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How to Choose and Buy the Best Bikes for Seniors
Is There One Bike for All Seniors?
When we talk about a “seniors’ bike”, we’re talking about any bike that you choose to ride in your later years.
Are you just getting back on to a bike after years out of the saddle? Perhaps you’ve never been a rider and you’re entering the cycling world for the first time. Or maybe you’ve been riding for decades. Given the wide range of experience, there is no one perfect bike for a senior rider. But some of the best bikes for seniors are designed with the comfort of older riders in mind.
|Cycling provides ongoing physical, mental and social health benefits|
Extensive medical research has proven that regular cycling contributes to a healthy lifestyle and a longer life. Being a low-impact sport, cycling places minimal stress on joints and limbs, in comparison to activities such as jogging and parkour.
We’ll help you out with the technical stuff, but a large part of your decision should be based on your personal needs and preferences. Are you looking for a more traditional bike that employs relaxed geometry? Or is an e-bike more your speed? Perhaps a three-wheeler, with some room to haul cargo and shopping. Or maybe you prefer the ergonomic allure of the recumbent?
Types of Bikes
The type of bike you choose is dependent upon your own personal needs, experience and capabilities. We’ll give a run-down of the benefits and drawbacks of each bike type, as they pertain to senior riders. For in-depth descriptions of these bike types, please refer to our individual guides.
Many comfort bikes are designed to meet the ergonomic interests of the senior rider. They offer an upright posture, combined with flat bars and a lightweight aluminum frame. Saddles are wide and cushioned. Most models employ wide, low-pressure tires. They may or may not be equipped with a front suspension fork. These features help to smooth out the impact of uneven surfaces.
Many frames use a step-through design, for easy mounting and dismounting. Step-over designs use low, slanted top tubes. Comfort bikes offer a low center of balance and relaxed steering.
Gearing is usually generous, without providing for the highest flat-out speeds. Hill climbs shouldn’t be a struggle. Most frames are aluminum, which helps to keep these bikes light and affordable.
|This typical hybrid is also a discrete e-bike|
Hybrid bikes are intended for on and off-road use, without being as adventurous as mountain bikes. They may or may not use front suspension. Hybrids are more sporty than comfort bikes but less so than road bikes. They use flat handlebars.
Comfortable, semi-upright geometry is combined with tires that are narrower than those found on comfort bikes, but wider than those fit to a road bike.
Not all hybrid bikes employ geometry that’s as upright or as relaxed as that found on comfort bikes. But there are numerous laid-back options on the market.
|Hybrids are great for rough urban streets|
Gear ratios are comfortable, but provide for higher speeds than are possible on a comfort bike. Saddles are usually wider and more sufficiently padded than road and mountain bike versions.
Most frames are aluminum, but higher-end models often come specced with a carbon fiber fork. At the top-end, there are are a few models using carbon-fiber frames. Hybrid bikes are usually lighter than comfort bikes. Affordable models are cheap, but the best hybrid bikes can cost thousands of dollars.
Electric hybrid e-bikes are available.
|Carbon-fiber, flat-bar road e-bike|
Riders opt for electric assistance for a variety of reasons. A little boost can help any rider to commute and exercise for longer. E-bikes let you haul more cargo. If you ride in a mixed-age cycling group, an electric rig lets you keep up with the pack.
Electric bikes are excellent for new riders and for those who are re-entering the cycling world, following a hiatus. They are also perfect for rehabilitation, where riders have an existing injury or persistent pain. The best e-bikes offer varying levels of electric assistance, so you can adjust your own desired level of pedal input.
Due to the extra motorized assistance, there’s little need to worry about the inclusion of weighty elements such as front suspension, wide tires and suspension seat posts.
Electric bikes are now available in almost all of the regular bike styles.
City / Town Bikes
|A well-appointed town bike|
‘Town bikes’ and ‘city bikes’ are usually solid, upright and casual. Classic, sweeping, step-through frames are popular. They have a low standover height and suit wearing dresses, skirts and casual clothing.
Seating positions are quite upright. They often have wide, swept-back bars that leave the arms akimbo.
|Out on the town|
Frames can be steel or aluminum. Wheels are mostly 700c, but can also be 650b (27.5″) or 26″. Tires are wider than road bikes, from about 32c to 38c. Town bikes usually have cargo mount-points and may come fit with a basket or rack. Both external and internal drivetrains are common.
A town bike welcomes a short ride. They’re great for brief commutes, errands, corner-store trips and riverside ambles. Most town bikes are a cheerfully cheap, simple and low-cost option.
Dutch Bikes (Omafiets / Opafiets)
Omafiets and opafiets (‘granny bikes’ and ‘grandpa bikes’) are a traditional style of simple, upright, urban bike.
|The Dutch bike’s reliable design has seen few changes over its long life|
They’ve enjoyed over a century of use and popularity in countries such as Holland and Denmark. Outside of Europe, they are known as ‘Dutch bikes’.
