Cycling isn’t limited to kids and racers anymore. It’s an excellent exercise option for older individuals as well. It allows you to adjust the intensity to your own needs and abilities, is gentle on the joints, and can be a social activity when done with others.
Thanks to electric bikes, cycling has become even more accessible for older riders. You don’t have to be extremely fit to keep going, you can carry more items, and you’re not limited to flat routes. Additionally, there are various non-assisted bikes available for older people, including step-through town bikes and recumbents.
While some experienced cyclists continue to ride mountain bikes and road bikes well into their later years, there are many individuals who can benefit from bikes specifically designed for seniors.
This guide covers everything you need to know about bikes for seniors, including the different types of bikes available, what to consider when buying a bike as an older rider, and most importantly, the numerous benefits of cycling as you age.
Benefits of cycling for older people
It is common knowledge that any form of exercise is beneficial, but cycling holds numerous advantages for seniors. We have identified 27 benefits of cycling, many of which are applicable to both older and younger riders. As we age, maintaining cardiovascular fitness becomes increasingly important, but exercise offers other benefits as well, including a reduced risk of cancer and strokes, and improved bowel movements. The balance aspect of cycling also plays a crucial role in enhancing motor coordination. Generally, moderate-intensity exercise is considered more advantageous than lower intensities. With cycling, you have the flexibility to choose the intensity of your workout and can easily monitor your exertion level using a heart rate monitor and a bike computer.
Electric bikes have gained immense popularity, with some models adjusting their power output to maintain your heart rate within a predefined range. Unlike many other forms of exercise, cycling is low-impact, putting less strain on muscles and joints. It not only strengthens the legs but also engages the upper body and arms through balance and steering. This makes it a suitable exercise even for those with injuries or chronic pain. Staying active, enjoying the outdoors, and seeking new experiences are crucial for maintaining good health as you age. Additionally, cycling is a highly social activity, allowing you to have conversations while riding in a group and indulge in a well-deserved slice of cake at a café during the finest rides.
What to look for in a bike for seniors
Certain features make bikes more suitable for older cyclists. Islabikes, for instance, incorporated design elements from their children’s bikes into their Icons range for riders over 65. These features, such as lightweight frames, comfortable seating, and easy-to-use gears, are also found in bikes designed for seniors by other brands.
If balance is a concern, opting for a more stable design can be beneficial. This could involve a lower seated position, which facilitates easier foot placement when stopping. Alternatively, bikes with more than two wheels, such as tricycles or four-wheeled bikes designed for seniors, eliminate balance issues altogether.
Another feature that contributes to stability is wider tires. Senior-specific bikes often come equipped with wider tires compared to hybrid bikes. This not only enhances ride comfort by absorbing road imperfections more effectively but may also increase pedaling effort, which can be mitigated with the assistance of an electric motor.
Moreover, bikes designed for seniors typically incorporate a longer wheelbase and frame and fork angles optimized for stability.
Comfortable ride position
For some older individuals, mounting and dismounting a bike can pose challenges. Traditional bicycles often feature high top tubes that require lifting a leg over, and this can also be the case with classic women’s bikes even though the top tube is lowered.
Many brands now offer frames with low step-through designs, reducing the distance the rider needs to lift their leg to straddle the bike.
Islabikes takes it a step further with its Icons bikes, offering the option to install a dropper seatpost. This allows the saddle to be lowered, making mounting and dismounting even easier. Once riding, the saddle can be quickly raised again.
Bicycles designed for seniors typically have a more upright riding position compared to those designed for more agile riders. The handlebars are also positioned closer to the saddle, providing a more comfortable riding experience than a leaned-forward position. Recumbent bikes take this further by offering a leaned-back ride position with a seat and back support.
For a rider with less muscle mass compared to a younger cyclist, having low gearing makes riding a bike much easier, especially at lower speeds. This typically involves a smaller chainring. Additionally, a wide-ranging cassette is advantageous as it provides plenty of gears for faster riding and tackling uphill sections. Having easy gear shifting is important, so it’s worth considering grip shift or light-action trigger shifters. Islabikes uses grip shifts because they allow the rider to use the grip of the whole hand to change gears, rather than relying solely on the strength of the index finger and thumb.
