One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make when choosing an ebike is whether you want to go with a mid-drive or hub motor design. The motor type plays a major role in the price, ride quality, and overall performance of the bike. In this guide, I’ll outline the key differences between the two types of ebike motors. I’ll also list the pros and cons of mid-drive vs hub motor ebikes. We’ll cover performance, maintenance, ride quality, handling, cost, range, and much more. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best ebike for your style of riding.
What is a Mid Drive eBike?
On a mid-drive ebike, the motor is located at the center of the bike between the pedals, at the bike’s bottom bracket. The cranks attach directly to the mid-drive motor. The mid-drive motor is integrated into the e bike’s frame. It is not a separate unit like a hub motor.
Mid-drive motors don’t power the wheel directly like hub motors. Instead, the mid-drive motor provides power through the bike’s drivetrain. The motor turns the cranks and chainring and provides power to the rear wheel through the chain. The motor essentially makes it easier for you to pedal by providing some pedaling force to the cranks for you. This is called pedal assist.
A mid-drive ebike motor can take advantage of the bike’s gears because it is integrated into the drivetrain. You can use the mechanical advantage of the gears to multiply the motor’s power.
For example, when you shift down it becomes easier for the motor to turn the cranks. This allows you to easily power up steep hills. When you shift up, the motor has to work harder to turn the cranks. The mechanical advantage of the gears allows you to reach higher speeds. You can also use the gears to keep the motor in its ideal RPM range. Using the gears allows you to ride faster and more efficiently and ride varied terrain.
Mid-drive ebike motors have a built-in pedal-assist sensor. Most mid-drive ebikes come with a torque sensor. This sensor measures the amount of force you’re putting into the peddles and then relays this information to the bike’s control unit. The control unit then adjusts the level of assist based on that measurement.
When you pedal harder, the motor provides more power. When you pedal more gently, the motor provides less power. Some mid-drive ebikes use a cadence sensor instead. I’ll talk more about cadence sensors in the next section.
Most mid-drive ebikes only offer pedal assist. They do not have a throttle. This means you have to pedal in order for the motor to supply power. There are exceptions.
Mid-drive ebike motors are a relatively new technology. Mid-drive ebikes have only existed since around 2010. Expensive high-end ebikes tend to come with mid-drive motors. Mid-drive ebikes are sometimes referred to as central hub or mid-motor ebikes.
What is a Hub Motor Electric Bike?
Hub motor ebikes have an electric motor built into one of the hubs. The hub motor is used in place of a standard hub. Usually, the motor is installed in the rear but it can be installed in the front as well.
The hub motor directly powers the wheel it’s built into. In other words, it applies torque directly to the wheel. It operates completely separately from the bike’s drivetrain. A hub motor is not affected by gear changes. Hub motors are the most common type of ebike motor, by far.
There are two types of hub motor: geared and gearless. Gearless hub motors have no moving parts other than the hub bearings. They are mechanically simple. Gearless motors are common on entry-level ebikes. Gearless hub motors are also called direct drive.
Geared hub motors use internal planetary gears to reduce the RPMs of the motor. The gears allow a smaller motor to produce more power, improving efficiency. These motors are more complex. They are common on higher-end hub motor ebikes.
Most hub motor ebikes come with a cadence sensor based pedal-assist system. The cadence sensor measures if you’re pedaling. Some models also measure your pedaling speed.
When you start pedaling, the sensor sends a signal to the bike’s control unit. The control unit then turns the hub motor on. When you stop pedaling, the sensor signals the control unit and the motor shuts off. Higher-end hub motor ebikes come with a torque sensor pedal assist system instead.
Most hub motors supply a constant level of power when you pedal. The motor is either on or off. Some hub drive ebikes allow you to adjust the level of pedal assistance. There may be 3-5 assistance settings. When riding on level 1, the motor provides minimal assistance. On level 5, the motor operates at full power. On higher-end models, the system may adjust automatically based on your cadence. When you start pedaling, the motor operates at full power. When you reach a cadence threshold, the power reduces.
Some hub motor ebikes also feature a throttle control. The throttle is mounted on the handlebars. You manipulate the throttle with your fingers to control the motor’s speed. When using the throttle, you don’t have to pedal.