They mostly use a 700c x 38B tire size (28 x 1 ½ or 40-635) and are incredibly resilient. They are built of heavy steel, use drum brakes and are often fit with hefty racks. New models are available.
|With a steel frame and carbon fork, this commuter is city-bred|
There’s a lot of crossover between commuter and hybrid bikes. But many commuters are lighter, faster, road-specific vehicles that use narrower tires. They should come fit with eyelets and bosses for racks and bottles.
Their gear range is wide, allowing them to be ridden efficiently on daily commutes. Commuter gearing should see you up steep hills, while allowing for fast speeds on flat stretches.
|This comfortable electric commuter comes with a rack and fenders|
Geometry can vary from comfortable to racy, with higher-end examples being no less than a flat-bar road bike. Some even use drop bars. The price range on commuters is very wide, covering all budgets.
Over-all, commuters are intended to be practical daily riders. There’s no guarantee that they’ll provide the level of comfort found on other, more easy-going rigs.
|Electric road bikes take the edge off|
Road bikes are better suited to experienced riders. As road riders age, many are opting to move onto electric bikes. This allows them to make that Sunday ride just as long as it’s always been. On group rides, keeping up with the young ‘uns is not a concern.
Road bikes use an aggressive geometry that can prove demanding on aging bodies. Backs and shoulders can be punished by the bent over stance of the road rider. Low drop bars can stress wrists.
Gearing is racy, while tires and saddles are both narrow and firm. Road bikes are not forgiving on jouncy terrain.
Quality road bikes ask high prices. Quality electric road bikes, even more so.
|A capable hardtail trail bike will cover most off-road requirements|
Mountain bikes are heavier than most other bikes. If you are riding casually, off-road, it’s advisable to stick to a ‘recreational’ or trail mountain bike. These rigs use geometry that is suited to climbs as well as descents. Enduro and downhill bikes are heavy, slack and more at home on gnarly descents.
Mountain bikes can seem deceptively comfortable to the casual urban rider. Sure, they have big, fat tires that you can run at low pressures. And most of them use suspension, at least for the bike’s fork. These factors can make for an incredibly plush ride over rougher surfaces. But they aren’t designed for casual, on-road riding.
|Quality electric options don’t come cheap|
On-road riding is slowed by the traction produced by knobby tires. While grippy tires are standard on new mountain bikes, you could replace them with plump, slick tires. This would give you a plush, slow, suspension-equipped cruiser. This kind of rig will be weighty, but can take rough roads in its stride.
Mountain bike geometry can be quite ‘slack’, meaning that top tubes usually slope downward from the handlebars. This makes some mountain bikes easy to mount and dismount. Seats can be lowered considerably, offering an upright seating position. Be wary of long reach on progressive designs, as this geometry requires outstretched arms.
Mountain bikes are available in all price ranges, at all quality levels and weights. Electric mountain bikes are increasing in popularity and availability. For older mountain bikers and those who value sturdy construction and fat rubber, this could be the answer. Quality options are not cheap.
|This carbon fiber fatty weighs in at 27.2lbs|
Fat-tire bikes (or ’fatbikes’) are a sub-type of mountain bike that is built to accommodate the fattest of tires. Frames are specially built for this purpose. They are bulky and husky. No doubt, they are the heaviest bike available. But high-end models are available in full carbon-fiber, which drops significant pounds from the total weight.
Gearing is super-low, so you can get these tractors rolling. There’s no question that these are very comfortable bikes that can ride almost anywhere (other than up a steep hill). The lighter a fat bike is, the more it costs. Electric models are out there.
|Lower standover, fatter tires and an adjustable dropper seat-post|
Gravel bikes are a relatively recent evolution in the cycling world. They’re an off-road bike that’s lighter and racier than a mountain bike. In spirit, they’re closer to a road bike. You might be thinking that this sounds like a difficult bike to ride. But take pause.
Yes, gravel bikes use drop bars and can use quite aggressive geometry that’s similar to that of road bikes. But most gravel bikes are a little slacker than road bikes. Their tires are wider and their gearing is lower, to help with riding rough terrain.
|A traditional steel frame with wide, comfortable tires|
Maybe you’ve been a road rider for some time. In which case, progressing to a gravel bike could be a logical step. Many gravel bikes are still fast on-roads, but the extra tire clearance allows for wider, more comfortable tires run at lower pressures. Their lower gearing is forgiving. A gravel bike will handle all qualities of road surface, in addition to hardpack dirt roads and gentler singletrack.
For many senior riders, a gravel bike will not be their cup of tea. For the retiring road cyclist, they are a viable option. Gravel bikes are rarely low-cost. Electric models are not common but can be found, for the right price.
|Single-speed riding can be a slog|
If you live in a flat coastal or desert environment, a single-speed bike might work for you.
