Should I Choose Larger Wheel or Smaller Wheel for My E-Bike
Should I Choose Larger Wheel or Smaller Wheel for My E-Bike? While almost every component on an eBike is essential in its own way, you could make a great argument that after the frame, the next most crucial element is the wheel setup. Wheels will significantly determine your speed, stability, handibility, and numerous other performance factors while riding. Wheel size is critical when it comes to understanding and comparing eBikes.
However, how important wheels is a hotly contested issue–especially among serious cyclists. Wheel size, inflation ranges, tire construction, rim design, and other factors all have to be considered, along with where you’re riding, the rider’s size, skill level, and more. No two cyclists will perform the same on an eBike. And depending on smaller factors like the weather, no cyclist will have the same experience on a trail.
That’s why we felt it was imperative to write this post, especially for those new or unfamiliar with the mechanics of eBike wheels. Below, you’ll find out how wheels are measured, some general rules when it comes to performance, and a few other vital pieces of information to help you understand wheel size.
If you’re still confused or would like to learn more after reading, we invite you to read our other blog posts or leave a comment at the end of our post. While our review team might have slightly different answers, we do our best to provide a comprehensive overview of what you need to know when it comes to eBike wheel size!
There are many different sizes of electric bicycle wheels on the market today. You can find bikes that are equipped with anything from tiny 12 inch wheels to massive 29 inch diameter wheels. The majority of electric bikes will be equipped with a 16”, 20”, or 26” inch diameter wheel.
16-Inch Electric Bike Wheel
This size of electric bike wheel is typically found on folding electric bikes. These type of electric bikes are light weight and meant to fold together so they can easily be transported.
20-Inch Electric Bike Wheel
Similarly to the 16-inch wheels, 20-inch wheels are most commonly found on folding electric bikes.
26-Inch Electric Bike Wheel
26-inch wheels are the most common wheel size you will find on an electric bike. From mountain bikes to road bikes and beach cruisers, a 26-inch wheel is an industry norm for electric bikes.
Yes, wheel size has a large influence on the performance of e-bikes. The size of a bike wheel will determine how easy it is to get moving, how well the bike will roll and how smooth the ride is. Below we’ve listed some of the main advantages and disadvantages of each to help you make the best decision for your own situation.
How are eBike Wheels Measured?
Before we understand how it impacts performance, we have to discuss why wheel size is problematic. The measurement system for measuring tires is debated continuously among cycling enthusiasts, with no universal measurement system used globally. Contrary to what you might expect, two tires with the same measurements might be different sizes and offer different performance.
Let’s explain how wheels are generally measured. Wheel size is expressed in two measurements, consisting of the wheel’s diameter and the tire’s width. In the United States and several other western countries, this is expressed in inches with the diameter first and the width second.
However, for European countries and many International Organization for Standardization members, millimeters are used instead, with the width expressed first and the diameter second. Conversion systems are useful for quickly switching from one system to another, but since many bike companies round the number, it won’t produce an exact result often. As an American-based cycling review team, we will be using the American standard for this blog post.
To measure the diameter, the first number for American wheel size classification and the second number for ISO measurements, start by attaching your tape measure to the center of the wheel. Extend the tape measure directly to the tire’s outer edge and double the number for the American wheel size diameter. If you want an ISO measurement, you will only measure to the tire’s inner edge before doubling it, resulting in an ISO diameter.
Measuring the diameter is why American tires often fail to produce an exact conversion to ISO measurements and vice versa, due to where they stop measuring. Both systems fail to address tire thickness; tires with thinner rims and extra-thick tires can technically produce the same measurement as tires with extra thick rims but narrower tires. If you’re wondering why two wheels with the exact measurements look different, this is the reason why.
Thankfully, measuring the tire width is a bit easier. The tire width is the second number for American wheel measurement and the first number for ISO measurement systems. Measuring in either method is the same since you simply place the measure on one side of the tire, pull it across a flat section of the tire tread, and stop on the other edge of the tire.
