Most people can recall the carefree days of childhood, riding their bikes for the sheer joy of it. Yet somehow, in the years between childhood and adulthood, many leave this beloved pastime in the dust where, in most cases, it remains. Perhaps that’s due to the misconceived notion that bicycling is for kids. While it’s true, there’s more to that truth; bicycling is for kids, but anyone and everyone can enjoy a good bike ride! Senior citizens, in particular, have a lot to gain from a regular cycling routine, as studies continue to point to the many mental and physical benefits of riding. An e-bike is the perfect way to kick that good bike ride up a notch to the next level, all while making it a safer, more enjoyable experience.
What is an e-bike?
Electric bicycles, commonly called e-bikes, are much like your standard bike, but with an added bonus: a battery-powered electric motor "assists" you along the way. Pedal-assist e-bikes require the rider to pedal in order for the motor to be activated, whereas throttle-equipped bikes activate the motor with simple press of a button. (It’s worth noting that a throttle is illegal in most places, so always check the law of the land before riding an e-bike of any kind over it, throttle or not).
The main objective of an e-bike is to make pedaling easier by providing an added boost of power that helps you glide more easily over rough terrain and climb hills without expending too much energy. Many e-bike owners report that owning an e-bike increased the frequency and duration of their rides. Some have even started using their bikes instead of their motor vehicles to complete certain errands.
Once considered a niche item or something of a fad, e-bikes have become mainstream; there is now an e-bike for every kind of riding and they can be purchased from a variety of retailers, including local and chain bike shops, sports and athletics stores, and big box retailers. Whether it’s a cargo or mountain bike, there’s bound to be at least several viable options that meet the needs of most. There are even electric tricycles on the market, an excellent option for anyone who’s looking for additional stability. The September 2021 findings of research group NPD reported an impressive 240 percent growth in e-bike sales over a twelve month period, confirming what many professionals in the industry had long been saying: e-bikes aren’t going anywhere.
Why e-bikes work for seniors
E-bikes are safe and are known to improve physical, psychological, and emotional health, all while being relatively affordable and easy to obtain. They’re also easy to customize, which means “where there's a will, there’s a way.” And while it may be hard to muster up the motivation to get outside on a bike, it’s worth pushing yourself to take that ride.
Safer than a car
For those who feel unsafe or just intimidated by driving a motor vehicle, an e-bike might just be the solution, as most are easier to manage than a car and are a much faster option than your standard bike. In fact, most e-bikes can go as fast as 28 mph! (Don’t worry—you don’t have to go that fast). A battery-assisted bike also means no more trips to the gas station, having to walk far distances from your car to the store, or shelling out an exorbanate amount of money for car parking when you go downtown.
More environmentally friendly
E-bikes are much more environmentally friendly than a motor vehicle. Rechargeable batteries eliminate the toxic fumes emitted by automobile motors. Particulates released by the skidding and heavy braking of tires are far less for bike tires than car tires. Keep in mind that these are pollutants that you would generally be producing and inhaling when driving a motor vehicle. While pollution produced from manufacturing bicycles is similar to that of cars, far less energy, steel, plastics, and rubber are used, still making it a greener option. Electric bikes also remain much more affordable and require significantly less maintenance and infrastructure than electric vehicles.
Helps prevent diseases
Not only is bicycling a great way to protect the environment, it’s an effective way to protect yourself from disease. Getting your blood pumping with regular physical activity, particularly cardio, aids in the prevention of developing all kinds of illnesses, including diabetes, heart issues, and cancer. Reducing the amount of toxic fumes you inhale reduces the likelihood of developing certain respiratory conditions. Regular exercise can also help manage the symptoms of some ailments or when recovering from injury or surgery.
Improves overall physical fitness and wellness
For decades, scientific research has shown exercise as being critical in establishing and maintaining physical fitness and wellness. New science has taken this one step further to suggest that it affects nearly every cell in the body. The message is clear: for a longer, healthier life, everyone needs to exercise.
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits to cycling is that it burns fat and builds muscle. Maintaining a lower percentage of body fat is important because the risk of developing specific health issues, such as diabetes and heart-related conditions, rises as body fat increases. While most people know that muscle is leaner than fat, many do not know that people with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories. In addition to reducing overall body fat, riding a bike also boosts lung power and increases overall physical mobility. Cycling stands out as being a great exercising option for seniors because it’s a low-impact activity and doesn’t cause unnecessary stress on joints. And as if that weren’t impressive enough, one study involving 100 adults concluded that those adults who exercised regularly had stronger immune systems and reported fewer illnesses than those who did not.
Stimulates the mind and improves cognitive function
For years, science has highlighted the positive impacts of fresh air and exercise on physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Countless studies specifically link exercising outdoors to improved self-esteem and a decrease of negative moods, such as anger and depression. Cognitive functioning becomes quicker and sharper. Many of the positive effects experienced during an outdoors ride can be attributed to the endorphins, namely serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline, that are released when you ride.
