The Best Electric Bike for Seniors UK

The past year has 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.  For many, 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.

Wired magazine says “this is one of the best all-round ebikes [they’ve] tried”, rating it 8 out of 10.  It is not the best electric bike, but it has everything I need.  What it doesn’t have, I don’t really want.  It cost me £3,600.

Below I discuss the 5 features I considered when picking this bike.  Read this article to:
 

  • Learn what features are important;

  • Understand your options – the pros and cons;

  • Decide which features are not a priority; and then

  • Review specific bikes that are available now

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 for 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

1 Crossbar and Step Thru.png

Now days, 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.

Note:  Women riders do benefit from having narrower handlebars and different saddles.  So, there are gender-specific considerations, but not in frame geometry.

Conclusion:  Seniors should get a step-through "drop frame" bike.  There are no advantages or cost savings from getting a traditional “men’s” bike with a crossbar.

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).

2 Front Rear Mid.png

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.

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 mounting 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 and mid-drives feel like someone is pushing you along.

  4. Front hubs are poor at climbing hills – primarily because the front wheel is so light compared to the rest of the bike and so there is insufficient grip.

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.  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 pedalling uphill (in a lower gear), while being able to go fast on the flat (in a higher gear).
 

3 Gears.jpg

However, if your gears do not go low enough, hills are a struggle – as is 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 may feel 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 the 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.

 

Note:  This is another disadvantage of hub motors, nearly every ebike with a hub motor does not have torque sensors meaning that you do all the work setting off from a dead stop.  The motor only kicks in once you have gotten going.  (Please see the separate article that discusses this ... in the section about Rideability.)

 

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 should consider the gear ratios available on that ebike.  A separate article discusses what to look for.  You should get either 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 whereas often a traditional bike would have 2 or 3 at the front, where you pedal.)

Bosch motor and chain.jpg

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.

After doing some research the best option is the Rohloff 14-speed Speedhub.  It is an internal gear hub.

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 inter

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

4 internal gear hub.png

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 hub gears is that you do not need to be pedalling 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.

 


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 pedalling 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 pedalling 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 without the motor’s support.

As mentioned above, you can ask the retailer or a local bike shop to replace the standard gears 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, leading to extra wear on the chain.  This extra wear is not a big deal, but you can upgrade from a chain is 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.

I have a carbon fibre belt on my Gazelle bike.

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 (see below the two variants of the Gazelle Ultimate C8+), 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 motor are currently best.  I discuss the best make and model of ebike motor in a separate article.  The 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.  Nonetheless, Cube makes two bikes:

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.  

Bosch Purion vs Intuvia.png

Cube makes two other bikes:

The difference in price is £200 but the difference between the bikes is more than just the motor.  For example, the Hybrid Pro has 10 gears on the rear wheel (11 to 46 teeth), whereas the Hybrid Performance only has 9 gears (11 to 36 teeth).  As we will know from the above discussion on gears, the Hybrid Pro thus has an additional "low" gear.

 


All these bikes are good examples of the amount you might pay for an electric bike with these mid-drive motors, and also demonstrate how (generally speaking) a number of components on your ebike are upgraded in parallel when you pay more.

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.

CONCLUSION

 

Older people looking for an electric bike should:

  1. get a step-through frame.  There is no advantage 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 they want their 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 they will encounter decent hills, spend the £300 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

 
 

Recommendation: Gazelle Ultimate C380

 

I settled on the Gazelle Ultimate C380 for £3,599.  Wired magazine says "this is one of the best all-around ebikes [they've] tried", rating it 8 out of 10.

Gazelle Ultimate C380.jpg

It comes with:

  • a step-through frame,

  • a Bosch Performance Line Cruise mid-drive motor,

  • 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 500Wh battery.

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

Alternative:  Gazell Ultimate C8+ Belt (save £500)

 

If you are not particularly interested in the Enviolo hub and higher power motor then you can save £500 by switching to the Gazelle Ultimate C8+ Belt.

Gazelle Ultimate C8 Belt.jpg

It comes with:

  • a step-through frame,

  • a Bosch Active Line Plus mid-drive motor,

  • a Bosch Intuvia controller

  • an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub,

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

  • a 500Wh battery.

The Shimano Nexus 8-speed is an internal gear hub.  To understand its performance, I list a few technical details (that I explain in another article), it has:

  • a decent gear ratio range of 307% (whereas the Enviolo is 380%)

  • an acceptable lowest gear ratio of 1.1, and

  • a disappointing highest gear ratio of 3.4 - meaning that you will find it difficult to go faster than 15.5 mph

Alternative:  Gazell Ultimate C8+ HMB (save £600)

Gazelle Ultimate C8 Chain.jpg

It comes with:

  • a step-through frame,

  • a Bosch Active Line Plus mid-drive motor,

  • a Bosch Intuvia controller

  • an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub,

  • a chain, and

  • a 500Wh battery.

Comments and Questions