Bikes For The Elderly

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  • Mum needs a new bike.

    I guess many of you were in the position of choosing a bike for elderly persons before, yet I did not find a thread on this -
    what are your experiences, what works well - what would you recommend?

    In my case it's definitely a low step-through frame that is wanted.
    Actually she would like an eBike, but frankly I'd rather like to talk her out of that idea (as I think a regular bike will help her stay fit, as it's mostly flat where she lives, and I rather worry she will be overwhelmed with a "motorised" bike :-)

    Obviously it should be really "safe", as in: smooth and stable handling, great lights, and proper but non-aggressive brakes.. I think you get the idea.

    Any feedback appreciated, ta!

  • Islabikes Icons range is specifically designed with older people in mind 👌

  • For context, I'm an occupational therapist and have worked with older adults (my favourite field) both in the community and in inpatient settings. I also worked with mid-life and younger differently-able adults (mental health/physical health concerns and/or addiction issues) with HHV's Wheels for Wellbeing a few times with clients. I love to get older adults on bikes, confidently and safely. I have a couple of thoughts:

    Actually she would like an eBike, but frankly I'd rather like to talk her out of that idea

    Professionally and personally, I respectfully disagree! I believe your concerns come from a very caring and logical place. However, motivation, meaning and engagement will be a big part of this being successful so I encourage you to respect her wishes and at least look into eBikes with her. They might not push the person to pedal as hard or frequently as a regular bike, but it might be the case that she wants to rides the eBike eg to a swimming pool, and that's how she'd like to stay fit! Even with your far more extensive background in cycling, she may want to experience bikes in a different way and have her heart set on an eBike, in which case her motivation to get going will be more easily-sustained if you help her achieve this. If you talk her into a different bike, be prepared for this to not be successful an initiative as you may have been expecting. I appreciate this is "common sense" but I've seen it happen so many times.

    I think a regular bike will help her stay fit

    Fitness is wonderful, but interestingly for older adults balance is more important for reducing falls - a leading cause of disability. I can refer you here to the most excellent resource - Camilla Cavendish's "Extra Time: 10 Lessons For Living Longer Better":

    In 2017, [Sir Muir Gray] and colleagues calculated that the UK could save several billions a year from ‘even modest improvements in fitness’ to stop older people crossing the line from independence to dependence: needing carers or going into a home. [...] The fitness gap can be narrowed, Gray argues, from any age. Even 90-year-olds can improve their strength with relatively small amounts of exercise. Three months of balance and gait training, and mild weight-bearing exercises, can reduce falls - which are responsible for 5 times as many hospitalisations among the over-65s as any other injury. [...] In the UK, 10 percent of ambulances are called out for older people who have fallen over.

    And Dr Anna Dixon, Chief Exec of the UK's Centre for Ageing Better:
    There is strong evidence that strength and balance exercises can reverse muscle wasting and thereby prevent falls.

    I also saw recently an infographic on how poor an impact casual cycling has on fitness level compared to other activities haha (which of course, sod's law, I can't find now) from a good source so it's not as if getting a non-eBike would magically make or keep your mum fit unless she has plans to ride it frequently, for sustained periods.

    Anyway - you were asking for recommendations, not a monologue! I'm going to try a slightly different tack and ask you to think about:

    • what your mum's needs are on a bike (basket or panniers or any kind of thing like that)
    • cool useful things like a bell, a kickstand, mudguards any other preferences
    • what your mum's gearing needs are (though you did say it was flat)
    • whether she wants to try one out in the shop or you're happy to buy online and yolo it

    Lastly, this is not aimed at OP but generally a reminder for anyone who reads this thread, "the elderly" is not a homogenous group and chronological age really does not give any insight into functional ability, fitness level or personal preference. I would really strongly argue that you find the bike to fit the person and their needs and preferences, not their demographic (this is bolstered by YEARS of having "women's" specific bikes marketed towards me inaccurately, and years of working with an incredibly diverse range of older adults. What does it mean for a bike to be "for the elderly?" - can you answer this without invoking stereotypes?). All too often, a google for "xyz for elderly" brings up ageist images that perpetuate this idea that all older adults have the same needs/functional capacity. We should just be asking what they need/want and using our expertise to help. /soapbox

  • I'd like to second much of what @ioreka has said. For context I also worked and volunteered for Wheels for Wellbeing (not any more, so comments below my own) and have worked with people with age-related, neurodegenerative diseases.