What is the Difference Between a Mid Drive and Hub Motor eBike?
The main difference between mid-drive and hub motor ebikes is the placement of the motor on the bike. Mid-drive motors are located in the center of the frame, between the peddles. Hub drive motors are built into one of the wheels.
Another key difference is the way the motor delivers power. Mid-drive motors power the bike through the drivetrain, just like you do while you’re pedaling. They apply torque to the cranks. This turns the chain and the rear wheel. Hub motors provide power directly to the wheel they’re built into. They apply torque to the wheel.
The pedal assist systems can also be different. Most mid-drive ebikes have a torque sensor that measures your pedaling force. This allows the system to vary the level of pedal assist based on how hard you’re pedaling. Most hub motor ebikes come with a cadence sensor that measures if you’re pedaling. The motor supplies a constant level of power when you’re pedaling.
The bike frames are also different. Mid-drive ebikes usually use require special frames with the motor built into the bottom bracket area. The frames are designed to fit one specific motor. Hub drive ebikes use a standard frame. The only non-standard part is the wheel with the motor built in.
Another important difference is the cost. Mid-drive ebikes are significantly more expensive than hub motor models. They are more complex and the technology is newer.
Mid Drive eBikes: Pros and Cons
- More range- Mid-drive ebikes offer around 10-15 miles more range than hub motor models.
- Better handling- The motor placement makes the bike feel more balanced.
- Better ride quality- Mid-drive ebikes deliver power through the drivetrain and use torque sensors. This smooths out power delivery.
- Use of the gears- Mid-drive motors deliver power through the drivetrain.
- Lighter- Mid-drive motors weigh 2-10lbs less than hub motors.
- They climb better- You can shift down to make climbing easier.
- Better performance- Mid-drive ebikes accelerate faster, climb better, and have a higher top speed.
- Safer- Frame failure is less likely.
- More efficient- The gears keep the motor in its optimal RPM.
- More frequent maintenance- Mid-drive motors put stress on drivetrain components.
- More expensive- Mid-drive ebikes start at around $2000. Maintenance is also more expensive.
- Less reliable- Mid-drive motors have more moving parts.
- Fewer bike options- Mid-drive ebikes are less common. Fewer options exist.
- No throttle- Most mid-drive ebikes require that you pedal.
Hub Drive eBikes: Pros and Cons
- Cheaper- Hub motor ebikes cost $600-$1000 less than similar mid-drive models. Maintenance is cheaper as well.
- Lower maintenance- Hub motors don’t put wear and tear on the bike’s drivetrain.
- More reliable- Hub motors have fewer moving parts. They also offer redundancy.
- Regenerative braking- Some hub motors can convert momentum into electricity to charge the battery.
- More ebike options- There are far more hub motor ebike models to choose from.
- Throttle control- Many hub motor ebikes allow you to ride without pedaling.
- Less range- Most hub motor ebikes only get 25-30 miles of range.
- Handling isn’t as good- Hub motor ebikes can feel front-heavy or rear-heavy due to the motor placement.
- Power delivery isn’t as smooth- Hub motors usually use cadence sensors. These can be laggy.
- No gears- Hub motors can’t take advantage of the bike’s gears.
- Heavier- Hub motors weigh 10-20 lbs.
- Can’t climb well- You can’t gear down to climb. Hub motors can feel underpowered and can overheat on hills.
- Less safe- Hub motors can cause dropout or fork failure.
- Inferior performance- Hub motor ebikes can’t accelerate as fast, climb as well, or reach as high of top speed.
- Less efficient- The motor only has one speed. You can’t gear up or down.
Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor eBikes
The best type of ebike for you really depends on the type of terrain you ride, the distances you ride, and your budget. In this section, I’ll outline the pros and cons of mid-drive vs hub motor ebikes to help you decide.
Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor eBike Range
Mid-drive ebikes almost always offer more range than hub motor models. For example, a mid-drive ebike might give you 40-45 miles of range. A comparable hub drive ebike may only give you 25-30 miles of range. On average, a mid-drive ebike gives you 10-15 miles more range than a hub motor model. This is assuming that the battery size and motor size are the same.
