Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Laptop Transport: Trusting Your Bicycle with Your Precious Machine

There are basically two options for transporting your belongings while cycling: (1) on your person in a backpack or messenger bag, or (2) in a contraption attached to the bicycle itself, such as a basket, pannier, saddlebag, or other fixture. When it comes to most of my belongings, the choice on this is clear: I would rather not carry anything on my back while cycling, especially since my bicycles are fitted with racks and have great transport capacity. But when it comes to my laptop (a large MacBookPro), I just can't seem to "let go" and trust it to the care of a bicycle. I carry it either in the large leather satchel in the photo above, or in the Chrome messenger bag pictured below. The leather satchel is more suitable to my personal style, but the Chrome bag is more ergonomic and feels better on longer rides. Between the two of them, I have pretty much gotten accustomed to carrying my laptop on my back while cycling, even for long stretches.

Still, I am plagued with the question of why I do this, when my bicycles are rated to handle the weight and could make my life so much easier in this respect. There are panniers specifically designed for laptop transport and sturdy wire baskets for the rear rack that will safely do the job as well. Some even strap laptop bags directly to their racks with bungee cords, and some make their own panniers out of handsome vintage satchels using Arkel or Ortlieb attachments. So I suppose for me, it is really an issue of trust and control: Somehow it feels that the laptop is safer with me than attached to the bicycle. I have browsed countless times through all the panniers in the local bike shops, but ultimately I just can't imagine myself cycling with my laptop dangling over my rear wheel and out of my field of vision. Instead of watching the road and enjoying the ride, I'd be thinking about my laptop.

Is this a logical concern on my part? I am not sure. On the one hand, if I should fall on my bicycle, the laptop is just as likely to get damaged if it sits in a pannier than if it sits on my back. Also, the straps and closure of a messenger bag are probably no less likely to fail than the attachment points of a pannier system. However, if the bicycle itself should fall over without me on it, the laptop is more likely to get damaged. How statistically likely any of these scenarios are to actually happen, I have no idea. So I think it really comes down to one's subjective perception of security.

In the end, taking the first step towards trusting my bicycle with my laptop ended up being simpler than I thought. As it turns out, my leather satchel fits quite comfortably into the front basket on my Pashley, and the edges get lodged in the wicker, so that the bag remains sturdy when the bicycle is in motion. It never occurred to me that this could be a possibility, because I assumed that the satchel would be much too large for the basket and also that it would bounce. But there you have it. I am pleasantly surprised that there are no bouncing issues: Once stuck in the basket, the satchel does not budge; the wicker sort of closes in on it and holds it firmly in place. I feel comfortable with this set-up, because I see the bag in front of me at all times and know that it is doing okay. Not sure whether this will be my permanent method of transportation from now on, but it worked splendidly for some errands close to home.

I would love to hear how other people carry their laptops while cycling, and how those solutions are working out for them.

42 comments:

  1. i guess for me, it depends on which laptop i'm carrying. if i'm carrying my work-issued windows laptop, i treat it as just another object with little preference as to how i transport it. if i'm carrying my precious macbook pro, on the other hand, it's always in a laptop bag across my shoulder. it always stays close to me, like a child to its daddy :-). i too have no conclusive evidence for which method will actually protect the laptop better in the event of a fall, but it just "feels" safer to me to have the laptop attached to my body as opposed to the bike.

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  2. > if i'm carrying my precious macbook pro,
    > ... it always stays close to me, like a
    > child to its daddy


    Okay, so I am not as crazy as I thought. Or at least, not alone in my madness. I also like your contrasting views of the Windows vs Apple machines : ) I have been using Macs since 1997 and the Co-Habitant has finally been won over as well.

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  3. Laptop protection is mostly about reducing G-forces, because at impact it's high G-forces that ruin computers. As such, I would think that the lower to the ground you carry your cargo -- where it has less distance to fall -- the safer it is. That said, a nicely padded sleeve inserted into a nicely buffered case should be enough protection no matter where it's carried. (It reminds me of the egg drop science project I did in seventh grade. My "helicopter" gizmo completely failed, but the wrapping tape I used would have kept the egg protected even if I had just thrown it off the roof.)

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  4. I've been carrying my work laptop in an Arkel Commuter pannier for over a year now and it works great for my needs. The pannier fits my 17" laptop, portfolio, tools, lunch, and a change of clothes; it can weigh as much as my bike when I attach it. I've traveled through rainstorms (with rain cover purchased separately), high winds, -10F wind chills, and a recent crash with it. Upon arriving at work, I use a shoulder strap to carry it.

