Today’s electric-assisted bicycles offer endless opportunities to safely enjoy cycling. This article is for senior cyclists and those with joint/mobility issues that discourage them from riding a bike. It shares my personal experience and does not offer health-related advice. There is an abundance of clinical research that demonstrates the positive impact that cycling has on joint conditions. If this affects you, the following may help you identify a suitable ebike and suggest criteria for picking safe cycling routes.
A Google search finds that about one third of people over 45 years of age may develop some form of osteoarthritis. It is a condition where the cartilage that cushions bone joints deteriorates and causes pain. When severe it may necessitate surgery, like my total hip replacement in mid-2019 followed by the second one a year later. One good thing about being a two-timer is you know more about what to expect, both before and after surgery. It also helps to select a bike suitable for pre-hab and re-hab.
The Smartmotion X-City eBike
As soon as hip No 2 failed, I could no longer hitch a leg over my beloved Merida eOne Sixty EP8. Determined to keep cycling and getting bored with my stationary exercise bike, I decided to get another step-thru ebike as part of my surgery pre-hab (with my doctor’s OK). Last time it was the excellent Ordica Neo 26” ebike, but this time round, I picked the New Zealand-made Smartmotion X-City (both bought from Sydney Electric Bikes).
My criteria for selection was simple: the bike had to be easy to mount, soft to ride, have a powerful mid-drive motor, long battery life, quality components, full-size wheels and wide tyres. While mine will be used mostly on sealed cycleways for the next few months, I wanted it to be capable of mixed-terrain use after re-hab. The X-City ebike stands out because of its wide U-shape frame which offers significantly more mounting clearance than the narrow “V” shape of so many step-thru’s. The wider the frame and lower the cross-bar, the less you need to raise your leg; if you have knee or hip issues, every centimetre counts.
I have ridden this bike for the past eight weeks and am very impressed. Even though I am riding with physical limitations, this is a bike with potential for serious adventure. The X-City is a well-built and versatile bike that Smartmotion call the “Landrover of ebikes”. It comes supplied with wide Schwalbe MTB tyres but for now I’m preferring high air-volume slicks. The welded frame, lower cross bar, and 27.5” wheels makes the bike feel more like a MTB than a step-thru commuter. Front forks have 100 mm of travel and I’ve added a Thudbuster for a softer ride on the back and raised the handlebar slightly for a more upright riding position.The high-torque motor gives the X-City an excellent power-to-weight ratio so you can really push it along or just enjoy the exercise. The motor is very responsive and the digital display bright and informative under various light conditions.
Safe cycle routes
Able-bodied riders can go anywhere but if you have physical limitations then the choice of cycle route becomes critical. In my case, the route must be flat, wide, continuous and without stop-start crossings. It must also be easily adjustable and, in my condition, 15-25km is just about right. While safety is paramount, nice scenery is also important. Of all the rides I know around Sydney, I can think of only two cycling routes that meet these criteria: the Narrabeen Lake and the Rockdale to Dolls Point cycle paths. Needless to say, there is no riding on roads.
Narrabeen Lake Shared Trail
This 8.4km shared trail is a hidden gem for riders, especially those with physical limitations. You will often see recumbents and motorised disability carts going around because that’s the kind of place it is. Depending on your exercise goals, you can go around once or a few times, changing direction so you don’t get dizzy. Also, try to avoid weekends and school holidays as it can get busy, but it’s a beautiful ride the whole way.
If you are unfamiliar with Narrabeen Lake, the short Go-Pro clip at end of post is a good sampler of what to expect.
Rockdale to Dolls Point
While the Narrabeen Lake trail is in a bush reserve, the Rockdale to Dolls Point route is a wide-open path on the foreshores of Botany Bay. You can leave your car in Riverine Park, near the Barton Park Golf Driving Range just off the airport expressway. It is almost flat the entire 22kms return ride to Captain Cook’s Bridge. It’s hard to think of a prettier place to take in some riding exercise (see GoPro clip below).
This article is not relevant to everyone, but if it encourages some to get onto two wheels as part of an overall health regime then it serves its purpose. Cycling has undisputed therapeutic benefits, but only if you select a bike and path that is consistent with your needs and doctor’s advice.
For the record, some might ask how can you ride a bike and about to have total hip replacement surgery? Cycling is unique in the way it can exercise most muscle groups while avoiding vertical load on the hip joints. The bike carries my weight so my osteo-affected hip does not experience bone-on-bone pressure. I cannot walk or stand without a crutch, and there is no way I could ride a non-electric bike. Go figure!
I asked my GP last week why a bike ride or gym workout is more effective and longer-lasting than strong painkillers. In response he said that the “Gold Standard” in pain management was exercise and paracetamol, but many patients are unwilling to put in the effort. Worth thinking about. Meanwhile, ride safely.
Narrabeen Lake GoPro sample video:
Rockdale to Dolls Point GoPro video:
Strava route and link for triple loop of Narrabeen Lake:
Strava route for Rockdale to Dolls Point: