Skip to Content

Geared Hub Motor Vs Direct Drive Hub Motor Ebike: Differences and Pros and Cons

E-bike hub motors come in two different designs. There are geared hub motors and direct drive hub motors (also known as gearless hub motors). A geared hub motor has a gear reduction system built into the hub. A direct drive motor powers the hub directly. Each design has its own benefits and drawbacks. Geared hub motors are lighter, more efficient, and more torquey. Direct drive motors are faster, more reliable, and longer lasting. This guide explains the differences and lists the pros and cons of a geared hub motor Vs direct drive hub motor. In this guide, I’ll cover weight, efficiency, range, longevity, cost, noise, and much more.

An e-bike with a rear hub motor
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Geared Hub Motor Pros

  • Lighter weight
  • Better range
  • More efficient
  • Smaller physical size
  • More torque
  • Faster acceleration
  • Easier to ride the bike when the motor is not in use
  • Better performance off-road

Geared Hub Motor Cons

  • Lower top speed
  • Noisy
  • More maintenance is required
  • Less reliable because there are more moving parts
  • Less long-lasting
  • Regenerative braking is usually not available

Direct Drive Motor Pros

  • Higher top speed
  • Quiet operation
  • Less maintenance required
  • More reliable because there are fewer moving parts
  • Longer lasting
  • Some models feature regenerative braking

Direct Drive Motor Cons

  • Heavier
  • Less range
  • Less efficient
  • Larger size
  • Less torque
  • Slower acceleration
  • More difficult to pedal when the motor isn’t in use
  • Not ideal for off-road use

What are Geared Hub Motors?

A geared hub motor has a gear reduction system built in. The gears transfer rotating force from the motor to the bike’s hub and wheel to drive the bike forward. The gears slow the motor’s rotation speed to a suitable speed for the wheel to turn.

Inside the geared hub, there is an electric motor that turns a shaft. A central gear is fixed to the shaft. This gear turns a series of planetary gears (or elliptical gears.) This gear system takes the motor’s input speed and slows it down to a lower output speed. The internal gears also multiply the motor’s torque output. In other words, the gears create a mechanical advantage.

This allows the motor to run at faster speeds. The motor rotates multiple times for each rotation of the wheel. This is beneficial because electric motors are more efficient when they run at higher RPMs. This type of motor also offers a greater torque-to-weight ratio compared to the direct-drive hub motor.

An e-bike with a geared hub motor

Geared hub motors are also designed with a built-in freewheel mechanism in the gears. This allows the wheel to spin without turning the motor. This eliminates the resistance caused by the motor when coasting or pedaling without assistance. Geared hub motors are small. They are just slightly larger than a regular hub.

It’s important to note that you don’t shift the gears of a geared hub motor. The gearing is fixed. You can shift the bike’s derailleur gears normally. The hub motor is not affected when you shift the bike’s gears. It powers the wheel directly.

What are Direct Drive Hub Motors (Gearless Hub Motors)?

Direct-drive hub motors do not have any internal gearing. The motor’s rotor is directly connected to the hub. It provides a one-to-one power transfer. For every revolution of the motor, the wheel also makes one revolution. Direct drive hub motors are also known as gearless hub motors, brushless motors, or speed motors.

The controller sends electric current from the battery to the stator. The stator is a series of wires that are tightly coiled in the motor. The stator is fixed in place to the bike’s axle. When electricity runs through the stator, it becomes an electromagnet.

There are a series of magnets permanently attached around the inside of the hub shell in a ring shape. These magnets surround the stator. The ring of magnets and the hub shell freely rotate around the stator. This is called the rotor.

When an electric current runs through the coiled copper wires of the stator, the magnets and the rotor begin to rotate. The stator attracts and repels the magnets at the right time to cause them to rotate. This rotation force turns the wheel and pushes the bike forward.

This simple design results in fewer moving parts. There are no gears inside. Only magnets are used. The only moving parts are the hub bearings. This makes the motor extremely reliable, durable, and pretty much maintenance-free.

Geared Hub Vs Direct Drive Motors

An electric bike with dual hub motors

Weight

Geared hub motors are significantly lighter than direct drive hub motors. On average, a geared hub motor is 4.5 kg or 10 pounds lighter than a direct drive motor.

