Senior adults are discovering the joys of cycling once again, which can have positive effects on both physical and mental health as we age. As a result, baby boomers are embracing biking in unprecedented numbers.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 accelerated existing trends and motivated people of all ages to engage in outdoor activities for fresh air and exercise, including cycling.
In this article, we will assist you in choosing the most suitable and senior-friendly bike style for you, along with the necessary bike accessories to start your cycling journey safely.
There has never been a more opportune moment to start riding, regardless of your age. Here are a few reasons:
- Biking is healthy:Cycling is a low-impact aerobic activity that is gentle on aging joints. Multiple studies support the benefits of regular bike riding, including improved heart health, weight loss, alleviation of depression, muscle toning, and enhanced brain strength. For a comprehensive explanation of how cycling promotes brain health, refer to this article from Bikemunk.
- Biking is safer: Across all 50 states, communities are constructing dedicated paved paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as expanding well-marked bike lanes, resulting in safer bike transportation. According to Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, there are nearly 25,000 miles of bike trails converted from former railway beds in the United States alone, with countless more available worldwide. This global trend extends beyond the United States, as countries like Europe, Canada, Australia, parts of Asia, and others are actively enhancing their bike infrastructure to promote safer and more enjoyable bike riding experiences.
- Bikes are better:Nowadays, there is a wide range of bicycles available specifically designed for seniors. These bikes, whether two or three-wheelers, are more advanced and sturdier compared to the ones we used as children. Additionally, with advancements in technology, consumers now have the option of electric-powered bicycles, known as “E-bikes”. These E-bikes enhance the joy and thrill of cycling, especially for senior adults and individuals with health concerns that may hinder them from enjoying traditional bicycles. Later in this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on the best types of bikes to ride.
- Biking is popular: According to a study conducted by Portland State University, seniors are one of the fastest-growing population segments that are embracing cycling. Numerous 55+ communities now have biking clubs and organized group rides. The Villages, the largest 55+ community in the nation, has achieved the prestigious Gold status as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists. Additionally, this Central Florida mega-retirement community holds the distinction of being the first 55+ community in the country to receive the Bicycle Friendly designation.
CYCLING IN AMERICA’S LARGEST RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
- Biking is good for the environment:The bicycle is gaining increased recognition in North America, Europe, and Asia as a viable alternative mode of transportation that is environmentally friendly compared to gas-guzzling cars, SUVs, and trucks. Depending on your location, you might be able to use your bike for errands or commuting, reducing the need for your car. Some countries are even offering financial incentives to encourage the use of electric-powered bicycles (e-bikes) for short errands instead of cars.
Mark Hall, owner of Village Cycles in The Villages, noted that 80 percent of his sales are to seniors. This gives him insight into why seniors ride and what they seek in bikes.
According to Hall, cycling is an incredibly fascinating activity. As he visited one of his two stores in The Villages, he expressed how once you delve into cycling and start riding, you realize the multitude of benefits it brings – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It improves our lifestyle, boosts our energy levels, enhances our outlook, serves as a stress reliever, and, of course, promotes a healthy body through biking.
Hall stated that cycling is a perfect activity for senior adults, particularly those experiencing joint pain that might hinder them from engaging in other types of exercise. “A lot of our clients face knee issues and require low-impact workouts. Cycling, along with swimming, is among the top choices for them.”