Mid-drive ebikes offer more range because they can take advantage of the bike’s gears to keep the motor running at the most efficient RPM. Mid-drive ebike motors are optimized to operate at maximum efficiency when they are running at the speed of a natural cycling cadence. For the average cyclist, this will be somewhere between 60-85 rpm. The motor uses less power when it’s running at its optimal speed. Electric motors run efficiently at higher RPMs.
Ebike motors tend to use less power when you’re riding in lower gears at a higher RPM. The motor doesn’t have to work as hard because it can use the mechanical advantage that the gears provide. For example, if you’re riding up a hill, you can shift into a low gear. This makes the cranks easier for the motor to turn. The motor stays in its optimal RPM range while you climb. This saves power. When you’re riding at speed on a flat surface, you can shift up into a higher gear so the motor doesn’t run too fast. Again, the motor maintains its optimal RPM and runs efficiently.
Most mid-drive ebikes also come with a torque sensor. This improves range by allowing the control system to vary the amount of power that the motor puts out. The motor always outputs the ideal amount of power based on your pedaling force. When you pedal gently, the motor only provides a little bit of power. The motor only operates at full power when you pedaling hard. This saves energy because the motor never gives you more power than you need.
Hub motor ebikes can’t use the mechanical advantage of the bike’s gears because the motor operates independently from the bike’s drivetrain. Sometimes the motor runs at too high or too low of RPM for the conditions. When this happens, it won’t operate efficiently and your range will suffer. For example, while climbing a hill, the motor will have to work extra hard and will use more power. This reduces your range. Some high-end hub motor ebikes offer regenerative braking. This can improve the range by around 5%.
Hub drive ebikes usually have a cadence sensor that measures if you’re pedaling or not. The motor turns on when you pedal and off when you stop pedaling. The sensor works like an on/off switch. There is only one speed. This is less efficient because the motor provides more power than you need in some situations. In most cases, you can adjust the level of pedal-assist manually. You can often switch to a low-power eco mode to increase your range.
Of course, the battery size also plays a major role in the ebike’s range. You can increase your range by installing a larger capacity battery. A hub drive ebike with a large 600 Wh battery will offer more range than a mid-drive ebike with a much smaller 300 Wh battery.
The type of pedal-assist sensor the bike uses can also play a big role in range. A hub motor ebike with a torque sensor can have a similar range to a mid-drive ebike.
The motor type is important as well. A geared hub motor offers better range than a gearless hub motor. The internal gears provide some mechanical advantage.
Motor size also plays a role in your range. Larger motors use more power than smaller motors.
The weight of the rider and bike is also important. A 100 lb person will get much more range than a 200 lb person on the same bike. It takes more energy to move more weight.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes offer more range than hub motor ebikes. If you need a range of over around 25-30 miles, you’re better off going with a mid-drive model.
Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor ebike Handling
The weight of the heavy electric motor and battery affects the handling of the ebike. For the best handling, you want the weight of your bike to be distributed 50/50 between the front and rear axles. Having a low center of gravity is also preferable.
Mid-drive e bikes offer better handling than hub motor ebikes due to the placement of the motor and battery. The mid-drive motor is placed in the center of the bike, near the bike’s center of gravity. The battery is also placed near the center of the bike, on the downtube.
The benefit is that the extra weight is distributed evenly between the front and rear of the bike. The center of gravity remains near the center of the bike.
As a result, the bike feels more balanced and natural to ride. You don’t feel the weight of the motor while maneuvering a mid-drive ebike as much. Weight added near the center of gravity is less noticeable because it’s balanced.
In addition, the mid-drive motor is mounted lower on the bike, near the bottom bracket. This lowers the center of gravity. A low center of gravity gives the bike better traction. This allows you to turn harder without your tires sliding out from under you. The low center of gravity can also make the bike feel more stable. Particularly while maneuvering at low speeds.
Hub motor ebikes can feel unbalanced because the weight of the motor moves the bike’s center of gravity toward the front or rear of the bike (depending on which wheel the motor is in).
Having the weight of the motor in the wheel also creates an odd gyroscopic effect while riding at high speeds. When you lean the bike, the heavy spinning motor feels like it’s trying to right itself. This can affect the steering. Particularly on front hub motor ebikes.
