The Best Electric Bike for Seniors UK

Two seniors riding electric bikes

Last update:  5th May 2022

 

I am 56 years old, in moderate shape, and bought a Gazelle Ultimate C380 ebike.  I believe that, when I bought this, it was the best ebike for seniors.  Below I discuss:


•    why you might want an electric bike,
•    the important features to consider when picking one,
•    the pros and cons of different choices,
•    why I chose the Ultimate C380,

•    why the Cube Kathmandu Pro 625 might be a better (and cheaper) option, and then I list
•    other ebikes that are available now and may fit your needs.

Note:  You can click on any underlined text to jump directly to that section or to more information.

Why You Might Want an Electric Bike
 

The last few years have triggered self-reflection by many people.  They have re-evaluated how they want to work, where they want to live, and what their priorities are.

 

For many, keeping fit is of increased importance, and addressing climate change has added urgency.  For most, taking the time to see friends is now crucial.

 

An electric bike can fit your new reality.  But what is the best electric bike for UK seniors?
 

Well, I own a Gazelle Ultimate C380.  In March 2021, Wired magazine said, “this is one of the best all-round ebikes [they’ve] tried”, rating it 8 out of 10.  It cost me £3,600.  It also took 6 months to arrive as I had it special ordered.

If I were buying an ebike now, I would get the Cube Kathmandu Pro 625.  The best way to understand why is to understand the features that I think are important to seniors.

 

Five Features

 

If you are a senior looking for an ebike, I believe the 5 most important features (in order) are:

 

•      Frame Shape – get a step-through frame

•      Motor Position – get a mid-drive motor

•      Gearing – by law ebike motors stop assisting at 15.5 mph.  Think about whether you may want to go faster than this on the flat.  If you do, then you need a wide gear ratio range.

•      Internal Gear Hub and Carbon Fibre Belt – if you can afford it, get both of these.  Shifting is much easier and maintenance is much reduced.

•      Motor Power – get a motor with at least 50 Nm of torque.  Bosch motors are best at the moment

I would also like to add one caveat:

•      Weight – electric bikes are heavier than traditional bikes; however, unless you have to lift your bike to get it into storage or onto a bike rack on your car, the weight differences of different models likely will not be important.

Instead of taking notes as you read through, you can jump to the Conclusion and Recommendations at the end, and can scroll back up if you have any questions.

Note:  You can click on any underlined text to jump directly to that section or to more information.

 

Frame Shape

Don’t get stuck on labels like “ladies bike”.  Until recently, that top “crossbar” (on “men’s bikes”) was needed to strengthen the frame.  In olden times, ladies in dresses and skirts could not easily get their leg over the crossbar (and they would not be riding furiously anyway) so bikes with step-through “drop frames” were invented

1a Crossbar Sloped and Step Thru.png

Nowadays, materials and designs are such that a crossbar is no longer required.  And so, you will see many more frame geometries on the road.

As an older person (especially those who have had a hip replaced or other mobility issues), a step-through “drop frame” is strongly recommended.

Even if you have no issues now getting your leg over a crossbar, a drop frame is simply more convenient and less effort – and might prevent a nasty and embarrassing spill.  If, for whatever reason, a step-through ebike is not for you, then consider a low-step frame, which still makes it easier to dismount quickly if required.

 

Just to be clear, there are two advantages to a crossbar.

 

First, many bike racks on the back of cars include a clamp that attaches to the crossbar to stabilise the bike.  The clamp on your bike rack may not be sufficiently flexible to attach to the seat tube or another part of the bike.

As an aside, the clamp on my bike rack is sufficiently flexible.

Photo of Gazelle on Bike Rack.png

Second, some cyclists have a water bottle or small bag attached to the frame for easy access while riding.  A crossbar offers another place to attach these items.

 

Although worth considering, these 2 advantages are not that important for most older riders.



Note:  Women riders do benefit from having narrower handlebars and a different saddle.  So, there are gender-specific considerations, but these are not relevant to a general discussion about frame geometry.