A modern geared hub motor weighs 2-4 kg (around 4.5-9 pounds). To compare, a direct drive hub motor weighs 5-11 kg (around 11-25 pounds). The weight difference is substantial.

Geared hub motors are lighter because they use a smaller, less powerful motor. They use the mechanical advantage of the gears to create sufficient torque. Direct drive hub motors need to be larger and more powerful to overcome the lack of torque.

It’s important to note that on an e-bike, you won’t notice the extra weight as much as you would on a non-powered bike. The motor’s power compensates for the extra weight. That said, there are benefits to riding an e-bike with a lighter motor.

A man carrying an electric bike up a flight of stairs.

The biggest benefit of a lighter e-bike is that it is easier to maneuver. Particularly while riding at low speeds. A lighter bike is also more portable. A lighter e-bike can also accelerate faster. It’s also easier to ride when not using the motor.

You may notice the extra weight of a heavy gearless hub motor while cornering. A heavy motor can throw off the bike’s center of gravity. This can make the bike feel a bit less natural to ride. A heavy direct drive hub motor can also create a gyroscopic effect. When you lean the bike, the wheel with the heavy motor tries to right itself. This can affect the bike’s steering while you’re traveling at higher speeds. The bike may feel like it’s trying to resist your turns. It doesn’t want to lean into corners. You may not be able to corner quite as hard as you’re used to when you use a heavy direct drive hub motor.

Winner: Geared hub motors are lighter than gearless hub motors

Range

Geared hub motors offer better range than direct drive hub motors. An e-bike with a geared hub motor may achieve 10-15 miles more range per charge than a direct drive model, assuming all else is equal (battery size, bike design, etc.)

There are a couple of reasons that geared hub motors get better range. Most importantly, the gear reduction system allows the motor to spend more time operating at its optimal RPM. The internal gears allow the motor to spin at a higher RPM than the wheel. Electric motors operate more efficiently when running at high RPMs. This saves power, allowing you to achieve a longer range.

Direct drive motors run at lower RPMs. This is because the motor must rotate at the same speed as the wheel. On a bike with 26″ wheels, the motor may only turn at 200 RPM. This is very slow for an electric motor. Electric motors can’t operate efficiently when running this slow. You need to ride faster to achieve efficient speeds.

An electric bike with panniers

Geared hub motors also tend to be lower wattage (less powerful) than direct drive hub motors. An average geared hub motor has 250 watts of power. The gearing allows you to get away with a smaller motor by multiplying the torque output. Smaller motors use less power. You’ll get more range as a result.

Direct drive motors are usually higher wattage. Most are rated at 500-1000 watts. You need the extra motor power to create sufficient torque. Higher-wattage direct drive motors need more power to run, which uses more energy.

In addition, geared motors are much lighter than direct drive motors. A lighter bike takes less energy to move around. You’ll achieve a longer range with a lighter bike.

Of course, the motor isn’t the only factor that determines the bike’s range. The battery size is more important. If you need more range, you can install a larger battery. The rider weight, bike weight, tires, terrain, battery quality, and outdoor temperature can all play a big role in the range you get out of your bike. For more info, check out my guide to e-bike range.

Winner: Geared hub motors offer better range than gearless hub motors.

Speed

Direct drive hub motors have a higher top speed than geared hub motors. This makes them ideal for class 3 or speed pedelec e-bikes, which have a top speed of 28 mph (45 km/h). Direct drive hub motors don’t perform as well at low speeds because they lack torque. Most class 1 and class 2 e-bikes come with geared hub motors because they only need to run at speeds of up to 15.5 or 20 mph (25 or 32 km/h).

A woman riding an e-bike

On most e-bikes, the top speed is limited by software. Different regions have different speed limitations. In the United States, Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes have a top speed of 20 mph while Class 3 e-bikes have a top speed of 28 mph. In much of Europe, e-bikes are limited to a top speed of 15.5 mph or 25 km/h. For more info, check out my guide: How Fast are Electric Bikes?

Winner: Direct drive hub motors are faster. Geared hub motors perform better at low speeds.

Energy Efficiency

Geared hub motors are more energy efficient than gearless hub motors. The gears allow the electric motor to run at a higher RPM, which is more efficient. Direct drive hub motors must operate at low speeds. Electric motors don’t operate efficiently when they’re running at such low speeds.

