Electric bike sales are soaring thanks to older riders – here’s how to join in

Get outside with an electric mountain bike.

There’s a quiet revolution taking place in the cycling world – and it’s being led by older riders. 

Electric bikes – or ebikes – were very much a ‘specialist’ buy before the pandemic, but the sudden focus on fitness that lockdown brought meant sales went through the roof and in 2022 alone, more than 155,000 were sold in the UK — with these sales being led by older riders.  

With an e-MTB almost anyone can explore the countryside.Credit: Shutterstock/Umomos
With an e-MTB almost anyone can explore the countryside.

The day I finished Sixth Form college I swore I would never ride a bike again. Every day I had to pedal my three-gear Raleigh Shopper bicycle the two miles to college and then home again. It doesn’t sound far, but just before home was a very steep hill.  

I never made it to the top and ended up doing the ‘push of shame’ and regularly being tooted at by passing motorists. 

Fast forward 30 years and the pandemic struck. Living in Wales, I couldn’t travel anywhere easily to exercise and my partner, who already owned an electric mountain bike (e-MTB), suggested I get one so we could get out together.  

I really wasn’t sure as I’d vowed never to cycle again, but my curiosity burned too brightly and, although it’s a cliché, I haven’t looked back. 

I love my e-MTB and I ride it year-round. I’ve been able to explore bridleways and gravel tracks, I’ve ridden through woodlands and valleys. I’ve even been on my first e-bikepacking weekend on the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset. 

Woman with an e-MTB surrounded by hillsCredit: Phillipa Cherryson
I now love exploring the countryside on my e-MTB

Furthermore, I’m not alone. A 2021 survey by the world’s leading market research company Mintel confirmed hundreds of thousands of us bought e-bikes during 2020 and our love affair with them has grown since then. 

Sales of e-MTBs have soared.

Sales of e-bikes have tripled in the UK over the past five years. Updated research released this month by Mintel predicts that sales will slow this year due to the cost-of-living crisis, but it expects the market to soar again in 2024.

Despite this huge increase, we’re still lagging continental Europe, where there are five million e-bikes in the Netherlands alone. 

Mintel found that a large percentage of these sales are electric mountain bikes (e-MTBs) and another survey by British Cycling found that almost 70 % of e-MTB riders are aged between 45-74.  

With most either returning to cycling after a long break like me, or choosing to change from standard bikes due to health or joint issues, electric biking is a huge market and mostly powered by us older riders.  

People still have the wrong idea about electric bikes.

But there are still two myths to dispel, says Forestry England’s National Cycle Infrastructure Manager, Dan Cook, who was involved in compiling the British Cycling report. He points to the disdain some ‘proper’ riders give to electric bikes, and highlights the big differences between an e-MTB and a normal, more aggressively-used mountain bike: 

“Electric bikes aren’t cheating; they still require physical effort just at a manageable level, helping make cycling accessible for more people. 

“The e-MTB market is also different to the standard mountain bike market. Most people buying e-MTBs aren’t wanting to do death defying descents or jumps. They are buying them to explore the countryside, go out on social rides with friends or family or use them to continue riding when health issues mean they can’t ride a standard bicycle anymore.” 

Man and woman on their bikes looking at their phoneCredit: Shutterstock / Halfpoint
Exploring new places together on an ebike.

British Cycling’s Official and Off-Road Leadership Lead, Ben Creed, added: “Cycling participation in e-MTB has skyrocketed in recent years and is becoming increasingly accessible to the wider population.  

“The volume of e-bikes and e-MTBs is already significant and growing quickly. We know that they support many riders to be more active, as well as being a lifeline for those who might not otherwise be able to ride.” 

E-MTB cyclist John Threlfall, from Lancashire bought an e-MTB five years ago. 

He says: “In the early days I got used to being called a cheat by traditional cyclists, but I reckon I was doing more riding than they were.

I used to meet up with a guy in his 90s who said if it wasn’t for his e-MTB he would have had to give up cycling years ago. 

Sunset with a woman and a bike wheel in the foregroundCredit: David Steers
Watching sunsets adds to the joy of getting out in the countryside

“I don’t believe they are just for old people, it’s a variant of cycling in its own right. Myself and my wife are still very active, we ski in the winter, and in the summer I hire an e-MTB to get out in the mountains in Austria. I’m 70 now and hope to keep riding it for many more years.” 