Nevertheless, single-speeds are unsuitable for many senior riders. One gear is hard to get going and won’t easily tackle hills (even for many of the youngest riders). There is definite potential for causing knee strain in aging cyclists.
One of the main benefits of a single-speed is that they are very low maintenance.
We recommend that you opt for gears.
At first glance, beach cruisers seem like an easy-going option for the senior rider. The laid-back geometry and plush saddles seem to be built for comfort. But let’s take a closer look.
Many beach cruisers are made of heavy, hi-tensile steel. Traditionally, they are single-speed bikes. These factors make for a bicycle built to cruise, slowly, on flat ground. On short rides over level terrain, they could be just the ticket. But there’s more to consider.
|This cruiser is comfortable but heavy, with high-rise handlebars|
Low seating positions and step-through frames make beach cruisers easy to get on and off of. But if saddles are too low and handlebars too high, these bikes can become tiresome and uncomfortable. Exaggerated geometry can quickly cause fatigue. It’s possible for handlebars to be too wide or too high.
So now that we’ve covered the less-suitable sector of the market, we can look at the types of cruiser that make sense. There are numerous geared models out there, with anywhere from 3 to 21 speeds.
|A versatile 5-speed cruiser|
With less-exaggerated geometry, cruisers make for a very agreeable ride. Wide, padded saddles are comfortable and suit the cruiser’s posterior-centric ride position. But be wary, because excessively squishy saddles are unfriendly to sit bones on longer rides.
Cruisers place the rider in an upright, seated position with excellent visibility. Some models allow you to place both feet flat on the ground, while seated. For an easier-going ride, seek out a lightweight aluminum model.
Cruisers are a low-cost option for shorter rides at a relaxed pace.
There are a lot of good reasons why a touring bike might make your shortlist. With a fair amount of variation in touring bike styles, you might just find something to suit you. They can be made from almost any frame material, but many are built from strong and pliant, mid-weight steel tubing. This tubing is comfortable and forgiving on rougher roads.
|A steel framed drop-bar tourer|
Touring bikes can use drop or flat bars. For upright comfort, the latter is recommended. In this configuration, a touring bike is far more comfortable than a road bike. They’re not built for speed, but for consistent comfort at a steady pace. Look for a model with a sloped top tube, to allow for a less-hunched posture and ease of mounting and dismounting.
Touring bikes use a fork with more rake than that found on a road bike, which makes for relaxed steering. Frames are built around the accommodation of wide tires, which act as suspension, without the excess weight of a suspension fork.
One of the greatest attributes of touring bikes for senior riders, is the universal presence of a wide gear range. Triple chainrings (and wide-range double chainrings) allow the rider to remain seated on all but the most vertical of climbs.
Another boon of the touring bike, is their natural ability to strap on cargo, bottles and accessories. You can carry all your provisions easily, without the need for aftermarket accessories.
They can be expensive, but the best touring bikes are incredibly durable and hard-wearing. They’re suited to asphalt and dirt roads, making them a viable replacement for a hybrid bike.
Folding bikes can be incredibly useful. With a lever turned here, handlebars folded there, these bikes can be easily collapsed for convenient transport on buses, trains, boats and in cars. This makes them a great choice for commuting and vacations.
Lightweight, easy-to-fold models can be expensive. Cheap examples can be heavy, bulky and awkward to carry. They use small frames and wheels (usually no bigger than 20” inches), making some models less comfortable and efficient over long distances.
Look for options that feature long seatposts and extendable handlebars, to allow for a comfortable posture that doesn’t force you to become hunched or feel crowded.
|A tandem makes a great second bike|
The tandem bike is definitely one of the most highly rated bikes, when it comes to pure fun. They’re great for vacations and for bonding with partners, close friends or family. The tandem has the ability to test the limits of your powers of coordination and cooperation!
In the learning phase, there is an extra demand on your level of attention. Tandems are expensive, heavy and take up ample storage space. You may need a longer vehicle and a specialized rack to carry your tandem on vacations. Additionally, it can be a challenge to find a model that comfortably fits both you and your partner.
As long as you remember these factors, a tandem can be an excellent second bike. Seek out lightweight, aluminum models.
|An electric tricycle can be a stable,
cargo hauling machine
For some riders, an adult tricycle is the way to go. Most models have a large basket and the ability to carry a generous amount of cargo; be it a large load of groceries, a small dog or your fishing gear. They’re very stable, especially on the straights.
Tricycles are heavier and slower than most bikes, making them a choice for the unrushed rider. The traditional tricycle steers in a way that’s significantly different to the way that a bicycle handles. This takes a little getting used to, while making high-speed turns a thing of the past.
Electric models give a motorized boost, helping to overcome the tricycle’s weight penalty. A higher-performance type of tricycle can be found in the form of the recumbent trike.