This makes the extra weight much more noticeable. You may not be able to turn as quickly or as hard with a hub motor. You can really feel the weight of the motor as you maneuver the bike. It takes some getting used to.
The weight of the battery can be used to offset the weight of the motor to balance the bike. For example, if the hub motor is in the front, you can place the battery in the rear. This can help to improve handling.
Suspension also plays a major role in handling. Many ebikes have a suspension fork or full suspension system. The suspension system on mid-drive ebikes accommodates the extra weight of the motor because the motor is attached to the frame. In other words, the weight of the mid-drive motor is suspended. When you hit a bump, the suspension dampens the shock. You don’t notice the extra weight of the motor as much when hitting a bump. This allows mid-drive ebikes to handle better on rough roads and while riding off-road.
On hub motor ebikes, the weight of the motor is unsuspended. The wheel with the motor can behave unexpectedly when it hits a bump due to the extra weight of the motor. For example, when you hit a pothole, the wheel with the motor drops harder and faster because it’s heavier. This can make handling a bit less predictable. It also makes the ride feel a bit rougher. The rough ride can affect the bike’s handling.
Of course, the weight distribution of the motor and battery isn’t the only thing that affects handling. The tires also play a major role. Ebikes need quality tires that can handle high speeds.
The geometry of the bike also affects handling. Some bike geometries offer more responsive and precise steering than others. Most ebikes have an upright ride position that gives you a good view of the road ahead and wide handlebars that offer plenty of leverage for steering.
Winner: Mid drive ebikes offer better handling than hub motor models due to the placement of the motor.
Ride Quality of Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor eBikes
Mid-drive ebikes offer better ride quality than hub motor models. There are a number of reasons for this. First, power delivery feels more natural. This is because mid-drive motors apply power through the chain or belt. Power delivery feels natural because it’s the same way you power a bike while pedaling.
Hub drive motors apply power directly to one of the wheels. This gives the bike a different feel while riding. It kind of feels like you’re being pushed if the motor is at the rear or pulled if the motor is at the front. You get used to this feeling over time but it doesn’t feel quite as natural. Some riders do enjoy the ride feel of a rear hub motor. It’s kind of like riding a motorcycle.
The pedal assist sensor type also affects ride quality. The sensors tell the pedal-assist system when to engage the motor, how much power to apply, and when to disengage the motor.
The two different types of pedal assist sensors used on ebikes include torque sensors and cadence sensors. Mid-drive ebikes usually come with a torque sensor while hub drive ebikes usually come with a cadence sensor. Torque sensors offer better ride quality.
Torque sensors measure the amount of force you’re delivering to the pedals. The bike’s control system then adjusts the motor’s power accordingly.
Cadence sensors measure if and how fast you’re pedaling. The most basic systems work like an on/off switch. When you start pedaling the motor engages. When you stop the motor disengages. Higher-end models can vary the power based on your pedaling speed.
Torque sensors make pedaling feel smoother, more natural, and more intuitive than cadence sensors. This is because torque sensors react more quickly to changes in your pedaling power. The system adjusts almost in real-time. A quality torque sensor can take 1000 torque samples per second and adjust the motor’s power delivery accordingly.
The connection between you and the motor feels much more direct as a result. When you start pedaling harder, the motor instantly gives you more power. This makes you feel like you have superhuman legs. When you pedal softer, the power instantly eases up. It’s seamless.
Cadence sensors can make the ride feel kind of jerky or rough. When you start pedaling and the motor engages at full power. It’s either on or off. This can cause the bike to jerk forward. This happens every time you start pedaling.
Sometimes there’s a lag before the motor turns on or off. This is because cadence sensors can only take 3-12 cadence samples per rotation of the pedals. You have to rotate the pedals 30-120 degrees before the system can sense that you’re pedaling.
Cadence sensor pedal assist systems also can’t adjust as quickly to changes in your pedaling speed. Some systems can’t adjust at all. They just switch on and off as you start and stop pedaling. As a result, the bike feels less intuitive to ride.
The quality of the bike also plays a major role in the overall ride quality. High-end hub motor ebikes often come with torque a sensor. Lower-end mid-drive ebikes sometimes come with cadence sensors. A hub motor ebike with a quality torque sensor may offer better ride quality than a cheap mid-drive bike with a cadence sensor.