HOW TO SELECT A SENIOR-FRIENDLY BIKE
The pleasure we Baby Boomers derive from bike riding today may evoke similar feelings to those we had in our youth, but as we all know, our bodies have undergone changes. The bicycle we rode in the past may not be suitable for our current needs. Luckily, bike manufacturers have introduced new models with features designed specifically for mature adults. Even if you struggle with balance, there are bikes available that you can comfortably ride. Here are some tips to help you choose the right bike for you:
- Traditional vs. electric bikes:Electric-assist bicycles, commonly referred to as e-bikes, can be a game-changer for senior adults. These bikes allow riders to go further without getting tired, making cycling enjoyable once again. E-bikes are experiencing rapid growth in the global bicycle market, with Baby Boomers embracing them enthusiastically. Equipped with an electric motor and battery, e-bikes provide an extra boost, especially beneficial when climbing hills. This feature, known as “pedal assist,” requires the rider to still pedal. Some e-bikes even have a throttle, allowing for short distances to be covered without pedaling. Choosing between a traditional bike and an e-bike is a personal decision. E-bikes are more expensive and heavier, but for senior adults who aren’t professional athletes, cycling on an e-bike can bring more satisfaction. Before making a purchase, it’s advisable to test-ride an e-bike, and a local bike shop like Pedego Electric Bikes is an ideal place to do so. Pedego, with over 140 franchised stores, caters to senior adults and offers e-bike rentals to help you determine if an e-bike is right for you.
READ OUR RELATED STORY ABOUT HOW E-BIKES ARE HELPING SENIORS STAY FIT AND ENJOY CYCLING AGAIN.
- Buy from a bike shop: If you are new to cycling or haven’t ridden regularly in a long time, it is recommended to visit a local bike shop rather than purchasing online. It’s a good idea to explore one or more bike shops that cater to seniors. While there are many high-quality bikes available for purchase online, bike shops offer distinct advantages for senior cyclists. Firstly, they can provide expert advice on selecting the right bicycle based on your specific needs, experience, size, and health. Additionally, bike shops allow you to test ride different bikes to find the one you like the most. They also ensure that the bike is assembled correctly and properly fitted to you, as proper fit is crucial. Lastly, bike shops offer after-sales service and warranty work, which makes buying locally a better option for most senior consumers.
- Think about how you plan to use the bike: Bike manufacturers produce various types of bicycles for specific purposes. Certain bikes cater to serious athletes seeking high-performance rides. Others are built to withstand the thrill of riding mountain trails for enthusiasts. There are also bikes designed with comfort and user-friendliness in mind, targeting recreational and older riders. Bikes can be chosen based on their intended use on paved roads and trails or for navigating through sand, dirt, and rough terrains.
- Know your budget: One of the biggest mistakes new bike buyers often make is prioritizing price and searching for the cheapest bicycle available. This approach can lead to various issues. It’s advisable not to purchase bicycles from platforms like Amazon or Walmart. Seniors, in particular, should opt for higher-quality bikes. So, how much should you budget for a bicycle? A decent traditional (non-electric) adult bike typically starts at $500, while a good quality e-bike starts at $1,000. However, it’s not necessary to spend $5,000 or more for a premium bike, although it is certainly an option. There is a wide range of traditional bikes available in the $500 to $2,000 price range, with electric assist (e-bike) models ranging from $1,500 to $4,000.
SEE RELATED STORY ON THE BEST BIKE TRAILS IN FLORIDA, A GREAT STATE FOR RIDING.
BEST BIKES FOR SENIORS
While certain senior adults who are athletically inclined or seek thrills may prefer performance-oriented road bikes or mountain bikes, the majority of us at this stage of life desire a bicycle that is comfortable and user-friendly. Here are some popular bike styles to contemplate.
Cruiser bikes: Also referred to as “comfort bikes,” cruisers position riders in a more upright stance, avoiding the need to lean over the handlebars. They are equipped with wider, cushioned seats, providing greater comfort for aging individuals. Cruiser bikes also feature wider tires, enhancing control, balance, and overall riding experience. This style of bike is particularly popular among Baby Boomers. Hand brakes and a selection of three or more gears are commonly included, making uphill rides easier. While the standard full-size 26-inch bike is suitable for most adults, those with shorter stature may consider inquiring about 24-inch or even 20-inch bikes. It is advisable to test ride various sizes and models before selecting the one that suits you best.
