We all want an electric scooter that is safe, fun, and easy to maintain. To get that, it’s important to make the right choice between pneumatic and solid tires.
Pick wrong, and you might be stuck with a sketchy ride or annoying upkeep.
It’s not always possible to swap one type for the other, so this article will help you make the right choice from the get-go.
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Why pneumatic electric scooter tires are best
Pneumatic (air-filled) scooter tires are best for most electric scooter riders because of better safety and ride quality. Their hollow design is more compliant, which means better traction and a smoother ride. You’ll need to monitor air pressure and perhaps repair flats, but tire sealant can minimize both. They’re also easier to replace in general.
However, solid tires are a good way to reduce maintenance, as long as you ride mostly on smooth, dry terrain. They cannot go flat, but they are less compliant, which means a rougher ride and less traction. A “honeycomb” tire design reduces those shortcomings slightly.
|Traction||Ride quality & smoothness||Maintenance & upkeep||Replacement|
|Pneumatic (with tubes)||Good||Good||Moderate (only air pressure checks, unless punctured)||Moderate to difficult|
|Pneumatic (tubeless)||Good to very good||Good to very good||Low to moderate (air pressure checks; punctures less likely)||Moderate to difficult (may require air compressor)|
|Solid (filled)||Very poor||Very poor||Nothing routine||Very difficult or impossible (may require new wheel)|
|Solid (honeycomb/similar)||Poor||Poor||Nothing routine||Very difficult or impossible (may require new wheel)|
How tire compliance affects your ride
All tires have at least a little traction because they deform to ground’s irregularities. The more compliant (soft but springy) a tire is, the more it deforms and therefore the more traction it has.
To use an extreme example, consider a wooden wagon wheel versus a modern rubber car tire. The wood has almost no compliance, so a motor would easily make it break loose and spin, and it would be easy to push the whole vehicle sideways on a hard surface.
But the car tire easily deforms to grip the ground, so it can transfer the engine’s power, withstand braking forces, and stick to the ground through corners.
It’s a similar story with electric scooter tires. An air-filled tire inherently has more of that soft yet springy compliance, so it will always grip better than a solid tire made of the same rubber. Likewise, a pneumatic tire takes less force to deform, so it does a better job of soaking up tiny vibrations and taking the edge off of bigger impacts.
That difference becomes more pronounced as the ground gets rougher or wetter.
Why scooter tires are (mostly) slick
Tread is great for digging into soft ground, but that doesn’t help much on asphalt. In fact, deeply knobby tread (picture a mountain bike tires) can feel squirrelly as the knobs get compressed against the hard ground and shift around.
That’s why auto, motorcycle, and road bike racing tires are virtually always slick. Likewise, scooter tires meant for street use will never have prominent tread.
(Many do have recessed tread–basically grooves and cut-outs–but that’s just to prevent hydroplaning on wet pavement. That’s a much bigger deal for cars, whose tires contact the ground in a squared-off pattern that doesn’t “cut” through pooled water as easily as the elongated contact patch of most two-wheeled vehicles.)
Solid tires are convenient in good conditions
Flat tires are always a bummer, especially when you’ve got places to be. Worse still, tire changes fall somewhere between tricky and absolutely infuriating depending on the scooter.
Anyone in their right mind would want to avoid that situation. And while checking pressure routinely (like on a bicycle) isn’t such a hassle, it’s still just one more thing to keep on top of.
That’s why solid tires are appealing. No air means no flats; simple enough!
Worse ride quality on solid tires
However, a hollow, air-filled core is what provides smoothness and traction. Take that away and you cut maintenance out of the equation, but you also sacrifice ride quality in two important ways.
First, you’ll feel more vibration, all else being equal. You know you see more of the individual pebbles in stones in asphalt as it wears out? Well, with solid tires, you’ll *feel* those individual bits as well. They can’t soak them up and instantly spring make the way a pneumatic tire does.
Second, traction will suffer in the wet. That obviously means you’ll need to take corners even more slowly. But less obviously, it also means you’ll lose a little more braking control since the wheels might skid more readily.
When solid tires make sense
If the ground is smooth(-ish) and typically dry, then solid tires might be the right choice after all.
That’s why they’re especially popular on lighter scooters designed for maximum portability and convenience but not necessarily long, demanding trips.
What about honeycomb & foam-core tires?
Note that a few scooters have foam-core or honeycomb (partially hollow) tires. Strictly speaking, they aren’t solid tires because they do have open space internally, as opposed to a solid hunk of rubber.
By most accounts I’ve read, the improvement from truly solid to honeycomb tires only marginal, but it’s more than nothing. If flat tires worry you, then this is the better zero-maintenance option, but all the caveats above still generally apply.
(I can’t prove this, but I also suspect that hollow/honeycomb tires will ride worse over after a couple years. They rely on the mechanical strength of the rubber to spring back, and as we all know from using very old rubber bands, that springiness deteriorates. Again, that’s purely speculative.)
