Hub motors for e-bikes come in two different designs. There are geared hub motors and direct drive hub motors (also known as gearless hub motors). Each design has its own benefits and drawbacks. The best hub motor for you depends on how you plan to ride your e-bike. This guide explains the difference between a geared hub Vs direct drive hub motor. I’ll also outline the pros and cons of each. I’ll cover weight, efficiency, range, longevity, cost, noise, and much more.
I’ve been riding e-bikes for about 10 years. Over the years, I’ve owned bikes with both motor types. In this guide, I’ll share my experience. Whether you’re buying a new e-bike or installing an e-bike conversion kit on your existing bike, hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best hub motor for your riding style.
Geared Hub Motor Pros and Cons
- 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
- More stealthy due to the smaller size
- Better performance off-road
- Lower top speed
- More maintenance is required. The gears need to be replaced.
- Less reliable because there are more moving parts
- Less long-lasting
- Regenerative braking is usually not available
Direct Drive Motor Pros and Cons
- Higher top speed
- Quiet operation
- Less maintenance required
- More reliable because there are fewer moving parts
- Longer lasting
- Some models feature regenerative braking
- Less range
- Less efficient
- Larger size
- Less torque
- Slower acceleration
- More difficult to pedal when the motor isn’t in use
- Less stealthy due to the larger size
- 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 hub, which turns the bike’s wheel and moves the bike forward.
Inside the geared hub, there is a central gear, which is fixed to the motor shaft. This gear turns a series of other gears. The type of gears used are called planetary or elliptical gears. This gear system takes the motor’s input speed and slows it down to a lower output speed. The internal gears multiply the motor’s torque output. In other words, the gears create a mechanical advantage.
The motor rotates many times each time the wheel rotates. This allows the motor to run at faster speeds. Electric motors are more efficient when they run at higher RPMs. This also allows the bike’s wheel to turn at a more suitable speed for a bicycle. It doesn’t have to turn as fast as the motor. This type of motor also offers a greater torque-to-weight ratio compared to the direct-drive hub motor.
Geared hub motors are also designed with a built-in freewheel mechanism. This eliminates the resistance caused by the motor when coasting or pedaling without assistance.
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)?
Unlike geared hub motors, direct drive hub motors do not have any internal gearing. This means the motor’s rotor is directly connected to the wheel hub. It provides a one-to-one power transfer. For every revolution of the motor, the wheel also makes one revolution.
The motor’s controller sends electric current from the battery to the stator. The stator is a series of wires that are tightly coiled. 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 firmly attached around the inside of the hub shell in a ring shape. These magnets surround the stator. This is called the rotor.
The ring of magnets and the hub shell freely rotate around the stator with the assistance of the hub bearings, which attach to the axle. The spokes and wheel attach to the outer shell of the hub.
When an electric current runs through the coiled copper wires of the stator, the magnets and the rotor begin to rotate. This force pushes the bike forward.
On some direct drive hub motors, the magnets are fixed in place around the axle and the coiled wires spin with the hub. The motor works the same.
This simple design results in fewer moving parts, making the motor highly reliable, durable, and virtually maintenance-free. Direct drive hub motors are also known as gearless hub motors.
What is the Difference Between a Geared Hub Motor and Direct Drive Hub Motor?
Geared hub motors and direct drive hub motors work the same. They are both standard electric motors. Both have a stator with coiled wires and a rotor with magnets inside.
The difference is the way the power is transferred from the motor. A geared hub motor has a set of elliptical gears between the motor and the hub. The motor doesn’t rotate the hub shell directly. Instead, it rotates the elliptical gears. The gears then rotate the hub. A direct drive motor powers the hub directly. There are no gears.
Another difference is the motor size. Geared hub motors are physically smaller. They don’t need to be as large because they can use the mechanical advantage of the gears to create more torque. Direct drive motors are larger and heavier.
There are also a number of similarities. Both geared and direct drive hub motors can be run in the front or rear hub. Both can be set up with cadence sensors or torque sensors. They can both use throttle control or pedal assist or both. Both can offer smooth and consistent operation.
Geared Hub Vs Direct Drive Motors
Geared hub motors are significantly lighter than direct drive hub motors. A modern geared hub motor weighs 2-4 kg (around 4.5-9 pounds). To compare, a direct drive hub motor may weigh 5-11 kg (around 11-25 pounds).
The weight difference is substantial. On average, a geared hub motor is 4.5 kg or 10 pounds lighter than a direct drive motor.
Geared hub motors are lighter because they use a smaller, less powerful motor. They utilize 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 can compensate for the extra weight. That said, there are benefits to riding an e-bike with a lighter motor.
The biggest benefit of a lighter e-bike is that it is easier to maneuver. Particularly while riding at low speeds. Additionally, a lighter bike is usually more portable. If you need to carry your bike up a flight of stairs into your apartment, you’re better off with a geared hub motor. A lighter e-bike can also accelerate faster due to the decreased weight it needs to overcome when starting from a stop. It also takes less energy 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. You feel the weight of the motor while cornering. Of course, you’ll also feel the extra weight if you’re trying to pedal without the motor’s assistance.
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
Geared hub motors offer better range than direct drive hub motors. On average, 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.
There are a couple of reasons that geared hub motors get better range. Most importantly, the planetary gear reduction system allows the motor to spend more time operating at its peak 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. In other words, the motor rotates one-to-one with the wheel. On a bike with 26″ wheels, the motor may only turn at 200 RPM. On a bike with smaller wheels, such as a folding e-bike, the motor may only rotate at 300-400 RPM. This is very slow for an electric motor. Electric motors can’t operate at peak efficiency when running this slow. You need to ride faster to achieve efficient speeds.
