Jim miller

Jim Miller, Savvy Senior columnist.

Dear Savvy Senior: What can you tell me about electric bicycles? A friend of mine, who’s almost 70, recently got one and absolutely loves it. He told me he rides more now than he ever did his regular bicycle. — Interested Boomer

Dear Interested: Electric bikes have become very popular among U.S. baby boomers over the past few years because they’re super fun to ride and easier on an aging body. Electric bikes, also known as ebikes, are conventional bicycles with a battery-powered “pedal” or “throttle” assist. When you saddle up and push the pedals or throttle, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can whiz up hills, ride into headwinds and cruise over challenging terrain without gassing yourself or taxing your knee joints.

Many older ebike owners say that they ride more frequently and go further and longer than they ever would with a traditional bike. Here’s what you should know about ebikes, along with some tips to help you choose one.

What to know

Ebikes are more complicated and expensive than regular bicycles, so you need to do some research before you purchase one. For starters, you need to know that there are three different types of ebikes to choose from:

Class 1: “Pedal-assist” electric bikes that only provides assistance when the rider is pedaling, and only up to 20 miles per hour. These are the most common type of electric bikes.

Class 2: “Throttle-assist” ebikes that let you use the electric motor without pedaling, like a motorcycle or scooter, but only up to 20 miles per hour.

Class 3: “Speed pedal-assist” ebikes, similar to Class 1, except that the motor will assist with bike speeds of up to 28 miles per hour.

Because they’re electrically powered, states and local communities have varying regulations regarding the use of ebikes. In many states, Class 1 and 2 ebikes are allowed to be ridden wherever a traditional bike goes, while Class 3 are generally allowed on the street due to their higher top speed. For more information on your state’s ebike laws, visit PeopleForBikes.org/e-bikes.

You should also know that ebikes come in many different styles — commuter, cruiser, mountain, road, folding, etc. — just like traditional bikes to meet different riding needs. They also run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and their motors are either hub-driven mounted on the front or rear wheel, or mid-drive motors that are mounted to the frame at the bottom bracket between the cranks.

The only downsides of ebikes are weight and cost. Because of the battery and motor, ebikes are much heavier than traditional bicycles weighing 50-plus pounds, so it can be more challenging if you have to manually lift or maneuver your bike a lot. And ebikes are expensive, typically range between $2,500 and $3,500.

Ebikes are made by many of the same established companies that make traditional bikes like Specialized, Electra, Schwinn, Trek, Giant, Cannondale and Felt, along with a number of upstarts like Juiced Faraday, Pedego, Elby and Hi Bike. To shop for an ebike, find some good bike shops in your area that sell them so you can test ride a few.

If you’re interested in a cheaper option, there are also ebike kits you can purchase at places like Walmart, Amazon.com and eBikeKit.com that can convert your regular bike into an ebike for a few hundred dollars.

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.

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