Pneumatic tires are safer and smoother
Small wheels are the number-one electric scooter safety hazard, but poor traction is probably number two. As mentioned above, it really suffers when it’s wet. And solid tires amplify that phenomenon.
Air tires have the exact opposite set of trade-offs. Their compliance to the ground means you get the most possible traction, especially at the lower end of the air pressure range. Just don’t go too low, otherwise flat risk, lifespan, and battery mileage all suffer.
Inflating your pneumatic tires
Speaking of air pressure, you can inflate them with a standard bicycle pump. These two accessories will make the process far more pleasant:
- A simple valve extender (like these on Amazon) so your pump can actually attach to those notoriously buried valves
- A tire pressure gauge for much more accuracy than the pump’s own gauge (I use this one from Amazon, but make sure your target tire pressure is in the middle of the gauge’s range)
Flat tires are the most common scooter maintenance issue, and proper pressure makes them less likely.
Tubed vs. tubeless air tires
Tubeless tires are the standard on automobiles and even bicycles to some extent. They save a little bit of weight versus tubed tires, but there are two more important reasons to opt for tubeless.
1. Flats are easier to prevent and easier to “self-heal” with tire sealant.
2. Pinch flats (where the rim cuts into the tube) are basically impossible, so you can run lower pressure for traction without increasing the chance of flats.
I believe tubeless is the clear winner, but many air-tire scooters are still equipped with tubes, so double-check the specs before buying. You cannot easily swap one for the other, since the tires and rims have to “hook” each other in a slightly different way to hold air without inner tubes.
Note that some mid-range scooters use one of each: typically a pneumatic front tire for traction and a solid rear tire for flat resistance. (Anecdotally, it’s usually the rear tire that gets punctured. It’s hard to say why, but I’ve observed it on bicycles for years and it seems to hold true for scooters, too.)
How long do electric scooter tires last?
A tire has worn out when the center is nearly flush with the grooves, or the center has become noticeably flat. And if you see any exposed Kevlar, which might look a bit like fabric, then it’s well past time to replace them!
Electric scooter tires can wear out as early as about 500 miles or as late as 1,500-2,000 miles or beyond. Lifespan is especially hard to predict for four reasons:
1. Some tires use harder or softer compounds than others. Softer ones will grip better but wear out sooner.
2. Not everyone maintains proper air pressure. Riding slightly flat tires will increase contact and resistance, thereby shortening lifespan significantly.
3. The heavier the rider, the more force a tire experiences under power. A 130-lb rider and a 200-lb rider may get very different mileage out of the exact same tires (and motors and batteries, for that matter).
4. Powerful scooters that accelerate quickly will tend to wear out tires quickly, too. Faster acceleration imparts more force and therefore more wear. This only applies to the wheel that contains the motor, of course.
I don’t believe there’s a systematic difference between solid and pneumatic tire lifespans, assuming both have the same outer rubber compound and you keep the pneumatic one properly inflated. But in reality, solid tires are more common on cheaper scooters, and may use cheap and short-lived tire materials to cut costs. That’s why it’s difficult to make a meaningful, generalizable comparison.
While pneumatic tires can be difficult to replace, solid tires are often impossible. If you have the misfortune of wearing out a non-replaceable solid tires, then you may need an whole new wheel-and-motor assembly. That seems to happen primarily with cheap scooters that just aren’t intended to last for thousands of miles in the first place.
Can you replace solid tires with pneumatic or vice-versa?
Solid tires have some sort of screws, bolts, rivets, studs, etc. to fasten them to the wheel. Air tires don’t; their edges simply hook onto the edges of the wheel. That means you can’t put air tires on wheels intended for solid tires, or vice-versa.
However, you can often buy aftermarket replacement wheels of another type. For example, it’s easy to find aftermarket solid/honeycomb tires and wheels for the (originally pneumatic-tire) Xiaomi M365, which is a wildly popular model. But for models that aren’t as ubiquitous, you’re either out of luck or relegated to obscure sellers of dubious quality.
Do air tires or suspension matter more?
Air tires and suspension both improve traction and ride quality, but in different ways that complement each other.
Air tires compress and rebound just a fraction of an inch in most cases. They’re great at gripping and absorbing slight irregularities in the ground but (at best) can only take the edge off of larger impacts.
Suspension travels from about an inch to a few inches, so it’s great for absorbing impacts and more significant “chatter” in the road.
That also means suspension gives you better control by soaking up some bumps that might otherwise set you off course. But the force has to be strong enough to travel through the wheel and frame/fork in the first place, so suspension does not replace pneumatic tires. It just works with and enhances their already good qualities.
All combinations of tire types and suspension/no suspension are available. For most riders, pneumatic tires are the more important of the two since they impact traction (and therefore safety) more directly. It’s also fairly expensive to build good suspension, so it’s more common to see the air tires/no suspension combo on great value scooters like the Ninebot Max (see my review here) which is a terrific model for practical use.