A Cyclist's Computer: Macbook Air

Vote 0 Votes

We periodically write about technology, mobility, and gadgets. Our travels to Asia have been to attend Intel Developer Forums and blog about Mobile Internet Devices, NetBooks, and more — we also covered CES and its totally overwhelming consumerism.

A technology I’ve been following is small-form factor, ultra-portable laptops, and have been watching the Macbook Air since it came out.


Airing it out

The first Macbook Air (rev A), I just couldn’t do because we’re blogging with photos and video when traveling and now doing that in HD. Rev A was too anemic to push out videos or work with Photoshop files. Another problem with the Macbook Air is you can’t read a review (objective or not) without a comment taint that criticizes the laptop for what it’s not. That’s like if we reviewed carbon racing bikes and complained they didn’t ship with rack mounts. There’s much the Air doesn’t do, but it does what it’s intended to do very well.

As new tech emerges and old dies, Mac users will typically wig out then forget about it. Remember when the iMacs dropped floppy disk support and introduced USB? Geezus, you’d think that Apple had lost all regard for it’s fan base — but we all lived to compute another day. For example, I push a cd/dvd into a drive about 3 times a year total and have recently found myself surviving just fine with an 8G iPhone. 2 years ago, I spent considerable time fretting about whether or not 30 Gs was enough for my iPod …

To the point and context of Bike Hugger, I’ve been on a quest to become more mobile, simplified, and lightweight. Traveling with an folding bike, S&S case brings out the perfect packer in me and a desire to get even more efficient on the road. We’ve also got our Mobile Socials, where we talk this stuff and bikes and I’m riding around shooting video and blogging.

It’s More Fun to Compute

I haven’t owned a desktop since the first iMacs, opting instead for a laptop as a desktop replacement. Blogging doesn’t require much more power than a few Photoshop filters and rendering a 90 sec movie file for YouTube. I’ve had 17s, 15s, PowerBooks, Macbooks, and the new Unibody Macbook Pro. For the past year, I tried a travel computer set up where I had a laptop at home and one for the road and tried to keep them in sync. That worked for like a week and mostly got out of sync, nothing too confusing, but it’s just too much to keep two computers in sync — I’ve got another post about “the Great Sync” coming soon.

What I realized is that I needed a machine optimized for writing, blogging, and not any heavy lifting. It wasn’t migrated from another computer or synced beyond a shared folder, mail accounts, bookmarks, and passwords. Enter the Macbook Air.

Skipping the first rev, I waited for an update and then spent a few hours in an Apple Store testing rev B when it was shipping. I defer to the tech bloggers for all the numbing details of the rev, but what’s relevant is the Air does what I want it to do and is the thinnest, lightest, sturdiest computer I’ve owned.

It’s remarkably liberating to tout it around in a messenger bag. It feels like a solid piece of equipment — you can hold it with two fingers and wave it around, if you like, and the chassis doesn’t flex or creak. I’m not even using a sleeve, just tossing it into the Timbuk2 for a quick errand or Crumpler for travel. The air is fun, not drudgery to lug around, and I’ve found myself just taking it everywhere (of course, with regard to the wife limits). I liken it to riding a single-speed or fixed compared to the complexities of DA 10.

Despite what the Macbook Air playah haters have said, I’m using

  • iMovie 8, Final Cut Express
  • Photoshop
  • Localhost Movable Type 4
  • Keynote with motion graphics

and the machine feels as snappy as my first Macbook Pro and it should, it has similar specs. The Solid State drive opens apps like whammo — check the AnandTech review for more on the SSDness with pros and cons. I don’t know why exactly, but browsing with Safari is just blazing on the Air, faster than any machine I’ve owned.

Santa Air

Grabbing big Air

Being on the bike with a computer, I want a lightweight machine that works. I’ve lugged computers all over the place and it gets tiresome packing, unpacking, lifting, all the cords, stupid TSA lines, etc.

What I’m doing with the Air, is using it as a purpose-built machine — don’t need a disc drive, USB limitations, whatever. I’m blogging, writing, emailing, browsing and rock. Also note, when traveling, I’m not with a cargo bike — it’s a folding Dahon or the Modal and no damn panniers.

Typing on Air

Sharing my enthusiasm for the Air is Matt Haughey

It’s interesting having a powerful desktop, an iphone, and then the Air in the middle … the air is what I do everything around the house on, and yeah, I use it for writing long blog posts more than my desktop.