Recumbent Bikes and Trikes
Recumbents are ergonomic and comfortable. Two and three-wheel models are available.
|A sophisticated, full-suspension 2-wheeler|
They’ve been praised by medical professionals, for their various health benefits. The majority of the body’s weight is distributed across the back and buttocks, rather than being focused on the saddle and hands. This seating position avoids potential prostate aggravation, as pressure is not being placed on the perineal area. It has also been purported to improve circulation.
Neck, shoulder and arm pain is significantly reduced, in comparison to the traditional riding posture on a conventional bicycle. The lower back is relaxed, rather than being arched. Riders look straight ahead, without having to crane their neck backward. On most recumbents, steering takes place beneath the seat. Conversely, conventional bicycles require the rider to rest a lot of weight upon their wrists.
|Recumbents maintain a low profile, literally|
Some enthusiasts claim that recumbents are the safer option, in the instance of a crash. Being closer to the ground, there is the possibility that the risk of injury is reduced during a fall. They are less likely to flip over, should you be the unfortunate recipient of a vehicle impact or equipment failure.
|Electric models are available|
Recumbents do have their downsides. Firstly, they aren’t mainstream. This makes it a little harder for you to find, test-ride and source the right model for your needs. Their complication and specialization also adds to their price. The best recumbents are expensive. Electric models, even more so.
After your purchase, there is an initial re-orientation involved with learning to ride this new type of vehicle. Climbs can be a struggle, as the bulk of rider weight is positioned over the rear wheel. Perhaps the greatest concern with riding a recumbent, is the lack of visibility among traffic. Despite using a brightly colored flag, recumbent riders are often beneath the eye-line of drivers.
Step-Over and Step-Through
Most bike types are offered in both of these frame shapes. The top-tube on a step-over frame sits higher above the ground than on a step-through frame. Step-through frames have a downward-sloping top-tube and a much lower standover height.
Step-through comfort bikes have some of the lowest standover heights of all bike types. Even step-over framed comfort bikes have a significantly lower standover height than most other bike types.
Traditionally, step-over frames were favored by male riders, while step-through frames were marketed to women. But in reality, many older, shorter or less flexible men choose step-through frames, while some taller women prefer step-over models. Many new bike models are available in both step-through and step-over options.
If you find it difficult to mount a standard step-through bike, you’re in luck.
‘Low-entry’ bikes make it even easier to get on and off your bike, even with reduced flexibility. These step-through bikes offer an ultra-low standover, making it especially easy to get a leg over your frame.
Some low-entry bikes also allow the rider to place both feet on the ground while remaining seated, for enhanced stability when coming to a stop.
A lightweight bike is easier to ride uphills and to propel on flats. It’s less of a struggle to take it up stairs or to place on a car-mounted carrier.
When looking at lightweight frame materials, there are three main options.
|Alloy frame with a compliant steel fork|
Aluminum is the most affordable choice for a lightweight frame. An aluminum frame weighs approximately 30% less than a steel frame of similar strength, and it’s a lot more resistant to corrosion.
It’s more costly than cheap and heavy steel alternatives, such as ‘hi-tensile’ steel. However, it’s usually cheaper than bikes using boutique, lightweight steel tubing.
As aluminum has a tendency to be unforgiving over uneven surfaces, it’s often coupled with a suspension fork or a fork made of a different, more compliant material.
As a buyer, you can save money with an aluminum frame and spend the savings on superior componentry. This presents an advantage to shelling out for carbon fiber.
Aluminum exhibits excellent stiffness. While aiding efficiency, this stiffness has given it a reputation for harshness in the face of vibration. However, high-end frames now reduce jounce using various means, including smoothing of weld areas to reduce excess material. In the rare instance that an Aluminum frame does fail, it may crack suddenly, having given little prior warning of failure.
- Can deliver a harsh ride.
- It’s brittle and may crack. Not affordable or practical to repair.
- Not as strong as other materials.
shapeable, light and strong
Carbon fiber is lightweight, resilient and compliant. It’s true that it’s strong and absorbs road vibration. On the other hand, it can be restrictively expensive, which is why it’s more common on performance bikes. A carbon fiber bike is more likely to be stolen and will also be very costly or impossible to repair if cracked.
While failure of well-made carbon fiber frames is rare, when it happens it can be sudden and critical. Repairing carbon fiber frames is expensive and often, impossible. It’s recommended that you buy from a reputable source, as poor workmanship can result in the potential for critical failures. The necessity for quality workmanship is reflected in the high price of carbon fiber frames.
Another benefit of this material is its ability to maintain torsional stiffness. This results in more pedal power being transferred directly into forward motion, adding to the efficiency of your ride.
- The lightest material available.
- Very stiff
- Excellent ability to damp vibration.