Why ride an e-MTB?

We asked Cook what the benefits of an electric bike are, compared to a lighter and cheaper ‘standard’ bicycle, and he gave us his top reasons you might go all-electric: 

  • Electric bikes provide more fun without the physical demands of a standard cycle.  Of course, you still need to pedal, but the motor assists you making sure that you can still get up that hill to enjoy the views at the top and when freewheeling down the other side. 
  • The benefits of being outdoors, of riding in the countryside and of being with others are significant in both physical and mental health and wellbeing.  E-MTBs just help you to start and maintain riding. 
  • Our research discovered that most electrically-powered mountain bikers are looking for low key and more social rides.  E-MTBs help people start out riding and to keep riding with family and friends, so as mobility decreases for whatever reason, you can still easily keep up. 
  • E-MTB’s by their very nature help support those with some disabilities, particularly around strength.  There are also adapted e-MTB’s available for those who have other requirements.  Featuring more than two wheels, they can help with balance; some versions are pedalled by hand, extending their inclusion and really making sure that nearly everyone can come along. 

What’s the downside of an electric bike?

E-bikes certainly aren’t perfect and there are a few issues you need to consider before trying one or even buying one. 

  • They are expensive – an e-MTB is an investment buy. The cheapest start at about £1,000 and you can spend more than £10,000 on models with full suspension. On top of that you’ll want to insure them, either individually or through your home insurance which could cost up to £300 a year for a top-of-the-range ebike.  
  • Service costs – Your e-bike will need an annual service. With a traditional bike you can save money by learning how to do it yourself, but an e-bike needs its motor servicing and software updating every year which can cost about £100. 
  • They are heavy. E-MTBs usually weigh between 20-25kg, and that’s a lot of weight to lift or carry if you need to pull it over a stile or fence. Furthermore, it means that if you want to drive your e-MTB to beauty spots to cycle, you’ll either need a van or a heavy-duty bike carrier.
Man on an e-MTB riding up a wooded hillCredit: Phillipa Cherryson
Exploring trails on an e-MTB.
  • These range from £75 upwards for a single bike, to £250-£500 for a two-bike tow bar mounted carrier. The industry is responding to this weighty issue, by introducing lighter models, but you will pay the price with a smaller battery and motor, equating to less help when you cycle. 
  • Battery life – You can’t expect to use the highest power on your motor and go for miles, so just remember that your e-bike’s battery will need charging sooner than you might think, depending on your level of investment. Manufacturers quote anything from 20 miles to 100 miles, with Cycling Weekly saying around 60 miles is average, but your range will vary depending upon the type of terrain you are travelling over and how much you use the motor to assist you. Just remember to keep an eye on the battery gauge as you don’t want to run out (like I did once) — the bikes are very heavy to pedal home unassisted. 

How to get started riding an electric mountain bike.

  • Hire an e-MTB to find out if you enjoy it. You can hire them at many Forestry Visitor Centres run by Forestry England, Natural Resources Wales and Land Scotland. These centres often have facilities including parking, toilets and a café for the all-important after-ride cake. 
  • Hire an e-MTB from a private hire company. A Google search will help you find the closest one to you, although do use a site like TrustPilot to make sure the brand is reputable, and shop around for the best deal. 
  • There are standard grades for forestry trails across Great Britain, so make sure you read up and assess the level you’ll need.  Green is the easiest and family friendly; a good one to start with.  Blue is the next level up and ideal when you have built some confidence and experience.  Red and Black grades are for very experienced and adept riders – watch the video below to get a sense of what you can expect on an electric mountain bike too. 

Martin Astley, is from Bike Park Wales, the UK’s biggest mountain bike park at 1,200 acres and attracts 90,000 visitors a year. 

He says it’s seen a boom in numbers of e-MTB riders at the park. 

“Be careful,” he warns. “If you try one, you will want to buy one. We rent them here at the park so that’s a great way to try before you buy. We also offer e-MTB coaching courses on Kermit, our new beginner trail. 

“I know a lot of riders who have switched to e-MTBs as they’ve got a bit older as it means they can keep getting plenty of riding in without it being so intense physically. Equally, though, e-MTBs have brought loads of new riders to the scene. People who may have found traditional mountain biking just too hard and e-MTBs have made it accessible, which is just great.” 