    A brief addition to the falling comments. Falling is a real problem for older people, but the fear of falling (which can often follow a fall) is also a concern. If older people are worried that they will fall in the course of their everyday activities they can get into a vicious circle of:

    Fear of falling > less activity > poorer balance and strength > greater likelihood of falling ( > possibly a fall) > greater fear of falling > and so on...

    Remaining active is therefore key and cycling certainly won't hurt on this front (but may need supplementing with other exercise as noted). It can also extend people's range for independent active travel, which can help them remain independent. If balance becomes a particular problem then trikes can provide a means for people to get out and about, even if they find walking any distance a challenge.

    In terms of cycle choice I won't add much to what's been written above other than to say that customisation of a cycle can be key for people who find riding a stock, off-the-peg cycle difficult. In addition to basic fit (including details like brake-lever reach) and gearing, there is a huge range of accessories and alternative parts that it's worth being aware of as they can make the difference between an enjoyable cycling experience and someone not being able to cycle at all. For example, really short cranks or swing cranks for people with arthritic knees and specialist pedals to help people with limited motor control keep their feet engaged can keep people cycling comfortably long after they might otherwise have given up.

  • Book rec looks good ta!
    Also, the balance stuff is interesting and useful.

  • @BirdBrain ..thank you, I'll have a look!

  • Having built a bike for my mum who was a daily local, short trip cyclist, and adapted my 1x1 for my dad who was similar, I found useful things were
    Saving weight- made them moving the bike about on foot easier, helping with that balance issue I guess
    Simple gears- my Dad rode ss as his ride was totally flat and my mum had 1x to save messing with two shifters
    Good brakes- adjusted reach for small hands for mum, powerful old xtr v brakes for dad as his grip wasn’t great
    Totally puncture proof tyres even at the expense of a bit of weight and feel so they never had to change a tube

    @Hulsroy I think did a good project for his dad with a dropper to help his stopping and starting I think

  • @ioreka ..thank you very much for your elaborate reply, I appreciate it!

    She would be using the bike mostly for little shopping tours or visiting friends nearby (for everything else she'd use the car anyway as she lives in a rural area) - so I figured it might be a good idea to do this on a regular bike (instead of an ebike) to help her not become lazy and unfit. Also I thought it's not worth it to spend a lot of money on an ebike for these little trips - but yea, maybe she would consider bigger tours if she had the electrical assist.

    To answer your questions on what it is she needs - she specifically asked for a (low) step-through frame, so ideally like these -

    Front basket for shopping / handbag would be sufficient I guess as for bigger / more stuff she'd use the car.

    Gearing wise it would be good if it went down quite low. She's small, has little stamina, and well, she's old :-)

    Looking at it / trying it out in a shop would be great, but not sure that's an option (not many shops where she is, also she's not in the UK but in Germany). So ordering online and me setting it up when I visit her next time will likely be the way to go..

    Again thank you for your input!

  • Saving weight- made them moving the bike about on foot easier, helping with that balance issue I guess

    Yea that was also a reason for not going the ebike-route..

  • @ffm ..thank you as well for your feedback! Yea falling is definitely an issue (actually she did just fell with the bike a few weeks ago, bike landed on top of her and she needed help getting up again - again this would be worse with a heavy ebike so I'm not sure she'd feel comfortable with one of those..)

  • Thanks for the mention.

    I did build my dad a bike.

    He suffers from Parkinson's but has always been a keen cyclist and used to race and we trained together when I was a child.
    But he lost confidence and balance as his illness got worse.

    The bike is a Surly Crosscheck I converted to disc brakes and 650b.

    My experience is that in order to inspire confidence and cycling ability you need:

    • hydraulic disc brakes
    • low bottom bracket
    • big tyres
    • low toptube
    • bars level with saddle position (not much higher and not any lower / comfort is king)
    • good fit
    • big grippy pedals

    AND I had to fit a dropper seatpost because Parkinson's fucks with the ability to get on a bike and he refused to have a dropped seattube. It was very important for him that the bike didn't look any different.

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  • @Hulsroy that is absolutely beautiful in every sense.

    Cycling can be brilliant for people with Parkinson's even when they've lost a lot of mobility in terms of walking. There are some fantastic examples (videos show people with fairly advanced symptoms) here

    and here - go to 2:18 for cycling

    My guess is that it's something to do with the difference in balance requirements between walking and cycling (cycling doesn't require you to balance on one foot to initiate it) and the linked, pre-determined/cued leg motion of cycling. Whatever the reason, it's a lovely phenomenon in an unpleasant disease.