- Torsional stiffness
- High strength
- Possibility of sudden, critical failure without warning.
Titanium is a boutique material. It’s as strong as steel, but at 55% of the weight. It exhibits outstanding vibration absorbance and a level of stiffness between that of steel and aluminum. Its ability to resist corrosion is almost total, making titanium a very real choice for a frame that lasts a lifetime.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to extract, refine and for manufacturers to work. As a result, it demands a high price. Due to its density, it’s heavier than both aluminum and carbon fiber. However, the steel-framed version of a bike is heavier than its titanium equivalent by about 1 to 1.5 pounds.
- Can last a lifetime.
- Virtually corrosion free.
- Excellent damping properties.
- Delivers a smooth ride.
- Lighter than steel.
- Heavier than aluminum and carbon fiber.
|For many, steel stays real|
Steel is renowned for its pliant comfort over uneven terrain, but its density and subsequent weight is greater than that of other frame materials.
Higher-end steel alloys can be drawn into thinner tubing, to make a lighter bike. These models can be expensive. Though they will be heavier than aluminum options, they are likely to be a lot more comfortable.
Steel frames can be repaired.
Most comfort and hybrid bikes are fit with either disc brakes or V-brake rim brakes. Roadsters and cruisers may be equipped with drum brakes.
Disc brakes slow the bike by squeezing pads onto a disc, which is attached to the wheel hub. Discs cost more than rim brakes, but are now more affordable than they have ever been.
They are more powerful than rim brakes, especially in wet weather. This makes them more suited to those seeking comfort, as they require less effort and hand strength from the user, while delivering greater stopping power.
|The most common disc rotor sizes|
They allow for the use of wide tires and don’t wear down your rims.
Disc brakes are more complicated than rim brakes, when it comes to maintenance, adjustment and repair.
There are two types of disc brake; hydraulic and mechanical. Hydraulic brakes provide greater stopping power and use brake fluid to transmit force. They are more costly than mechanical discs and trickier to maintain.
If you live in a dry climate, you might consider cutting costs and using rim brakes. But if your priorities are power, performance and all-weather reliability, discs could be your preferred option.
|V-brakes, front and rear|
Linear-pull brakes (also known as ‘V-brakes’) are a type of cantilever rim brake that uses a single cable and two arms. They fit well around wider tires and are easily adjusted and maintained at home. That said, they can still be tricky to center. As far as cantilever brakes go, they’re powerful.
Compared to discs, they lose some power in wet weather. Winter braking also wears down rims as grit and filth gets attracted to your brake pads. However, they are cheaper than discs and easier to adjust without professional help.
Caliper brakes attach to the frame or fork by a single bolt. They use curved arms, which must be long enough and wide enough to fit around your tires. For this reason, they are better suited to accommodating narrow to mid-width tires.
|Tidy dual drum brakes|
Drum brakes are used by traditional roadsters, ‘omafiets’ and cruisers. They’re sometimes referred to as ‘roller brakes’ or ‘hub brakes’. They use an internal hub, but are cable-actuated in the same way that rim and disc brakes are.
Drum brakes work by using a conventional brake lever and cable linked to a cam that presses brake shoes outward against the inside of a cylindrical drum, creating friction.
Drum brakes may be combined with an internally geared hub and / or a dynamo that’s connected to your bike’s lighting. They are tough, sealed from the elements and require little maintenance. They’re also heavy and less powerful than disc options.
|This cruiser has one brake in the rear.
It’s a coaster
Coaster brakes might be used as a rear brake on cruiser bikes. They’re also known as ‘pedal brakes’. You might remember them from childhood, when simple bikes required you to push your pedals backwards to stop. There are no pads or discs and braking takes place largely within the wheel hub. Most coaster brakes provide somewhat inferior stopping power, compared to rim and disc brakes. Coaster brake hubs can be internally geared; usually with 3, 7 or 8 speeds.
On its own, a coaster brake might not be practical or safe in hillier terrain or at higher speeds. Mashing a coaster can ‘cook’ the grease inside a coaster hub. The first mountain bikers had to repack this grease after every descent. Some new models use a rear coaster brake with a front rim or drum brake.
On the upside, they only require infrequent maintenance. A coaster brake does not need cables or levers, giving your bike a neat, clean appearance.
Factors to Consider
A bike with rim brakes will be cheaper than one with disc brakes. However, disc brakes require less exertion and provide more stopping power.
|This rugged folding bike has 30 speeds|
It’s a good idea to seek out a bike with a wide gear range. This ensures that you can always find a suitable gear, in any terrain, with the minimal amount of strain. It also allows you to remain seated for more of your ride. A wide gear range can be the result of having many available gears or of having less gears spread over a wider range. This means that there is still a high high gear and a low low gear, but the jumps between gears are larger.