 

Indeed, there are other frame considerations (e.g. the height of the handlebars in relation to the seat) but these are best addressed during a test ride.

Conclusion:  Seniors should get a step-through "drop frame" bike.  There are almost no advantages or cost savings from getting a traditional “men’s” bike with a crossbar.  If, for whatever reason, this is not possible, then get a low-step frame.

 

Motor Position

The motor on an electric bike is located in one of three places:  the hub of the front wheel, the hub of the rear wheel, or where the pedals are (called a mid-drive).

Comparison front hub, mid-drive motor, rear hub

Location affects cost and performance:

  • Front hub motors are the cheapest (available for around £700),  but also the poorest performing.

  • Rear hub motors are more expensive (starting at around £1,000) and may be an acceptable option.

  • Mid-drive motors are the most expensive (hard to find for much less than £2,000) and are the best option all-around.

Issues with Front Hubs

 

I would strongly advise an older person to not get an ebike with a front hub motor.

 

  1. The extra weight at the front makes the bike difficult to maneuver (even pushing your ebike up a kerb can be troublesome).

  2. The extra weight on the front wheel makes steering substantially more sluggish.  (There is a reason traditional bikes have an exceptionally light front wheel.)

  3. Riding a front hub ebike feels like you are being pulled along - by the wheel you use for steering, which can be unsettling.  In contrast, rear hubs feel like someone is pushing you, and a mid-drive feels like you are cycling down a slight decline (or that you have bionic legs).

  4. Front hubs are poor at climbing hills – because the front wheel is so light compared to the rest of the bike and so there is less grip.  Note: On a hill, the centre of mass of the bike move back, further reducing front wheel grip.

Issues with Rear Hubs

Ebikes with rear hub motors perform worse than those with mid-drives.  There are a range of reasons why mid-drive motors are better than hub motors, discussed in a separate article.

 

One (perhaps) unexpected disadvantage of rear hub motors relates to when power assistance is turned on.

 

Nearly all hub motors use cadence sensors, meaning that the motor turns on after you have gotten the bike going - after you have rotated the pedals at least half a revolution.  Mid-drive motors in contrast use torque sensors, meaning that the motor turns on as soon as you put pressure on the pedals.  In other words, a mid-drive motor helps you set off from a dead stop.

 

A rear hub motor may be suitable for an older person if you:

  1. are happy for your ebike to feel more like a weak moped than a bicycle.

  2. are not particularly demanding in terms of performance - either speed or climbing hills.

  3. don't mind having to do all the work to get the bike going from a standing stop.

Conclusion:  If you can afford it (£2000+) you should get an ebike with a mid-drive motor.  A separate article details why.

In some circumstances a rear hub motor is sufficient, but the experience will be more like riding a weak moped than being a bionic person on a bicycle.  (Cost £1000+).

The cheapest ebikes come with front hub motors.  These don’t perform as well as either mid-drives or rear hubs, but still cost £700 or more.  These are not recommended for an older person.

 

Gearing

I won’t get too technical here.  Another page discusses gears on electric bikes in depth.

In a nutshell, gears let the rider have an easier time pedaling uphill (in a lower gear), while being able to go fast on the flat (in a higher gear).
 

 
Explanation of bicycles gears

However, if your gears do not go low enough, hills are a struggle – as is setting off from a dead stop.  (And, as mentioned above, a hub motor (front or rear) will not assist you in setting off from a dead stop.)

 

If your gears do not go high enough, then you “spin out” at higher speeds – meaning that your legs can't move fast enough to maintain speed.

Gearing: with a Hub Motor

If your ebike has a hub motor (front or rear) then the motor does not use the gears at all (which is a key disadvantage of not having a mid-drive motor).  The gears are strictly for you, the rider.


Riding an electric bike with a hub motor feels a little unnatural at first as the amount of power provided by the motor is determined by how fast you pedal.  Basically, to go faster you pedal faster ... even if you are putting in no effort at all.

Under UK law, the motor stops providing assistance at 15.5 mph.  That might seem like a decent speed, but remember what a 20 mph zone feels like when you are driving a car.