If a bike is intended for shorter distances and may need to be parked for shopping or a cafe visit, it’s crucial that it can be securely locked up. This means carrying one or more bike locks, which are typically heavy. Additionally, having enough space for other items is important, so the ability to transport luggage on the bike is essential. This could involve having a rear pannier rack or at least the option to attach a saddlebag or bar bag. However, it’s worth noting that loading up these bags may impact the bike’s steering. Nevertheless, carrying weight on the bike is generally more comfortable than using a backpack or hip pack.
Even if a bike is never ridden in the dark, having a reliable set of bike lights is essential for improving a rider’s visibility, even during daylight hours. A ride that takes longer than expected can easily extend into twilight, especially during certain times of the year.
There are numerous additional features that can enhance the ease of riding a bike for seniors. Islabikes has carefully considered many of these aspects. Their bikes are equipped with shorter cranks, which bring the pedals closer together. This reduces the angle at which the rider needs to move their hips, particularly beneficial for those with limited mobility. Moreover, it ensures sufficient ground clearance in bikes designed for a lower riding position.
Islabikes also incorporates short-reach brake levers and utilizes hydraulic disc brakes, which require less hand strength to operate compared to rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes. Additionally, these brakes perform better in wet conditions. Having mudguards is another advantage, particularly for rides in rainy weather.
One more senior-specific feature found in Islabikes’ bikes is the design of the rims, which facilitates easier removal and refitting of tires in case of a puncture. This implies the need to carry and use a bike pump, although alternative options are available. Lastly, a kickstand proves advantageous when stopping at a café or for shopping purposes.
Although certain manufacturers produce lightweight bicycles for older individuals, numerous bikes suitable for seniors tend to be quite heavy. This may not pose a significant problem when riding on flat terrain, especially with the assistance of a motor. However, it can make uphill riding more challenging. If there is a need for lifting or pushing the bike off-road during a ride, or for storage purposes, the added weight quickly becomes a notable inconvenience. Therefore, it is advisable to search for a bike that weighs less than 15kg.
What are the best bikes for seniors?
Electric bikes for seniors
The emergence of electric bikes has proven to be highly beneficial for many individuals, particularly older riders. The motor assists in reducing the effort required during rides. In fact, studies have demonstrated that electric bikes can provide an equally effective workout as traditional pedal-only bikes, resulting in improved fitness.
For those seeking a more relaxed cycling experience, the assistance provided by electric bikes in starting and conquering hills is a significant advantage. Additionally, the ability to ride at a slightly higher speed with electric assistance is favored by many riders.
However, it is important to note that electric bikes are typically slightly heavier than non-assisted bikes. Therefore, finding convenient parking spaces is crucial. Charging the bike involves either plugging the battery into a mains adaptor while it remains on the bike or removing the battery for charging elsewhere. Charging can be inconvenient due to the placement of charging sockets on some electric bikes and the weight of the battery, making it burdensome to remove and charge.
It is advisable to look for electric bikes with user-friendly charge port designs and ensure that the bike can be easily positioned near a power outlet. Nowadays, electric assistance is available for almost all types of bicycles, allowing for a combination of electric power with any of the senior-friendly bikes described below.
Step-through bicycles are an excellent choice for older riders due to their easy mounting and dismounting compared to bicycles with a crossbar or sloped top tube. It’s effortless to place one or both feet on the ground when coming to a stop. Several brands offer bikes with a low step-through feature. The Islabikes Joni, designed specifically for older riders, features an extra-low step-through design for effortless on and off. Dutch brand Van Raam, known for their wide range of specialized bike designs, also offers low step-through models. Mainstream brands like Specialized also sell bikes with low step-over frames, such as the Specialized Roll.
There’s no reason why a step-through design can’t be combined with an electric drive system, and bikes such as the Specialized Turbo Como, Raleigh Motus Tour and Islabikes e-Joni offer both.
