There is a computer packed on this bike!
Tent is the New Rent
A few years ago my partner Sarah and I lived on our bikes for a while. Unfortunately our plans were cut short by the COVID years, but that's another story. We didn't have a war-chest of money and so we had to work along the way. For me, that meant I needed to carry a computer. In this blog post I'll share my learnings on bikepacking with a computer, including which computers I have used and how I have packed them.
I was worried about the robustness of standard computers and so I looked at various ruggedised options. At the time, these special purpose ruggedised computers were often a low spec and extremely expensive. While researching these options, I noticed that different drop and vibration tests were mentioned in the sales material. MIL-STD-810 was a testing standard used as a testing benchmark for some of these devices. It included vibration and drop testing requirements - these were the main things I was worried about.
My bike is on the right. A 13.3 inch HP Envy laptop is in the Apidura framebag.
Will a Standard Off-the-shelf Laptop do the Job?
At some point during this research I needed to buy a laptop for work. I had been buying HP laptops for years but this time I read the spec information a little more carefully. I noticed that MIL-STD-810 testing was mentioned deep in the technical spec data. As part of the sales pitch, HP claimed their business laptops were tough enough to survive some pretty extreme vibration and drop tests. This made sense to me - if a laptop could survive a few months with a primary school kid, it could surely survive bikepacking abuse. The vibration testing was the real concern though - we often find ourselves bumping along heavily corrugated roads in the outback - sometimes for thousands of kilometers. The HP testing regime required their laptops to operate successfully during a 1000-mile simulation of vibrations created by a truck driving on a U.S. highway. Not only that, but the laptops were required to operate after being subjected to higher levels of vibration while in storage. This second test is what I was looking for - you never work on your laptop while riding, only when you're finished riding.
I was also concerned about dust and humidity. These were also covered by HP's testing protocol.
In the end I didn't bother with any special ruggedisation - I just took a standard HP 13-inch laptop, semi-confident after reading all the test info. Just to be sure I purchased some extra insurance which would cover me if the laptop died on me while travelling. This also covered water damage, which was a real possibility with the occasional deep river crossing. I was interested to see this standard HP laptop would survive some rugged off-road bikepacking. Did it work? Yes!
There are two computers packed in the Terra Rosa framebag on this bike.
How to Pack a Laptop Computer on a Bike
How do I pack a laptop for bikepacking? On my first trip I packed my laptop in a very basic zip-up neoprene bag from Officeworks. At only a few dollars, it was the cheapest one that they sold. I also took a small bluetooth keyboard and mouse. These were also packed in the neoprene bag along with the laptop charger. All of this went into a Sea to Summit Lightweight (not the Ultra-Sil) Dry Bag. With my size L Curve titanium GMX+, this just fit in an Apidura frame bag. I wouldn't say it fit nicely in the frame bag, and to be honest the frame bag wasn't a good fit for the bike as you can see in the photos in this blog post, but it's all I had and I was able to make it work. At times, a corner of the laptop would bash against the downtube, eventually making a small dent in the downtube. Surprisingly this did not damage the laptop.
The computer equipment I took on my last trip: Neoprene laptop case from Officeworks (it was only a few dollars); HP Envy 13.3 inch laptop; laptop charger; small bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
I've travelled in a similar way on a prototype Curve GMX+ Steel (also size L) but with a custom Terra Rosa frame bag. Once again, the tight fit in the frame's triangle meant the laptop also damaged the downtube with the constant vibrations. There was no damage to the laptop in this case either.
When travelling on a Curve Big Kev recently, I packed differently. I no longer had a frame bag and so I slid the laptop (packed in the way described above, including charger, keyboard and mouse) into an Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack (9L). The 13.3 inch laptop was upright in the bag and I packed clothes around it to fill out the bag, offer some padding and keep the laptop secure. It was a pretty tight fit for the laptop but it slid in nicely without too much trouble.
If you attach the handlebar bag as Apidura specifies you get way too much bag movement, especially if you're carrying a heavy load. This is disconcerting while descending at pace - the bag movement adversely affects handling. I also worry about damage to the straps with the constant vibrations and jolting that off-road riding offers. Strap failure would most likely result in a nasty crash if it happened at high speed while descending. To fix the problem of movement and ease my concerns about straps failing, I do two things.
First I clip the side release buckles over the top of my handlebars. This gives a much more secure attachment to the bars and results in a lot less movement.
Bikepacking Hack: Connect your handlebar bag side release buckles ABOVE the handlebar for extra support. Use Voile Straps as well for an extra secure bar roll set up.
Secondly, I support the bag with two Voile straps, attached around the bag and handlebar. This gives a very secure attachment with minimal movement. Packed this way, the bag is supported by six things - the stock straps that attach the bag to the bars (one on each side), the side release buckles clipped over the bars (one on each side), and two Voile straps.
Bikepacking Hack: Voile Straps can secure a heavy load tightly, meaning less movement and improved handling on rough terrain.
A Standard Laptop Can Survive Rugged Bikepacking Adventures
I haven't checked HP's testing standards in recent years, but I've travelled with various HP laptops now - all either 13 or 13.3 inches, most often the HP Envy model - without trouble. These trips have been extremely rough on gear, with at least 1,000 km of rough off-road riding on each adventure. Nowadays it looks like MIL-STD-810 testing is standard as part of HP's test process for all business laptops (Google "MIL-STD-810 Testing for HP Business PCs" and you can check it out for yourself).
I'm sure other brands offer similarly robust laptops these days - I haven't checked though. I tend to stick to what works for me unless forced to change due to dropping standards. As of June 2023 the HP Envy range has served me well. And, no, this is not a sponsored post! I paid full retail for my laptops.
Let us know your tips for bikepacking with a laptop. I will be interested to hear them!