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  5. I made a rectangular wooden box slightly larger than my laptop. The box is padded inside - including the underside of the cover. At the back/bottom of the box I attached two (slightly) broad and flat brass hooks (fashioned by a friend) so that I could hang it to the side of the rack or slot them into the rim of the front basket. The box has small and an ornate brass clip-lock (which is really quite 'flat'). I stained the box to bring out the grains of the wood - with a decal of the 'crest' of my alma-mater in the center of the 'cover'/top of box. The box is then varnished (sand-papered and coated several times -tedious? :-P). There's a hard leather strap at the side of the box -- attached to box with shiny brass tacks (reinforced with'liquid- nail' ( a liquid adhesive) - so that I could easily carry it into the office with my laptop still inside. It almost looks like a super-size jewellery box.
    The padding and the clip-lock give me the sense of security with my laptop.

    Before I made this light weight ply-wood box, I would wrap an unused plastic tablecloth round my laptop before I placed it in the basket - a padding & waterproof cover -cheap and good - :-D haahaa -(sometimes when I thought I might have to cycle 'faster' than usual I would secure this to the basket with a string. Awful sight . this!:-D

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  6. I strap my hackintosh netbook to the rear rack or put it in my pannier with no worries, especially since it has a SSD. But I have transported my big MacBook in a padded case in my pannier or on the rack as well. Only on the Bat, though! I trust my pannier and rack are both sturdy enough to keep it safe.

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  7. Brent - That is a good point. But what about impact from the bicycle itself? It seems to me that keeping a laptop in a side pannier poses the greatest risk for damage from the bike falling onto the laptop. Some Dutch-style bicycles weigh over 50lbs - Would a laptop survive that?

    Greg - That is impressive, and sounds like a system that would be very useful for me. I will ask the obvious question: How does it impact your cycling with so much weight on one side? - especially when making turns, going over bumps, etc.?

    cyclemaniac - Wow. Wow. Would you share a photo of said box? It sounds like a masterpiece!

    Trisha - what panniers do you use?

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  8. It's actually a Basil shoulder bag/pannier -- this one. I wouldn't put a computer in it if it's raining, since it's just water-resistant, but I feel like it's very secure on the rack. My trips are usually under 5 miles though.

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  9. "I am plagued with the question of why I do this"

    Because it is often the most pragmatic. Look at all the pictures at Amsterdamize and notice how many people are riding around toting sometimes quite large loads in shoulder bags and duffels - while having empty racks with attached shopping panniers.

    "How does it impact your cycling with so much weight on one side?"

    Although it is counter-intuitive, believe it or not - it really doesn't. Try it. You'll see.

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  10. dukiebiddle said...

    I have the giant Wald Delivery basket. I've rigged and weaved a long bungy chord through the base (which stays there permanently) and lay my padded laptop carrying backpack over the bungy, and then use another bungy over the backpack. Carries eggs and laptop perfectly. I actually suspect that the laptop would survive most crashes unscathed.

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  11. Macbook Pro! You are a true cycle chic-tress.

    My biggest concern about having my Pro on the bike instead of my body, is vibration. I think of some of the potholes I hit and just imagine my laptop shaking to bits. I'd rather have my body absorbing the blows. I'd be more willing if somebody could show me a contraption that cushions my lappy from all that shaking. It would have to have something that separated it from the frame. I think it would need to be suspended, and in a way that didn't bump the laptop into something hard.

    Another concern for me is transporting my laptop in very cold weather. It's gonna get cold soon. What can I do to protect it from subzero weather?

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  12. Filigree - I don't have a problem with a pannier only on one side. I used to think about it as I made turns, but I don't anymore. Any pannier will create more drag in a headwind situation, so that is my biggest concern in Chicago during the winter months. I've only felt the pannier shift while riding once and it was because my rack was loose; otherwise, bumps haven't been a problem.

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  13. Trisha - Thanks for the link! Those are really nice bags, but sadly my laptop is too large for them. I am also a bit weary of the plastic hooks that the Basil system uses. Plastic?...

    kfg - Really?.. I find this so hard to believe, especially when the load weighs "as much as the bicycle" as in Greg's case. But okay, I'll believe it. Need to figure out a way to give this a try without having to actually buy a $100+ pannier.

    dukiebiddle - Wow, those baskets are huge! That looks great, wish I had a bike where that could go.

    spiderleggreen - Thank you : ) The vibration issue is what prevented me from strapping the laptop case directly onto the rear rack. The front wicker basket on my Pashley is suspended, so I hope that takes care of the vibration issue. As for cold weather - I have never worried about this, and I've lived in very clod climates where my laptop spent time outdoors for hours (inside a bag). Just leave it turned off during exposure to the cold.