On some new bike types, triple chainrings are seen as excessive and redundant. Many new bikes use a single chainring with a relatively wide range of gears. This reduces weight and complexity.
For comfort and touring bikes, triple and double chainrings remain popular. They ensure that almost any elevation can be tackled without exertion.
For these bike types, streamlining and weight-reduction are not priorities. It’s better to have a bike that will provide a gear that will appease the knees.
External Gearing using Derailleurs
|This external 1×13 drivetrain offers a wide gear range|
Many affordable bikes use external gearing. External gearing is exposed to rain and dirt, both of which rapidly deteriorate components. If you want to ride your new bike in the city in all seasons, an internally-geared option resists the elements and requires less maintenance.
- This is the most affordable standard.
- External gearing can be adjusted by (some) home mechanics.
- External gearing is exposed to the elements.
- More tuning and repair is needed than on an internally geared drivetrain.
|This 14-speed hub offers a 526% range|
Internal hubs are low-maintenance, while protecting your gears from the elements and maintaining a clean look. There are no derailleurs to bend or damage. They are widely available in 3, 7 and 8-speed options.
There are also ‘stepless’ internal hubs that provide progressive gearing with a similar range to other brands’ 8-speed options. Rohloff manufacture a high quality, 14-speed internal hub that covers a 526% gear range.
- Internally geared hubs are sealed from dirt and moisture.
- External complexity is reduced by eliminating derailleurs.
- Internal hubs present neatly.
- They only use one shifter and one cable.
- Internal gearing systems require infrequent maintenance.
- When needed, maintenance can be complicated.
- Gears complicate the rear hub.
Sturmey Archer and Shimano Nexus are names to look out for. Both are manufacturers of renown.
|The rear hub of a belt drive bike.
Detachable chainstays are visible
Belt drives are a modern replacement for the traditional chain. Using a single-piece carbon belt, they are near-silent, greaseless and long-lasting.
Because they are low-maintenance and won’t soil clothing, they present an attractive option for the casual cyclist. They only work with internal hub gearing and may cost a little extra upfront, compared to chain-driven options.
Flat bars provide a comfortable, upright riding position. Conversely, drop bars will place you in a bent-over position with your weight mostly resting on your wrists.
Wide handlebars provide ample leverage and reduce exertion when steering. Excessive width may cause shoulder discomfort.
|High-rise bars can be a little too much|
Comfort bikes usually employ nominal-rise handlebars in conjunction with a tall stem or high-rise handlebars with a shorter stem. Either option leaves riders with a high hand position.
Cruiser bars have a decent amount of rise, varying from a couple of inches to the dramatic ‘ape-hanger’ bars found on some custom lowriders. 1.5” to 3.5” inches of rise keeps you upright while riding. It doesn’t really help on climbs, as it results in your weight being set further back and lower. But it does make for a comfortable position with excellent visibility.
Backsweep can present an ergonomic advantage, setting a rider’s wrists at a relaxed horizontal or vertical position (such as on ‘North Road’ style bars).
Backsweep also gives you room for a basket or front rack cargo. On leisurely models, backsweep is usually between 25° and 30°.
|North Road bars|
Most comfort bikes employ ‘flat’ bars, similar to those used on mountain bikes. They are usually straight, with a moderate amount of rise and maybe some backsweep. They aren’t racy, but you can use them to stand up when climbing hills.
You won’t find drop bars on comfort bikes or hybrids. Commuters and touring bikes may or may not use them.
Comfort Bikes are made and sold with both aluminum and steel handlebars. Aluminum is lighter than steel, but will transmit more vibration from the road surface. Steel is heavier but more compliant.
The Contact Points
Many Comfort Bikes use what are known as ‘comfort grips’. Comfort grips are round and use a shock-absorbent rubber or foam compound. They should be of a decent width and provide adequate grip and cushioning.
These grips are comfortable and healthy for the natural shape of human hands. They are usually made with a material that provides adequate shock absorbance.
A good guideline for grips is to seek something that’s comfortable but not too squishy.
|A gel-padded women’s saddle|
It makes sense that most new comfort bikes and cruisers are fitted with wide, cushioned saddles. These bikes employ geometry that places the rider in a position where a lot of their weight is resting on their behind. Plush saddles may also be a feature of some new hybrid bikes.
Senior riders may seek out a saddle with gel padding and / or suspension. Some high-end fabric coverings provide a breathable medium to reduce discomfort through sweating.
|A moderately padded,
Some cushioned saddles are well thought-out in their construction and shape. However, many plush, squishy saddles are only comfortable on shorter rides. Excessively cushioned saddles can be misleading. This ‘squishiness’ is uncomfortable on longer rides and will be felt in hips, thighs and bottoms on longer rides. This can cause numbness due to restricted blood supply.