Given that the amount of effort you are putting in has no relation to your speed, it can be jarring when the motor stops providing assistance (at 15.5 mph).  And this is where the gears come in.  If you want to cycle faster than 15.5 mph on your electric bike, you need sufficient "high" gears to allow for this.  If your ebike does not have these gears, then you cannot cycle faster than 15.5 mph.


Most manufacturers select gears suitable for the cost of the bike.  Because an electric bike is heavier than a traditional bike, they bias the gears to the low end to help with going up hills – and with setting off from a dead stop.  Biasing the gears for the low end is particularly important with ebikes with hub motors, because these motors do not help you in setting off when you are stopped.

 

Conclusion:  If you choose an ebike with a hub motor (front or rear) typically you will not be able to cycle faster than 15.5 mph even under your own steam because the bike will not have the gears to support this.

If you want to cycle faster than this, then you will need to consider the gear ratios available on that ebike.  A separate article discusses what to look for.

 

If you are very keen on getting a rear hub ebike, you might need to get the retailer or a bike shop to replace the rear gear cassette on your ebike with a cassette with a larger "gear ratio range".  But take note that many smaller bike shops are not comfortable working on electric bikes, especially not on the rear wheel of an ebike with a rear hub motor.  So, you may need to hunt around for a suitable shop to make this switch.

Gearing: with a Mid-drive Motor

If your ebike has a mid-drive, the motor does benefit from the gears.  However, the total number of gear combinations available is reduced.  (Have a look at the picture below.  There is only one gear in the front, where you pedal, whereas a traditional bike has 2 or 3 at the front.)

Example of mid-drive motor without gear ring on an electric bike

Manufacturers compensate for this reduction and also for the fact that electric bikes are heavier than traditional bikes – typically by having more “low” gears and fewer “high” gears.

All of this becomes important if you like to go fast on the flats – by "fast" I mean over 15.5 mph, which, if you are driving a car in a 20 mph zone you will know is not actually that fast.

See, under UK law, the motor must stop providing assistance when you reach 15.5 mph.  So, if you may want to cycle faster than 15 mph, you must do this entirely via your own effort and have the gears that allow this.

 

My Gazelle ebike has a mid-drive motor and I do like to get a fair bit of speed on the flat.  So, gears were an important consideration for me.  So, I opted for a bike with a 380% gear ratio range.  The meaning of "gear ratio range" is discussed in a separate article.

After doing some research I decided that I wanted an internal gear hub.  The best option is the Rohloff 14-speed Speedhub.  It is has an impressive 575% gear ratio range.  However, before I discuss what that means, let's discuss internal gears.

Internal Gear Hubs

Traditional bicycles have gears in the front, where you pedal, and gears in the back, on the rear wheel.  The gears on the rear wheel can be external or internal.  Most people are familiar with external gears on the rear wheel.  The drawing above shows a "casette" containing multiple gears on the rear wheel.  It is also possible for the gears on the rear wheel to be internal.

Internal gear hubs are exactly what the name suggests.  Instead of the rear gears being visible on the wheel, with internal gear hubs, the gears are hidden inside the hub itself

 
Cut away of an internal gear hub for an electric bike

As discussed in a separate article, internal gears hubs are easier to maintain, last longer, and have fewer problems on the road.  In contrast, external gears require regular maintenance and tuning.

One additional benefit of some hub gears is that you do not need to be pedaling to shift gears.  You can be stopped at a traffic light and then decide to shift gears to make setting off on the green light easier.

Note:  If you are still considering a rear hub motor, be aware that you cannot have both a rear hub motor and a rear hub internal gear.


Internal Gear Hub:  Rohloff Speedhub (£1,770 extra)

The Rohloff is an internal gear hub with double the range of gear options than that of a traditional bike.  As such, an electric bike with a Rohloff Speedhub will have plenty of “high” gears to cycle along at a good pace.

The disadvantage is cost.  The Riese & Muller Nevo3 GT rohloff costs £6,069 – which is £1,770 more than the identical bike with a traditional external gear cassette (Nevo3 GT touring).

