For an increasingly older population, a leisurely bicycle ride may be a passion of the past.
But it doesn't have to be.
Stiff joints and extra pounds make it difficult and even painful for many people to swing aboard a bike for a late-afternoon ride or trip to the store.
One answer is a little-known modification that has been on the market for a decade: a U-frame bike. It looks like the old-fashioned girls bike, with a deep dip in the cross bar. The U-frame design, also often called a step-through bike, is easier to mount; the rider has a lower bar to swing his or her leg over.
A number of manufacturers make U-framed, step-through bikes including Biria USA, Kettler, Breeze and Pashley (England's oldest established bikemaker). Prices start at $599 and go up depending on style, number of gears and metals. Electric step-through bikes can start at just under $4,000.
The Easy Boarding Bicycle by Biria is perhaps the most popular step-through model. Its U-frame dips to just half a foot above the ground, and the pedals are set behind the frame, allowing the rider to sit upright as he or she pedals, a feature that sets it apart from the dozens of designs found online. The Biria bike also has a deeper U-frame — necessitating the shortest stepup — than other models.
For Patrick Gordon, a retired securities industry consultant, the Biria bicycle is the right ride for his time in Wimauma. There was a time when Gordon, 66, thought nothing of putting 20 or more miles a day on a sports bike through the streets of Boston.
But down here, "in these gated communities, I can ride it on the road or along the walking paths, so that's kind of nice."
"You don't have to worry about your sense of balance," he explains. "You just get on and pedal away."
"Comfort bikes" — on which you sit upright and usually have handle-grip shifters, shock-absorbing seat post, adjustable handlebars and wider, padded seats — have easy access and make getting on the bike comfortable, too.
The bicycle's structure, with a center bar just 6 inches off the ground, like a very low-slung, old-fashioned girls bike, allows the rider to step through the bike and sit on the cushioned seat. The frame is made of lightweight aluminum tubing and allows the rider to sit upright.
Aaron Robinson, a sales associate at University Bicycle Center in Tampa, said the bike is easy to ride as well as easy to climb on. "When you get on, you're sitting in an upright position," he explained. "You're not leaning forward.
"When people come into the shop, the first thing out of their mouths is, 'I want a bike I can sit upright on.' " On a conventional bike, where the rider is forced to lean forward on the handlebars, older hands, wrists and arms that support the body's weight become sore after a half-hour or so, he said. Sitting upright eliminates that pressure.
"It can make the difference between riding a bike and not riding a bike," Robinson said.
The bicycle can also be an easier ride for people who are overweight but want to ride a bike to lose weight, Robinson said.
For a veteran bicyclist like Gordon, downsizing from a sporty 20-speed bike to one with three gears is a natural process for the rural rides of Wimauma.
"It's an ideal bike for seniors," Gordon said.
Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in Seminole. He can be reached at [email protected]