For older riders who have concerns about their balance, a tricycle can be a viable option. Tricycles make it easier to start and stop because there’s no need to find your balance when you begin pedaling. Additionally, tricycles provide stability, making it more convenient to carry luggage compared to bicycles.
Adult tricycles often come equipped with multiple gears, enabling riders to tackle hills with ease. They utilize standard bicycle components and require no more maintenance than a regular bicycle. However, it’s worth noting that tricycles can be more challenging to store and maneuver when not in use.
One thing to keep in mind is that tricycles don’t handle corners like bicycles do, as they lack the ability to lean into turns. Therefore, it’s important to approach corners with caution to maintain stability, given the presence of a third wheel.
Several brands offer tricycles tailored to older riders or the adaptive bikes market. While we haven’t tested them yet, Jorvik Tricycles and Mission Cycles in the UK offer a wide range of electric and non-electric models. Van Raam also manufactures tricycles, along with low step-through models and other specialized designs suitable for older riders, all available with or without electric support.
Many bike designs require riders to lean forward over the handlebars, with varying degrees of forward lean. However, bikes designed for seniors prioritize a very upright riding position, featuring handlebars placed high up and closer to the rider. If sitting upright or leaning forward is challenging, a recumbent or semi-recumbent bicycle or tricycle could be the solution. These designs typically feature a seat and backrest, positioning the rider in a more reclined position. Additionally, the pedals are usually placed well forward of the rider.
While a fully recumbent bike may pose some challenges when it comes to getting on and riding, semi-recumbent models offer a less extreme riding position that is higher up and easier to access. These recumbents also improve visibility for traffic.
Similar to other types of bikes, recumbents come with electric assistance options, and there are also tricycle recumbents and semi-recumbents available, which eliminate the need for balancing. Van Raam specializes in recumbent and semi-recumbent designs.
In the UK, Get Cycling offers a wide selection of specialist bikes, including Van Raam’s recumbent bikes.
Indoor cycling provides equally valuable health benefits compared to outdoor cycling, with a wide range of exercise bike options to choose from. The main advantages of using an exercise bike include avoiding traffic and outdoor conditions, eliminating the need for balance (although balance can have health and coordination benefits), and the convenience of starting and stopping at will. The top-notch indoor bikes offer automatic resistance control, eliminating the need for manual adjustments while riding. They can also be paired with a chest strap or wrist-based heart rate monitor to track exercise intensity and maintain it within pre-set limits. Similar to outdoor bikes, the ease of mounting and dismounting an exercise bike is crucial, especially considering that exercise bikes typically have a slightly higher seating position. Using a box or step can be helpful in this regard, as the bike will not move.
When selecting an exercise bike, many of the factors to consider are similar to those for choosing an outdoor bike for seniors. It is important to have a comfortable reach to the handlebars and the option to ride in a more upright position, which can be advantageous. The good news is that high-quality exercise bikes usually offer a lot of adjustability, allowing you to customize the position of the contact points for a comfortable riding experience. Some exercise bikes also prioritize back support, featuring a seat with a backrest instead of a traditional saddle. Others offer a recumbent seating position, making it easier to get on and off the bike while reducing the risk of falling. Additionally, it is worth considering where the exercise bike will be used and stored. Some models can be quite heavy and require a permanent location. Having a wide base for stability is important to ensure a smoother ride, but this often means the bike will be heavier.
Higher-quality exercise bikes usually need an external power source, which will limit where they can be placed.
As we age, it’s important to find ways to stay active and healthy. Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can provide numerous benefits for older adults, including improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle strength and flexibility, and a boost in mental well-being. Thanks to advancements in bike design and technology, there is a wide range of options available specifically tailored for seniors or those with balance and mobility concerns. From adult tricycles to recumbent bikes and traditional exercise bikes, there is something for every individual’s needs and abilities. So why not give cycling a try and see the positive impact it can have on your health and overall quality of life? Remember to always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise routine. Happy riding!