The mid-drive e-bikes you’ll find in the electric mountain bike market are functionally free to use any kind of wheels they want, as long as they fit in their frames. As always, US restrictions are much more lenient than EU restrictions, and there are currently no regulations for wheels.
In Europe, all wheels made for e-bikes heavier than 150KG or with tires wider than 67mm must meet ECE-75R specifications, which ensures that the wheel is capable of withstanding high speeds and the increased torque of electric motors. And, as far as regulations go, that’s pretty reasonable.
Aside from that, the only wheel restrictions are the same as on any push bike; for instance, you’re going to struggle to put a set of 29ers on a compact bike designed for 20” wheels. This means that you’re free to select the right wheel for whichever trails you want to ride.
So, in answer to the question “do ebikes need special wheels?” the answer is no, not so long as they meet the requisite regulations. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still worth asking some further questions relating to e-bike wheel size. Because although your e-bike might not need special wheels, there are options out there in terms of the wheels you can use. After all, you don’t want to be missing out on the best wheel choice for your e-bike…
Can You Change the Wheel Size on an eBike?
Yes, you can, and it’s probably easier than you’d think. Changing the front wheel on a mid-drive e-bike is identical to changing it on a regular bike. The back wheel, on the other hand, is a little different, but only because you have to treat the chain differently, everything else is the same.
We already have a guide on how to change e-bike wheels here, so check it out if you want that extra bit of reassurance. You’ll also want to check that the wheel fits your frame. Fortunately, you can just use the same size guides that are recommended for push bikes.
What Are the Most Common Different eBike Wheel Sizes?
Because there are many different types of e-bikes, there are also many different e-bike wheel sizes. The most common of these are as follows:
16” and 20” Wheels
Whilst we’re interested in electric mountain bikes here at EMBK, it’s only fair that we mention other types of e-bikes too. 16-inch and 20-inch wheels are typically used by folding electric bikes, meaning that, whilst they’re no use out on the trails, they’re pretty handy for your daily commute into work.
This size wheel is very typical for modern electric mountain bikes, offering agility, pace and manoeuvrability but less stability at the higher speeds than larger wheel sizes. That’s where 29” wheels come in handy.
These are typically the largest wheel size you can find for your e-bike, and are almost exclusively found on mountain bikes, rather than road bikes. People choose these large wheels because of the added stability and confidence they can give riders at the highest speeds. And if you read on, you’ll see that these bigger wheels confer other advantages, too.
Are Bigger Wheels Better on an eBike?
If you’ve been paying attention to the riders on your local trails, you might have noticed that big wheels are getting pretty common these days, and for good reason; the larger the wheel, the smoother the ride.
Big wheels have a lower angle of attack, which causes the bike to pass over inconsistencies in the road, like rocks and dips, more easily. For less polished trails, this is a huge benefit for comfort, and even for efficiency, because the extra weight of the wheels conserves momentum better, so it’ll take a bigger object to slow you down.
Though, as you can guess, weight is a double-edged sword. The weight of the wheels also makes the bike get up to speed more slowly, and it makes the bike much less agile, but for an e-bike that’s less important because e-bikes are already heavy and unsuitable for trick-focused riding. If you want to know a bit more, we have a guide on the effects of different wheel and tyre types on electric mountain bikes.
Are There Manufacturers Producing Special Wheels for eBikes?
Do you need e-bike specific wheels? No, not generally. Can you get them, however? Yes! As we’ve already ascertained, most e-bikes don’t need special wheels provided that they meet EU regulations (if they’re being ridden in Europe), or any regulations at all for that matter over in the States. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some manufacturers out there still looking to purpose-make wheels that better stand the stresses and strains that e-bikes place on them.
The team at Hunt Bike Wheels, for instance, have manufactured a set of 29ers that can better handle the weight and torque put through them by an e-bike. With tubeless rims, reinforced spokes and extra-thick axles to boot, these wheels are perfectly suited to the demands of modern-day electric mountain bikes. And with e-bikes only growing in popularity, this trend looks set to continue moving forward.
In the US, there aren’t any restrictions on e-bike wheels, and whilst in Europe there may be some regulations pertaining to e-bike wheel size, the rules aren’t very restrictive, meaning you have a lot of freedom to specialise your bike however you want. Even if you’re not required to style your bike a certain way, it’s a lot of fun, and can help you get the best possible performance for the trails you ride.
Replacing an e-bike wheel is one of the easiest changes you can make, and you can squeeze a lot of extra performance out of something that doesn’t require much expertise. That’s why we think it’s a great entry point for those of you looking to understand the mechanics of bike performance, or just like working with your hands.
Whatever your background, it’s worth giving it a go, because there are few better pleasures than riding a trail, knowing that your bike is your own, even if you only go for a small change. If you want more useful tips and insights on e-bikes, then be sure to check out our other blogs and guides whilst you’re here!