As we all get older, gradual and continuous deterioration sets in and we are no longer as agile or fit as we might once have been. So, what to do about it?
Get up. Move.
Fitness does not need an expensive membership to a health club, but that helps. However, now that the virus is closing most public gathering places, these clubs are no longer available.
Purchasing expensive home fitness machines is an option, but they take up a lot of space and often fall into disuse. The new machines have subscription services so they can try to emulate the richer social interactions of the health club, but in the privacy of your own home, however these monthly fees add up fast and compound the overall purchase price of the machine. When you realize the annual cost, it is absolutely shockingly expensive and silly.
So, what health options remain during a pandemic?
The first answer is to go for walks. Of course, social distancing is still required, but that is easily achievable in a suburban setting.
The second and smarter answer is to buy a bicycle and go for a ride. As I walk every day, I see more and more folks out pedaling around to get the blood flowing and exercise their muscles. However, not all bikes are equal.
Most of us casual riders cannot succeed on some fancy racing bicycle. Most of us are already overweight or suffer from ageing, so we need a bike that is comfortable and easy to ride.
An eBike is a brilliant solution for most baby boomers. An eBike comes in many flavours, so it is important to know exactly what you need before you run out and buy one.
What is an electric bike?
An electric bike – often know as an eBike – is basically a motor assisted bicycle. For the most part, they are a combination of a conventional bike with a battery and a motor, which takes some of the effort out of pedalling.
There is a lot of Chinese-made junk that is not worth the price, so beware when the price is too good to be true. However, there are many worthy brands available to select from Europe, and even a few quality bikes from China. However, many popular brands are from Europe where riding a bicycle is a part of the social fabric and is done every single day. Here in North America, we have a long way to go to catch up to the Europeans.
The North American automotive industry and the European car makers are all adding eBikes to their product offerings. Ford, BMW, Mercedes and other car manufactures all offer amazing eBikes. The Ford eBikes integrate to the next generation Ford electric cars so they can conveniently stow inside the vehicle and even charge off of the car. Ford now calls itself a transportation company and so they are broadening their product offerings beyond cars.
There are so many categories of bicycles available so you really need to understand how you will use the bike and where you will ride it. Options include:
- Performance Road bikes
- Gravel / Adventure bikes
- Mountain bikes
- Urban bikes
- Racing bikes
- Commute bikes
- Shopping bikes
- and more…
There are several types of eBikes to consider. It can be confusing especially due to the different rules and regulations in different countries. Here is a breakdown of the three classes of eBike that you need to consider to best fit your specific requirements.
My BH eMotion Urban Pro eBike offers both Peddle Assist and Throttle (direct drive). It is also capable of much higher speeds than the Ontario regulations (were I live) allow.
Class 1: Pedal Assist / Pedelec
The most common type of electric bike is the pedal assist or pedelec. The rider pedals the bike normally while a motor provides assistance, increasing the power transmitted to the rear wheel. The pedaling takes far less effort than it normally would, even in high gears, which allows for higher speeds and effortless climbing over steep hills. Settings can control the amount of assistance the rider desires, but to be considered a Class 1 ebike in most of Europe, the system cannot provide assistance over 25 kilometers per hour (kph) or approximately 15 miles per hour. In the US this class is limited to approximately 32 kph or 20 mph. A class 1 designation allows these bike to be used on most roads and paths where normal bikes are allowed and do not require any additional licensing.
Class 2: Throttle
Much like a motorcycle or scooter, a throttle operated ebike propels the bike forward without any additional pedaling from the rider. Most can provide a variable amount of power depending how far the throttle is pushed. These are much less common than their pedal assist counterparts as many countries have laws that prohibit them entirely. The European Union requires an ebike only provide power while the pedals are moving forward, so throttle ebike are most common in the United States and China where little legislation exists to limit their use.
Class 3: Speed Pedelec
The design of a speed pedelec is similar to a standard pedelec, but as the name implies, they allow for a higher top speed of 45 kph or approximately 28 mph. In many areas this class of ebike is considered a motor vehicle requires its riders to be licensed.
