Bicycling Among Seniors on the Upswing

By Whitney Miller

Young adults may get most of the press about bicycling, but there has also been a documented rise in bicycle use among baby boomers as they have aged. Statistics about seniors and bicycling, based on 2009 National Travel Survey data, show large increase in bicycling among the senior population since 1995. New trips by seniors make up 22 percent in the total growth of adult biking and 37 percent of total bicycling nationwide for those aged 60-79.[1]

Health Benefits

Woman riding a lifestyle bicycle

Bicycling is a non-weight bearing activity, which makes it less stressful on joints than other physical exercise. This is especially important for older individuals. According to an article in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, there is a positive correlation between bicycling and cardio-respiratory fitness and lessening the risk factors for diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity morbidity in middle-aged and elderly men and women.[2] The study also used previously gathered data about the benefits of indoor stationary bicycling in older individuals and applied it to non-stationary bicycling. Through this they concluded that the increase in leg strength and balance found by using a stationary bicycle can most likely be applied to the use of a nonstationary bicycle. Bicycling may also have other benefits for older individuals such as being a means of affordable transportation and providing opportunities for socializing and recreation.

Bicycle Styles for Seniors

According to AARP’s article “A Bike to Fit Your Life,” bicycle manufacturers have been paying attention to the rising number of senior bicyclists. Many seniors are not looking for sporty mountain bicycles; instead they are looking for what is broadly referred to as “lifestyle” bicycles, which have padded seats, low U-shaped cross bars for easier mounting, low gears for easy pedaling, and a sturdy, upright frame for balance. Approximately 3.1 million lifestyle bicycles sell each year. Upright frames reduce painful back issues caused by low handle bars such as spinal stenosis. Ergonomic handgrips help reduce nerve pain in the hands and for arms. Crank-forward geometry on lifestyle bicycles with slanted back seats reduce knee strain because the rider can be seated with his or her feet flat on the ground. Shock absorbers located on the front fork and seat post reduce pain to the neck and rotator cuff.

Bicyclists attending a Ciclovia in New Jersey

Three-wheeled bicycles are also an option for seniors, and they provide more balance than a traditional two-wheeled bicycle. There are three types: thee upright three-wheel cycle, a recumbent tricycle, or a semi-recumbent which combines the features. The recumbent three-wheeled cycle has a lower seat than the upright and is more reclined, which some older individuals may have trouble getting up from. And because upright models are seated higher, it is easier for a rider to see traffic and their surroundings. However, recumbent three-wheeled cycles offer more back support and because they are closer to the ground, there is a lower and more stable center of gravity. Three-wheeled bicycles are heavier, take up more storage space, and are more difficult to assemble than their two wheeled counterparts. And they also do not always fit into a bicycle lane or around parked cars.

The increase of seniors bicycling is creating a demand for more bicycle options. Therefore, older individuals can find a bicycle to fit their needs. Also because of the many health and social benefits, it is encouraging to see the upswing of older individuals bicycling. With so many benefits, as well as an increasing number of opportunities to bicycle, bicycling amongst older adults is likely to be on the upswing for a long time to come.

[1] “Bike Use is Rising Among the Young, but it is Skyrocketing Among the Old,” People for Bikes
[2] Two Pilot Studies of the Effect of Bicycling on Balance and Leg Strength among Older Adults, Journal of Environmental and Public Health
[3] “The Best Three Wheel Bikes for Adults,” LiveStrong

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