It’s best to err on the side of moderation when considering saddle width. A number of female riders find that a moderately wide imprint is more suited to their body shape. Other riders will choose a standard saddle, as found on a commuter or hybrid bike. Research has shown that the sit bone distance of an adult woman is between 9cm and 17cm, while 6cm to 16cm is the average for men.
The best way to choose the right saddle is to try a few out, in person.
|This sprung saddle is fit to a
Sprung saddles are a common component on new comfort bikes, classic town bikes, roadsters and cruisers. They are an early but effective form of suspension.
These saddles usually feature two large, short springs under the seat. Some versions have a third spring beneath the saddle nose. Modern versions may use elastomers as a lighter-weight alternative to springs.
Sprung saddles are comfortable and provide relief on bumpy and uneven surfaces. But they can be quite heavy.
Research has shown that conventional cycling posture places stress on the perineal area. This is focused on the nose and central area of a bike saddle. This stress can aggravate prostate inflammation. Different designs are available to help avoid this. They may feature a hollow central channel or use two separate cushions. Some saddles have a shortened or drooping nose.
|This saddle avoids all perineal contact||Channeled women’s saddle|
Compared to male riders, experts have found that comfort requirements vary widely between female riders, according to their body shape. Again, progressive saddle designs feature central channels and horseshoe designs to reduce impact and provide breathability.
|A 27.5″ aluminum wheel|
Aluminum rims are the standard on most new bikes. They’re strong, light, stiff and highly rust resistant. They’re inexpensive too. If dented, aluminum rims can often be repaired.
Your new bike should use sealed wheel bearings. They roll smoothly and are protected from the elements.
Bigger wheels achieve faster top speeds and are better at rolling over bumps and uneven surfaces. Smaller wheels may exhibit tighter handling and acceleration.
27.5” Inch / 650b
These wheels can proscribe a tighter turn-circle than 700c wheels. Look for frames that accommodate wide tires. With large tires, the total diameter of your wheels is increased. ‘27.5 inch’ is the mountain bike nomenclature. ‘650b’ is usually used for touring and road bikes. Both are valid.
700c / 28” Inch / 29” Inch
This is the standard size for road bikes as well as many hybrids and commuters. Wide, 700c rims are known as ‘29 Inch’ in the mountain bike world, where they are the larger standard.
|This bike is still sold with 26″ wheels||700c wheels with plush tires|
This used to be the standard on hybrid, mountain and touring bikes. A number of comfort bikes still use 26” wheels, but they are becoming less common.
There are comfort models that use 26” wheels on smaller frame sizes and 27.5” wheels with larger frames, to maintain proportionality. The 26” wheels allow low-entry models to achieve a lower and more stable center of gravity.
|Both of these 24″ bikes can also be bought in 26″ versions|
Comfort Bikes for shorter riders and juveniles may use 24 inch wheels. They allow for a more proportionate build with smaller frame sizes.
20”, 18”, 16” Inch
Folding bikes and recumbents may use wheels as small as 16” inch. 20” inch wheels are also common.
|16″- wheeled folder||20″ Wheels|
Comfortable, leisurely bikes are designed for tires that:
- Feature a wide imprint and contact patch to increase grip and stability.
- Use a semi-slick or light tread, for use on sealed roads and pavements.
- Hold a generous volume of air.
- Are designed to be run at relatively low air pressures.
- Have superior rollover on bumps and debris.
These tires are designed to:
- Be comfortable.
- But not fast.
- Bestow moderate traction.
- Provide a low rolling resistance.
|These semi-slick tire treads are typical of comfort and city bikes|
Tires designed for leisurely riding should bear a light tread. They aren’t knobby, like mountain bike tires. But they do have enough tread to easily maintain traction when cornering on paved surfaces in wet weather.
In urban environments, you don’t want your tires creating excess drag, but if you encounter a little sand when cornering, you may want some assurance. For this reason, these tires have more tread than those on road bikes, but significantly less than on mountain and gravel bikes.
Tire Sizes and Widths
These are the average ranges for desirable tire widths on leisurely comfort bikes, aimed at riding on roads and bike paths.
27.5” Inch / 650b
Between 1.95” and 2.4”
Between 38c and 45c
Between 1.75” and 2.0”
Between 1.75” and 2.125”
Suspension is common on comfort bikes and still used on some hybrids. A front suspension fork can iron out bumps and chatter. This level of comfort comes at the expense of speed, efficiency and weight.
Suspension seatposts are also a common occurrence on comfort bikes, as a means of alleviating road vibration that’s transmitted through the bike’s rear end. Some hybrid bikes are also fit with them.
|New comfort bikes are more likely to use a rigid fork and plush tires.|
The suspension fork on a comfort or hybrid bike should be lighter and less ‘beefy’ than those found on mountain bikes. Most comfort and hybrid bikes offer between 40 and 75mm of travel (the distance that the fork has to move up and down), while mountain bike suspension starts at around 100mm. You may seek a ‘lockout’ option, which allows you to lock out the fork’s suspension, preserving efficiency on flat ground.
