Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about eBikes for People with Parkinson’s… and More

Parkinson's Peloton before starting to ride Iron Horse 2017

Biking has long been recommended for people with Parkinson’s. Regular time on the bike can improve gait, balance, flexibility, motor coordination and strength. Not to mention emotional well-being.

Beyond that, physicians and physical therapists agree that regular exercise can improve memory and thinking and reduce the risk of falls in people with Parkinson’s.

Which is why we’re so excited about the rise in popularity of eBikes and the benefits many in our community experience when riding them.

Over the past few years, we’ve had a lot of people join us for our yearly fundraising rides on their eBikes and many more who are eBike curious and have questions about them. If you’re one of those people, this post is for you. By the end of it, we hope you’ll have all of the information you need to determine if trying one out is the right move for you.

What are the different types of eBikes?

There are two primary types of eBikes: pedalec and throttle.

A pedelec, or pedal assist eBike, is the kind that most mimics a regular bike. You engage the motor by pedaling and you can adjust the level of assistance from low to high. This gives you as much help as you might need for when you’re simply rolling along, when you want to go faster or when you need a push going up a hill.

A throttle eBike can be activated even if you aren’t pedaling. You could cruise all around town without moving your legs at all.

Most eBike brands carry pedal assist eBikes. Throttle eBikes are less popular because they're classified differently and are therefore regulated differently, meaning they aren’t allowed on multi-use paths and some even have an age requirement. They are more scooter than bike.

If you’re looking for something that's as close to riding a regular bicycle as possible, the pedal assist eBike is your best bet.

Joe Williams and Jonathan Bell
Joe Williams and Jonathan Bell

How far can eBikes go on a battery?

The motor and the battery are what allow you to go faster, farther and more pleasurably down the road (or bike path). But they come at a cost. They add weight to the bike (plus/minus 12lbs) and you have to remember to charge it.

Right now you can get anywhere from 25-70 miles on a single charge; however, a lot depends on the wattage of your battery and how much assistance you’re using.

Common sense dictates that you test out how much battery you use on a typical ride. You should be able to accomplish all of your errands or bicycle rides without fully draining your battery. If you tend to use a lot of assist, and are worried about being stranded on long rides with a dead battery, consider investing in a spare battery—mindful that you’ll need to bring it with you. (Because of the added weight involved, we don’t recommend this.) Some eBikes feature a regeneration setting, where the battery recharges itself. It's an interesting concept; however, in our experience, using this setting adds considerable drag to the motor and is only practical for long descents.

eBike rider Davis Phinney Foundation

How fast can eBikes go?

US Government regulations require a top speed of no more than 28mph (while in the EU the limit is 18mph). In general, eBikes vary between 20-28mph and above that speed the motor shuts off. You can still ride the bike faster than those speeds, just without motorized assistance.

Are eBikes safe?

eBikes carry many of the same risks that riding a regular bike does. In addition, the weight of the bike can cause concern for people with Parkinson’s. Despite how fabulous the technology is, eBikes are heavier than a standard bicyle—about 50 lbs—making them unwieldy to mount and dismount, as well as transport.

In addition to all of the safety guidelines you would follow if you were riding a regular bike, when riding an eBike we recommend:

  • Mind your med schedule - Typically people with Parkinson’s have on and “off times” during the day. Choose a time when you know you’ll be at your best for the day so that you’re able to react and respond more quickly to anything that comes up when you’re on the bike.

  • Pay even more attention to traffic - Don’t assume a driver will anticipate where you’re going or how fast you’re going as some aren’t accustomed to the speeds people can quickly reach on eBikes.

  • Lighten up - Most eBikes already come with lights (an added benefit of having a big battery), but wearing bright colors and having reflective strips on your clothing, to increase visibility, is always a good idea.

  • Brake - Many current eBikes come equipped with disc brakes, which give more braking power than traditional brakes, and, as the weight of the eBike can make stopping and dismounting more of a challenge, that’s a plus. Practice your braking on a quiet street or road before you venture out into more congested areas.

  • Remember, you’re still on a bicycle and accidents can happen. Please mind all of the rules of the road just as you would on any other bike.

Jonathan Bell
Jonathan Bell

How much do eBikes cost?

There are three primary factors to consider when determining how much an eBike will cost: the type, the quality and the components you choose for your eBike.

When it comes to the type of eBike you want, there’s everything from road and mountain eBikes to hybrids, commuters, cruisers and folding eBikes. The type you choose will impact the price.

Two items that make eBikes expensive are the motor and the battery. And since they’re a key part of the riding experience, it’s best not to cut corners there.

Upgrades like better braking, shifting and an overall better ride are a function of the components you want on your eBike. They can make a big difference, but they’re not important to everyone.

With that said, we know many people with Parkinson’s who no longer feel safe driving and have traded in their cars for eBikes. When that’s the case, an eBike and its upkeep may end up being an economically smart move.

And fortunately, the eBike market is one of the fastest growing segments of the bicycle industry and that means there will only be more choices and better, less expensive models available in the near future. For now, you can expect to pay between $2000-$5000 for a higher end dependable, sturdy, fun and safe eBike.

If you’re not ready to spend that kind of money, you aren’t looking at an eBike as a replacement for your car and you don’t plan on riding it every day, there are many models that come in under a thousand dollars and they might be a good place to start. If you spend a few months on that bike and fall in love with the ease, workout, freedom and joy that come with it, you can always upgrade later.

