Like many things in life, there are many tire choices available for electric bikes. There are smooth tires, knobby tires, balloon tires, fat tires, skinny tires, and even tires with metal studs! These different tire types generally fit the terrain you will be riding on in addition to the riding style you prefer, usually somewhere between performance and comfort.
For example if you mainly ride on roads and want an efficient ride then narrower tires with a smooth tread make a lot sense. If you want more comfort then a wider tire with more air volume, like a “balloon” style tire is a good fit.
For riding on dirt roads and trails a knobby mountain bike or gravel bike tire is a good choice. Riding on sand or snow is perfect for 4+” wide fat tires. And if you are really adventurous, studded tires make riding in icy conditions possible.
In many cases you can change the tires on your electric bike to fit your riding preferences and style. Tires are a small upgrade that can result in big performance gains, as well as improved comfort or handling. Let's take a look at some of the factors that go into choosing the right tire.
Trade-offs when changing eBike tire widths or tread patterns
There are always trade offs with the features you get when changing tires.
With the performance road tires you will get a fast, efficient ride but they tend to be less comfortable than a balloon style tire. They have less air volume, because they are narrower, and air volume adds suspension.
The balloon style tire is comfortable, but not as efficient. There is more air volume to soak up imperfections in the pavement, but the tire also has more rolling resistance, and tire pressure is typically lower on this style as well. On an eBike, less efficiency and higher rolling resistance translates into reduced range and faster battery consumption.
Off road tires (with a knobby tread) have even more traction in challenging terrain thanks to their tractor-style knobs, but they have a higher rolling resistance from the tread and weight of the tire.
Fat tires can ride over and through almost everything but they tend to have a sluggish feel due to the knobby tread and the large size and weight of the tires. To overcome this effect, fat tire eBikes usually have powerful motors and larger batteries to compensate.
Common tire/wheel diameters on eBikes
First of all let’s identify the wheel size of your eBike.
The easiest way to determine this is to look at the sidewall of the current tires on your eBike. You should see the wheel diameter listed first with a smaller number following that indicates the width of the current tire.
For instance: 27.5” x 2.0” is a 27.5” diameter and 2.0” width tire.
Here are the common wheel sizes that you will find on electric bikes:
Tire widths on eBikes
The widths vary considerably, from around 1” wide on a road eBike to 4+” wide on a fat tire electric bike.
If you're looking to make a change to the tires on your eBike, it's possible to use a different width, usually without issue, subject to some limitations. Minor adjustments are fine - for example, a bike/wheel/rim designed around a 2" wide tire will almost always accept a 1.95" or 2.1" wide tire as an alternative. Major changes won't work - you can't put a 1" wide tire on a bike/wheel/rim that came with 4" wide tires.
Thinking of making a change? Make sure to check your frame and fork clearance, next.
Fork & Frame Clearance
Your electric bike will have constraints on how wide a tire you can fit within the fork and/or frame. Although a given tire might physically mount to the rim, sometimes you'll find the tire is too wide to actually allow the wheel to be installed on the bike!
For instance, fat tire electric bikes have a fork and frame that have been designed specifically to provide enough clearance for the super wide tires. The clearance includes enough extra room for dirt, sand, or snow to move through and clear the fork and frame.
The fat tire eBikes are an extreme example of this but the concept is good to keep in mind when you are evaluating putting wider tires on your electric bike. You will want to make sure you have enough clearance for the new tires.
For example, if you have an eBike designed for 2.0” wide tires and you want to install 2.8” wide tires, there may not be enough clearance to properly accommodate that significant of a width increase.
Check with your electric bike company to see if they have maximum tire width information for your eBike.
You can also measure the existing tire and fork/frame clearance to get a ballpark idea on if the wider tires you are considering will work. Keep in mind that different tire manufacturers tend to measure their tire widths a little differently. You may install tires that on paper look like a good fit only to find that they are wider than the real world dimensions.
