What Is the Best Electric Bike for Older or Novice Riders?

A "good bike" would be good for everyone, a universal design.

Cyclist in Malmo Sweden
Older cyclist in Sweden .

Lloyd Alter

Over at Electric Bike Report, the real experts choose the Best Electric Bikes for Seniors 2021. They have actually tried every e-bike on their list and have been doing this for years, when I have seriously e-biked for only two years and have not tried nearly so many different models. But I do have a wish list of attributes that I think would be nice to have on a bike for anyone. 

Electric Bike Report's criteria included stability and comfort, quality and components, value, power, and range, and finally: Was it built specifically with seniors in mind?

First of all, I would suggest we shouldn't use the word seniors; many are put off by the term. Studies have shown most people think they look and act younger than they are and don't accept they should be thinking like "seniors." Just calling something a bike for seniors is going to put people off.

Author Susan Jacoby told The Atlantic: “Senior is one of the most common euphemisms for old people, and happens to be the one I hate the most." Jacoby told me that to her, senior implies that people who receive the label are different and somehow lesser, than those who don’t. Many of the so-called "senior" age will reject the bike simply because of its label.

Furthermore, the things that make a bike better for seniors make it better for almost everyone— whatever their age—and certainly for novices new to riding bikes, which a lot of new e-bikers are; many are coming from cars, not bikes. We don't want to see a 45-year-old end up doing a Simon Cowell by getting the wrong bike.

So for want of a better term, let's just call it a "good bike."

The good bike would be a comfortable, upright dutch-style bike. 

My Gazelle
CC BY 2.0. Gazelle bike at Fort York/ Lloyd Alter

We are talking about a relaxed sitting position that is easy on the back, with handlebars close enough that you do not have to bend forward at all. We are not in a race.

The good bike will be a step-through with no top tube.

designed for seniors
Gazelle Bike Designed for Older Riders.

Lloyd Alter

This is better for everyone of every sex; we noted a few years ago that a Dutch safety organization wanted to make every bike a step-through, and not just women's bikes.

"Women’s bikes are safer because cyclists assume a better posture while riding women’s bikes and they have a lesser chance of getting a serious head injury when they are involved in traffic accidents." 

But they are also better for people as they age.

"As people get older getting on and off the bike isn’t as easy. It’s the moment when most accidents occur, especially on e-bikes, and the consequences of a fall can be very serious for older people."

The good bike will be as light as possible.

Gocycle ebike in snow
Gocycle e-bike with carrier.

Lloyd Alter

My Gazelle e-bike is built like a tank but it weighs 60 pounds and sometimes I have to schlep it up a stair or two when I am finding a place to lock it up. The Gocyle, a folding electric bike, comes in at 38.6 pounds, thanks to its magnesium wheels and hydro-formed aluminum body.

The Good Bike will have internal gear hubs instead of derailleurs.

Every e-bike needs a good range of gears, but most come with derailleurs, which are exposed to weather and damage, which have the chain banging from gear to gear and often popping off (a regular occurrence when my daughter rides the Gazelle and shifts through too many gears at once). Then there is the feature I love: You can shift gears when stopped. This is so much better in city riding, where I have stopped at a red light (yes, cyclists stop at red lights) and had trouble getting going. 

Internal gear hubs are more expensive and slightly less efficient, but that matters less on an e-bike. They also eliminate the possibility of a rear hub drive, which is pretty much standard on less expensive e-bikes.

The Good Bike will have a mid-drive motor.

Bosch mid-drive motor
Mid-drive motor on my Gazelle.

Lloyd Alter

They have a low center of gravity. They are smooth; you don't even feel them kicking in. However they put a lot of strain on the chain and if it breaks, you are pushing it home. They are generally a bit more expensive to buy and maintain but are solid and steady.

The Good Bike motor will be rated in newton-meters, not watts. 

In Europe, everyone gets by with a 250-watt motor, that's the limit in the law. They are good for bursts up to 600 watts, and I have never wanted power on my Gazelle or the Surly Big Easy that I tried a few years ago. In North America, most regulations allow 750-watt motors, and people just believe that bigger is better. Newton-meters are measured torque, the twisting power that electric motors are famous for. It tells you how quickly you get from zero to whatever. Buying by wattage is a distraction, and almost nobody needs 750 watts.

The range is also a questionable number that varies according to how you ride, how heavy you are, and the type of terrain. It can be literally all over the map. Bigger batteries are better, but they are heavier, so it is all a trade-off.

The Good Bike will have a good rear view mirror, bright lights and the loudest bell you can buy.

A lot of people do not have the balance or the neck flexibility to shoulder-check when they have to get around some jerk blocking the bike lanes. I am on my fourth bell; the original fell apart in a month, and I keep looking for louder replacements to warn those pedestrians that are walking in the bike lane.

The Good Bike will be good for everyone.

Safety, security, stability, ease of use, and maintenance—these do not have ages or abilities. It's what's known as universal design, where "it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability." Now that would be a good bike.