The key eBike features to consider include:
- Tires – wide or narrow? For the average rider, wider tires are preferred as they provide a smoother and more stable ride.
- Brakes – caliper or hydraulic? eBikes can go fast, which is fun and useful, however they need to be able to stop and with the extra speed, stopping is not as easy with traditional caliper brakes, so hydraulic disk brakes are greatly preferred.
- Seats – hard or soft? Most of us are casual eBike riders, so a softer, gel-filled seat is ‘greatly’ preferred.
- Handle Bars – upright or low slung racing? A casual rider usually suffers when the low slung racer handle bars are installed. Too much weight is shifted onto your wrists and lower back, so with the urban cruising upright handle bars you sit erect and reduce strain and stress on your body. This is especially important if you have wrist injuries or arthritis.
- Height Extensions – Getting the right posture is critical to having fun on an eBike. If the handle bars are still too low, then you can adjust the height with some limitations. Extensions are often an option to raise them even higher for maximum comfort.
- Seat Height – Sizing the bike is vital. A bike that is too small or too large is not fun to ride. You need to be seated on it and be able to have your feet on the ground, this is a serious safety issue. So, seating on a bike and optimizing the seat height for your body is critical for your success.
- Frames – Most ebike frames are made of aluminum, though the full range of frame options (from carbon-fiber to steel) is becoming available. Frame material and design, along with the size of the motor and battery, are the biggest contributors to total weight. Generally heavier than their regular-bike counterparts, ebikes overcome sluggishness through their motor assist. But a lighter bike will still feel more nimble. So, if you are choosing between two otherwise comparable bikes, a lighter model will likely provide the better ride.
- Fit – the best bike for you is one that truly fits you. For an investment as big as an ebike, it’s important to make sure an ebike feels like it was made for you—or can at least be modified to fit you with a few smart parts swaps—before you ride it out the door. Most crucial to getting a good fit is knowing which size bike frame you need, loosely based on your height. Beyond frame size, an ebike’s frame geometry will determine how it is supposed to fit your unique body measurements. Visiting a bike shop is the best way to dial in your fit so that your knees, shoulders, back, feet and hands are all properly aligned for the riding position you need.
- Derailleur – How many gears in enough gears for an eBike? I suppose that it all depends on the terrain and the style of riding you plan to do. In a city setting a dozen or so is fine, but for best results, the Shimano Alivio 24-Speed is popular today on urban bikes.
- Suspension – Those nasty bumps and potholes can be very jarring to a boomer, so a bike with a shock absorbing suspension systems in ideal. The Suntour NEX HLO 63mm of travel is what I use and even with my heavy body it softens every bump.
- Motor Location – Mid-drive motors are on the bottom bracket (the place where the crank arms attach to the bike frame). Hub-drive motors sit inside the hub of the rear wheel (some are on the front wheel). A rear hub drive is often the best for drive and a mid mounted battery helps to balance the bike.
- Motor Power – for me, I looked for a higher power motor, due to my weight, I was worried that a 250 watt motor lacked the power and torque to propel me along properly. So, I choose the 500W thru axle rear hub motor. I feel that the rear hub motor type is the most efficient way to transfer the power into drive.
- Battery – Having a big battery helps, of course: Capacities are stated in watt hours (Wh), the number of hours a battery can sustain 1 watt of power before dying. Thus motor power also matters: A 500-watt motor paired with a 500 Wh battery (a common class 3 bike setup) drains power more quickly than a 250-watt motor with a 500 Wh battery (a common class 1 bike setup). For me, I believe that the battery needs to be rated higher than the consumption of the motor. So, for my 500 watt motor I have a 600 Wh battery.
- Extra Accessories – I purchased a second battery and a spare charger so I can charge both batteries simultaneously. Is it excessive, yes, perhaps. I did a range test on a fully charged battery in the pedal assist mode and achieve 55 km range with 1/4 power remaining (on flat land). Will I ever ride more than that distance, unlikely, but having a spare backup battery gives me piece of mind regarding ‘range anxiety. Also, as new models arrive every summer, I have spares in case my battery design / paint scheme becomes out of date.
