The unlikely way e-bikes could transform how we age

E-bikes are helping keep seniors young and, in some instances, even alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

BY EILLIE ANZILOTTI9 MINUTE READ

[Photo: Getty Images]

Last year, Miryam Liberman retired from her internal medicine practice in Westlake Village, California, where she had worked for more than 30 years. But before she left, Liberman, 65, was issuing subtle prescriptions to her patients by example. Every day, she would commute back and forth to her office, over 12 miles away from where she lives, on an electric bicycle. Doing so improved her health and quality of life so much that she started to tell her older patients to do the same, and some of them now ride e-bikes, too.

Not only did the pain she lived with from a car crash over 20 years ago subside, the bike grew to fit in all parts of her life. “It wasn’t just the bike in getting to work, it was the bike in going shopping, in meeting up with friends, in going to the movies,” Liberman says. “And I started to see things I’d never seen before in my community; I could literally smell the flowers because there was no closed window of an air-conditioned car. It opens you up to your community, your body, to other friends, to continuing to learn.”

Liberman is not alone. There’s growing interest among older Americans in cycling: Between 1995 and 2009, the number of people aged 60 to 79 who bike increased by 320%, and the recent boom in electric bicycle technology is creating more opportunities for older Americans to consider biking as a mode of transportation. E-bike sales are growingacross demographics, and bike-share companies like Motivate and Jump have rolled out e-assist versions of their bikes in the last year. E-bikes are especially capturing the older market, many of whom have found that e-bikes enable them to ride much later in life than they previously imagined. That’s because the extra push from the motor makes pedaling far less strenuous than traditional bikes. The Seattle-based e-bike company Rad Power Bikes has found that 82% of its customer base falls between the ages of 45 and 84.

Those numbers may only grow. Right now, the proportion of Americans over the age of 65 hovers around 15%; by the year 2040, one in five Americans will fall into that category. While not a complete solution–cities and communities still must provide robust and accessible public transportation and ride-hailing for people for whom biking is not an option–e-bikes are increasingly a promising transportation method for older Americans. They encourage an active lifestyle, which is crucial for supporting overall health and may even alleviate symptoms of later-in-life diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And as e-bikes make it easier for older people to get around, they might, in turn, urge cities and communities to implement better, more people-centric designs to support them–which in turn could benefit all of us now and as we age.

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