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  14. I used to carry B's old macbook in bag on the Xtra's side bags. I'm a neglectful mac mama, but I will say my iphone is usually strapped on my waist in my queen bee fanny pack bag.

    I have to say your hat is awesome. And I love the sweater vest. A great idea for warmth but letting the arms and armpits breathe more! I'm forever shedding my jacket mid hill.

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  15. dukiebiddle said...

    "Wow, those baskets are huge!" I was in my LBS trying to buy a smaller strutted Wald and the mechanic came out of the back and pushed me hard to get the giant one. He said it would change my life. He was right, but now I have to buy another bike that doesn't have a basket the size of a Pinto strapped to the front. That's how they get ya.

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  16. ". . . vibration."

    The very reason, despite how uncomfortable it might be at times in the swelter & sweat of a NY summer, my good fiddle always rides on my back.

    "Really?.. I find this so hard to believe . . ."

    Nonetheless, it be so. I've logged several thousand miles over the years carrying a single, overstuffed pannier. I think I noticed it for about the first 10 seconds of the first ride. From then on everything has always felt almost freakily normal.

    On the other hand, despite all these years of doing it, I still think it LOOKS freaky. It is an aesthetic taste I have not been able to acquire; but pragmatism often wins out.

    ". . . a way to give this a try without having to actually buy a $100+ pannier."

    Delta Metro. Fifty bucks at Nashbar; or just cob something up ala your resident cheapskate. :)

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  17. Filigree,
    I'm 'helping' my brother to look after his 2 companies and at the moment my itinerary covers 3 countries in Europe and 4 in Asia (including S.E.Asia). I'm currently covering Asia ... in fact I'm now in Singapore (with my sis and her family tagging along for 2wks.).
    'The box' is now in Durham, U.K. with my uncle for safe-keeping. It's wouldn't stand repeated rough airport handling (when and where hand-luggage is not allowed or encouraged for security reasons).

    When I return to 'base' in about 6 months (earliest) from now I would like to develop my 'biking' blog. It is now just a 'shell' - hurriedly created on the surge of inspiration from you, Dottie and Trisha .... ;-)

    Hopefully I would put up some photos there,then. Just be warned that my work on 'the box' (and my other 'hobbies, as well ) is actually 'amateurish'. I'm trying to learn from the Asians (esp the Chinese ) how to mix and apply lacquer and the use of 'mother-of pearl' on wood products (Just as a hobby).
    Btw. in a case I made for the front rack I have incoporated a slot for my (S_ _ y) short-wave (-FM) radio - easy to operate while riding. I hate to use earphones while riding a bike - I think it's unsafe.
    This week-end I would go for a cycle-ride round Singapore (as per promise from some clients).
    Sorry to be off topic in this post.

    Have a good day.

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  18. cyclemaniac - Ah, you are my kind of gal. I "commute" between Boston and Vienna, which as its challenges. Looking forward to your photos when you return to the UK. Regarding Asian lacquer painting techniques: I am a big fan of maki-e, and collect fountain pens made and decorated in this style.

    kfg - The Delta Metro, wow. Now that looks freaky. But in an appealing way. If I were an international spy doing my secret transactions on bicycle, that is what I would use to keep my laptop and unmarked bills.

    Vee - Thanks! The hat is from a boutique in Vienna; the vest from TJMaxx in Somerville. I am so eclectic, I can hardly stand it!

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  19. "If I were an international spy . . . that is what I would use . . ."

    I think it's got a secret button that turns it into a jet pack. An awful lot of bike gear is going all "executive" lately.

    For the 'hood version, just scarf a square pail from someplace, punch two holes in the rim and zip tie it to the rack. It ain't pretty, but it's cheap and will allow you convince yourself the idea is sound.

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  20. Easy. Laptop at home. PC or laptop at work.

    Flashdrive in the pocket or e-mail necessary files.

    Voila! Problem solved!

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  21. That would work better if you also had a laptop at the coffee shop. :)

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  22. OR - You could just chuck all that ancient technology in the last twenty something comments and just get an iPhone you can keep almost anywhere. Laptops have lost their appeal. Don't take one in the sauna, however. On the bike, if there's a chance of rain like today, I carry a sandwich bag in my SPIbelt just to be safe.

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  23. Replacing my laptop with an iPhone or always leaving it at home is not an option
    : )

    I don't carry it with me all the time, but when I do, I do.

