations from cycling will be transferred through the frame to your panniers. Therefore the laptop could be damaged by them. Panniers generally do not have a padded laptop sleeve inside. Sometimes, you find a sleeve to put a laptop in but it has no padding. I would recommend using some kind of cushioning to reduce the risks of damaging your laptop.
With a backpack, your body itself acts as a dampener against vibrations. You won’t have this advantage with a pannier so having a sleeve is really important to fight the vibrations.
3. You will be a bit wider than usual
Using 1 or 2 panniers on the side of your bike will make it a bit wider. So just be careful to remember this not to get stuck or hit something. Your laptop would be directly in trouble.
4. Do not leave your panniers unattended on the bike
It’s easy when commuting to make a stop in a shop to buy something on the way home or to work. Don’t leave your bag on your bike if you are not around or your laptop could be stolen!
I have been commuting for the past 5 years with a laptop and tried out the following solutions:
- backpack (different ones in size, shape, with/without laptop compartment, waterproof or not)
- pannier bags for touring (Ortlieb)
- a metallic pannier where i just put my backpack in when cycling
The backpack in my opinion is a great solution to carry out a laptop safely. It is comfortable as long as you do not have to carry too many things with you in addition to the laptop. For instance, I need to bring a notebook, lunch and a change of clothes (including shoes) and a towel. This is a lot of stuff to carry around: I need a 30L backpack to fit everything and it is quite heavy. For short distances and mostly flat, I think it is OK.
In terms of backpacks, my preference is to buy a high visibility backpack, waterproof with a laptop sleeve and some front straps. I really enjoy the Proviz backpack or at least buy a reflective backpack cover to stay safe.
Panniers are a great solution too but the reason I don’t use them for commuting but only for touring is because I need to walk quite a bit at work between the bike shed and my office, and I don’t really enjoy carrying around by hand the panniers. If that does not bother you, I really think panniers are great. Not having the weight on your back is really enjoyable.
You might have to carry only 1 pannier though if you only transport a laptop. It feels a bit weird at first but you’ll get used to it.
The last option I use is a metallic pannier. I actually enjoy short commutes. I like the concept of just dropping in what I want and grabbing it when I arrive and not having to carry the backpack on my back. I do it regularly. I think this solution would suit better hybrid bikes and short commutes, as it adds quite a lot of drag (much wider than a regular pannier bag).
Is it bad to move your laptop while turned on?
Yes, it is bad for your laptop to be moved on while it’s on. The backpack will keep the heat which will decrease the lifespan of its electric components. If your computer does not have an SSD but an HDD, you may scratch it if the hard disk’s spinning platter comes in contact with the drive head.
Nowadays most HDDs have protections against shocks that will “park” the head to avoid scratch when detecting movements. But keep in mind these technologies are not applied to every HDD and that they can’t be 100% safe proof.
While it will probably fine for carrying the laptop by hand around an office, biking is different. Potholes, or simply a crash, will probably have a higher shock than what the protection was designed for. Especially at the higher speeds of a bike.
While a laptop is on, the hard drive disk is spinning at 5400 or 7200 RPM. So if the head comes in contact while it’s on, it will damage the disk on a complete circle. On the other hand, if it’s off, the head is supposed to be parked and shouldn’t come in contact. And even if it does, as the disk is not spinning, you will damage the disk on a single point. Such damage won’t destroy the disk as hard drives are designed to work with small failing areas.
Regarding heat, electric components are designed to work for a fixed number of cycles at a set temperature. At higher temperatures, these components last a fewer number of cycles. In other words, running electronics at higher temperatures damages them. They will not die immediately but will die sooner than it was supposed to. If computers are cooled down with fans it’s for a good reason!
So even if your laptop has an SSD, leaving it on in a backpack is really not the best of ideas!