So many brands, so many models! The ebike revolution is well under way but how do you choose?
This article draws on personal experience to 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 (both 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 non-sealed 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.
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.
In addition to predicting the type of riding you will do, you need to factor in a range of personal and technical considerations. Some of the most important are:
Riding position: are you a ‘roadie’ accustomed to leaning forward over drop handlebars or does your back, wrist, and shoulders prefer a more upright posture.
Suspension comfort: are you physically comfortable with the bumps and shakes of a ‘hard-tail’ or firm suspension bike, or will you enjoy riding more with the suppleness of full suspension and a well padded saddle (tips for softer rides here).
Ease of mounting: are you comfortable hitching your leg over the rear wheel as you mount the bike or does your mobility and modesty prefer a step-thru frame design.
Tyre options: if you expect to ride on other than sealed paths then wider tyres with nobbly tread improve grip and safety.
Bike size and weight: if you need to transport your bike in a vehicle, will it fit and can you lift it safely to your car, over a trail gate, or up a flight of stairs (tips for transporting ebikes here).
Battery range: maybe you dont need more than an 11Ah battery with a stated range of 50km, but ebike riding is addictive and fun, and you might soon want more range. It is cheaper to upgrade the battery at point of purchase.
Motor torque: if you ride in flat areas you may never need much power, but if you ride in hilly places motor torque rating becomes important.
Motor position: generally speaking, ebikes with motors mounted between the pedals (mid-drives) are more responsive and efficient. While they tend to be more expensive, it could save you from upgrading too soon.
Digital display unit: some units are bright and clear, others too small or unreadable in sunlight, especially for older eyes, so check carefully before buying.
Pannier rack and bag: new ebikers are often surprised when they discover they want to ride more often, for longer, and in places they never imagined. A cargo bag is essential for carrying snacks, drinks, repair kit and clothing options. You can often get a better deal at the time of bike purchase.
Test riding options: shop only where test riding is welcomed, and test several types of bikes before choosing. It is easier and cheaper to request modifications before purchase, such as an upright handlebar at a width to suit your shoulders,, ergonomic grips, wider/softer saddle, and/or more suitable tyres for your riding preferences. The Sydney Electric Bike stores are on or close to safe riding paths and they encourage shoppers to test ride to your heart’s content to make sure you choose what suits you best.
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. 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 MTBs
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 in mid-2019 after a full hip replacement when hitch-mounting the Merida was difficult. After full recovery, I was 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. (PS: in early 2021, my second hip ran out of warranty and I bought a New Zealand made Smartmotion X-City for the same reason I bought the Ordica. Read more at eBiking and Osteo Health).
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.