Another consideration is the balloon style tire that generally has a taller height combined with extra width to create the high air volume profile. You will want to measure the fork and frame area to make sure there is enough room and clearance for a large profile tire like this.
If you are in doubt about a new tire it is a good idea to consult your local bike shop to get their help with choosing the best tire size for your electric bike.
Some tires require a wider rim. The 4+” wide fat tires are a good example that you will need a very wide rim (along with a specific fork and frame) to accommodate these large tires.
Similarly there are some wide mountain bike tires in the 2.5” and wider range that may require a minimum rim width.
Rim width is also something to watch out for when choosing a narrower tire. You don’t want to ride with a narrow tire on a wide rim because it can create a safety issue and significantly change the profile of the tire.
When selecting a tire, review the manufacturer’s specifications on the rim width that will work with their tire.
Comfort Tires: These are probably the most common type of tires found on commuter and cruiser style eBikes. Many of them have the balloon style high air volume tire profile that gives them a comfortable ride to absorb a lot of the rough bumps and cracks in the road. The tread is mostly smooth with some grooving to channel the water.
Many of these tires have a reflective sidewall that helps with being seen at night. Additionally there are tires that have built in puncture resistant lining to keep flats to a minimum.
Road Tires: Many road bike tires are designed for performance with their narrow profile and smooth tread. If you want a fast efficient ride then these are the tires to go with but they generally are not that comfortable.
There are some wider road bike tires available for a more comfortable ride but you will want to make sure your fork and frame have enough clearance for these.
Gravel Tires: These are similar to road bike tires but they have more of a knobby or file tread pattern for extra grip on gravel or dirt roads. So they are generally an efficient off road style tire that provides moderate traction with a performance ride style. There are various widths available and some provide a higher air volume for a comfortable ride. Just make sure you have the clearance for the wider tires.
Mountain Bike Tires: These are the classic off road tires that are a great fit if you plan on doing a lot of dirt roads and/or trails. There are tread patterns from aggressive full knobby style all the way to a semi-slick tread with knobs on the sides.
Additionally there are a wide range of widths from 1.5” to 3”. The wider tires offer a larger tread patch for improved traction and you can generally run a lower pressure to absorb a lot of rough terrain.
If you choose to go with the wider range of tires make sure your fork and frame have the clearance and in some cases make sure your rim width is designed for it.
Fat Tires: If you want to ride on sand or snow, these are the tires to have! The 4+” wide tires offer a huge tread patch so the tire can “float” over tough terrain instead of cutting in and getting bogged down like a narrower tire would. These are also super comfortable tires because the large air volume and low air pressure that can be used allow the tire to absorb a lot of rough terrain.
These tires are specific for a fat tire bike and cannot be added to any eBike. So if you want these tires you will want to buy a fat tire eBike.
Folding Bike Tires: These are generally 20” tires that most of the time have a smooth-ish tread for road and light dirt road riding. There are some off road treads that can be used but you will want to confirm that your fork and frame will work with a potentially wider tire.
There are some fat tire folding eBikes that have 4” wide tires. Again, these tires only work on an eBike designed specifically to be a fat tire eBike. You won't be able to retrofit them onto a non "fat" bike, because there simply won't be room in the frame and fork.
Studded Tires: Yes, there really are studded bike tires! These are for riding in snow and ice conditions. The tires have small metal studs built into the knobs of the tire and provide that extra bit of traction in slick conditions. So if you want to venture out and ride in these conditions then studded tires are the way to go.
If you end up riding them on bare pavement they can wear down quicker and they can slide if you brake heavily with the metal studs losing traction on pavement. Studded tires are an extreme solution meant only for the most challenging snow and ice conditions.
So Many Choices
As you can see there are many tire types to choose from to suit your riding preferences and styles.
A visit to your local bike dealer can be a great way to identify the top 3 tires to choose from to narrow down the field and make the decision easier.
Enjoy your rides!