By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are interested in getting a couple of bicycles for leisurely exercise and fun, and would like to get your recommendation. We’re both approaching 60 and are a little overweight, and it’s been a while since we rode.
If you’re interested in leisurely, recreational riding for fitness and fun, a great option is a “comfort bike,” which is very popular among baby boomers. Here’s what you should know about this option, along with some tips to help you shop and choose.
A comfort bike is a style of bicycle that’s easy on an aging body because it lets you ride in a more comfortable upright position. These bikes have high handlebars so you don’t have to hunch over, which eases lower-back strain and reduces pressure on the wrists and hands. They also come with wide tires for a smooth ride, offer fewer gears, and have soft, wide seats to eliminate saddle soreness.
Most comfort bikes also come with shock-absorbing forks and seat posts for additional comfort. And some offer unique design features like an ultra low step-over bar that makes getting on and off easy for people with limited flexibility (like the Biria Easy Boarding at Biria.com), or the “flat-foot” design offered by many manufacturers where the pedals are moved forward, away from the seat. This allows you to get a full-leg extension when you pedal, but keeps the seat in a lower position so when you’re stopped, you can put your feet down flat on the ground while seated, which is a great safety feature for older riders.
Most major manufacturers including Electra, Sun, Raleigh, GT, Giant, and Trek all make a line of comfort bikes that costs between $300 and $800 or more depending on its features.
To find a quality comfort bike, your best option is to find a good bike shop in your area. Bikes from big box stores, like Walmart and Target, are mass-market bikes that may be less expensive, but the quality isn’t as good and they’re typically seven to eight pounds heaver. They also come in only one size, so you’re not likely to get a great fit.
Before you buy any bike, be sure you take it for a test ride first to ensure that the seat and fit of the bike is comfortable, the brakes and shifters are easy to use, the gears can go low enough for climbing hills, and the frame and suspension adequately smooth the bumps.
If the comfort bikes don’t meet your needs, another popular style among older riders is a recumbent bike. These are the low-to-the-ground, stretched-out frame bikes with La-Z-Boy style seats that allow you to recline with your legs positioned in front of you.
Recumbent bikes are very comfy, easy on the back, arms and shoulders, and aerodynamic which make them ideal for long rides. The disadvantages, because they are low-to-the-ground, they can be harder to balance and maneuver, and are more difficult for other vehicles to see.
If you worry about falling or want more stability when you ride consider a three-wheel recumbent trike. See SunSeeker.bike and TerraTrike.com for a nice variety, but be aware that recumbent bikes are more expensive, typically ranging between $1,000 and $2,500.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.