Easy to customize
With such a myriad of e-bikes on the market, it’s likely that you’ll find one that meets your needs. In the event that you can’t find “the one,” you can rest easy knowing that they are exceptionally easy to customize. Nearly every part of a bike or trike can be customized to suit you and the terrain you’ll be riding over.
If you require additional seat support to help you better maintain balance and reduce the soreness that results as your body adjusts to sitting on a bike saddle, consider a super plush seat or even an ergonomically designed one. Not only do they feel more comfortable during the ride, you’re likely to feel less soreness after your ride than you would on a less plush saddle. With that said, give your body a chance to adjust and the saddle time to break-in before you rush replacing it; the general recommendation is to give your saddle at least a dozen rides. Additionally, consider cycling-specific shorts with a chamois pad, as they are designed specifically to provide the needed comfort and minimize chafing. These shorts are designed to be worn against the bare skin, as a replacement for underwear when cycling. For rough, uneven terrain, fat tires offer better traction and stability and an adjustable suspension fork to help absorb vibration and to save your hands and arms the consequence of said vibrations are recommended.
Step-through frames, aka “low-step bikes,” are the way to go for those who aren’t particularly flexible or who suffer from or are concerned about back, knee, leg, hip, or ankle issues. This design allows the rider to get on and off of the bike quickly, and without having to swing the legs and hips over a high bar.
E-trikes sport a third wheel and are an option to those who prefer a little more stability and peace of mind, though the frame design and added wheel often make them heavier than their two-wheeled counterparts. They also require more storage space. Baskets for carrying your belongings can be added to e-bikes and e-trikes alike.
Things you should know
E-bikes are pretty wonderful, so the idea of purchasing this week’s top rated e-cycle can be tempting. However, there are a few things everyone ought to know before purchasing any e-bike. First and foremost, e-bikes are an investment, will require some work and regular maintenance on your part, and come with their own sets of risks.
Pricier than traditional cycles
Electric bikes are pricier than their traditional, motorless counterparts. An electric bike made with decent components starts in the $2000 to $3000 range and can cost upwards of $12,000! While there are e-bikes on the market that can be had for $1000 or less, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Cheaply made e-cycles are usually made with parts and components made from mediocre (sometimes questionable) materials and a budget battery that holds a shorter charge and degrades quickly. Cheap parts and batteries increase your risk of being stranded far away from home and will certainly increase the amount of money you spend on repairs, replacement parts, and required labor hours. While it may be difficult to justify, investing in a quality bike with quality parts from the get go will save you time and money in the end because they’re designed to last a long time before ever requiring repairs or replacement.
May require more work to put together
E-bikes often come with parts that require assembly, particularly electrical components. It might not seem like a big deal, but it can prove to be a problem for those who lack the strength or size, dexterity, and knowledge required to complete these tasks. If necessary, invite someone over to help or consider having it done at your local bike shop, or opt for the assembly option.
Usually somewhat bulky (at best)
One thing to keep in mind about e-bikes is that they are heavier and bulkier than standard ones; some are as much as 50% heavier than a standard, making it common for an e-bike to weigh between 45 and 70 pounds (though some can weigh even more)! Be sure you have a safe place to store such a bulky item and also ensure you’ll be able to manage the weight of the bike when moving it from one place to another. If weight proves to be an issue, it’s worth knowing that fat tires, the battery, and the frame material greatly affect the bike’s overall weight. A bike with a steel frame will be at least 2-3 pounds heavier than its aluminum counterpart but with all other components being equal, will probably cost about the same.
Fat tires provide better traction and stability to the rider, especially when going over gravel, wet surfaces, rocky surfaces, or any other terrain that needs that extra bit of grip. Keep in mind that they can be a little more sluggish to accelerate and maneuver than traditional tires. Most bikes are equipped with 250-500 watt motors, which do a great job, but if you want to go a little faster or have to ride over challenging terrain that requires an additional boost, consider a more powerful 750 watt motor.
Need to keep track of battery charge
Because the battery discharges with use and when sitting for prolonged periods of time, e-bike riders must be diligent about keeping it charged. All e-bikes come equipped with a bike computer that displays battery charge levels. Unfortunately, battery charge levels do not directly correlate to range since it is greatly affected by terrain and speed at which you traverse it. For example, riding fast on dirt or gravel will cut the range by more than 50% than riding at a moderate speed on pavement. Make sure to monitor your riding patterns and range to establish your personal range estimates. It might not seem like a big deal, but failure to attend to these details could leave you stranded miles from home.
When e-bikes appeared on the scene, the federal government gave the states the freedom to regulate them. As a result, the classification system for e-bikes and applicable laws vary from state to state and in some cases, even counties. With that said, 36 states follow the standards originally established in California.
There are 3 distinct classes of e-bikes that determine how an e-bike should be used according to the local laws.
Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assisted by the motor up to 20 mph. Once you reach 20 mph, the motor stops helping and if you want to go any faster, you must power through on your own. These bikes are most similar to traditional bikes and provide a very organic riding experience.
Class 2 e-bikes are equipped with a throttle that can be used alongside the pedal assist. For example, if you’re climbing a steep hill and get tired, you can use the throttle to engage the motor to help you along. Both the pedal assist and throttle will cut off once you reach the speed of 20 mph.
Class 3 e-bikes are pedal-assisted by the motor up to 28 mph and can also be throttle driven to 28 mph. These are usually very powerful bikes with performance similar to gasoline-powered mopeds and scooters.
Potential for injury
Cycling can certainly increase strength, mobility, and improve a variety of conditions, but without caution, can also result in injury. Anytime you’re riding a bike—standard or electric—you’re at risk of becoming injured. How, when, and where your ride will greatly affect the risks you expose yourself to when venturing out: riding on dedicated bike paths during a time with good visibility is significantly safer than sharing roads with cars at night.
There are ways to minimize your risk of injury. Opting for a trike so you have an extra wheel for enhanced stability is one way to reduce the chances of a stability-related accident. While trikes add even more stability, making it an overall safer riding experience, it’s easy to get carried away and find yourself zipping down the road far faster than you ever dreamed possible, making it dangerous to activate your brakes. This kind of braking scenario could easily send you over the handlebars, so it’s important to watch your speed and always wear a helmet.
Considerations to make before purchasing an e-bike
There are many considerations that should be made before making the financial commitment to an e-bike. Knowing your goals, needs, bike specs, and what it means to take up bike riding as a hobby is imperative if you are to enjoy the many benefits that come with it.
Evaluate your goals
What do you expect to get out of your e-bike? Will you be taking leisurely rides around your neighborhood, do you plan on using it to run errands, or are you just hoping to gain some fitness? Establishing how you plan to use your e-bike is imperative if you are to purchase one that will meet your needs and that won’t just end up sitting in the garage.
Evaluate your needs
Before deciding which e-bike will best meet your needs, conduct an honest evaluation of your current physical abilities and fitness levels to determine your needs. Do you have any temporary (surgery or injury recovery) or long term mobility issues? If so, that may affect what bike best fits the bill. Forgoing certain options because you feel like it’s “cheating” or “looks weak” is never a good idea and will only end up hurting you in the end.
Pay attention to certain specs because they can make or break your ride
Paying attention to the specs of an e-bike is necessary not just because you want to make sure it will fulfill your needs, but because you want to make sure it won’t prove to be cumbersome in other ways. For instance, weight limits and motor size will depend on your weight, whether or not you intend to load it up with stuff or a passenger, and the terrain on which you will be riding. Exceeding the bike’s weight capacity can hinder its ability to perform and leave you (and your passenger) stranded! Additionally, weight ought to be a serious consideration if the bike is going to be carried up and down stairs or needs to be loaded onto a car.
Count on getting a workout
Regardless of whether you find yourself with an e-bike or e-trike, it’s still a bike and so you can count on getting a workout. While the supplemental power can certainly decrease the level of difficulty, the very nature of pedaling and the position in which riding places you mean you’re going to have to exercise regardless of whether or not you’re getting a little bit of help.
Storing your e-bike
How and where you store your e-bike are perhaps two of the most important decisions you can make regarding your bike’s care. When deciding the best place to store your bike, the biggest areas of concern are theft and the many moods of mother nature.
Do not store an e-bike outside, such as balconies and patios, because the elements of the outdoors will likely cause damage to it. Those who live in areas where there are high levels of humidity or who are near bodies of saltwater should avoid storing a bike outdoors. The moisture and salt each accelerate the corrosion process and will cause metal parts or components to rust at an even faster rate. If you live in an area with cold winters and store your bike in a garage, be sure to remove the battery and store it indoors, as low temperatures cause irreversible damage to lithium-ion batteries.
Outdoor storage also exposes your bike to thieves who are looking for a quick steal. It’s much easier to steal a bike that’s been left outside than one that is locked within a secured garage or storage shed. Whenever leaving your e-bike unattended, be sure to secure it properly with a U-lock (two is even better) to increase the chances of it being there when you return.
https://cyclingmagazine.ca/sections/gear-reviews/e-bike-lock/ (look at the secure lockups chart)
Even bicycle and tricycle owners who do everything right can find themselves in quite the pickle. Returning to find that your bike has somehow been stolen or coming to the realization that you forgot to charge up the night before just as you’re losing power can certainly throw a wrench in your plans. Electric bike insurance could be all that you need to give you the peace of mind that you’re protected while riding. Whether it’s theft, personal injury, or bike damage, Velosurance, a bicycle insurance company, has you covered. Visit velsurance.com to learn how to protect you and your e-bike or e-trike.