Bike Park Wales attracts more than 90,000 visitors a year.Credit: Shutterstock / Dolfilms
Bike Park Wales attracts more than 90,000 visitors a year.

What equipment do I need?

If you’re looking to get started with electric mountain biking and have hired or bought a bike, Cook says these are the key things you’ll need to think about: 

  • The only essential piece of safety equipment is a helmet.  If you hire an e-MTB, one will be provided, or else you can buy a good-fitting one at a reasonable cost. 
  • Use sturdy shoes with a grippy sole such as lightweight walking shoes.  Tuck any laces away. 
  • Wear clothes suited to the conditions of the day.  Keep any loose trousers out of the way around your ankles so it doesn’t get caught in your chain.  Tuck them in your socks, wear cycle clips (or rubber bands are good in a pinch). 
  • If you start to ride regularly or for longer times, then investing in a pair of padded cycle shorts will help with comfort and protection. 
  • Glasses are useful in keeping any mud or water out of your eyes.  If wearing prescription glasses, take a cloth to wipe them clean when needed.  Alternatively use contact lenses and a pair of sun or clear protective glasses. 
  • On cooler days, wear layers of clothing so you can remove or add more according to how warm you feel. 
  • It is useful on most days in the UK to carry a waterproof or light jacket, in case of rain or if the trail is wet. 
  • If going riding for more than an hour or so, or heading further afield, take a small rucksack with a few essentials like a drink, waterproof, fully charged phone and a map of the trails or wider area if not at a trail centre. 

You can try an electric bike on holiday.

Susan Jerham, from Leicestershire, runs an ebike holiday business especially for the over-50s.

She says: “Our business has absolutely snowballed. Most of our clients are in their 70s and we tailor the rides from between 20-30 miles a day to fit their needs.

“Quite a few of our guests are using the holiday to trial an ebike. I love seeing the smile on their faces as they get used to the helping hand of the motor. They love the freedom that an ebike gives them.”

A man and a woman with their bikes by a canalCredit: National Forest E-Bike Holidays
Going on a cycling holiday is a great way to try an ebike.

Tips to start riding an e-MTB.

Cook has these tips if you are getting back in the saddle after a long time off or trying an electric bike for the first time: 

  • If you are starting to ride after a long period off, or for the first time, take it steady initially.  You will quickly gain confidence as your balance improves.  As they say, you never forget how to ride a bike – but you might still need to practice refining it. 
  • Set your saddle as high as you feel confident while being able to put a foot on the ground.   
  • Look up at where you want to ride.  Where your head is looking and turning is where you will go (so best not to look at that tree – concentrate on the trail ahead of you). 
  • Brake smoothly and with both brakes at the same time – anticipate braking early so you can avoid grabbing the brakes hard – modern brakes are very efficient and that might skid the wheels or throw you off. 
  • Learn how to use the gears.  You should aim to pedal smoothly and quickly, and at the same speed no matter how quickly you are travelling.  Generally, your right thumb will take you to gears when riding more slowly (such as uphill), while your index finger will change gears more suited to when you are travelling more quickly. 
A man on a bike overlooking the sea.Credit: Nigel Leppard
Nigel Leppard has explored the Isle of Wight on his e-MTB.

Nigel Leppard, from the Isle of Wight, bought an e-MTB during lockdown instead of a new motorbike.  

He says: “I was 61-years-old and never would have bought a standard bike. But it’s been an absolute revelation. I’ve lost weight, got fit, made new friends and have seen parts of my local area that I never have after living here for 60 odd years. It has been a total life changer for me and I would say to anyone thinking about getting one, to go for it.” 

There’s never been a better time to join the electric bike revolution – head to your local bike hire, strap on your helmet, and let us know how you got on – we’d love to hear from you.

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is Saga Exceptional’s Fitness Channel Editor. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV.

Her passion is outdoor fitness. She’s a trainee mountain leader; an Ordnance Survey Champion; she organises walks and instructional events for South Wales members of online community the Adventure Queens and she’s vice chair of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Local Access Forum.

She hated sports at school and only started getting the fitness bug as she reached her 50s. Now she loves mountain walking, trail runs, e-biking, paddleboarding and climbing. She also loves cake.

  • instagram
  • Email