 


Internal Gear Hub:  Other manufacturers

There are other internal gear hubs with smaller gear ratio ranges but these are not as popular.  I have decided to not review these in-depth as I decided to get an Enviolo internal gear hub.

 


Internal Gear Hub:  Enviolo (£380 extra)

One internal gear hub that is popular is the Enviolo, a continuously variable hub.  This unique technology does not involve gears.  This means that when you shift, there are no discrete steps.

When you think of changing gears on a bike, you think of a step change.  The chain moves … from one gear ring to the next.  The Enviolo does not have discrete steps.  By twisting the grip you gradually and continuously set pedaling to any difficulty you want.
 

My Gazelle ebike has the Enviolo hub.  It changes how you ride.

If the road starts to get a little steeper or if a headwind picks up, I twist the grip to make pedaling easier … and I set that difficulty (how hard I have to push on the pedals) to precisely what I want.  When pedaling is a bit too easy, I twist the other way to tighten it up a bit.

I no longer think about “shifting gears”.  Instead, it becomes second nature.

 

The Enviolo hub costs more than an external cassette, but I think it is worth it.

 

Looking again at the Riese & Muller Nevo 3 GT, the vario version costs £4,679 – which is £380 more

than the identical bike with a traditional external gear cassette (Nevo3 GT touring).

External Gears:  the default option (included)

 

Most manufacturers select gears suitable for the cost of the ebike and use the available range appropriately.  When cost is an issue, manufacturers tend to skimp on the “high” gears.  So, the less you pay for your ebike, the more likely it will be very difficult to ride the bike at speed after the motor stops providing support.

As mentioned above, you can ask the retailer or a local bike shop to replace the gears that come standard with your ebike with a better cassette; however, whoever does this work will also need to reprogramme the mid-drive motor to work with the new set of gears.  This is not complicated, but it needs to be done.

 


Conclusion:  If you are really not that bothered about cycling faster than 15.5 mph, then I would not worry about the gears much.  This is a decent speed, but look at it this way ... It is significantly less than the maximum speed for cars in a 20 mph zone, and that speed always feels terribly slow when I drive.

Most ebike manufacturers do a decent job picking suitable gears for their electric bikes.  So, you should have no trouble getting up decent hills.  The issue is:  when the motor stops providing support at 15.5 mph, is it possible for you to pedal fast enough to make the ebike go faster.

For an extra £380, have a look at an Enviolo hub.  This is what I went for.

 

The Enviolo hub gear has a wider range of gears than a traditional bike and it allows you to continuously vary the amount of effort required to pedal – rather than being forced to notice that you are in the “wrong” gear and then doing something about it.

For an extra £1770, you can get the Rohloff SpeedHub.

 

The Rohloff has an impressive range of gears, giving you a number of “high” gear options above 15.5 mph.  If you definitely like going for a long ride and getting decent speed along the way, then consider this upgrade.

Chain or Belt

 

On most traditional bikes, the pedals are connected to the rear wheel via a chain.  Chains require regular lubrication.  Chains and the gear shifting mechanisms (eg the derailleur) require maintenance.

Mid-drive motors add power at the pedals.  This power is transmitted through the chain to the rear wheel, leading to extra wear on the chain.  This extra wear is not a big deal, but you can upgrade from a chain to a carbon fibre belt.

Carbon fibre belts last much longer than chains and are very low maintenance.  Unfortunately, they only work with mid-drive motors and internal gear hubs.  This is because belts do not use derailleurs.  Instead they are tightened to fit just one gear ring in the front and one in the back.  Mid-drive motors only have one gear ring in the front.  Internal gear hubs only have one gear ring in the back.

I have a carbon fibre belt on my Gazelle bike.

Note:  Changing a flat tyre on the rear wheel when you have a carbon fibre belt requires a little extra work; however, less work than is required to change the same flat on a rear wheel with a rear hub motor.

Conclusion:  If you get an ebike with a mid-drive motor and an internal gear hub (like the Rohloff or the Enviolo) then it is likely a carbon fibre belt will come standard – and is included in the price differences listed above.

