Do Electric Bikes Need Different Tires?
We’ll help you quickly understand some of the nuances between e-bikes and traditional bikes, and how these differences can affect the right tire for your needs.
Statista.com reports that the global e-bike industry is projected to earn more than $24 billion by the year 2025.
It’s no surprise, then, that big-name companies continue releasing an increasing number of tires specially designed for this new cycling frontier.
But, after you’ve paid a premium for your electric bicycle, do you also need to hand over more money for e-bike-specific tires? In other words, will they provide better performance? Are they safer? Or, will standard bike tires (or the ones already mounted to your bike) work just fine?
With the help of professionals and third-party resources, these are the core questions we’ll help you answer in this article.
First, we’ll discuss how e-bikes are distinct from traditional models. Then, we’ll bring it all together and outline what these differences mean when it comes to tire choice.
The Functional Differences Between Electric Bicycles & Regular Bikes
E-bikes and regular bikes have far more in common than not, since they both feature similarly designed frames, as well as wheels, tires, handlebars, pedals, gears, shifters, seats, and so forth.
However, there are two primary distinctions between them: the speeds they can reach and how much they weigh.
E-Bikes Are Capable of Much Higher Speeds
Depending on where it’s sold (more next) and the voltage of its battery, e-bikes can assist riders up to speeds of between 15 and 30 mph. And to turn the rear wheel, these batteries also generate much greater torque than a non-powered bicycle.
Another factor pointed out by James McIntyre, lead mechanic at EBike of Colorado in Louisville, Colorado, is that in more densely populated areas, traditional cyclists often don’t come to complete stops or accelerate at full speed afterward. After all, doing so would take away too much momentum and consume far more energy than necessary.
On the flipside, he explains that e-bike riders typically engage their motors after coming to a full stop at each sign they encounter, thereby placing far greater braking and acceleration forces on tires.
To handle this combination of higher speed, greater torque, and additional braking and acceleration, most e-bikes feature frames and wheels that are more robust and better able to handle the abuse. Of course, these also make electric bicycles heavy.
Taking an E-Bike’s Weight Into Consideration
In addition to the weight of stronger frames and rims, there’s also the electric motor itself (whether mounted in the rear hub or inside the bottom bracket) to consider. Then, there’s the battery that powers it and the lengthy wiring that connects everything to the handlebar-mounted controls and displays.
This is to say nothing about the fact that many e-bike models come with additional features like lights, front or rear racks, fenders, kickstands, and other accessories that can further increase weight.
How much weight are we talking about here?
It’s not uncommon for popular e-bike models to tip the scales somewhere between 50 and 80 (or more) pounds. Compare this to less than 30 lbs for the average mountain bike, or even less than 20 lbs for many road bike models.
While keeping these details in mind, let’s briefly switch gears and take a look at some legal distinctions.
The Regulatory Differences Between Electric Bicycles & Traditional Models
Legally, e-bikes are classified differently based on 1) the speeds they can reach, as well as 2, ) where they’re sold. Let’s learn how this plays out in the real world.
E-Bikes vs. Pedelecs
According to the Giant Bicycles website:
“In Europe, an E-bike can have a maximum power of 250 watts, assisting the E-Bike to a maximum speed of 25 km/h. In the U.S., the rules are different. There, E-bike motors can have a maximum of 500 watts and assist up to 20 mph (32km/h).
Whether sold in the US or EU, riders typically use a handlebar-mounted throttle to reach these speeds and to control the assistance provided by their e-bike’s motor.
Comparatively, electric bicycle models known as ‘pedelecs’ forego a throttle and only assist when the rider is actively pedaling. Pedelecs can also reach faster speeds of up to 45km/h (28 mph).
What’s the point in specifying these details?
E-Bike Tire Certifications Can Vary by Region
Schwalbe explains that when it comes to tires on electric bicycles sold in North America, whether they’re classified as e-bikes or pedelecs, there aren’t any different regulations currently in place. In other words, companies can use the same tires found on any of their traditional bikes.
