Would We Be Giving Mom an Electric Bike? The Case For An Active Old Person Who Doesn’t Ride a Hybrid Bike
September marked Mom’s 80th birthday, which was a major benchmark for our family. The event brought with it an anxiety about finding the perfect gift for an active old person. Mom is fit; she’s an avid cyclist who still rides 10 miles a day. She can no longer pump her hybrid bike’s tires to an optimal 85 mph, the optimum tire pressure, to make it to the steep hill at the end of her daily adventures without popping a tire. So whenever she needs a hit of air, she props the bike up against the garage and leaves the pump nearby, a gentle reminder to one of her five kids or multiple grandchildren to top off the tires.
Older adults have suffered the greatest increase in cyclist and pedestrian deaths over the last decade, according to a study co sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons. The study found that between 2010 and 2019: the three largest percentage increases in bicyclist deaths were among people over the age of 55. There is no break down in the prevalence of deaths between motorized and non- motorized bikes, but the statistics were enough to give us pause. Would we be giving her a weapon of self-destruction if we gave her an ebike?
First, learn about the class designations of electric bikes and how they differ. In the US, that means Class 1, 2, or 3. A Class 1 bike only gives pedal assistance and no throttle mechanism that would allow the rider to accelerate without pedaling. The motor that helps with pedal assistance on a Class 1 bike can top out at 20 mph. Class 2 bikes have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph, which means you don’t have to pedal the bike to move it. Class 3 bikes have no throttle but can still go as fast as 28 mph. The class of ebike you should buy depends on the rider’s local terrain and their comfort level with the power to pedaling ratio. Throttles are great because they won’t be stuck anywhere for people that live in hilly areas.
The bike should have high-quality components and batteries. Shoddy components—especially batteries—can be dangerous both on and off the road. The best bike manufacturers have a code of conduct, warranties, and FAQs prominently displayed on their website. “If they aren’t talking about battery safety and the quality of their components,” says Lovell, “then it’s probably a lower quality bike.”
If someone tells me that they’re scared of electric bikes, but have ridden bikes before, I assume that the type of bike they’ve tried looks something like Ride1Up’s Cafe Cruiser. Every direct-to-consumer electric bike company has a model with the same parts, frame style and price that is positioned as an entry-level bike.
I don’t know why this is considered an entry level electric bike. A laidback beach cruiser with a plush seat and big fat wheels makes sense on paper, but in practice, it weighs 65 pounds and has an electric motor bolted onto it! That once light, comfy ride is now big and heavy. With a less sophisticated computer, calibrating the right level of assistance is difficult. There’s no way to brace yourself properly. Jolting yourself around on what is basically an e-motorcycle is a little scary.
Ride1Up’s version is alright, for the type. It has a powerful 750W rear hub motor that will get you up steep hills, integrated lights and kickstand, a rear rack with a 150-pound cargo capacity, and a battery that seemingly lasts forever. I would not recommend this bike for a new rider or smaller bike since it is not the bike that I would recommend in the wake of Molly Steinsapir’s death.
The cafe cruiser has an alloy frame that hides electronics inside. It comes in two styles, a step-through and a step-over, but it is too tall for me at 5 feet 2 inches. Both versions weigh 65 pounds and have curved cruiser handlebars that allow you to sit upright, with your elbows relaxed and your butt firmly planted on a giant, squishy seat.
The 750W Front Hub Motor, Disc Branes, and Electric Cut-off Sensors of Cafe Cruisers: A Model for High-Speed Road Cycling
The bike is pretty powerful for its price. The 750W rear hub motor has five levels of assistance. A Class 3 bike is capable of travelling up to 28 miles per hour. I got it up over 20 mph pretty easily by pedaling, but it also has a left-side thumb throttle that can provide up to 20 mph assist. If you accidentally tag the throttle, this will give you quite the shock.
To counter this, the Cafe Cruiser also has hydraulic disc brakes with an electric cut-off sensor, meaning that if you press the brake lever, it cuts off power from the motor. The battery is a 48V battery with Samsung cells that has a stated range of 30 to 50 miles, depending on the rider weight and terrain. I weigh about 115 pounds and rode it for two weeks on 1 to 2 mile journeys around my neighborhood, and barely saw the battery level go down at all.