Because the measurement ends at the same place, you will have a more accurate measurement if you convert from inches to millimeters or vice versa as you switch measurement systems.
Now that you understand how wheels are measured, you might be wondering how wheel size impacts performance. As we’ve discussed earlier in our post, many different factors impact riding performance, so what we say here might not match what you’ll feel when you ride. Even so, these general rules are broadly accepted by the greater cycling community and will typically prove themselves correct overtime, even if you experience the occasional exception to the rule.
Advantage of Larger Wheel
As a general rule for bike riding is the bigger the wheel, the smoother your ride will be. This is because larger wheels will stretch over dips or potholes when smaller wheels will go further into them. When riding an ebike, small bumps will be felt more harshly through smaller wheels and may compromise your control over the bike if the cycling surface is very poor, large wheels on the other hand will reduce the chances of this happening.
Larger wheels (around the 26” mark) will prolong your bike’s battery life. Due to their size, they will store inertia (keep momentum) much better than a smaller wheel, enabling you to coast, roll and maintain constant speed significantly better. Once you are able to attain speed, depending on the gradient, a large wheel will need minimal power to maintain speed.
Larger wheels are more stable at higher speeds and offer greater traction. This is because of the greater area of contact between the rubber and the cycling surface. Larger and wider wheels will provide greater grip on loose surfaces and allow you to apply more force while climbing hills.
Disadvantages of Larger Wheel
Bikes with larger wheels tend to me more difficult to turn and maneuver in tight spaces. The reason for this is because the bike has a longer wheelbase which increases the bike’s turning circle and will reduce maneuverability and your ability to turn sharply. This may be a problem in areas with lots of people and obstacles. If you do ride in areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic it may be best to have an e-bike with a smaller wheelbase so you can zigzag around the traffic.
Large wheels are slower to accelerate and will transfer less torque to the ground than smaller wheels. This is because the extended wheel frame reduces the amount of downward force that gets applied to the ground. This can be a pain if you bike in an area that requires you to stop and start frequently as you and your battery will have to work harder to get your ebike back up to speed.
Bikes with large wheels are generally more likely to break their spokes, the further the spoke is required to stretch from the hub to the rim, the weaker it will become. Larger wheels will need stronger spokes. This is definitely the case for electric bikes as the motor places the wheel, and spokes under greater strain than a normal bike wheel would experience. This is particularly true for bikes that have an electric conversion kit added to them because traditional bicycle spokes are not strong enough to withstand the additional force involved with the electric motor.
Advantages of Smaller Wheel
The best foldable ebikes rarely use full sized tires. The whole idea behind foldable bikes is that you can store it in the trunk of your car or neatly on a train. If you’re looking for a compact ebike then we suggest looking at wheels with a diameter of 16” or 20”. The ability to quickly maneuver through traffic is a big advantage with a smaller e-bike. Another advantage is that smaller wheels accelerate faster than larger wheels because the smaller wheel frame increases the amount of downward force to the ground.
Disadvantages of Smaller Wheel
Small wheels don’t roll as easily or maintain speed as well as large wheels. This is due to the low amount of inertia stored within the wheel. An ebike with smaller wheels will need to achieve a much higher RPM to match the speed of a bike with larger wheels. The maximum speed of a traditional bike depends on the size of the tires and the bike’s gearing, which goes for electric bikes too. This can be frustrating if you are using your bike for relatively long distances because you will need to pedal faster and use more battery power to maintain your speed. Smaller wheels will also dip into potholes and divots in the rode more easily and have more exaggerated jumps over elevated bumps.
It all comes down to weighing up the pros and cons and establishing what you want to use the ebike for, there is no one wheel size that will meet everyone’s needs so it all depends on your own situation. Whether you are going to ride in a city where you will be weaving in and out of people and traffic or doing longer distance cycling and want a smoother ride, the choice is ultimately down to the rider.
If you are looking for a new way of commuting or want a healthier lifestyle, we are here to help you. Visit our website to learn more about electric bikes and electric scooter or please leave information to us.
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