Right on. For heavy lifting, I’ve got the Macbook Pro; I’m moblogging with the iPhone, communicating, quick emails; and the Macbook air is my travel, blogging machine.

air_sleeve.jpg Tim from Commute by Bike agrees.

And see the Vintage Bicycle Macbook Sleeve.


The Air is weak as a primary system and expensive as a secondary. Maybe it’s great for people who regularly take their system out for conspicuous typing in public, but if I had a computer for toting around, it would be a netbook or older MacBook that was cheaper, more expendable, and left a port open for a 3G card.

i use one too. same reasons. replaced a macbook. wouldn’t go back. it’s my primary system. no beefs really.

@champs, i agree the cost hasn’t seemed to meet the demand from the everyday user.

for realgeeksride.com, when 2 geeks (me and a fellow geek) bike across the US we will be bringing an Acer Aspire One along with other geek’ed out things

Sure — those criticisms and shortcomings of the Air are noted in the tech blog reviews and comments. On the ego aspect for me, I do that with my bikes and not with computers … but any machine as audaciously designed as the Air will attract attention. So did the iPhone when it first came out. For my tastes, the netbooks are crap: can’t type, screen too small, plasticy, toy feelling, but again that’s the usage.

In the post, I link to a Netbook at Costco. If you wanted a “communicator only,” sure, but I’ve got that with my iPhone … this is not a computer for everyone, no and definitely not a primary machine, but the claims that it doesn’t perform are dated and incorrect. When I was in the Apple Store, the Genius noted that he’s talked people out of getting it as a primary machine and if weight was a concern or a person traveled less, the new Macbook is a far better value.

Besides the Travel, I find working on the Air refreshing — like I said, it’s like taking out a Dahon Uno for a spin on a bike path, v. riding a Madone around the lake on a training ride.

Claims that it doesn’t perform are actually quite up to date and accurate. It takes some real benchmarketing to make it keep up with a standard MacBook, and at 2.4GHz my previous-generation MacBook Pro is the real deal, with no compromises (as far as laptops go).

And if anything’s a Dahon Uno, it’s a netbook. The Air is like that BMC fixie that BSNYC keeps making light of.

But on a more cheerful note, happy Festivus.

Engadget’s updated review shows it performs — I’m talking Rev B here and my own experience. I think that’s mostly all in the new graphics card. I had the previous gen MBP at 2.6 and that bad boy rocked, even better is the new Unibody with two discrete video cards. Sorry, you can’t tell me it doesn’t blaze in Safari, open Photoshop, import photos and so on. Cause I’m sitting here doing it. Does it perform like my 2.6 MBP or new Unibody does, of course not, but I don’t expect it to. What’s different is it’s no longer “anemic.” You can’t expect it to do what the MBP do and why would you?

You can’t compare the AIR against specs of other machines because it’s in a usage category all its own and that’s its brilliance.

It’s meant to handle the 99% of your work to take with you and the occasional 1% heavy lifting to another machine. When I have to rip a DVD, I’d rather have my older desktop rip it, even overnight, and free up my 99% to do other things.

It’s the path of least resistance. Ask any MBA owner and they’ll tell you they just end up using it far more than their other machines that run twice as fast.

Path of least resistance is correct and I workaround the lack of a drive with an rugged Lacie external USB drive: partioned with a clone of the Macbook Air and space for backups. If I encounter any issues on the road, I can boot to the drive, repair and proceed. After writing the post, I’m finding myself using it even more than I thought. I’ve got a post to write on the syncing I’m doing, during the initial setup and daily. And, as I wrote above, I’ve owned several Powerbooks and Macbooks and it doesn’t feel any different than those. I believe that’s mostly 10.5.6 and the new graphics card — the OS is very fluid.

Leave a comment

Sign in to comment.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by DL Byron published on December 23, 2008 9:07 AM.

Dropbar MTB, pt 3 was the previous entry in this blog.

Bad Santa is the next entry in this blog.

You can find recent content on the main index.

Recent Comments

Here are excerpts of the last three comments posted to Bike Hugger. You can see more on the activity page

I just built fixed up a varsity last month. I kept the original 5 speed in the rear and left the smallest chainring on the front. It is fun and good
ladalske on "Varsity 925 Mashup"
Agreed and the owner was very proud of it. Here’s another Varsity.
DL Byron on "Varsity 925 Mashup"
I love it — ‘bout time someone made a Varsity into a sweet commuting machine rather than the tired fixed-gear conversion. Ah…nothin
Ghost Rider on "Varsity 925 Mashup"

About Bike Hugger

Got some bike culture to share?
Send us a tip