The quality of the sensors plays a big role in the ride quality as well. Low-end torque sensors can give the bike a jerky ride feel because they don’t measure torque and adjust power as frequently as high-end models. High-end cadence sensors can offer a smooth ride.
The location of the motor on the bike can also affect ride quality. As outlined above, mid-drive ebikes have better weight distribution because the weight of the motor is placed near the bike’s center of gravity. When the bike is balanced, handling, traction, and stability are better. The bike feels more natural to maneuver. Hub motor ebikes can feel unbalanced because the weight of the motor sits near the front or rear.
Suspension also plays a role in ride quality. Mid-drive ebikes also offer a smoother ride. This is because the weight of the motor is supported by the bike’s suspension system because the motor is attached to the frame. The suspension system is designed to accommodate the extra weight of the motor. Suspension helps to dampen shocks when you hit a bump in the road.
On a hub drive ebike, the weight of the motor is unsprung. The bike’s suspension system doesn’t hold the weight of the motor because the motor is in the wheel. The added weight of the motor in the wheel makes bumps feel harsher.
The bike’s components also affect the ride quality. For example, a high-quality drivetrain makes shifting faster and smoother. Wide, high-volume tires can give the bike a plush ride. Fat bike ebikes are popular for this reason. A quality saddle and suspension seat post can help to smooth out bumps.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes usually offer better ride quality than hub drive because the power is delivered through the chain. They also usually come with torque sensors, which offer smoother power delivery than cadence sensors.
One major advantage to mid-drive ebikes is that they can use the mechanical advantage of the bike’s gears. This is possible because the motor powers the bike through the drivetrain. The motor turns the cranks, just like you do when you pedal.
Shifting changes the gear ratio of the motor. When you shift down into a lower gear, the cranks require less force to turn. This makes it easier for the motor to turn the cranks. When you shift up into a higher gear, the cranks require more force to turn. This makes it harder for the motor to turn the cranks. The ideal gear ratio depends on the incline and road conditions you’re riding on as well as your preferred cadence.
Being able to change the gear ratio allows you to keep the motor running at its optimal RPM at all times. Electric motors run most efficiently at high RPMs. Mid-drive motors are designed to run at peak efficiency while you’re pedaling at a natural cadence. For most cyclists, this is somewhere between 65-80 RPM. When the motor is running optimally, it uses less electricity. This improves your range. The motor can also produce more power and torque while it’s running in its optimal range
Your bike’s gearing comes in handy while climbing steep hills. You can shift down into an easier gear so the motor doesn’t have to work as hard. This allows the motor to power you up hills more easily and efficiently. A low-powered 250w mid-drive motor can carry a heavy rider up a steep hill.
You’ll also be able to achieve a higher top speed with a mid-drive ebike.On flat surfaces and when going down hills, you can shift up into a higher gear and maintain a higher speed. This allows you to cover more ground in less time.
Hub motors can not utilize the bike’s gears because the motor operates independently from the drivetrain. Both systems are separate. The motor is not affected by the bike’s gearing.
This means that the hub motor sometimes runs outside of its optimal RPM. While climbing hills, the motor will run too slow. While riding at high speeds, the motor may run at too high of RPM. As a result, it will burn more energy.
Hub motors also can’t supply as much power because they can’t use the mechanical advantage of the gears. Some small hub motors may not have enough power to climb steep hills. This is often the case with sub-200-watt hub motors. You’ll have to pedal or walk the bike up if the motor can’t provide enough power.
Another benefit of mid-drive motors is that they are compatible with internal gear hubs and belt drives. These are popular due to their low maintenance. Internal gear hubs also allow you to shift while stopped. This comes in handy while riding in stop-and-go city traffic and while riding in hilly areas.
Rear hub motors are not compatible with internal gear hubs. You could use a Pinion gearbox with a rear hub motor if you wanted a belt drive and internal gears.
It’s important to note that you can’t shift a mid-drive ebike while under power. The torque of the engine will damage or break the chain. You must momentarily slow your pedaling when you want to shift. Most modern mid-drive ebikes automatically cut power to the motor for you when you shift.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes can utilize the bike’s gears. Hub motor ebikes can’t use the gears.