Manufacturers have designed direct drive motors that run efficiently at low speeds. These still are not nearly as efficient as geared motors, which can run much faster.
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 the motor to utilize the battery’s energy more efficiently. The gearing also multiplies 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. This causes you to drain your battery faster.
In addition, geared motors are significantly lighter than direct drive motors. A geared motor may weigh 4.5- 6.8 kg (10-15 pounds) less than a direct drive motor. 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 e-bike’s range. The battery size is more important. If you need more range, you can install a larger battery. You’ll have a longer battery life with 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.
Direct drive hub motors allow you to reach higher speeds 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).
While riding at a higher speed, direct drive hub motors also run more efficiently because the motor can turn at a higher RPM. Direct drive hub motors don’t perform as well at low speeds because they lack torque.
Geared hub motors are better at low-speed operation. This is because geared motors produce more 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).
The extra torque makes geared motors ideal for climbing hills and riding into headwinds. To achieve similar levels of torque, you would a direct drive hub motor would have to be very large and heavy.
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.
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. Remember, electric motors are more efficient while operating at higher RPMs. The gears also provide a mechanical advantage. They reduce the motor’s output speed to a more suitable speed for a bicycle. At the same time, they increase torque.
Direct drive hub motors must operate at low speeds. Particularly when starting from a stop. Electric motors don’t operate efficiently when they’re running at such low speeds. Ebikes with direct drive hub motors are less efficient. While riding at high speeds, the energy efficiency is comparable.
There are several benefits to riding a more efficient bike. First, the range is better. You can ride further on a single charge with a geared hub motor. If you ride an e-bike with a geared hub motor, you can also get away with a smaller battery. Smaller batteries are cheaper. This is important because the battery is the most expensive component of an e-bike. 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.
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.
Direct drive hub motors are nearly silent. They just make normal bicycle sounds. They don’t make any noise because they have no moving parts.
It’s important to note that modern geared hub motors are significantly quieter than past models. Manufacturers are using more advanced materials and designs to make quieter motors.
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.
The price of geared and gearless hub motors is pretty comparable. 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.
Winner: Geared motors are cheaper than direct drive models.
Geared hub motors are significantly smaller in diameter than direct drive models. The motor doesn’t have to be as large thanks to the mechanical advantage that the gears offer. Some modern geared hub motors are around the same size as a regular bicycle hub.
Direct drive motors, on the other hand, are much larger in diameter. This is necessary 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.
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.
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 than a wheel with longer spokes. This makes broken spokes or bent rims less likely. Your wheel can take a beating.
Winner: Geared hub motors are smaller than direct drive motors.
Geared hub motors offer more torque than direct drive motors. The planetary gear reduction system slows the motor’s output speed but 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 the bike 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 hill. You may have to walk your bike up some steep hills. 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.
Both direct drive and geared hub motors are nearly maintenance-free. The only 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. The exact process depends on the model of motor you have. Check the owner’s manual for more info.
You’ll know that the gears need to be replaced when the motor starts making more noise. you may notice a grinding noise. When the gears start to wear out, 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 gears on a high-end hub motor should last near the top end of this range. Lower-end hub motors need replacement gears sooner.
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. The motor and gears need to work harder while climbing hills or carrying lots of weight. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Direct drive motors can be a great choice for certain types of riders. For example:
Those who like riding at high speeds (20+ mph). Gearless motors are faster.
Those who want an e-bike with regenerative braking. Most higher-end direct drive motors come with this system built-in.
Those who want a quiet bike. Direct drive motors make less noise because they don’t have gears rubbing together.
Those who ride in remote areas. Direct drive ebikes are slightly more reliable because they have fewer moving parts. They’re less likely to leave you stranded.
Those who value longevity. Direct drive hub motors are longer lasting because they have no moving parts other than the bearings.
Who Should Use a Geared Hub Motor?
For most riders, a geared drive hub motor is the better choice. These days, most mid-range e-bikes come with a geared hub motor. Geared hub motors are better for:
Those who demand performance out of their e-bike. Geared motors have lots of torque, allowing them to accelerate quickly.
Those who climb lots of hills. The extra torque makes climbing easier, faster, and more efficient.
Those who need more range. If you have a long commute, you’re better off going with a geared hub motor.
Those who value efficiency- Geared motors use less power. This allows you to use a smaller battery and charge less often.
Pedaling without the use of the motor. Geared hub motors have a freewheel mechanism that disengages the motor when it’s not in use.
Those who prefer a stealthier look. Geared hub motors are much smaller. They are only slightly larger than a normal hub.
Heavier riders and those who carry extra weight on their bike are also better off with a geared hub motor. The extra torque makes it easier to accelerate the extra weight.
Those who are on a budget. Geared motors are usually slightly cheaper.
Those who ride at lower speeds. If you never intend to ride at speeds over 20mph, geared motors are the better choice
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?
What is the Best Drive System for Electric Bikes?
Generally, mid-drive motors are better than hub-drive motors because they offer more range and more torque. This is the case because mid-drives provide power through the chain. Most higher-end e-bikes come with a mid-drive motor.
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. If you buy a quality e-bike, you’re sure to enjoy good performance and plenty of miles of cruising around town.
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!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and incites based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.