When it comes to e-bikes sold in Europe, things work a bit differently. There, due to their faster speeds and higher torque, e-bikes and pedelecs are classified as mopeds. As such, they’re required to comply with the Union’s ECE-R75 endurance standards before receiving certification and making their way to consumers.
In layman’s terms, this stipulates that EU-bound electric bike tires must sustain higher speeds for more extended periods of time than standard versions.
Bottom line: If you live in Europe, your electric bicycle will almost certainly come with different tires than what you’d find on a similar, non-motorized bicycle. In the US, this can vary between bike manufacturers, and even between different models within the same brands.
Higher Threads Per Inch (TPI)
As we mentioned at the beginning, though, e-bikes are growing in popularity all around the world. And in response, many manufacturers have created e-bike-specific tires that contain higher threads-per-inch (TPI) in their sidewalls, regardless of where they’re sold or the speeds they’re capable of.
Related: An Image-Based Guide to Bike Tires
Better Puncture Protection
The casing on these tires is also often thicker to accommodate higher average speeds, as well as the greater overall wear and tear e-bike tires are subjected to. This also helps deliver greater puncture protection.
Cumulatively, manufacturers advertise that these features enhance durability, improve reliability at higher speeds, and boost the ability to withstand greater overall physical forces experienced by e-bike riders.
For example, Adam Taylor at Good Turn Cycles in Littleton, Colorado explains that Continental—they’re a certified dealer—offers ECO-25 and ECO-50 models that are rated up to 25 k/ph and 50 k/ph, respectively.
Other popular examples include Schwalbe’s Energizer Plus, Vredestein’s Perfect E, as well as Serfas’s entire E-Bike lineup.
“These tires have undergone testing to ensure they’re suitable for the higher speeds and torque delivered by e-bikes,” Adam says. However, he points out that, “a lot of tires are already suited to e-bike needs, but they’re not necessarily labeled or tested as such.”
This raises the core question, then: Considering all of these facts, should you spend your hard-earned money on a new set of rubber shoes for your e-bike, compared to the versions it came with?
Let’s wrap everything up in the next section.
The Bottom Line When it Comes to E-Bike Tires vs. Standard Bike Tires
Is it possible that you might experience better performance from an e-bike-specific tire? After everything we’ve learned above, the answer could very well be ‘yes.’
The Potential Benefits of Electric Bike Tires
Why? Because according to many manufacturers, sites like E-BikeRumour.com, ElectricBike.com, and ElectricBikeReview.com, as well as several Denver, Colorado-area e-bike shops, these tires often come with:
- Thicker grooving for better traction at higher speeds
- A beefier casing, which can better handle higher temperatures generated by faster speeds
- The ability to accommodate higher air pressures, since the additional weight and torque can cause extra tire compression (depending on the conditions where you ride and your PSI preferences, of course)
- Thicker tread for better puncture protection, whether cruising at high speed, hopping curbs, or avoiding potholes. Furthermore, changing punctured tubes on e-bikes takes longer and requires more tools than a regular bicycle, so you’ll want to avoid it if you can.
- Rubber compounds optimized for wear resistance, since e-bikes are often ridden a more significant number of miles than traditional models, and are also subjected to greater braking and acceleration forces
- A combination of features (e.g., tread thickness, PSI range, groove pattern, etc.) that might deliver better dampening, comfort, and even motor lifespan, especially if it’s located in the rear hub
The Potential Downsides of Electric Bike Tires
Still, according to McIntyre, he wouldn’t recommend that customers automatically upgrade to e-bike tires in all instances. For example, if you ride a Class 1 (the motor tops out at 20 mph) mountain bike model that’s designed to provide most of its assistance while climbing hills, he says riders might not achieve a lot of value by upgrading.
On the other hand, if you ride a Class III (28 mph) road-oriented model, he strongly recommends that riders consider the higher durability and added safety at faster speeds often provided by e-bike-specific models.
You might not want to run right out and buy, though, since Taylor recommends consumers hold off until their existing tires are worn.
“Most OEMs spec tires suitable for the bike they’re found on,” he says, “so I wouldn’t necessarily have any concerns keeping them on until it’s time to replace.”
Keep rolling: 5 Tips For Storing Your Bike Tires Over the Season