Repairs and Maintenance
Hub motor ebikes require less frequent maintenance than mid-drive models. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the motor does not connect to the bike’s drivetrain. This means it doesn’t put any additional stress on the chain, gears, derailleurs, or shifters. These parts will last longer and require less frequent maintenance as a result.
The hub motor is also mechanically simpler. All of the components are sealed inside the hub. Many hub motors are gearless. This means they have no moving parts that can wear out. The only maintenance you’ll have to do is grease the hub bearings every year or so and keep the outside of the hub clean so it doesn’t rust. This is standard maintenance that you have to do to any hub.
Maintaining the wheel with the electric motor is more challenging. When you need to repair a flat or change the tire, you’ll have to remove the wheel. This involves disconnecting the motor from the electrical system. Usually, there is just a single connector that you pull apart.
The tire is also slightly harder to remove from the wheel and replace due to the added weight of the motor. A hub motor can weigh 5-20 lbs. It’s cumbersome. You also need to be careful with the wheel while changing the tire so you don’t damage the motor. It’s more fragile than a standard hub. Repairing a flat tire on a mid-drive ebike is simpler. The process is exactly the same as on a normal bike.
Mid-drive ebikes require a bit more frequent maintenance. The main reason is that the motor is harder on the bike’s drivetrain components. This is because the motor powers the bike through the drivetrain. Mid-drive motors create more torque and put out more power than a cyclist can. This puts wear and tear on the chain and cogs.
The average cyclist puts out 100-150 watts of pedaling power while cycling casually. During a hard sprint, they may put out 250-300 watts temporarily. A mid-drive motor can run at 250-750 watts continuously. This is the equivalent of a professional cyclist hammering down on your peddles as hard as they can. The motor can sustain this force all day.
You’ll have to replace your chain, rear gear cluster, and chainrings more frequently when you ride a mid-drive ebike. You’ll also have to use premium drivetrain components that can handle the added stress. In addition, you’ll have to clean and grease the chain more often so it doesn’t wear out as quickly. Some cyclists rotate between 2-3 chains every 500-100 miles to extend drivetrain life.
If you want a lower your drivetrain maintenance, you can choose an ebike with an internal gear hub and belt drive. These require less maintenance but cost much more.
Ebikes, in general, require a bit more maintenance than standard bikes. Over time the battery capacity declines. When you can no longer get the range you require, you’ll have to replace the battery. You will need to replace the battery every 2-4 years depending on how often you ride and the conditions you ride in.
You’ll also go through tires quicker than you’re used to because you’re riding at higher speeds and covering more miles when you ride an ebike. When buying new tires, make sure you choose models that are designed for the high speeds that ebikes travel at. The tires should have a speed rating that matches the max speed of your bike.
Of course, you’ll also need to take care of regular bicycle maintenance such as keeping the brakes and shifters adjusted, replacing brake pads and cables as they wear out, cleaning and lubing the drivetrain, and greasing the bearings, etc. Ebikes use the same parts as non-powered bikes.
Winner: Hub motor ebikes require less frequent maintenance than mid-drive ebikes.
Hub motor ebikes are much cheaper than mid-drive models. Mid-range hub motor ebikes cost around $1000-$1500. To compare, similarly specced mid-drive ebikes cost around $2000-$3000. Premium mid-drive ebikes can cost as much as $5000-$8000. On average, a mid-drive ebike costs around $600-$1000 more than a comparable hub motor model.
Low-end hub drive ebikes are also available. These start at around $600. If you’re on a tight budget, you can also convert your existing bike into a hub drive ebike. A decent hub drive conversion kit costs around $250-$300. You can build a battery for around $200. If you’re willing to put in some work, you could convert your existing bike into an ebike for less than $500.
Hub motor ebikes are cheaper than mid-drive models because they are less complex and are easier to manufacture. The motors contain fewer parts. The motor technology is also older. Hub motors are mass-produced in factories by the hundreds of thousands. The same designs have been used for many years. Hub motor ebikes also use standard frames. There are fewer proprietary parts required. All of this cuts down on the cost of manufacturing.