There are several benefits to riding a more efficient bike. First, the range is better. You can also get away with a smaller battery. Smaller batteries are cheaper. You’ll also use less electricity. E-bikes don’t use much electricity but there is some savings.

Winner: Geared hub motors are more efficient than gearless hub motors.

Noise

Geared hub motors can be noisy. The noise comes from the gears running against one another. They create a kind of whining sound. The faster you ride, the louder the motor gets. The motor can become louder when the gears start to wear. Some geared motors also use metal gears. These are noisier than plastic gears. Some riders find the sound to be annoying. Modern geared hub motors are significantly quieter than past models. .

Direct drive hub motors are nearly silent. They just make normal bicycle sounds. The motors don’t make any noise because they have no moving parts.

If you’re looking for the quietest geared hub motor, look for a model with helical pattern gearing. Geared motors with helical gearing are still louder than direct drive motors but not by much.

Winner: Direct drive hub motors are quieter than geared hub motors.

An electric bike with a geared hub motor

Cost

The price of geared and gearless hub motors is pretty similar. Geared hub motors are often slightly cheaper than gearless models. They are cheaper to manufacture because they require fewer materials due to the smaller size. Most e-bikes come with a geared motor these days.

Even though they are mechanically simpler, direct drive motors tend to be a bit more expensive. This is because they are larger. Fewer are also produced these days.

Winner: Geared motors are cheaper than direct drive models.

Physical Motor Size

Geared hub motors are significantly smaller than direct drive models. The motor doesn’t have to be as large thanks to the mechanical advantage of the gears. Modern geared hub motors are around the same size as a regular hub.

The benefit of having a smaller motor is that it is more discreet. When you ride by, people may not know that you’re riding an e-bike. An e-bike with a small hub motor and an integrated battery looks just like a normal bike.

Direct drive motors are much larger in diameter. These motors need to be bigger to overcome the lack of torque. The larger motor is much more visible. It’s easy to spot a direct drive hub motor e-bike.

There is one benefit to running a larger direct drive motor. A larger hub means the spokes are shorter. A wheel with shorter spokes is structurally stronger. This makes broken spokes or bent rims less likely with a direct drive motor. Your wheel can take a beating.

Winner: Geared hub motors are smaller than direct drive motors.

An electric bike with a rear hub geared drive motor

Torque

Geared hub motors offer more torque than direct drive motors. The planetary gear reduction system slows the motor’s output speed and multiplies the torque output. This gives you more power on the low end.

The high torque allows geared motors to accelerate faster. They can also climb better. In addition, they can handle heavier loads. For heavy bikes, such as cargo bikes and touring bikes, geared motors are ideal. They are also better for heavy riders.

Direct drive hub motors offer less torque. They can’t accelerate as fast. They also don’t perform as well on hills. In fact, a low-wattage direct drive motor may not have enough torque to carry a heavy rider up a steep hill. You may have to walk your bike more often. You will need a much higher wattage direct drive motor to match the low-speed performance of a geared hub motor.

Winner: Geared hub motors offer more torque.

Maintenance

Both direct drive and geared hub motors are nearly maintenance-free. The only regular maintenance you need to do is grease or replace the hub bearings when they wear out. Bearings last many thousands of miles.

The gears in geared hub motors can wear out. When this happens, they need to be replaced. This involves opening up the motor, removing the old gears, and replacing them with a new set. You’ll know that the gears need to be replaced when the motor starts making more noise. You may notice a grinding noise. The performance of the motor may also decline. Exactly how long the gears last depends on the quality of the motor and how you ride the bike. On average, the gears in a geared motor last 3,000-10,000 miles.

The way you ride can also determine how long the gears last. If you climb lots of hills, the gears may wear out sooner than if you only ride on flat ground. If you’re a heavy rider or if you regularly ride with a heavy load, the gears may also wear out sooner. If you ride the bike hard with lots of fast acceleration, you might also wear the gears out faster.

If you have an older geared hub motor, it may be difficult to find replacement gears. The gears are usually a proprietary part. If you can’t find the gears you need, you’ll have to replace the whole motor. This is a common issue with cheap geared motors from no-name manufacturers.

Direct drive motors don’t need any maintenance inside because there are no moving parts. You shouldn’t have to ever open up the motor. If your direct drive motor stops working, you’ll need to replace it in most cases.

Winner: Both motor types require minimal maintenance. You will need to change the gears on a geared motor once in a while.