  • It is just such a fucked up disease :(

    My dad is on a research program where they are getting medicine through a pump providing a continuous dose rather than taking medication 10 times a day and it is great.
    Tbh it feels like I got my dad back as he does not seem to have those shakes and walking issues as much anymore.

    He loves his bike and his ability to get around town now that he does not feel confident in a car anymore. My mum calls me once in a while when he has gotten back from a bike ride all gitty and chuffed.

  • My dad is on a research program where they are getting medicine through a pump providing a continuous dose rather than taking medication 10 times a day and it is great.

    That sounds awesome! There was amazing research going on when I was specifically working with people with Parkinson's, and that was 15 years ago, so I can only imagine what progress has been made in the interim. I was also so impressed by the resilience of those people (and their partners!) and their innovation in finding practical solutions to their issues and ways of continuing to do things that bring them joy. More power to your dad!

  • thanks ;-)

  • Can post it to you if you like, or we can meet up for physically-distant pizza and plant swaps! I'm in SE1 on Thursday evenings but other than that largely out in Watford still. Would be lovely to see you (both)

    @tinakino I can't @ you because i don't know how to internet but your reply/thoughts sound totally reasonable - as an OTP solution a very-low-stepthrough, e-bike or not, and not too heavy are important. I wish I had recommendations for a brand but I'm sure you'll do the research! Good luck and let us know what you decide.

    @Hulsroy that is the OT's dream. What a wonderful bike. I write a blog about healthtech/OT/ older adult care, can I feature it on my site? Would just require a few more questions via DM :)

  • Thanks for sharing all this @Hulsroy !
    So cool you are able to support your dad like this..

  • Good luck and let us know what you decide.

    Purchase will most likely be postponed until spring 2021 as she would not be driving around on a bike much in the winter months anyway.

    I have been using my folding bike (which is actually not fold-able) a lot recently and couldn't help but think that this kind of bike would be a lot easier to handle for my mum compared to a regular "big" bike.

    As the bike would presumably be used for short-ish shopping / "leisure" trips, wouldn't that be a good option?

    Are there folders / "little bikes" with electrical assist some of you can recommend?

    Didn't dare to check the prices yet but wouldn't a Bromton eBike actually be a good idea?

    Please correct me if I'm wrong but I get the impression a small bike would be much easier to handle and less problematic in case of a fall?

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  • If you are looking for a folding bike I can recommend one of these, lightish weight, ride reasonably well and fairly good components.­s/ecosmo-20-lightweight-alloy-folding-bi­cycle-white/

  • Thanks for the suggestion, though it does not need to be fold-able actually - should have spoken of "compact" bikes, not "folders", sorry.

    So something like this maybe -

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  • I realize now those do get heavy and expensive very quickly when they have some sort of e-assist..

  • as a Brompton owner I honestly couldn't recommend them enough - and the electric ones are very nippy (speedy and helpful) but these come at a whopping cost and they really are quite a lot heavier. so, kinda depends on the person and the use case! even if your mum doesn't lift it, or even fold it often, they are handy. re: cost, they are long term investments and come with a lifetime guarantee iirc, plus a ton of add-ons to make it perfect for your use case. i had a different folding bike before and the Brompton is an order of magnitude better imo.

    but as you clarified - compact bikes not necessarily folding bikes, honestly i really couldn't say without speaking to your mum! you may have to yolo it and pick the best one given the data you have (lightweight, fairly affordable, can attach some kind of pannier or rack or basket, easily mounted/dismounted so a low bar/stepthrough, eBike or not) and in six months or a couple years you'll (and she'll) have a clearer idea of whether this is the right bike for her - in which case you can sell up and refine and get a bike better fit for her purposes. i think you're doing a great job of exploring options!

  • Would this work? Seems to tick most of the boxes­s/icons/joni/

  • I think this looks really good (for a low step-through bike), but isn't it actually a bit expensive for what it is? Not familiar with the brand so their components might be better than I think.
    My mum is pretty set on an ebike now though; just spoke to her again. She would love to be able to drive around a (big) nearby lake - something that is just not really archievable for her with something without electrical assist, so I guess that's a compelling reason..

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Bikes For The Elderly

Posted by Avatar for tinakino @tinakino