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What to Consider when Buying an Electric Bike When you have Arthritis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about a quarter of the population in this country suffers from some form of arthritis. If you are part of that number, then your doctor may recommend low-impact exercise like biking to help keep you moving.

The problem with bicycling for exercise is two-fold. First, it is easy to forget it is a round trip. People get excited to ride and end up going out further than they should, so they struggle to get back home.

Second, there are the elements you have no control over, like hills, bad terrain, and wind. Unless you are a professional athlete, they can make bike riding hard.

Now tack on a physical barrier like arthritis, and suddenly, biking may seem too much of a challenge. The good news is it isn’t – not if you buy smart.

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, give you a way to manage those challenges successfully. It is essential to get the right kind of e-bike, though. What should you look for in an e-bike if you have arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

People tend to associate arthritis with getting old, but it is a condition that can strike at any age. Arthritis is an umbrella word that covers many different forms of this illness. It is also the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Put simply; arthritis means there is swelling and pain in one or more joints. What causes that inflammation will vary based on the form of arthritis. For example, osteoarthritis, the most common form, occurs when the cartilage in the joint breaks down. Cartilage protects the ends of the bones that connect to form the joint. When it is gone, the bones rub together, leading to inflammation and pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain.

Symptoms of Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis will vary based on the form of the condition you have, but most people experience:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness when they move
  • Swelling in and around the joint
  • Redness around a joint
  • Reduced range of motion (how well you can move the joint)

Surprisingly, exercise can help those with arthritis, with a doctor’s, approval of course. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joint, reducing some of the stress. Choosing the proper exercise is essential, though. You don’t want something that will cause further damage to the joint. That is where bike riding comes into play.

Bike Riding and Arthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, biking is good for your joints. One benefit is the continuous motion of the pedals. That movement helps keep joints lubricated.

At the same time, biking is a low-impact exercise. This means it doesn’t jar the joints like running would, for instance. Low-impact movement like riding a bike puts less stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips.

A 2020 research study indicated that a 6-week cycling and educational intervention for individuals with hip osteoarthritis resulted in increased quality of life and functioning, as well as reduced discomfort associated with osteoarthritis.

The trick for many arthritis patients is to find the right bike for their lifestyle and fitness level. That is where an electric bike comes in handy.

What Is an Electric Bike?

As the name suggests, an electric bike is one that has a motor. There are different varieties of electric bikes. They come with different-sized motors and batteries, too. The placement of the motor and battery can vary from model to model, as well. For all practical purposes, though, an electric bike is just a bike – one able to give you a little extra push when you need it.

How E-bikes Work

The first step to finding an e-bike is determining what mode of operation best fits your needs. There are three basic formats:

  • Pedal-only – You pedal this bike normally.
  • Pedal-Assist – The motor comes on to give you a little extra power when you need it. That way, you get the same movement for your joints but without the stress of having to pedal hard.
  • Electric-Only -- Some electric bikes will operate whether you pedal or not. They work much like a moped. Using an electric-only bike means you ride the bike normally, but you can turn on the motor and stop pedaling if you get tired.

Any one of these operating modes means you can ride even if you have arthritis in your knees, back, hips or hands. But check with your doctor first. There may be other factors about your health that means that bike riding, even on an e-bike, is not your right choice.

Finding the Right Electric Bike For Someone With Arthritis

Finding the best bike for a person with arthritis has less to do with the mode of operation and more to do with the bike design. It also matters where arthritis affects you. For example, someone with arthritis in the hands might pay more attention to the design of the handlebar than how it pedals.

Things to Consider

The first thing you want to do is work with a retailer that can help you customize a bike for your needs. Here are some other things to consider when e-bike shopping.

Bike Weight

Bike weight is vital because a heavy bike is more difficult to both move and ride, especially e-bikes where the motor and battery add to the weight of the frame. Manufacturers also reinforce the structure of the e-bike to carry the motor and battery, which makes it heavier. An e-bike can be as much as 20 pounds heavier than a traditional bicycle.

