The first question to ask when it comes to taking a laptop or tablet such as Apple’s iPad
on a bicycle tour is do you really need one?
For shorter tours of a few days or even a few weeks, the answer is probably ‘no’.
Essential tasks can be tackled with a cellphone (especially if you have an iPhone or Android Smartphone), or even a Kindle 3G eBook Reader. Everything else can wait until you get home. Without a laptop your bags will be lighter, you’ll have one less expensive gadget to worry about and you’ll be more likely to get talking to other people along the way, rather than staring at a screen all evening.
That said, technology does have its uses. We’ve always carried a laptop on longer journeys, and we use it almost daily. This article will guide you through some of the things to consider, including:
- Why Take A Laptop On A Bicycle Tour
- Features To Look For
- Models To Consider
- Packing And Protecting It From Bumps
- Photo Editing: Great if you’re planning a multi-month tour and want to sort out your pictures as you go, rather than leaving them all until you get home.
- Journal Writing: Some people don’t find writing by hand as comfortable or as easy compared to typing on a computer.
- Comfortable Internet Access: Internet cafes can be frustrating. Computers are often poorly maintained and full of viruses. The rooms can be stuffy or full of noisy kids playing games, and prices can be high (especially in the developed world). With your own computer, you have more choices about how and where to go online (at wireless or Wi-Fi hotspots, or using a 3G data SIM). At the very least, you can compose emails and journal entries offline, store them on a USB stick and quickly send them from the internet cafe.
- Information Storage: On your computer, you can keep repair manuals, information and maps about the route and destinations you’re planning to visit.
- Data Backup: With a laptop you can burn your own DVDs and send them home, without relying on internet cafes or photo shops to do the job for you.
- Entertainment: In many parts of the world you can buy movies on DVD or CD for next to nothing. You won’t have to watch CNN for the tenth hour running. This use is questionable if you’re planning to do a lot of camping and won’t have regular access to electricity.
Hard at work in the tent. You can write journals and edit photos at your leisure, or even work remotely from the road like Tara & Tyler did, if you have a laptop.
What To Look For?
If you’re convinced that you do want to take a laptop or tablet on a bicycle tour, which one should you take? With dozens of netbooks and tablets to choose from, it’s not an easy decision. Here are some general points to consider:
- Your Goals: What do you want to do? Will you be creating a lot of content (journal entries, photographs) or using it to watch movies and read websites? If you’re primarily a creator of content, you’ll probably want a laptop. If you plan to mainly consume content, a tablet such as the iPad may be more suitable.
- Battery Life: Get something that’s rated for at least 6-10 hours of battery life. You don’t want to constantly be looking for a recharging point, and your battery will slowly give less charge as it ages so after a year or so, you may only be getting half the original life.
- Keyboard Size: Is it full size or at least close to a normal keyboard? If you’re planning on doing a lot of writing, you will really appreciate having a larger keyboard as opposed to the scrunched ones that appear on the smallest portable computers.
- Disk Space: Go bigger than you think you need or plan on bringing additional memory cards or a portable hard disk as backup. All those photos and videos eat up storage space.
- Voltage: Check what voltage the laptop can accept without starting to spurt smoke if you’re going to be travelling internationally. Ours takes power between 100-240 Volts. The last thing you want is to plug your laptop into a foreign socket and watch it blow up before your eyes.
There are heaps of options for bike tourists who want to take a laptop or tablet along in their panniers. In addition to the very popular Apple’s iPad, you should consider:
#1. Asus Eee Netbooks – We’ve had extremely good luck with the Asus Eee series of netbooks. We own two of them and the first one we picked up in Singapore in December, 2008 is still going strong. It’s survived about 20,000km of cycle touring as well as daily use at home.
The Eee range of netbooks can be found with screens as small as 7″ across but we favour the 10″ models. They’re only slightly bigger but a lot more comfortable for typing and editing photos (although you’ll still have to adjust if you’re used to a bigger computer at home). The latest models, such as the Asus Eee 1015PX boast of up to 11 hours battery life, the cost is reasonable (£ 27.99 from Amazon.co.uk). If all that wasn’t enough, we can highly recommend Asus customer service. One of our two Eee laptops developed a noisy fan. Asus picked it up at our door for repair under their global warranty. It was back to us 3 days later. Easy!
#2. Asus EeePad Transformer Tablet– For the tablet fans, we think the EeePad Transformer Tablet looks pretty cool. It’s a tablet that comes with a separate keyboard, so you can have a tablet when you want it, and the equivalent of a laptop when you need to write for longer periods. It runs an Android OS, so you have access to all the Android apps, and a massive 16 hours of battery life with the keyboard docking station attached (9.5 hours without). The price is also impressive: £ 429.99 from Amazon.co.uk which, at the time of writing (June 2011), is a bit less than the iPad 2.
#3. Macbook Pro – At first glance, this seems like overkill for a bicycle tour and in some ways it is. The 13″ Macbook Pro is relatively expensive (£ 999 from Amazon.co.uk) and heavy at 2kg, compared to most other computers. Why would you bother?
For us, the inbuilt iMovie video-editing software adds a lot of value. It’s so quick and easy to use, that we couldn’t imagine editing videos any other way. The screen size is also a luxury compared to a tiny netbook. This is not an option that’s going to appeal to everyone but for the minority of us who are big into blogging, photography, video editing and other multi-media activities, the Macbook Pro is worth considering for extended bicycle tours, where you’ll need to produce a lot of content on the road.
Of course, there are dozens of models to choose from, and we can’t list them all here. Some options mentioned by TravellingTwo readers include:
You can also read an extensive discussion on our Facebook group about which laptop to take on a bicycle tour, with lots of specific recommendations.
Start researching laptops and bicycle touring, and you’ll quickly come across stories of laptops that died from all the vibrations of the bicycle’s movement. That might have been a major worry years ago but in our experience today’s laptops are fairly robust.
Almost every long-distance bicycle tourist carries a laptop now, and we rarely hear of any breaking. Of course routine failures can happen but don’t worry too much about vibrations having a major effect on your machine.
Just after taking this photo, Andrew’s rear pannier (with laptop inside) fell off while he was going 30km an hour. The bag bounced several times but the laptop suffered no damage.
That said, a laptop is an expensive toy so do try to pack your laptop or tablet with some care.
The biggest danger is probably dust and dirt, so get a good sleeve for it. We have one with a zipper that keeps the laptop nicely sealed when we’re not using it. When packing the laptop, we wrap it in clothing and pack it in the middle of a back pannier, so it’s as far as possible from the bicycle and surrounded by other soft items. We make sure the entire bag is tightly packed, so the laptop can’t rattle around inside the bag.
Fingers crossed this does the trick but you just never know. Back things up regularly, just in case! You can do this by carrying an external hard drive, or by burning CDs and DVDs with photos and sending them home (most internet cafes can do this for you, if you don’t have a burner in your laptop).