Urethane vs Pneumatic : The eSkateboard Wheel Smackdown

I’ve spent a lot of hours on both Urethane and Pneumatic skateboards. My first Longboard was a Comet that my friend George sold me about 5 years ago with a set of large & soft Urethane wheels. I would keep it in my car and then kick it around town for several years. One of my kiteboarding friends named Wing built a giant sail out of PVC pipe, plastic and a crutch (which all good extreme sports people have). Using these homemade ‘Kitewings’ we would rip back and forth on the smooth, freshly paved Cayuga Waterfront trail which runs along the south end of Cayuga Lake. When the winds were ripping out of the north it was pretty easy to get going over 25mph on these wings, and they were surprisingly stable to boot. If you managed to lose it on a gust it would usually just carry you into the grass for a mostly painful wipeout. At 25+mph there is just no way to run it out.

I really prefer pneumatic wheels when I go over 20mph on a skateboard, which is pretty much all the time

For Kite Ground Boarding I’ve had a MBS Comp MTB with massive 9″ pneumatic tires. I removed the hand brake from it and it was a great board to ride on the hardpack with direct onshore winds. Although I don’t hesitate to jump 30-40 feet over water I rarely would jump more than 10 feet in the air with the MBS Comp because the ground is hard and water is not. Recently I spent a week in LA testing a new Luna eSkateboard with 2 sets of swappable wheels, one Urethane, the other large pneumatic. As I tested the range and power of the skateboard every day I felt like an article was needed to be written to describe the differences between the two very different kinds of skateboard wheels to help people pick which one would be best for their application.

My first Longboard, I really like the carving feeling and stability of Comet longboards at high speeds

Most skateboards never leave the pavement, and for newly paved roads at speeds of less than 20 mph Urethane wheels really excel. You can feel the road texture through the wheels and every little bit of gravel you hit as well, but the feeling is not usually very unpleasurable. The problem with smaller Urethane wheels is when you hit potholes or damage in the road surface. The Urethane wheels will either skip over the damage without an issue, or if it is dramatic enough then the board will stop abruptly and the rider will have to ‘run it out’ to keep from doing a faceplant. Often when I ride skateboards I don’t wear a helmet, but I do wear wrist pads and that allows me to use my hands to catch myself to keep from doing a faceplant but still not hit my head. When riding an electric skateboard I always wear some kind of helmet, as I’m usually going much faster and there is a risk of getting hit by other vehicles. I can’t emphasize enough how handy Roller blade style wrist pads are at preventing road rash and broken wrists. When you end up face planting your hands will automatically go to protect your head and at high speeds, you can rip your palms open good. When I hit a dog once on my bike I went over the handlebars and caused a 1/2″ tear in my right palm when I landed. The doctor had to reach in there to pick gravel out and it was painful and gross. Scars are cool.

A MTB ground board modified for kiteboarding with the handbrake removed, these work well at high speeds and for jumping very high in the air, the board has a lot of ‘spring’ in it

Pneumatic wheels are inflated with air and usually much larger diameter. They can be anywhere for 6″ to 9″ in diameter and generally have a Schrader valve. Most have small tubes in them and are inflated to around 20psi. Pneumatic tires are much heavier than Urethane and have more rolling resistance. When I was testing the Luna skateboard with Urethane tires I was able to get 6.5 miles on the Strand in LA which is almost completely level. With the Pneumatic tires I got only about 6 miles of range. Keep in mind that I am 205 lbs and I started with a full charged board at the high-speed setting and then kept the throttle pegged. I didn’t notice a difference in the top speed with different tires, but the Luna eskateboard also had 2 different sets of belts for each kind of tire to keep the drive ratio constant. When I got board with only going 20 mph on the board I tore it apart and tried it with a 48v battery, but that only increased the top speed to about 23mph from 21mph at 36v. The acceleration was a little more punchy, but still not as good as a boosted board which seems to be the yardstick by which all other boards are measured.

Large Urethane wheels work surprisingly well on most undamaged paved road surfaces, this truck design is not that great for smaller Urethane wheels, you can see that it bottomed out with road damage

When going 20 mph or more the Pneumatic tires really shine. All the road noise and gravel just gets eaten up and you feel much more in control. I spent a lot of time trying to hit curb transitions at high speed as well as road damage and I was amazed at the uneven surfaces that the pneumatic tires could just eat up. I also tested the Luna board on grass which felt awesome, but the board is not really powerful enough to ride around on grass unless it is sloped downhill. Again, it was another disappointment. I’m used to Kite Ground Boarding with a large kite which produces insane amounts of power, enough to boost me 10-15 feet off the ground. With all the electric skateboards I’ve ridden (even the Boosted Dual +) I’m always left feeling incredibly disappointed with the power and acceleration of these boards. The only thing I’ve ridden that had not disappointed me is the 35mph Lunacycle 3000W Apocalypse scooter and the 10,000W racing version of that scooter is actually totally terrifying. I understand why no one is producing electric boards this fast and powerful, the liability alone would be a total nightmare. As a side note the Apocolypse scooter has tiny 10-inch pneumatic wheels and although the racing scooter goes 50+mph easily, going that fast on tiny 10″ wheels is not for the meek of heart.

Testing the skateboard with a larger 48v triangle pack, didn’t help much with power or top speed on this board

Urethane wheels

  • Less rolling resistance = more range
  • You can slide the board to slow down if your wheels are not super soft and grippy
  • A more traditional skateboarding feeling
  • Works only on paved and mostly undamaged road surfaces
  • Work well at <20mph]
  • No flats

Pneumatic wheels

  • Much better for speeds over 20 mph
  • More rolling resistance, less range
  • Have to maintain the tire pressures and can get flats
  • Works well on dirt, gravel, and grass
  • Better traction, cannot slide the board to slow down

There you have it, a side by side comparison of two dramatically different wheel types and which one will work best for your application will be a matter of taste and preference. Because I’ve spent most of my time on skateboards with a kite, I naturally prefer the feeling of the Pneumatic wheels. I suspect skateboard purists will much prefer the Urethane wheels. Depending on your application, both wheel types can excel in their ‘home terrain’. What terrain you want to use them in is up to you.

Ride On.

You can see the Y shaped scar from hitting a silent dog while biking. Why O Why did that dumb dog have to walk out if front of me?



2 thoughts on “Urethane vs Pneumatic : The eSkateboard Wheel Smackdown

  1. Karl, you really need to test (or own) the Evolve Bamboo GT or Carbon GT boards. In every aspect – performance, quality, versatility – they’re the current Gold Standard. I tested out pretty much everything before trying the Evolve GTs, and nothing compares.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s