The Handlebars

Even if arthritis doesn’t affect your hands, it is still wise to look for an ergonomically-designed handlebar. A wide handlebar allows for better weight distribution. A flat handlebar will let you sit upon the bike instead of crouching to reach curved grips. The flat design means they are better for those with arthritis in just about any joint, including your back, hips, and knees.

Consider the grip on the handlebar, too. You can swap them out to better fit your needs. For example, you can install grips with ergonomic palm support.

Riding Position

One of the most critical decisions you’ll make when purchasing an electric bike is riding position because how you sit matters when it comes to the stress you put on different areas of your body. If the saddle sits too far back, you put additional pressure on your hands. If it is too high, your hips suffer the most. Too low, and you stress the knees joints.

Frame Style and Height

Along those same lines, the height and style of the frame matter, too. Ideally, someone with arthritis would choose an ergonomic frame with a low step-through. Having to lift your leg up and over a tall frame will put pressure on your weight-bearing joints.

Letting a bike professional size the frame for you will eliminate some problems. They will ensure that you don’t overstretch critical joints getting on and off the e-bike. The lowest possible height, along with an adjustable seat, will help protect your back, hips, and legs. However, your feet need to stay flat on the pedals as your ride. The pedals should also have plenty of room to rotate.

The Motor

One of the most confusing choices consumers have to make when buying an e-bike is motor size. Having the most powerful motor isn’t necessary for most people. A 250-watt motor rides plenty fast. You’ll only get a little faster speed from a 500-watt motor, and it will add to the weight of the e-bike.

The higher voltage motor (500-watt) will allow you to go farther on your battery than the 250-watt. If you plan to ride long distances, then the bigger motor might be your best option.

E-Bike Styles Right for Those With Arthritis

There are two styles that tend to work well for those with arthritis.

Step-Through E-bike

Step-through e-bikes allow you to ride in an upright position, plus you mount and dismount without having to raise your leg over a bar. The curved frame means you simply step through it to get on the electric bike.

They work well for the rider that communities daily through stop-and-go traffic, too. The design makes it easy to jump off the seat to support the frame at a light and then get back on quickly.

Cruiser E-Bike

Riding a cruiser e-bike is an excellent way to relieve pressure on your joints. The design allows the bike to handle better, as well. The bike's seat location lets you sit entirely upright without putting any weight on your wrists and elbows. This removes much of the pressure from common trouble spots.

Tips For Riding an E-Bike When You Have Arthritis

It’s crucial for e-bike riders with arthritis to keep in mind that their joints may have limitations and work within them. That starts with you asking your doctor or physical therapist if biking is a practical choice for you. If given the go-ahead, then follow some riding tips to get the most out of the experience:

  • Warm-up – Start your ride slow to give your joints a chance to warm up. You might even do some stretches and range of motion exercises before you get on the bike.
  • Ride smart – That means wearing the right protective gear, such as a helmet, sunglasses, and bright clothing. Also, wear gear that might help with your arthritis, such as riding gloves.
  • Start small and build – As with any exercise, it’s important to train your body. That’s true whether your bike has a motor or not. Start with short rides and a slower speed and build up to longer and faster trips.
  • Pay attention to pain signals – Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop. This is where having an electric bike really can help. If you feel an ache in your joints, get off the bike and walk around for a minute or two.
  • Don’t be afraid to use that motor if you feel intense pain or if you are straining to keep the bike moving. If your arthritis is severe, plan to use the motor on hills, at least at first. This will give you time to build up the muscles around the affected joints, so you are less likely to damage them.
  • It’s okay to take bad days off, too. If your joints hurt, give yourself a day to rest them. Listen to your healthcare team when it comes to exercise and stretching. They may recommend specific exercises to get you ready to ride. They may also have particular stretches for you to do before and after your ride.

Work With a Bike Specialist

Probably the most essential step you can make when buying an electric bike is to work with a retailer that offers customization. This will allow you to adjust the bike as needed and to pick out features that support your joint health. A few poor choices can be all it takes to damage your joints or even just to make riding your e-bike more difficult.

At Sixthreezero, we offer customized fitting the help you find the best electric bike. Our experts are on hand to answer all your questions about frame design, size, and how to get the most from your new e-bike. Check out our website today and find out more about e-bikes.


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