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