So many brands, so many models! The ebike revolution is well under way but how do you choose?
This article is based on personal experience which might help others choose an ebike that meets their needs. It is a ‘user’ review, not an ‘expert’ review. My own two bikes are used as examples of opposite ends of the ebike spectrum: the Ordica Neo Mid-Drive 26” Step-thru, and the Merida eOne Sixty 800 full-suspension mountain bike (from Sydney Electric Bikes).
One of the challenges for seniors when buying an electric-assist bike is guessing what type of riding they will be doing in the future. Many presume they will be riding mostly on sealed surfaces and choose a bike accordingly, only to later discover a passion for bush trails or other rugged terrain. This is where bike frame design becomes an important consideration. Full suspension bikes are designed to handle a wider range of conditions while commuter and hybrid bikes are made for smoother sailing.
In addition to predicting the type of riding you will do, you need to factor in preferences for riding position, suspension comfort, and ease of mounting. Technical factors, such as motor location, tyre tread, and battery range may also be relevant. Retailers are often much younger people who may or may not appreciate the physical or health issues of senior riders. So, the more you know about your needs before entering a store the better your choice will be.
Commuters are among the most common ebike frame design. Many allow you to mount the bike by stepping through the frame, rather than hitching your leg over the rear of the bike (better for hips, knees, or modesty). They are usually referred to as ‘hard-tails’ (ie: no rear suspension) and the front suspension forks have limited travel or ‘springiness’. You can install seat-post suspension, but essentially commuter bikes are most suited to sealed or well-worn paths.
I chose the Ordica because of its light weight (21kgs), excellent power-to-weight ratio, slim integrated battery, responsive and well-balanced mid-drive motor, and overall compact design. The riding position and seat are very comfortable (especially with a Thudbuster seat post), and the bike is easy to carry in the back of an SUV. The battery lasts about 90 kms using the two lowest assist settings, and power is delivered smoothly through its responsive torque sensor. It is a sweet bike to ride.
Full suspension ebikes
Most mountain bikes are designed for riding in challenging conditions, but they also offer great versatility. If a comfortable ride is a paramount consideration, then a full suspension bike is the way to go. If your back prefers riding more upright, you can install a stem riser to raise the handlebar. I swapped the original Merida low straight handlebar for an upright curved style, changed the spartan seat for a plush cruiser saddle, then installed a Thudbuster suspension post. I love the crunch of gravel under my tyres and enjoy getting off paved surfaces; the Merida opens up many riding options that would not be possible with other bikes.
I chose the Merida because of the suppleness of its full suspension system, the responsiveness of its high-torque mid-drive motor, and the overall comfort of the riding position. It is a larger bike which has both advantages and disadvantages: 3” tyres and heavier construction allow it to roll smoothly over a wide variety of surfaces. The battery lasts about 70kms on medium terrain. At over 30 kgs it is more difficult to transport and needs a heavy-duty bike carrier. However, on rugged, uneven trails and long tours, it is a delight to ride.
Both of these bikes are excellent performers and enjoyable to ride. Their mid-drive motors give them a well-balanced feel, they have powerful disc brakes, and each has the important ‘walk’ function which helps when pushing a bike up a steep incline.
I bought the Ordica after a full hip replacement when hitch-mounting the Merida became difficult. After full recovery, I’m now in the lucky position to be able to choose what style of ebike is best for the ride I plan today. Having a second bike also means I can take a riding partner, and my adult kids have never been so keen to ride with Dad.
New technology is allowing many seniors to resume, continue, or take up cycling. If you are thinking of getting an ebike, think beyond the square. They are addictive and can lead to a variety of cycling adventures. Life looks better on two wheels.