Do You Really Need Ebike-Specific Tires?

They’re not essential, but don’t skimp on your rubber either.

Kenda Front Wheel Tire
Large-volume tires can improve your eBike’s ride quality and traction.Bosch

Most of what a bicycle does must pass through its tires. The power you put to the pedals, braking, bumps in the road, and change in direction all involve the tires; and if they fail, the fun comes to a stop until they’re fixed. With tires influencing so many aspects, it stands to reason that an electric bike should have tires certified for ebikes.

So what does this certification mean? It's a European requirement devised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, where ebikes are classified as mopeds. It is not required by law in North America.

Passing certification requires a few things. First, the tire must be labeled in accordance with the requirements for things like tire size and where these dimensions are measured on the tire. Next is the Load/Speed Performance Test. The tire is mounted to a wheel, weighted, and then run on a drum at its rated speed (25 kmh or 50 kmh) to see if it falls apart. Then there is a similar test for Dynamic Growth, confirming the tire is dimensionally stable at its test speed. It's all here if you get the urge to deep dive into it. Page 17 has a rough but informative diagram regarding the parts of the tire, which may be helpful to know when shopping for your next set.

If there is no regulation requiring the use of these tires in North America, is it still logical to seek these certified tires for your ebike? Some say yes, due to the larger forces ebikes exert from their extra weight and speed.

Let’s look at weight first. ebikes usually weigh around 50 pounds, much heavier than traditional bicycles. But old Schwinn Varsities, downhill bikes from 20 years ago, and tandems can all come close to or exceed that weight. Also keep in mind that a 130-pound rider on a 60-pound eBike is still lighter than a 200-pound rider on a 20-pound bike, yet we don’t require special tires for the 200-pound rider.

What about the speed, though? While ebikes do make it easy for the average person to hit 20 or 28 mph, these speeds are not uncommon for enthusiast riders and amateur racers to achieve on a regular basis. Professional cyclists hit more than 100 kmh (60 mph) on big descents—all on non-e-rated tires.

What if you mix speed and weight? We’ll look to the tandem again for this. A pair of strong riders on a tandem can put the tires through even more stress than an ebike.

And then there are the ratings themselves, one for 25 kmh and one for 50 kmh. The 25 kmh standard is basically useless in the US since ebikes here assist up to 32 kmh. Then there’s the 50 kmh rating, which hints at the test being more bureaucracy than safety, with eBikes lumped in with mopeds rather than creating a more realistic 45 kmh test.

So if your ebike doesn’t have or you can’t find a rated replacement tire, don’t stress, but don’t buy the cheapest tire either. A tire somewhere in the 60 TPI range will offer decent ride quality, and the extra rubber compared to, say, a 120 TPI carcass will make tubeless sealant a bit easier to deal with (higher-TPI tires can tend to let sealant bleed through). Tires offering extra puncture protection are also worth every penny. Road-/trailside puncture repair on an eBike is no fun.

And, finally, go big. Fitting the largest-volume tire your frame and fork allow improves ride quality, enhances traction, and takes some of the stress off the wheels.