Are eBikes difficult to maintain?

If you know your way around a regular bike, and a computer, you’ll probably be able to maintain your eBike without much outside help. However, if that’s not in your wheelhouse, it’s best to find a bike shop you trust (hopefully the place where you purchased your eBike).

When you purchase your eBike, make sure the people at the shop fit you to it so it’s as comfortable and easy to ride as possible. And request a tutorial on the care and maintenance of your bike. Ask them about the most common problems people have, signs to look for that indicate it’s time to bring it in for a tune-up and how to fix common problems if something happens when you’re alone on a ride.

Ask them about their bike maintenance packages and if they have the equivalent of something like Apple Care where scheduled upkeep is free, or at a minimum cost, for a period of time.

No matter what, don’t purchase your eBike or leave the store with it until you’re confident you have everything you need to be safe and enjoy your eBiking experience.

eBike rider Davis Phinney Foundation

Where can you ride eBikes?

Every state is different. Your best bet is to check out the guide for your state and read through it carefully before you research eBikes. Most cities and states regulate pedal assist bikes in the same way they do regular bikes, but it’s best to confirm before you make an investment.

It would also be a good idea to check if your city or county has special eBike regulations for Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices (OPDMDs) for people with mobility disabilities. These regulations often allow people with Parkinson’s onto otherwise motor restricted paths and trails.

Is eBiking good exercise?

Absolutely. Since you alone determine how much pedal assist you choose, you can make it as challenging or as easy as you want.

If you use your eBike for commuting or to run errands, you may choose to give yourself more assistance (i.e. more power) since you’re trying to make the best and most efficient use of your time. If you’re aiming for the other end of the spectrum, to do a rigorous event like Ride the Rockies or complete the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, you can get just as much of a sense of accomplishment, not to mention a workout, as everyone else out there.

Most of us will aim for something in between, but for all people with Parkinson’s, raising your heart rate is just one of the many benefits. eBiking can help you improve balance, gait, strength, thinking, memory, cognition and all types of movement. More importantly, it can give you a sense of freedom, adventure and joy that can do wonders for your emotional health. And remember, you can always depend on the motor to get you home on a difficult day. Add those benefits up and it feels like a ‘win’ to us.

Tom Palizzi and Polly Dawkins
Tom Palizzi, Davis Phinney Foundation Ambassador and Polly Dawkins, Executive Director of the Davis Phinney Foundation

Some of the questions we get about eBikes have a common thread: will this help me, make me feel better … is it worth it? The people with Parkinson’s we know who ride eBikes say definitively so. 

Publications related to this work:

Read about exercise adherence and sustainment in Parkinson’s

Read about how high-intensity exercise slows Parkinson's progression

Read about how exercise is medicine for the brain

Video: Cycling for freezing gait in Parkinson's

Video: Parkinson's disease treatment through exercise

Have an eBike (or any bike) and want to join us for one of our upcoming fundraising rides?

Whether you want a multi-day climbing adventure through the Rocky Mountains, to try and beat a train in Durango, a 7-day ride across Iowa, a 79-mile road ride or you just want to go to a party and watch other people ride, we’ve got something for you. And your eBike.

Register for a Ride With Us Today

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Comments (9)

I’ve had PD for at least 16 years. I ride a recumbent bike at our wellness center at high RPM several days a week. But I’m more excited about our tandem bike that’s being built for us. My husband will add e-assist. Even better the bike folds so we can place it on the bike rack when we travel tough for me to bike as a single – something about multitasking steering, shifting, braking, and balancing while pedaling

Alex Reinhardt

Thanks for commenting, Marty! Many people within the Parkinson’s community are purchasing eBikes and adopting a more active lifestyle. We’ve heard many stories of people working with their local cycling shops to custom-make their bikes to tailor to their needs, just like you! You can learn more about the benefits of e-bikes by visiting the blog post How an eBike Can Bring New Life to Your Life

Balance is difficult on a bicycle. Any comments on a 3-wheeler?

Alex Reinhardt

Three wheel bicycles or trikes are a very popular option amongst the cycling community. One of the main reasons for selecting this type of bike is that it offers a very good stable platform to ride on.

Some of the differences for any recumbent versus a standard bicycle are:
A unique body position compared to a bicycle
A much lower visibility profile to traffic
Different handling due to the body positioning

Try finding a bike shop near you that offers multiple styles of recumbent bikes, so you are able to find the bike that works best for you. Ask lots of questions of the staff at the shop and let them know why you are looking into a recumbent or eBike; most bike mechanics will take the time to make sure your purchase is the best option for you.

Also, consider reaching out to an Ambassador ! John Alexander, Tom Palizzi and Brian Reedy are trike riders!

Recumbent trikes are an excellent alternative for people living with Parkinson’s! Comfortable and safe, they are fun to ride and about the same cost as an eBike or a good quality bicycle. Riding across Iowa or on the trails in my neighborhood, I absolutely love mine!

A very thoughtful guide. Thank you for sharing.

I have a recumbent three wheeler that is farther off the ground so more visible than a standard recumbent. I also made a flag that can be seen well from a distance with bright colored flags and streamers that fly from it. The amazing thing about riding it is besides it being fun it relieves my sciatic pain. Has anyone else experienced that?.

Thank you for sharing how you stay safe and visible, Judy! As a cyclist it’s important to be visible on the road so you can continue to enjoy taking those spins.

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