For two otherwise identical bikes upgrading from a chain to a belt costs about £100.

 
 

Motor Position

 

As you will have seen from the above, mid-drive motors are required for a number of useful upgrades (e.g. an internal gear hub, a carbon fibre belt drive).  Other reasons why mid-drives are superior to hub motors are detailed in a separate article.

An important difference is that mid-drives use the gears and thus are better on hills, starting from a dead stop, and going fast on the flat.  Fundamentally they are newer and better technology than hub motors.

 

Motor Power

 

UK Law limits the continuous power of electric bike motors to 250 Watts.  Because this is a legal maximum and because "continuous power" is poorly defined.  Virtually all motors say they are 250W, even when some are obviously more powerful than others.

 

Torque is a good starting point when comparing motors.  I discuss this in more detail when I describe why I chose my electric bike, the Gazelle Ultimate C380.  But to be honest, more is not always better.  Likely 50 Nm of torque will be sufficient in most circumstances.

 

My bike has a 65 Nm mid-drive motor.

 

Motor Make and Model

Which? Magazine reviewed a range of electric bike motors and felt that Bosch motors are currently the best.  I discuss the best make and model of ebike motor in a separate article.  According to Which? Magazine, top three motors are:

  1. Bosch Performance Line CX (85Nm) - £500 extra

  2. Bosch Performance Line Cruise (65Nm) - £300 extra

  3. Bosch Active Line Plus (50Nm) - baseline cost

It is hard to directly compare the cost of different motors because, when manufacturers upgrade the motor they often upgrade other components as well.  For example, Cube makes two bikes under the Supreme Hybrid 500 line.  The One costs £2,499 and has an Active Line Plus motor; the Pro costs £300 more and has the Performance Line Cruise.

The difference in price is £300 but the difference between the bikes is more than just the motor.  For example, the Hybrid Pro comes with the Bosch Intuvia display, which is better than the Bosch Purion display on the Hybrid One.  

Comparison of electric bike controllers - Purion vs Intuvia

Conclusion:  Bosch makes the best motors for electric bikes.

Unless you are cycling only on the flat, we would recommend getting at least the Bosch Active Line Plus.  For an additional £300 or so, you can upgrade to the Bosch Performance Line (Cruise).  For a further £200, you can upgrade to the Bosch Performance Line CX.

The difference is the maximum torque the motor will put out under high-demand situations (e.g. climbing a hill).  The more torque, the faster and easier hill climbs will be.  Likely the Performance Line Cruise (at 65 Nm of torque) will be sufficient for most hills.

CONCLUSION

 

Older people looking for an electric bike should:

  1. get a step-through frame.  For an older person, there are few (if any) advantages to a traditional crossbar frame.

  2. avoid a front hub motor - even though these are £300 cheaper than a rear hub.

  3. get a mid-drive motor if you want your ebike to ride like a bicycle instead of a weak moped, and can afford the extra £1000.

  4. get a Bosch mid-drive motor - at least the Active Line Plus.  If you will be riding up decent hills, spend £300 extra to upgrade to the Performance line.  If decent speed on a hill is important then spend a further £200 to get the Performance CX.

  5. get an internal gear hub (for an extra £380+) to reduce maintenance substantially

  6. get to Enviolo internal gear hub (the same £380) to drastically simplify the concept of shifting into the right gear

 
 

Recommendations (updated 27/Apr/2022)

 

As mentioned above, I got the Gazelle Ultimate C380, which has "all the bells and whistles" and cost me £3,600.

 

Unfortunately, I had to special order this bike and it did not arrive until February -- over 6 months later.  I think the issue is that the Enviolo internal variable hub (which I love) is not a common item and so retailers do not hold it in stock.

Given that the good weather has already started, if I were buying an electric bike right now, I would not want to wait 6 months.  Instead, I would buy the Cube Kathmandu Pro 625.  It is slightly different than my Gazelle, but meets the minimum requirements and costs £500 less (only £3,100).

