So, I’m in my 50’s, and I’m a little slower than I use to be (I’m young at heart though 😊). I have a full suspension MTB, but as I plan for mountain biking in the future I started wondering:
What is the best mountain bike for older riders?
The best mountain bike for older riders depends on factors like fitness, riding ability and overall health. In many cases, a dual suspension mountain bike works best. It might be the most economic choice as well. Other options are fat bikes and electric mountain bikes.
Feeling your age?
When it comes to age and mountain bikes, the question isn’t so easy to answer. I’ve ridden with some veterans that could out-ride entire groups of twentysomethings. So if you’re fit and experienced, nothing will hold you back regardless of your age.
Comfort is critical for any mountain bike. I’ve got a couple articles that detail ways to make you MTB way more comfortable.
- 10 Ways to Make a Mountain Bike More Comfortable
- How to Make Mountain Bike Handlebars More Comfortable
Still, as you get older, factors might appear that will change how you ride. For instance, if you develop arthritis in the hands or wrists, you’re going to need a more cushy ride.
The best news is that for nearly any rider, the industry has decided to offer real trail bike solutions that can transport you deep into the woods and back. Developments like fat bike and even electronic bikes are the real deal.
Consider your fitness and be realistic – it’s not about the bike
Now this goes both ways. If you are still hammering with the young dudes, then keep on with similar gear. You can still go with a durable and light bike that can handle anything the trail throws at you. There are plenty of older riders out there that focus on performance only.
The flip side is if your body is telling you to change your riding style, then listen. You can still have fun, even more so since you’re riding smart. Don’t try to keep up with the millennials and suffer. If mountain biking brings anything to your life it should be joy.
In other words, the bike you choose starts with where you are physically and mentally. So pick the ride that will enhance your experience, not make you suffer.
Dual suspension – the gold standard
When it comes to comfort and versatility, the standard 29 inch dual suspension bike is hard to beat. That being said, if you notice a decrease in your reflexes and ability to handle rough terrain, then a dualie might not be for you.
Dual suspension is for riders who are still fairly fit and can handle the twichiness of regular diameter MTB tires. Also, if you are having trouble with climbs, then a dual suspension bike might not be the best answer.
You’ll hear the word “Travel” all over in this article. If you’d like to learn what is means and how much should you have. Check out this article from DIY MTB: What is Travel on a Mountain Bike and is More Better?
For most riders over 50 years old, a solid dual suspension will continue to suit their needs as long as health is not a major factor. There are ways to smooth out the ride though.
On a budget tweaks for older riders
- Swap out handlebar stem – Install a stem that moves the handlebar higher. This might sacrifice handling, but it will improve comfort. Amazon sells an adjustable stem that changed my comfort – FOR THE BETTER. Called Wake MTB Stem (link to Amazon) you’ll be able to raise the stem which reduces strain on your neck and shoulders.
- Suspension seatpost – If you have a hardtail, a seatpost with a shock will take the edge off enough for now.
- Get fatter tires – Find the widest tires that will fit your frame. This setup is more forgiving over bumpy terrain. Want to read more about installing wider tires? Check this article I’ve written: Can I Put Wider Tires on My MTB?
- Decrease tire pressure – If you deflate a bit, you may experience more control. This might slow you down some, but not as much as crashing.
- Change the seat – It might be worth trying a wider saddle. Still, if you’re not having major butt pain, a seat change might not make a difference.
- Change the grips to something with more support to lessen hand and wrist strain. I really like the Ergon GS1 Grips (Link to Amazon for Reviews)
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Disc brakes are better
Now, before I move forward to entirely new bike categories, I think it’s worth mentioning the advantages of disc brakes. They are much stronger than V or cantilever brakes. If your grip is weakened due to arthritis, then discs are the way to go.
Before we move onto other solutions, let’s look at some quick fixes that might help in the meantime. Remember, a full bike upgrade isn’t cheap. Here are some hacks that might get you through until the next season at least.
In my opinion, even for the fittest pro rider, disc brakes are superior due to performance.
What about fat bikes for older riders?
You’ve certainly seen these machines rolling around out there. They are the fat bikes, thus named due to the fat tires they carry. The tire width can vary from 4-5 inches which is a whole lot of rubber. This translates into much more stability and traction.
For older riders, the bumps take their toll on your body more than they used to. Fat bikes absorb bumps and ripples much better. This means you might even return to riding terrain that you have been avoiding. Even many potholes are reduced to nothing with fat tire bikes.
Plus, in soft dirt, sand, mud or snow fat bikes are unbeatable. They can float over these surfaces better than anything. Still, if it’s really thick sticky mud, you might just end up with a huge collection of mud on fat tires.
Aren’t fat bikes harder to pedal?
Yes, the larger tires are heavier and require more energy to rotate. So if you’re very fast and climb like a goat, fat tires might feel sluggish to you. But if you’re that fast, age probably isn’t holding you back yet.
In general, they say it’s about 20-30 percent harder to pedal a fat bike. That’s a fair trade though if it lets you keep riding or regain terrain you lost years ago.
Fat bikes compensate for slow reflexes
Fat tires roll over nearly anything. Now, instead of having to steer around or finesse your way over obstacles, you just roll over. Nice. Now that I think about it, fat bikes might be good for beginners too.
Be patient with tire pressure on fat tire bikes
Those big tires can be like a bouncy balloon if the pressure isn’t just right, so be patient. Take a pump and gauge with you on your first few rides and focus just on tire pressure. Invest the time to dial it in right, and from there you’ll enjoy the ride more.
What about forks and suspension for fat bikes? Do you need them?
