Some people struggle to cycle because they are unfit, but have the ability to get fitter. They will find a lot of useful information in this article, but the people this is really aimed at are those of us who have physical conditions that will not get better in the medium or long term either because of age or for some other reason. There are also people who do not have the time to get fit.
There are specialists in cycling for people with disabilities, and if you have a serious disability this may be the way forward. This article suggests where you might find them. But we are talking serious money here.
You may be thinking about electric bikes and I have written an article about these here. But there are a number of issues. The price can be well over £2k, the batteries eventually need replacing, at costs of up to £500, and the bike is very heavy- typically 23 kilos, which is not fun if the battery runs out. There are also issues about the material in the batteries and how they are made.
Bike design goes in fashions. Its far worse than motor cars. For a number of years we were all supposed to be racing cyclists, and bikes were nearly all designed accordingly. Then we were all supposed to want to be mountain bike riders. Now there are things called gravel bikes for all those people who want to ride on gravel, (whoever they are). Commuter bikes (whatever they are) are also a thing.
If you go into a bike shop and want something different then you get a lot of scratching of heads.
But one company, Islabikes, has broken the mould and set about designing bikes “for the over 65s” under the names, Joni, Janis and Jimi, after people the over 65s will remember.
- Weight from just 9.1.kg with mudguards
- Low stepover makes getting on and off easy
- Light action Grip Shift gears and short reach brake levers are easy to use with limited hand movement
- Very low gearing making climbs more achievable
- Size specific low Q-factor cranks for comfortable pedalling
- Easy-Tyre-Change rims make puncture repair much easier
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the low gearing.
Gears and Penny farthings
The good old British way of recording gears goes back to the penny farthing bicycle. You may be aware that you pedalled using pedals directly attached to the front wheel on these. If the wheel was large, you would find it hard to pedal, but if you managed it, you could go quite fast. If it was smaller, things were easier but you went slower. The size of the front wheel determined your gearing.
British bicycle gears are still measured like that. A bike you might buy in the shop will probably have a range that goes from 100 inches to perhaps 29 inches- equivalent to a penny farthing front wheel size.
Bicycle gearing is determined by cogwheels on the front and the back of the bike chain. The cogwheels at the front typically have between 32 and 46 cogs. If you have a bike you can count them. The wheels at the back might have between 11 and 30 cogs. To go slowly and easily you adjust your gears to use the smallest cogwheel on the front and the largest on the back. So it is important what size these are.
When you know how many cogs you have on the smallest cogwheel at the front and the largest one at the back you can use this site to work out your lowest gear. You will also need to know your wheel and tyre size. This is written on the side of your tyres.
The front cogwheels are known as the chainrings or chainset. The rear ones are usually called the cassette, although the site calls them the cog.
WHAT IS A DESIREABLE LOWEST GEAR?
Travelman has a 16 inch lowest gear on his bike and can get up any hill in Lewes. Any lower than this and you tend to fall over as you are going so slowly. He would not settle for less than 20 inches, though you might settle for 22 inches if you are not worried about going up the steepest hills.
The Islabikes Jimi has a front chainring with 26 cogs and a largest chainring of 40 cogs, which gives a lowest gear of about 17. It looks like the Janis can be similarly specified. Both bikes use a sunrace 10 speed cassette with a range of 11-40 cogs
By contrast a typical road bike might have a lowest bottom gear of 29 inches, over 150% of what Travelman would like.
Mountain bikes tend to have lower gears for obvious reasons, although the cheaper ones can disappoint. Chainrings of 26 cogs are not uncommon and cassettes can go up to 46 cogs. If you are not going to use your bike off road much you need to check whether you can fit thinner tyres and whether or not you can fit mudguards and a carrier if you want them.
CONVERTING YOUR EXISTING BIKE
It is probable that your existing bike can be converted to make its gears lower. This has the advantage of keeping a bike that you may have grown fond of and which may fit you, and saving money.
But there are limits unless you are prepared for major changes. It may not be possible to reduce your smallest front chain ring to smaller than 32 cogs and many ordinary bike rear derailleurs (the device that changes gears for you) cannot handle cogwheels of larger than 36 teeth on the back. But even this arrangement would give you a lowest gear of about 22 inches. This sort of conversion might be done for around £70.
But Travelman got his existing bike converted to something with a bottom gear of 16 inches. This was part of a renovation that left pretty much only the frame, wheels and brakes from the old bike. If you are prepared to go this far make sure that you let the bike shop know. If the bike shop says that they can’t get this kind of reduction get a second opinion. The price may compare favourably with buying a new bike.
*Islabikes also makes electric bikes. If tempted be aware that they have a number of unusual features. They are very light be electric bike standards at around 14kilos, but they only have 250wh batteries (400 would be more usual) and the battery cannot be removed. This means that you cannot take it off of the bike to charge it, nor carry a spare in case the battery runs out.