    Somewhat off-topic, I actually find my laptop enjoyable, whereas things like the IPhone and Gooseberry horrifying. I do not want to be accessible by phone, email, video-satellite and God knows what else at all times! I am very "low-tech" when it comes to mobile phones; as long as it works across continents I am all set. But my Apple laptop is my virtual castle. Don't take away my laptop.

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  24. I highly recommend Brenthaven cases. http://www.brenthaven.com/catalog-all-apple-cases.html
    I have one that is not listed here, but they are all basically the same. I've dropped my bag multiple times, but it's so securely padded and firm on every side, there's no way your computer can break (well, I'm sure there's a way, but it hasn't happened to me yet). They are also guaranteed for life, so they'll replace your bag when it gets old.

    As far as putting it on my bike, I have a spring loaded rack that holds anything you put on it in place. It slips around slightly, but is pretty secure.

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  25. The solution to the iPhone is to just turn OFF the phone and use it as the smallest laptop imaginable. Even thus, it's much better than the iPod Touch.

    Myself, I do some of my blog posts with the iPhone, though it's not as good at posting photos as I'd like. Photobucket works a lot better than Picasa.

    Best of all, it's OFF when it's off and it comes ON when I WANT to use it. It's an Apple Laptop without the size, and without the time delay to boot up. I admit it doesn't have Photoshop, but that's not a big loss when on the road. I guess I also use the phone and the text once in a while as well. Nice bonus!

    I loved the Mac, but the iPhone is what the Mac SHOULD have become. It makes me proud to be an Apple shareholder once again.

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  26. JEP - Thanks for the link! I like the sleeves and may get one of those.

    Steve - I do use my laptop for things other than this blog you know : )
    Photoshop, statistics programmes, word processing, and blah-blah other complex work stuff, are just some of the things for which an iPhone wouldn't cut it. Oh and my laptop has virtually no time delay when booting up, so there! It is not as cool as my husband's shiny new MacBook Air though.

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  27. On your point of bicycle weight: it really depends on how the bicycle falls onto the laptop. If it's a pointed thingy that hits the computer just so, you might have a ruined laptop, but that's pretty unlikely. If the bicycle just sort of falls on top of the laptop, that's no problem, because there's not going to be much impact force, really...and especially if it's inside a padded sleeve inside a case. Too, it's not clear to me that a human body, falling from a higher plane, might not inflict equal damage, if the G-force at impact is high enough.

    Whatever the problem, the major factor is hard drive damage -- that is, data loss -- because everything else is relatively easily replaced. The good news is that drives are pretty durable. I think some have survived car crashes, and even plane crashes. In my personal experience, I had a poorly mounted, loaded bookcase fall off my office wall and onto a running and unprotected laptop. The screen and keyboard were ruined, but the hard drive survived intact. I had to thank my lucky stars for such favors!

    And with all that said, for the sake of balance, I think I'd want the laptop off my body and on the bike...

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  28. I have the same problem. I have to carry my laptop around with me practically every day. My biggest concern is with the potholes and cobblestones I have to cycle over - it's the sort of shock that can be damaging to your hard drive. I try to remember to shut the macbook down rather than put it in sleep mode while I travel, so the hard drive isn't in a suspended state should something happen. In any case I carry it in a small backpack. I feel carrying it on my body is more shock absorbing than near the wheel, and I find backpacks much more stable than a slipping messenger bag that always needs to be readjusted.

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  29. Depending on how much other stuff I transport, I carry my laptop in the Chrome bag or span it to the rack. I have to say so that my laptop is rather light (less than 2 kg) and small too (13.3" or so). I'm ok with both options, but I wouldn't want to just put it in a basket without fixing it.

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  30. I have been beating laptops across the countryside, on and off of airplanes, in and out of pick up trucks and any other conveyance available for years. They have been dropped, bounced, fallen off the rear bumper of trucks and kept on going. The first one survived 7 years of field abuse (Compaq Presario 1200xl). I basically double bag them. A padded sleeve and a padded bag. I also RELIGIOUSLY back up my data, I suspect if I didn't the Karma Gods would treat me accordingly. I prefer to keep cargo off my body. I also have a 10" netbook, when it it's padded case will fit in a large saddle bag.

    Aaron

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  31. Nice review - thanks...

    I am a Pashley Roadster owner and I am looking for a bag to use on my commute, your blog came up while I was looking for panniers and I became distracted (reading almost all your posts and running down my iPhone battery doing so).
    The Carradice bags look amazing with the Pashley aesthetic, but I need something to take an A4 lever-arch file on occasion. Any thoughts?