I discuss the Cube below.  If it is not to your liking, or if you want to consider some alternatives, periodically I search the Internet for other ebikes for seniors that are available now.  These I list on a separate page.

 

Further down that same page I also discuss how to purchase your ebike.  Although I think it is useful to order your electric bike online, I think it is important to pick up it up from a bricks & mortar shop.  On that separate page I elaborate why.

My Choice: Gazelle Ultimate C380

I own a Gazelle Ultimate C380.  It cost me £3,599.  On a separate page, I explain why I think this was the best ebike for seniors at the time I purchased it.

Gazelle Ultimate C380 HMB.png

The Gazelle Ultimate C380 comes with:

  • a step-through frame,

  • a Bosch Performance Line Cruise mid-drive motor (65 Nm of torque),

  • a Bosch Intuvia controller - which Which? magazine rated highest,

  • an Enviolo internal gear hub,

  • a Gates carbon fibre belt (instead of a chain), and

  • a 500 Wh battery.

The Enviolo internal gear hub has a 380% gear ratio range.  Pedaling leisurely (60 rpm), I can maintain 21.4 mph in the highest gear.  Pedaling quickly (80 rpm), I can maintain 28.6 mph.

This video gives a good walkthrough of all the features, advantages and disadvantages of this ebike.

My Recommendation:  Cube Kathmandu Hybrid Pro 625 Lowstep

Given that my Gazelle was only available via special order, I now recommend a different ebike.  It is cheaper (£3,099), has a higher spec motor and battery, but has slightly inferior gearing.  Being the 2022 model, I could not find any reviews; however, below I have attached a video review of a previous year's model by Electric Bike Review.com.  They summarised this Cube bike (at 34:30) saying:

"I have had a blast looking at this [bike] ... [T]here are a few trade-offs with this bike but overall I think they did a really great job. I like CUBE.  I feel like they offer great value."

Cube Kathmandu Pro 625 Step-thru.jpg

The Cube Kathmandu Pro 625 comes with:

  • a step-through frame

  • a Bosch Performance Line CX mid-drive motor (85 Nm of torque)

  • a Bosch Intuvia controller - which Which? magazine rated highest,

  • an 11-speed Shimano CS-M5100 rear cassette, and

  • a 625 Wh battery.

This motor is a marked improvement.  My Gazelle ebike's motor can produce 65 Nm of torque and can provide 300% assistance - meaning that I can reduce the effort required to climb a hill to just 25% of what it would have been on a traditional bike.  In contrast, this Cube ebike has a more powerful motor - producing up to 85 Nm of torque and providing up to 340% assistance.

To be honest, this extra power may be unnecessary, but it cannot hurt.

The gearing on the Cube ebike, however, is slightly inferior.  First, the gears are not an internal gear hub connected with a carbon fibre belt.  I detail the advantages of these above.  Second, the Cube has an impressive 463% gear ratio range (whereas my Gazelle is only 380%) but it is heavily biased towards making hill climbing easier.

 

I am 56yo and in decent shape.  I do not have any issues climbing hills on my Gazelle.  For someone in less shape than me, the combination of a more powerful motor, more assistance, and lower gears might be exactly what you are looking for for hills.  The trade-off is speed on the flat.

Pedaling leisurely (60 rpm), I can only maintain 17.9 mph in the highest gear on this Cube ebike, and at a brisk pace (80 rpm) I can only maintain a speed of 23.8 mph.  Perhaps many people will not want to cycle faster than the electric motor will support (15.5 mph).  In which case, this gearing is not a problem.

 

If this gearing is potentially a show stopper for you, you could ask your bike retailer to replace the front gear with something larger.  (I would recommend 48 teeth instead of 38.)

For most people, the more powerful motor and better gears for hill climbing will more than compensate for not being able to go fast on the flat.  And, the Cube Kathmandu Pro 625 is £500 cheaper than my Gazelle ebike.

The below video from Electric Bike Review is a good introduction of a previous year's version of this bike.  The first part talks through the features in considerable detail.  The test ride starts at 28:15.  The summing up starts at 34:30.

 

Comments and Questions