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Arthritis is a real pain wherever it crops up in the body. But, for cyclists, arthritis that affects either the joints of the forearms and hands or legs can be the most frustrating and debilitating.
Arthritis can cause many seniors to give up on cycling altogether. That’s a real pity because there are many bikes available these days that can put less stress on the joints affected and allow them to continue cycling for many years to come.
Today, we’re going to look at the various styles of bike that can assist in dealing with the pain of arthritis. For wrist and hand pain, bikes that can help include step-through Dutch-style bicycles, beach cruisers, recumbent bikes and adult tricycles. For leg and hip pain, electric bikes can also give a massive benefit. Along the way I’ll also give some recommendations for my favorite bikes in each of these categories. Let’s dive straight in and take a look at the options.
How to choose a bike for seniors with arthritis
The pain and discomfort caused by arthritis can affect your ability to cycle in a number of different ways. In your arms and hands it can make it sore if your weight is pressing down onto your hands – this is common when you’re on a bike such as a road bike where you sit in a very bent over hunched position. Wrist and hand pain can also make it difficult to operate the brakes and gears, which can be dangerous, and a problem that is just annoying can be made worse when you’re also pushing down on the handlebars.
Leg and hip pain can make it harder to push down on the pedals with the force you need, particularly once the road starts heading up hill.
Unfortunately, when all this happens lots of people feel that they have to give up on their cycling altogether. But, don’t despair! There are plenty of bikes available that can either relieve the pressure on your wrists and hands, or add some extra power to your legs, or even do both jobs at the same time. Let’s take a look at them.
Step-through bike to alleviate wrist pain
These bikes appear under lots of different names. As well as Step-through, they can also be called Low-step, Easy-boarding, Comfort, Ladies or Unisex. Oftentimes manufacturers use more than one name just to make sure they’re getting the point across! And, what’s the point they’re trying to make? Well it’s that these bikes have a different crossbar to the type you’ll see on a ‘standard’ bike with a horizontal crossbar. Ladies or Unisex bikes will have a crossbar that slopes downwards towards the seatpost. Step-through/Easy-boarding/Comfort/Low-step bikes (also known as Dutch style bikes) tend to do away with the crossbar altogether.
This makes the bikes easier to get on to – which is handy. But, from our perspective, the main benefit is that these bikes tend to have a much more upright riding position with the handlebars set higher than the saddle. How does this help? Well, it means that your weight will be balanced on your behind on the bike saddle and not on your arms, wrists and hands. Alleviating hand pain and meaning that you can use all the controls: steering, braking and changing gears.
Beach cruiser to alleviate wrist pain
If you’ve ever ridden a cruiser bike you’ll know that they’re all about style, comfort and ease of operation. Style is important to all cyclists (and you’ll need to be sporting your best sunglasses, obviously) but it’s the second two that are the most critical for us – comfort and ease of operation.
Beach cruiser bike frames are designed so that the riding position is very upright (so you can see where the best beach spots are when you’re pedaling along the promenade) and this relieves pressure on the joints of the wrists and hands. In terms of operation, many cruiser bikes either do away with gears altogether or have a much smaller range. That means your hands and fingers will only be needed for pulling the brakes, not changing gears, which is a much easier operation.
Adult tricycle to alleviate wrist pain
Just like a beach cruiser, adult trikes tend to have an upright or even laidback riding position. This positions the handlebars above the saddle and therefore takes the pressure off your wrists and hands. Great news. You’ll also find lots of adult 3-wheel bikes that have a saddle that incorporates a backrest. This, along with the two rear wheels, really helps take all the pressure from the front to the back of the bike and easing the pain in your fingers.
Recumbent bike to alleviate wrist pain
If you want to go to the ultimate extreme in relieving wrist and hand pain, then you need look no further than recumbent bikes and trikes. Often used in setting land speed records (as they’re more aerodynamic) they’re also very useful for people suffering from arthritis in their hands.
The recumbent frame ensures that all the weight is set back in the bucket-style seat and so your hands are only used to steer and operate the brakes and gears, not to balance. As an aside, that bucket seat is also far easier to perch on than a narrow saddle!
Electric bike to alleviate leg and hip pain
With arthritis in the hips and legs, it can be painful and uncomfortable if you need to push hard on the pedals to propel yourself along. Thankfully, electricity comes to our rescue here. The last few years have seen a huge resurgence in the popularity of cycling and this has almost totally been driven by electric bikes. These bikes have powerful batteries and electric motors that give assistance to you as you pedal. They generally have different levels of assistance and you can toggle between these depending on how fit (or otherwise!) you’re feeling that day. Go for light assistance when you’ve just had your morning oatmeal, and push it up to maximum when you’re looking to overtake that road biker on the hill in front of you.
The start of arthritis can often feel like the end of cycling but that shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be the case. No matter whether you feel the pain and discomfort of this disease in your legs or your hands, there’s a great bike out there which will put the fun back into cycling for you.
Don’t let arthritis, or the wrong style of bike, stop you from doing what you love.
Have fun and keep on cycling.
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