- Balance – Lift up the bike with one hand. Does it balance evenly or is it lopsided towards front or rear? Balance is import for an easy ride, and for greater stability. A balanced bike is far safer and avoids unexpected upsets. Also, when mounting the bike on a car carrier to take the bikes on the road, balanced loading on the carrier is critical.
- Controller – There’s a lot going on with an ebike, so it’s helpful to have a handlebar-mounted bike computer that lets you monitor battery life, pedal-assist mode, miles ridden, speed and more.
- Smartphone Integration – Top-end ebike electronics can connect wirelessly with smartphones. Available apps might include GPS, service records and additional screen capabilities. Some apps even let you unlock your bike’s integrated lock.
- Lights – Found most often on city and commuter bikes, this is a nice safety feature to have. Systems vary, with high-end bikes having more powerful lighting. In many countries, it is a legal requirements as well as a vital safety need.
- Bell or Horn – Since you do tend to go faster, it is critical to have a good horn or bell installed so you can alert others on the road or path that you are approaching.
- Carriers – Typically found on cargo ebikes, these sturdy racks can support heavy loads. Ebikes can also accommodate a wide range of separately purchased racks, though you’ll need to verify that a rack will fit your bike model.
- Fenders – My earlier bikes were sportier and shed all unnecessary weight. However as I aged, I decided that fenders were essential to my happiness riding a bicycle of any kind. It is inevitable that you will get caught out in the rain or ride through puddles. Nothing is worse than that soaking wet ‘skunk strip’ up your back and into your hair when water is thrown from the wheels, front and rear aluminum fenders will be well worth the investment.
- Security – eBikes are not inexpensive so having a way to lock it is important. I use a trusted cable lock and remove the controller and even the battery to prevent theft.
- Helmet and Riding Gloves – Once my doctor told me that the number one issue he deals with at his practice are falls and injuries, most often from riding a bicycle. So, wearing riding gloves and a helmet is just smart, and in many places, it is demanded by law.
- Local Service and Support – You can buy anything online these days including eBikes. However, I urge you to find a local bicycle shop and buy locally. You will need to get sized for the bike and try it before you buy. You will need ongoing after sales service and support. You will never get these important needs resolved with an online or big box vendor. Buy for the service and not for the lowest price.
- Car Carriers – I take my bikes along all the time, when I go to scenic towns and villages, when out in the country, to ride in parks and conservation areas, or when I go camping. A strong and versatile car carrier that folds away and stores easily is useful to have to extend your riding enjoyment to new locations away from home.
- Crossbar – Historically, boy’s bikes have a crossbar and girl’s bikes do not. Luckily this sort of prehistoric thinking is in the past. However, not having a crossbar is safer for all and easier for mounting / dismounting, as well as waiting during a stop. But, beware, the lack of a crossbar makes mounting the bikes on a car carrier difficult, if not impossible as many car carriers use the crossbar to support the bike. Newer hitch-mounted and trunk-mounted car carriers now support from the wheels. The rooftop car carriers have the bikes mount inverted. Loading a much heavier eBike to the rooftop is a fool’s game and I do not advise this approach at all.
- Spares – On my eBike, I have a small pouch installed under the rear of the seat. In this pouch, I keep some critical spares, such as a replacement inner tube, some tools, and the cable lock. All easily accessible and ready when I need them.
Whatever level of rider you are, an eBike is a great solution and will add loads of fun to your personal exercise development during this pandemic. Sure it is less of a cardio workout compared to a traditional peddle-only bicycle, but most of us are not fit enough to be called athletes anyway. As baby boomers, we need to ensure that we do not overdo it. But, that does not mean we do not want to still have fun and the joy of riding a bicycle.
Montague Bikes. (2018). Electric Bicycle Types Explained. Montague Corporation. Retrieved on May 28, 2020 from, https://www.montaguebikes.com/folding-bikes-blog/2018/03/electric-bicycle-types-explained/
Radley, R. (2020). The best electric bikes reviewed: all you need to know about e-bikes. Cycling Weekly. Retrieved on May 28, 2020 from, https://www.cyclingweekly.com/group-tests/best-electric-bikes-need-know-e-bikes-322613
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.