As always in the realm of MTB, it depends. If you are riding fairly mellow terrain, then the big tires are all the suspension you need. But if your still hitting more intense trails, especially downhill, then a front fork makes it even more plush.
Make sure you get a fat bike specific fork though, like the RockShox Bluto. Ironically, the fork looks skinny since it needs to fit the big tires. Still, the Bluto performance is reportedly stellar.
Upper back and neck pain
If you’re a mature rider and have back and neck pain issues, then a fat bike with suspension fork is your best bet. You’ll be less tense since the beast sucks up most small-moderate sized bumps. The fat tires plus fork combo are like a magic carpet ride. So relax.
Read my article on what bikes are best for back pain and 8 ways to feel more comfortable HERE
What about electric mountain bikes? Are they good for older riders?
Here we get into some philosophical debates. For instance, is a bike that uses external power still a bike? Does it take away from the outdoor experience? Are e-bikes just a gimmick? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but the e-mountain bike industry is alive and thriving.
How do e-mountain bikes work?
The e-mountain bike has an electric rechargeable motor. This provides power in various ways, such as:
- Throttle – You don’t have to pedal at all. Push the throttle and it goes.
- Cadence sensor – The motor works only when you pedal. Stop pedaling and it turns off. It can be manually adjusted.
- Torque sensor – Automatically adjusts to pedaling effort. Pedal harder and you get more power.
Different models might have a combination of these types of assist. I would argue that torque sensor models are the best way to maintain the true spirit of MTBing.
Help when you need it using an E-MTB
If you are getting older and don’t have the same stamina as before, e-mountain bikes are legit if you ask me. You can still get the full MTB experience, including pedaling, but you get help where you need it.
I would even argue that MTBs outfitted with throttles are okay for those who have limited cardiovascular capacity. Still, if you end up stuck in the woods, make sure you have a backup plan to get out.
Do e-mountain bikes ride like a regular bike?
The e-MTB has come a long way. For instance, Specialized manufactures an entire Turbo line of e-mountain bikes, and their owners, young and old, love them. It’s like having super-powers on a bike.
These machines are obviously heavier at around 47 pounds. They handle very much like a regular MTB, but in very tight singletrack or in the air you’ll notice the weight difference. Still, by all accounts, these bikes are a blast.
Read about the average weight of a mountain bike in this article. – How much does a typical mountain bike weight?
A word to the purists
I get it. Biking is all about getting out into the wilderness under your own power. I’m not sure if I would get an e-bike while I could still pedal my way home. On the other hand, I understand the fun factor: more power = more fun. Still, I’m not going to hit the trails on a motorcycle either.
If a rider reaches the age or has a health issue where they need help to stay on the trail, who am I to deny them? I’d rather see them out there than sitting at home. And when I get to that age, the tech will be even better, lighter and smarter. So I guess my bottom line is, bring it on.
On final word. Where was all the complaining when mountain bikers were using chairlifts and shuttles to climb? Is there really a big difference?
Are there dual suspension e-mountain bikes?
Yes. There are plenty of them. Specialized and Trek seem to be leading the industry at this time, but there’s a lot of competition. This niche has been heating up rapidly. It could be that baby boomers are getting older, but they still want to ride.
The e-bike boom also has tons of commuter, rail trail and hybrid options out there.
Ultra-super-plush fat bike dual suspension e-bike
Inevitably, this evolution was bound to happen. By maxing out everything, you can get a fat tire, dualie with an electric motor. Now the tires might not be as fat as the fattest fat bikes, but they are certainly wide enough.
Is this kind of monster bike going too far? Is it really a stripped down motorcycle? Well not really, since most of these models are pedal assist, not throttle. Plus, they don’t make noise and they look very much like a traditional dual suspension bike.
Again, for the older rider, it’s a matter of preference. This kind of ride might even keep those with more serious arthritis issues on the trail. Still, if you fall, no amount of electric assistance or suspension will help. So keep the rubber side down.
Other health issues to consider for older mountain bikers
As you age, think about these factors when choosing a mountain bike:
- Cardiovascular fitness – Consult with your doctor about this. You don’t want to have a problem in the forest. If you have heart disease, flat trails with an electric motor assist or throttle is probably best.
- Arthritis – I already mentioned this several times. Fat tire and suspension are key.
- Reflexes – Some neurologic health issues might affect you here. Go for fat bikes that suck up bumps when you can’t react as fast.
- Knee pain – This can be tricky. Pain might be due to poor set up, so check pedal and seat position. Check out more on knee pain with this article – How to Reduce Knee Pain Mountain Biking
- Back pain – Check stem angle. Consider swapping out for a more upright position. Also, bumpy rides can cause muscle aches. Suspension and fatter tires can smooth out the ride.
- Osteoporosis – The thinning of bones is more common in older women, but it can occur in men too. It’s something to consider when thinking about falls. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, avoid technical trails and high speed downhill runs.
Stay on the bike – it keeps you young
No matter what your age, do your best to stay pedaling. There is tremendous pressure to stop exercising as you age, but this only makes you get older faster. In many countries, people keep riding their bikes well into their 60s and 70s, and maybe some even into their 80s.
Now you might not be bombing thick singletrack at the older end of the spectrum, but you can still pedal on rail trails or bike paths. Plus, with the bikes we talked about in this article, you can stay on the trial longer than ever. Giddyup!
Hannah Finchamp is a professional mountain biker for the Orange Seal Pro Team. When she isn’t riding her own bike she is coaching others to reach their goals as a Certified USA Cycling Coach and Certified Athletic Trainer. To learn more about the author please visit www.hannahfinchamp.com and follow Hannah on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hannah_finchamp/?hl=en