Does the size of the wheels on an electric bike matter?
Yes, wheel size has a large influence on the performance of bikes, ebikes included. 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.
Advantages of larger wheels
As a general rule for bike riding 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 and travelling faster than you would on a regular bicycle, 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 up to 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 wheels
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. While this is a problem in areas with lots of people and obstacles but if you do a lot of open road riding, you may prefer a longer wheelbase as you can hold your line a little easier.
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 wheels
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 in or around 20”.
Disadvantages of small wheels
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 tyres 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.
It all comes down to weighing up the pros and cons and establishing what you want to use the bike 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.