Step-through bikes: Step-through bikes are not so much a specific type of bike as they are a design feature. Most step-through bikes are also categorized as cruiser bikes. Unlike traditional bikes with a high frame bar that requires riders to swing their leg over to mount, step-through bikes offer easy on and off access. These bikes are particularly favored by seniors, both men and women, who may have hip or lower-back issues. In the past, frame styles like these were often seen as gender-specific, but step-through bikes are now considered gender-neutral and popular among both men and women. Moreover, step-through bikes are considered safer for senior riders as they eliminate the risk of accidents that can occur during mounting or dismounting.
Foldable e-bikes: The 20-inch foldable electric bike has gained popularity among senior adults. Its compact size makes it a favorite among RV owners, as it can easily fit in the back of SUVs or minivans without requiring a bike rack. While traditional bikes with smaller tires may be harder to pedal, you won’t notice any difference on an e-bike. Additionally, smaller bikes are safer for shorter riders and easier to maneuver. Some models even come with wider tires (three to four inches), known as “fat tire” bikes, offering a smoother ride and the ability to pedal through sand and dirt.
Adult trikes: By adding a third wheel, a bicycle becomes accessible to almost anyone, including those who never learned how to ride a standard bike or who now face balance issues. This type of bike has been in existence for over a century and is particularly popular among 55+ communities, on bike trails, and for running errands. However, due to their weight and the presence of a third wheel, most models of trikes are slower than regular bikes and not well-suited for uphill riding. This limitation applies to traditional trikes, but a newer version called the e-trike provides extra power to adult trikes, enabling riders to travel longer distances and conquer hills with ease.
Over the past few years, manufacturers have brought forth new and inventive trike designs. These designs offer sleeker, lightweight options that are faster, while still providing the simplicity of traditional adult trikes. If you’re considering a trike, I recommend trying out various models to discover the one that aligns best with your requirements.
Recumbents: Unlike adult trikes, recumbents differ in many ways. Recumbents feature a sleek design and a lower riding position, allowing for speeds comparable to regular bikes. Both adult trikes and recumbents offer comfortable seats with excellent back and hip support. Additionally, some recumbents are foldable, making them more convenient to transport to trails.
DON’T FORGET SAFETY ACCESSORIES
Before hopping on your bike, ensure that you have the necessary safety accessories. The most crucial one is a bike helmet. Don’t underestimate the potential for serious head injuries in cycling accidents, regardless of the relatively low speed. Always, always wear a helmet when riding a bike. It provides the best protection for your head and brain. If you need further convincing, read this article for some eye-opening facts about bike accidents.
Another useful safety accessory is a left-side mirror. Quite frankly, they should come standard with all new bikes. A mirror allows you to see who is behind you and who is passing you. Mirrors can be mounted on the bike handlebars (most common) or included with helmets. If you plan to ride on trails or city streets, a mirror is definitely a must-have.
For longer rides, you might want brackets on your bike for carrying a water bottle and your cell phone. Avoid holding drinks, phones, packages, or anything else in your hands while riding. You’re not 14 anymore; both hands should be on the handlebars.
Similarly, if you intend to run errands or go shopping on your bike, ensure that you have baskets or bags large enough to hold your items. Avoid carrying them in your hands.
Bikes unfortunately attract thieves easily. Always lock your bike, even if you’re just stepping into a gas station or restaurant. Invest in one or two high-quality locks. Consult your local bike shop for recommendations. At home, don’t leave your bike parked on a carport or driveway unless it is securely locked. If possible, store it out of sight, especially at night and when you’re away from home.
Footwear Safety is paramount when cycling, and proper footwear plays a crucial role. Opt for closed-toe shoes like sneakers instead of flip-flops or going barefoot. It’s also important to ensure that your shoelaces are secured and out of the way of the chain.
If, for any reason, you choose to ride after dark (although it’s advised against), it’s crucial to wear reflectors on your clothing and ensure that both the front and rear lights of your bike are functioning properly.