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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

How to Choose an Electric Bike for Seniors

Older adults are increasingly picking an electric bicycle when they buy a new bike. The only question is: Which one?  

Electric bicycles, commonly known as ebikes, are the bikes of choice for many boomers and beyond. Although they all still rely on pedaling, the battery gives an extra power boost for getting up hills or just cruising along. Grandparents love them for keeping up with kids on regular bicycles, riding with a group, or just enjoying a longer ride. Older adults who had become intimidated by hilly country can tackle it again, and weaker riders can keep up with stronger cyclists. Bike shop owners say their ebike customers are usually already bike riders, not newbies, and there are plenty of older riders among them.


But even veteran riders need to learn a few ebike basics. For instance, there are three classes of ebikes. Class 1 bikes feature a motor that kicks in only when you pedal, and it stops assisting when you reach 20 mph. Class 2 has pedal-assist to 20 mph just like Class 1, but it adds a throttle-powered mode. Class 3 is pedal-assist only like Class 1, but it will keep assisting until you reach 28 mph. Most riders start with a Class 1 bike. They are not only the most economical, but they are allowed on city streets and most bike paths. 

Ebike Battery and Motor Basics

Bike batteries trade off performance for riding range. A stronger motor is going to give you more speed for keeping up and more torque to climb hills or haul cargo, be it your shopping bags or the grandkids. But keep in mind that a stronger motor will run down the battery faster and reduce your riding range. 

Comfort is Key

No matter what you want your ebike to do, comfort must be a key consideration. One factor you want to consider is whether you want a hybrid bike or a comfort bike. (We assume that road bike fanatics and mountain bikers are choosing their bike for performance). Your riding position is a little different on each.

So-called “comfort” bikes may induce back or knee pain after a ride on a rough trail. But the more forward position of a hybrid bike may cause lower back pain to flare. Be sure to try out both styles, consult your retailer, and read this evaluation of hybrid vs. comfort bikes

Battery capacity is listed in watt hours (Wh), or the number of hours a battery can put out a sustained watt of power before dying. So, a 250-watt motor paired with a 500 Wh battery (often found in Class 1 ebikes) drains power more slowly than a 500-watt motor paired with a 500 Wh battery (common in Class 3 setups).

Check out Bosch’s Ebike Range Assistant tool to see the interplay among an array of factors that affect riding range. REI’s Intro to Ebikes offers tips on how to extend your riding range.

Most bicycle batteries will charge in three to five hours, although you can buy quick chargers. Some ebikes come with two batteries you can use at the same time to allow for a longer ride. Batteries will either be integrated into the frame (allowing for a bottle cage) or mounted externally (making changes/replacements easier).

The motor is usually placed mid-drive where you pedal or in the hub of the rear wheel. Mid-drive motors lend a more natural feel to pedal assistance and give a balanced, stable ride with the motor centered and low on the bike. Hub-drive motors concentrate power on the rear wheel, making it feel as though someone is pushing the bike from behind. They can make it tricky to change a flat.

What Is Torque?

If you need to climb hills or want to carry loads with your new bike, then you need to pay attention to torque. It will help your bike power up inclines and haul heavy loads. Torque is measured in newton meters (N m). Check on the listed maximum range while understanding that actual torque will change depending on your pedal-assist settings. 

Ebike Cost

While an electric bicycle can extend your riding career for many years or decades, the machines don’t come cheap. Decent models start at about $1,500 and work their way up to $10,000 or more depending on the frame material, battery and motor, and component parts. 
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. 

Throttle-operated bikes and bikes with a cadence sensor will set you back in the lower range of $1,500 and up. For $2,500 or more, you can get a model with a torque sensor. But buying a quality bike pays for itself in satisfaction dividends. 

Where To Go

Start out at a reliable local bike dealer who is enthusiastic about ebikes. How will you know? They will have many models to choose from, prominently displayed in the store. They will ask you lots of questions about what you want to use the bike for, where you like to ride, what features are the most important to you, if you have a favorite brand, etc. In other words, if you enter the shop and find there are two ebikes stored in the back and no one can answer your questions, turn around and walk out. 

You are not just looking for a reliable retailer for your electric bike purchase. You want someone who will be there for the next ten or fifteen years to service your bike, and someone who will take care to set up and tune your bike correctly. Find a local, independent dealer who has an interest in taking good care of you and your investment for many years to come.

How Long Will a New Ebike Last?

The life of your new bike is partly determined by its genetics: the way it was built, the materials it is within it, the quality of its construction. But the other part of this equation is the care it receives: cleaning and oiling, regular maintenance and service. A lithium-ion battery ought to last about 600 to 800 full charge cycles, so the timeline will vary depending on how often you use your bike.

Be smart and get a bike with a warranty. A two-year warranty on parts, motor, and battery (without any exclusions for normal wear and tear) is a reasonable expectation on ebikes costing $2,000 and up.

Know Your Priorities

There are as many electric bike styles out there as there are regular bikes, so knowing what you will be using it for is essential before you start shopping. If you are a long-distance rider (or will be with a power boost), then look for a battery with 400 watt-hours or more. If you just want comfort, make sure you get a step-through frame. If hill climbing will figure into a lot of your rides, then make sure you get a middle motor system or high torque hub motor. Your dealer should patiently help you through these decisions.

No matter what kind of bike you want, test ride several models. Love the first one you try? Test ride at least three more anyway. Electric bikes can handle differently depending on where the motor is placed and what it’s designed to do. You need to know the specs and research, but you also need to ask yourself if you love the bike when you ride it. If you do, double-check if it can do the job you need it for, if it fits you, and if it has the quality you’re looking for. Do not be swayed into an impulse purchase. Come back the next day and see if you love it every bit as much. 

Your bike should be a joy to ride. You ought to have high expectations of your new transportation. Not every ebike is made to stand the test of time or give you great performance. Ask your retailer if the brand has been around a long time and if they expect it to be around many more. And don’t hesitate to check reviews of the bike before you fall in love with it.