A folding electric bike with a geared hub motor

Acceleration

Geared hub motors offer faster acceleration than direct drive. This is possible thanks to the additional torque that the gears create. Direct drive motors accelerate much slower because they have less torque.

FThis faster acceleration makes a geared motor electric bicycle a better choice for those who ride in stop-and-go traffic in the city. After stopping at a stop light, you can quickly accelerate up to speed when the light turns green. This can help you keep up with traffic. You may also get to your destination faster.

With a gearless motor, you’ll be much slower off the line. It takes more time to reach your cruising speed because the motor lacks torque.

Winner: Geared motors accelerate faster.

Reliability and Longevity

Both geared hub motors and direct drive hub motors are reliable and long-lasting. They are simply electric motors. Both designs have been produced for many years at this point. A quality hub motor will last thousands of miles with pretty much no maintenance.

In general, a direct drive hub motor will outlast a geared hub motor. This is because there are fewer moving parts inside direct drive motors. The only moving parts are the bearings. There are fewer parts that can fail and leave you stranded.

Geared hub motors have internal gears that can eventually fail. When the gears fail, they need to be replaced. This makes geared motors a bit less reliable.

In most cases, the gears don’t fail catastrophically and leave you stranded. Instead, they slowly wear down until they start to grind. You have plenty of time to replace them before the motor stops working. Reliability is rarely an issue.

To extend the life of the gears, some riders replace the plastic planetary gears with metal gears. These last longer but can make more noise. Using metal gears also removes a point of failure for the motor. If the motor malfunctions, the metal gears can’t break. Plastic gears are designed to fail under too much stress.

Winner: Direct drive hub motors are more reliable and longer lasting because they have fewer moving parts.

A woman riding a folding electric bike in San Francisco

Regenerative Braking

Some hub motors are capable of regenerative braking. Regenerative braking slows the bike down by converting some of your kinetic energy into electricity instead of heat. This electricity is used to recharge the battery. In other words, the direct drive motor works as a generator while you’re braking. Regenerative braking is an energy recovery system. On most e-bikes that come equipped with regenerative braking, the system automatically kicks in when you apply the brakes.

Regenerative braking can give you a little extra charge as you slow down or descend hills. Regenerative braking may improve your bike’s efficiency by 5-10%. For example, if your e-bike has a 60 mile range, you might get an extra 3-6 miles per charge with regenerative braking.

Exactly how much energy you can recover depends on the weight of you and your bike and the terrain you ride. For an average rider, regenerative braking is not very effective. If you ride a heavy cargo bike or a fully loaded electric touring bike or if you descend lots of hills, you can benefit greatly from regenerative braking. Heavy riders can also benefit from regenerative braking.

In addition, regenerative braking can also prolong the life of your brake pads. The motor slows you down instead of your brakes. You don’t have to ride the brakes while descending hills. You won’t have to brake quite as hard or often. Your pads last longer as a result.

Regenerative braking is only available on higher-end direct-drive hub motors. Geared hub motors are usually not capable of regenerative braking because they have a freewheel mechanism built into the gearing that disengages the motor when you’re not pedaling.

There are some exceptions. These days, some geared hub motors offer regenerative braking. For example, the GMAC is a clutchless geared motor electric bike that offers regenerative braking. A couple of other companies have also introduced geared motors that are capable of regenerative braking as well.

Winner: Gearless hub motors often offer regenerative braking. Most geared hub motors are not capable of regenerative braking.

Riding Without Using the Motor

If you plan to pedal your e-bike without using the motor, a geared motor is the better choice. This is because geared hub motors have a freewheel system built into the gearing. This freewheel disengages the motor when it’s not in use. You don’t have to overcome the resistance of the motor while pedaling without pedal assist. This makes it much easier to pedal an e-bike with a geared hub motor if the battery runs out or if you simply don’t want to use the pedal assist system.

Direct drive hub motors are always engaged. The motor always creates some electromagnetic resistance, even when it’s turned off. While pedaling with the motor turned off, you still have to overcome the resistance created by the magnets passing over the stator. This makes it harder to pedal the bike when you’re not using the motor.

This reduces your pedaling efficiency. Some of your pedaling power goes toward overcoming the resistance created by the motor. It also slows you down. You will feel the resistance while pedaling. You won’t want to ride very far without your motor engaged when you ride an e-bike with a direct drive hub motor. You’ll only want to ride without the motor in emergency situations, like if your battery runs out mid-ride.