    Many thanks, and keep up the blogging!
    R.

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  32. I have a Velorbis bike and the rear carrier has a handy built in hook (comes as standard kit) specially designed to hold laptop bags securely. I cycle to work each day with my laptop bag stored on the rear carrier and it works like a dream. I’ve also used it for carrying shopping bags or my gym bag. You can see how it works here - http://velorbis.com/velorbis-classic-bicycles/classic-bicycles/churchill-balloon

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  33. I carry my laptop on my Velorbis bike's rear carrier. All their bikes have a special hook just for this, just hook the bag handle over it and it's secure - www.velorbis.com. Cool feature. Keeps my laptop safe when I'm cycling - and it looks good :)

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  34. Rebecca/ Bikebabe - you mean this hook? Good Lord... Even if it is secure in theory, I would not be able to serenely transport my laptop that way. I mean, it's literally a metal hook for the handle - What prevents the laptop bag from "jumping" off when the bike hits a pothole?

    Frustrated Applicant - For the Pashleys, I think
    the bestest panniers are the Brooks roll-ups. We are planning to get them in black for the husband's Roadster and in moss for my Princess when the finances allow. Those will fit a 13" laptop, I think, but not my 15" one. They would certainly fit A4 sized files. Also, the Carradice bags do come in larger sizes; have a look at the Nelson.

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  35. Not much to add. Many good comments about how to carry a laptop. A good padded sleeve is really important.

    And even if a 60 pound Dutch bike fell over onto its side with the laptop in a pannier, how much force are we talking about. Half the bike weight, 30 pounds, from axle height, maybe a foot.

    On the other hand, if you are carrying the laptop in a bag and fall onto it, most of your body weight could hit it from a much greater height! A much harder hit than any bike could do.

    Regarding single panniers - I have one large pannier on my bike. I have had 30 pounds in it and don't even notice it when moving (on flats!). Except when stopping at lights and so on. All that weight on one side can make the bike unwieldy when you have one foot down on the road and the bike leaning. Although I'm not sure it would be any different with the load in two panniers. Same problem parking.

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  36. With my saddlebags chock full of my regular effects I stood up on bathroom scales holding my Pashley and (after subtracting my own weight) registered 65 lbs. No laptop bag included here, but I guess my bags + stuff weigh 15 lbs. Add a laptop bag in a secure pannier to that and my bike will be pushing 75 lbs! That's insane(ly cool)!

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  37. When I need to take my laptop with me, I zip it into the neoprene sleeve I bought at Apple and tuck that into one of my Basil Kavan panniers. It sits snugly in there (I also have the 15 inch Mac) and I'm reassured that it's not going anywhere, it won't come away from the bike, and if I should tip over, the pannier itself is fairly sturdy protection. (my Basil Kavans are here: http://www.basil.nl/assortiment_detail.asp?titel_var=2&lang=3&id=1663)

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  38. Bubble wrap: A few layers of bubble wrap is a cheap and very effective shock absorber. I don't carry a laptop, but bubble wrap is great for groceries like eggs and tomatoes in the pannier. I also recently used it to carry home a new desktop computer (in its box, tied and bungeed to the rear rack). Bubble wrap, yay!

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  39. Hi Filigree.
    There is a special mechanism that locks the bag in place. You can’t see it in the photo. You lift the spring lever top of the rear carrier (or whatever you call it), place the bag handles over the hook and then when the top of the rear carrier comes down there is a special lever that locks into place over the handles and it’s fully secure – even over potholes :) I can say this from experience. I love my laptop and would never trust it to something that wasn’t secure. Of course you can use pannier bags, but I just wanted to share a cool and different alternative. I haven’t seen this on any other bike other than Velorbis. Great discussion by the way.

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  40. I even have a laptop gel sleeve, inside of a backpack made for carrying a laptop, and that is inside of another backpack, yet I am still always paranoid that something may happen to my MacBook and it will get damaged. Since Apple does not cover "accidental damage" I am far from comfortable with riding my bike with my computer. I make sure it is safe inside my bag and that no falls can occur where I will suffer from the loss of another $2000 Mac.

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  41. Is there a way to mount a basket infront of the bicycle handle without obstructing the front fork suspension. Please let me know where to get the basket bracket
    Tnx

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  42. I'd say a a backpack is safest. When I fall off my bike, I usually do whatever it takes to stay on my feet, and I never actually have hit the ground. This usually means the bike (and sometimes my hands) get the hardest hit, thus I wouldn't put my laptop in a pannier.

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