A decent suspension fork can add significant cost to a bike, while suspension on cheaper bikes may be heavy and ineffective. These days, there are a lot of great big-volume tires that roll fast and act as ample suspension on rough city roads.
For many urban riders, suspension isn’t necessary. It adds weight, complication and maintenance needs to a bike. For other riders, it provides necessary relief from uneven roads and surfaces.
Many comfort bikes (and some hybrid bikes) are equipped with a suspension seatpost, as a means of alleviating road vibration that’s transmitted through the bike’s rear end.
Suspension seatposts usually offer between 10mm and 50mm of travel and use one of three types of suspension; coil spring, elastomer or air. On new comfort bikes, a simple vertical suspension post will usually use a coil spring. Sometimes this coil spring operates in conjunction with an elastomer bumper.
Coil spring suspension posts have a tendency to decrease efficiency by robbing the rider of some pedal-power. More advanced elastomer models and options with more travel (up to 76mm), can be sourced as an aftermarket upgrade. Some of these have been proven, by testers, to be more efficient under pedaling pressures.
|Mid-fork mounts fit more front racks|
Some bikes will have eyelets to attach the kind of front rack that you would attach to a touring bike, but a fair number do not. Look for at least one eyelet on the outside of either fork arm, about halfway up. Bikes with a suspension fork will not have mounts to attach a front rack.
Many bikes have mounts for a rear rack. Check for the appropriate eyelets or mount-points on the seat stays and near the dropouts of your potential new ride. Some bikes come with a fitted rack.
|These bikes come fitted with rear racks.|
Most bikes have mounts for a bottle cage. If you plan on going on longer rides, keep an eye out for a model that allows two cages to be fitted.
|This e-bike comes equipped with lights, fenders and a rack|
Some bikes arrive fit with fenders. At the least, you’ll want your bike to bear eyelets that allow you to fit some aftermarket options. These are located beside the rear wheel and front fork dropouts.
Some bikes come equipped with front and rear lights, from new. This is something to consider when you’re considering the value-for-money of your new purchase.
|Too much? $10k buys you beechwood rims and a ruby in each brake lever|
A leisurely ride doesn’t have to be expensive. A good comfort bike should cost significantly less than a high-end hybrid and much less than a high-end road or mountain bike. If you ride in one of these disciplines, a quality machine will ask a higher price.
The price also rises for any bike that offers extended durability, increased safety and enhanced comfort. You’ll also pay more for smooth operation in terms of gears, braking and handling.
When considering the price of your new bike, always factor in the inclusion of fenders, lights and racks. Some bikes come with all three. The convenience and peace-of-mind of having a bike that’s “ready-to-go” must be worth a few extra dollars. Obviously, all electric bikes sit in a higher price range.
Direct Sales vs. Local Bike Shop
|Ye olde bike shoppe|
The benefit of a direct sale is that you aren’t paying for the middleman.
If you are buying a bike from an online retailer, they don’t have to pay for the rent of premises.
They also don’t need to pay an experienced, professional mechanic to assemble and tune your bike. For these reasons, you pay less.
Good online bike retailers will pre-assemble as much as 80% to 95% of your bike before shipping and will provide the tools required for the remaining adjustments.
Your local bike shop will assemble, tune and fit your bike before you ride away. They will usually offer you a warranty deal and a minor servicing for free, within the first few weeks of purchase.
Whatever route you choose, there are benefits and drawbacks.
There’s no need to stop cycling in your later years. In fact, the medical evidence suggests that it’s in your interest to keep on pedaling. With advances in lightweight materials and ergonomics, there’s more and more reason to stay on the bike.
Electric bikes are becoming lighter and more powerful, while prices continue to fall.
No matter what type of cycling you pursue in your golden years, it pays to be informed about your options. Choose wisely and roll on!
- H. Komatsu, K. Yagasaki, Y. Saito, et al. (2017). Regular Group Exercise Contributes to Balanced Health in Older Adults in Japan: A Qualitative Study.
BMC Geriatrics, 17(1). doi: 10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3
- L. Østergaard, M. Jensen, K. Overvad, A. Tjønneland, & A. Grøntved, (2018). Associations Between Changes in Cycling and All-Cause Mortality Risk. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 55(5), 615-623. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.06.009
- Paul Nolan M.D. (1996). Medical Benefits of Recumbent Bicycles.
Recumbent Cyclist News, 32/33(1), 55.
- John M Martinez, M.D., Bicycle Seat Neuropathy
- Amy Fox, Can Bike Riding Cause Prostatitis?
- Michelle Arthurs-Brennan, The Saddle Comfort Question:
Are You an ‘Innie’ or an ‘Outie’
- SQlab, Saddle Ergonomics Explained