Thinking about getting a bicycle to stay fit and reverse some of the effects of aging? You’re not alone - many seniors enjoy taking a nice ride in the sun from time to time.
But before you start pedaling you should be aware of the risks and learn how to ensure you’re cycling safely! Read our guide to bicycle safety for seniors to learn everything you need to know!
What Percent of Seniors Bike in the US?
Cycling may not be the first thing some seniors think about doing when it comes to exercise, but more seniors engage in the sport than you might think! A survey conducted by PeopleForBikes found that 19 percent of all seniors in the United States ride a bike at least once per year.
That number, while still accounting for a minority of seniors, was four times higher in 2014 than it was in the year 2000. This may be due in part to the large portion of the Baby Boomer generation that is entering retirement age, but it can also be explained by the increased importance that exercise has in today’s society.
What are the Health Benefits of Bike Riding for the Elderly?
Riding a bike, while imperfect like any other form of exercise, is loaded with benefits for seniors. Riding your bicycle or using a stationary bike indoors for 30 minutes, a few times per week, can have some quite noticeable health benefits:
One hour of bike riding burns about 300 excess calories; over the course of a few months, that can correspond to several pounds disappearing from your waistline. While you may not be trying to stay trim for the dating game anymore, keeping your weight down can help you live longer (especially if you have diabetes) and is also beneficial for your joints.
Aerobic exercise such as cycling reduces your risk of heart attacks and heart disease by up to 40%! If you have a family history of these health issues, it is wise to take precautions against developing them yourself. Cycling is an enjoyable, relaxed way to do just that!
No doubt about it: cycling is easy on the joints. Whereas walking and running slowly wear down the cartilage in your knees and ankles, riding a bike preserves it. Not only that, but riding a bike also strengthens the muscles around your knees and ankles, further protecting the joints themselves.
What are the Risks of a Senior Riding a Bike?
For all the benefits of riding a bicycle, there are some risks that present themselves to seniors:
Of all age groups, teenagers and the elderly are the most likely to experience a fatal bicycle accident. These accidents are the most common among seniors who ride their bikes to commute back and forth; it’s not as likely to get into a bad accident when riding on designated bike paths. In any case, however, accidents on bicycles tend to be more severe for senior citizens.
Two types of injuries can present themselves to people who cycle for exercise:
What Type of Bicycle Should a Senior Get?
How to Select the Right Bicycle for Senior Citizen
The best way to choose a bicycle is by deciding where and how you will ride your bike. For example, riding up and down hills on dirt roads demands a very different type of bicycle than riding on a flat bike path. Most seniors, however, won’t be attempting to win races or climb mountains when they ride. Here’s the best use for different types of bicycles:
Which Type of Exercise Bike is Better for Seniors: Upright or Recumbent?
Exercise bikes, sometimes called stationary bikes, are often found in fitness centers and hotel gyms. Getting one in your home is a safe, convenient way to get all the benefits of cycling without the risk of falls. There are two types of exercise bikes: upright and recumbent. So, what are they, and which one is better for seniors?
Upright Exercise Bikes
These bikes have a seat that is exactly like that of a standard bicycle. They’re designed to replicate the feeling of riding a bike on the road and are ideal for seniors who want to get slightly intense workouts.
The only downside of upright exercise bikes is that they can be hard on your back over time, especially for people who have lower back pain. This type of exercise bike is still a great option for seniors, though. In fact, US president Joe Biden uses an upright exercise bike every morning!
Recumbent Exercise Bikes
The word “recumbent” refers to a position of your body that is akin to leaning back in a recliner. Recumbent bikes have a backrest that the user leans on, which puts their legs in front of them rather than below. This takes the pressure off of your hips and allows you to get an equally beneficial workout without having to balance yourself atop the bike.
These bikes accommodate back issues and problems with balance, which makes them a better choice for most seniors. You aren’t losing anything but risk by getting a recumbent exercise bike; the workout is still the same.
Who Makes the Best Bicycles for Seniors?
One of the largest names in cycling, Trek makes bikes that cover virtually every category and budget. They make bikes for all people, from the simplest of beginners looking to enjoy the fresh air to the adrenaline junkies pushing themselves to the limit.
Trek’s reputation in the cycling community is one of quality and value; though they aren’t the cheapest bicycle manufacturer, each of their bikes is durable and fairly priced. Trek also has a large selection of electric bikes, which help you pedal faster and further while still giving you the exercise you need!
One of the oldest bicycle manufacturers in the world, Schwinn has a strong reputation for quality and comfort. This is the brand you should choose if you’re looking for a simpler riding experience. They have excellent comfort, cruiser, and 3-wheeled bikes that seniors can safely enjoy!
General Safety Tips for Seniors Riding a Bicycle
- 1Once you’ve chosen the best bike for you, the first step is to get accustomed to it. Old sayings will tell you that you’ll never forget, but don’t kid yourself into thinking your first time on a bike in 30+ years will be a piece of cake.
- 2If you haven’t ridden a bike in many years, have someone with you the first time you ride. If your balance has faded, you’ll need them to keep you upright even if it is slightly embarrassing. The good news is that it usually takes less than 5 minutes for someone to feel comfortable balancing on a bike again.
- 3Before you take off to the races, make sure you get familiar with your bike’s brakes. If you get going too fast and cannot use the brakes, you are (quite literally) an injury on two wheels!
- 4Once you get the hang of your new bike’s mechanics, you’re ready to get on with the exercise. It’s advisable to start slow, however, so that you don’t overuse your muscles and develop injuries. Start with 3-4 miles or 15 minutes of riding, and see how you feel. If you find that easy, you can move up to longer, more intense rides. If not, take it easy and listen to your body- pushing yourself too far isn’t going to benefit you!
How a Senior Should Mount a Bike
If you’re worried about hurting your hips while mounting a bike, you should look for a “low-entry” or “step-through” bicycle. These bikes are made with frames that won’t force you to lift your leg very high to mount. You can also get yourself a recumbent bicycle that will be just as easy to get in/out of as sitting on a lawn chair!
If you have a bike with a more traditional frame, there is still a way that you can mount your bike without risking a hip injury:
- 1Place your dominant foot right behind the corresponding pedal on your bike.
- 2Take your other leg and swing it around the rear wheel of the bike, landing just behind the other pedal.
- 3Gently lift one leg and get yourself situated on the seat.
- 4Start to pedal, and you’re off!
You can also use a nearby park bench or fence to balance yourself as you mount the bike. No matter what, though, make sure that you don’t push your joints too far as you mount your bicycle; rusty joints might need some stretching and patience first.
How Can a Senior Better Balance a Bicycle?
Balancing on a bicycle should feel natural after a few minutes of practice, but many seniors experience a loss of balance due to different medical conditions. If you have trouble balancing on a bike, try shifting your weight toward your hips and sitting straight up. This will concentrate your center of gravity in your torso and right in the center of the bicycle, helping you balance.
Whatever you do, you should not lean forward on the bike. This will throw off your center of gravity, especially when making turns. Keep your posture, though, and you should have very few problems balancing!
Of course, if you are still worried about your balance on a bicycle, you have a few options available to you (and, thankfully, none of these options involve getting training wheels):
- 1First, you can get an indoor stationary bike that will keep you safe and balanced 100% of the time.
- 2Second, you can get a recumbent bike that has three wheels and doesn’t require you to use your torso to balance.
- 3Finally, you can get a three-wheeled bike that takes the burden of balance away from the rider and puts it on two sturdy rear wheels!
Tips for Exercise Bikes
How to Ease Into a Stationary Bicycle Routine for Seniors
How Long to Exercise on Bike With Bad Knees for Seniors
If you have bad knees, pain while doing any sort of exercise is inevitable, even a low-impact exercise like cycling. If you experience pain while using an exercise bike, you should either lower the intensity setting on your bike or ride it for shorter amounts of time.
Generally, the longest you need to use an exercise bike for a good workout is 30 minutes. If you’re experiencing pain even on the lowest difficulty setting, end your workout sessions after about 10-15 minutes until your knees build up some strength. It’s better to take it slow and make progress than it is to dive in too deep and wind up with an injury!
Wrapping Up: Bicycle Safety for Seniors
Bicycles are great tools for exercise and enjoyment, but they need to be used wisely. Wear your helmet, respect your body’s limits, and always mind your surroundings. That way, you can ensure that you have a safe, beneficial activity to enjoy for years to come! Do you have any more questions about bicycle safety, or want to share some advice with other readers? Let us hear your comments below!