Winner: A geared motor makes the bike easier to ride when the motor is not in use.

Stealth

An electric bike with a geared hub motor can be stealthy. A modern geared motor is just slightly larger than a regular hub. It’s not really noticeable. Many e-bikes also have a battery that is integrated into the frame. These e-bikes look like any other bicycle. When you’re riding by, the average person will have no idea that you’re riding an electric bike.

This stealth is appealing to some riders due to the stigma that surrounds e-bikes. Some people don’t want to ride e-bikes because they may be considered lazy or cheaters. With a geared hub motor, you can keep your e-bike use discreet and still enjoy the benefits of electric assist.

Direct drive motors are more noticeable due to the larger size of the motor. They’re less discreet.

Winner: A geared hub motor is more stealthy.

Off-Road Riding

If you plan to ride your e-bike off-road, on rough roads, on roads that are covered in snow or mud, or on roads with lots of hills, a geared motor is the better choice. The gearing makes the motor much better at dealing with changing speeds and inclines. You can slow down for a rough section of road and then quickly accelerate back up to speed. When you reach an incline, you can power right up it. This is possible thanks to the extra torque that the gears create.

An electric mountain bike
An electric mountain bike

Direct drive motors don’t handle rugged conditions quite as well. They take more time to get back up to speed. If you slow down for a pothole, it will take you some time to regain your speed. They also aren’t as capable of climbing steep hills. You’ll have to walk your bike more often. Having said this, you can find large gearless hub motors that offer good off-road performance.

Winner: Geared hub motors handle rough conditions better.

Who Should Use a Direct Drive Hub Motor?

  • Those who like riding at high speeds (20+ mph).

  • Those who want an e-bike with regenerative braking.

  • Those who want a quiet bike.

  • Those who ride in remote areas.

  • Those who value longevity.

Who Should Use a Geared Hub Motor?

  • Those who demand performance out of their e-bike.

  • Those who climb lots of hills.

  • Those who need more range.

  • Heavier riders and those who carry extra weight on their bike.

  • Those who want to pedal pedal without the use of the motor.
  • Those who prefer a stealthier look. Geared hub motors are much smaller.

  • Those who are on a budget.

  • Those who ride at lower speeds.

Which is Better? Direct Drive or Geared Hub Motors?

Neither is really better. The best electric bike motor type for you really depends on the type of riding you do. There are tradeoffs.

Geared hub motors are typically smaller, lighter, and more energy efficient than direct drive hub motors. Geared motors also have higher torque output, which can be beneficial for climbing and acceleration. They are a bit noisier. They may also not last as long due to the internal gears wearing out.

Gearless hub motors last longer and require less maintenance due to their lack of internal gears. They can also reach higher speeds. Low speed performance often isn’t as good due to the lack of torque.

How Long Do Ebike Hub Motors Last?

On average, an e-bike hub motor will last 10,000-15,000 miles when it’s properly maintained. For the average rider, this will be 3-5 years. If you don’t ride as frequently, the motor may last 10+ years.

Generally, gearless hub motors last longer than geared models because they lack moving parts. You will most likely need to replace the gears at some point in your geared hub motor’s life.

The longevity also depends on the quality of the motor. A cheap hub motor may only last 3,000 miles or a couple of years. A top-of-the-line hub motor can easily last a decade if you take care of it. You might be able to get 30,000+ thousand miles out of a gearless hub motor.

For more in-depth info on e-bike longevity, check out my guide: How Long do Electric Bicycles Last?

An electric bike with a mid-drive motor

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice between a direct drive and geared hub motor will depend on your specific needs. Direct drive motors last longer and can reach higher speeds. They also have lower torque output and are larger and heavier.

Conversely, geared motors have higher torque output and greater efficiency. They require a bit more maintenance and can also be slightly less reliable.

Direct drive and geared motors also share many similarities. Both can use torque and cadence sensors. Both are compatible with pedal assist and throttle control. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which type of hub motor your bike uses.

Whether you choose to ride a geared or gearless hub motor, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.

Do you ride an e-bike with a geared hub or direct drive motor? Share your experience in the comments below!

More from Where The Road Forks

Sharing is caring!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!