Mid-drive ebikes are much more expensive to produce. The frames need to be custom-made to fit the motor. The mid-drive motor is also more complex. They contain a complicated gear reduction system and gear sensors that cut power to the motor while you’re shifting.
The pedal assist sensor type also plays a big role in the cost of the bike. Hub motor ebikes usually come with cadence sensors. A simple 12 magnet cadence sensor costs around $25. Mid-drive ebikes usually come with a much more expensive torque sensor. A quality torque sensor costs around $150. Cadence sensors are cheaper because they are much simpler. Torque sensors use an expensive precision-built strain gauge.
Ebikes with torque sensors also require a more advanced controller. The controller must be powerful enough to process the additional data from the torque sensor and control the speed of the motor based on that data. These controllers cost more. Controllers on cadence sensor ebikes are simpler and cheaper because they don’t need as much computing power. Mid-drive ebikes also require more advanced software and programming to control the bike. This adds to the cost as well.
The power of the motor also plays a role in the cost of an ebike. Generally, ebikes with more powerful motors are more expensive. Ebike motors come in a range of sizes. The motor size is measured in watts. Common wattages include 250w, 500w, 750w, and 1000w. An ebike with a 500w motor may cost a couple of hundred dollars more than a comparable ebike with a 250w motor.
The battery size and quality also play a big role in the cost of an ebike. In fact, the battery is often the most expensive individual component. An ebike battery can cost $400-$800 alone. Ebikes with a larger capacity battery cost more.
Battery capacity is usually measured in watt-hours (Wh). A higher capacity battery gives you more range because it can store more energy. An ebike with a 500Wh battery may cost a few hundred dollars more than an ebike that comes with a 300Wh battery.
The cost of components also affects the price. Ebikes use the same drivetrain components, brakes, shifters, tires, etc. as regular non-powered bikes. Expensive ebikes come with higher-quality components, which cost more.
It’s important to note that cheaper hub motor ebikes are not necessarily lower quality or less reliable than mid-drive models. A hub drive motor will last just as long or longer than a mid-drive motor of equal quality. Higher-end hub motor ebikes come with the same quality components that come with high-end mid-drive ebikes.
Winner: Hub drive ebikes are cheaper than mid-drive. You can save $600-$1000 by going with a hub motor ebike instead of a mid-drive. The pedal assist sensor, motor size, and battery capacity also play a big role in ebike pricing.
Maintenance Cost for Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor eBikes
Hub motor ebikes are usually cheaper to maintain than mid-drive models. The main reason is that the motor puts less wear and tear on the drivetrain components. This is because the motor doesn’t supply power through the drivetrain. It powers the wheel directly. You won’t have to replace your chain, cassette, or chainrings quite as frequently when you ride a hub drive ebike. You can also run cheaper drivetrain components if you choose. This can save you a considerable amount of money over the life of your bike.
Hub motors also tend to last longer than mid-drive motors. Hub motors are a bit more durable and reliable because they are mechanically simpler. There are fewer moving parts. Direct drive hub motors have no internal gears that can wear out or break. You’ll get more years of use out of a hub motor ebike before you have to perform major maintenance or repairs. When the motor does eventually fail, it’s much cheaper to replace a hub motor than a mid-drive motor. You can buy a new wheel with a hub motor and simply swap it out.
One major ebike maintenance cost is the battery. Every 2-4 years, you’ll need to replace your battery. This is because batteries degrade after they are charged and discharged many times. Most ebike batteries last for 500- 600 cycles. Replacing an ebike battery costs $300-$800 depending on the size and type of battery you use.
You may spend a bit more money on batteries when you ride a hub motor ebike. Because hub motor ebikes are less efficient, you may need to buy a larger battery and charge more often. The initial cost of the larger battery will be higher and you may need to replace the battery a bit more frequently.
When you ride a mid-drive ebike, you can get away with a smaller and cheaper battery. You also won’t have to replace the battery as often because you don’t have to charge as often due to the longer range of the bike.
Regardless of the type of ebike you choose, you’ll have to replace the tires a bit more frequently than you’re used to. This is because you’ll probably end up putting more miles on your ebike than you would a non-powered bike. You’ll also have to buy higher-end tires that are rated for higher speeds. This adds to your maintenance cost.
Winner: Hub motor ebikes are generally cheaper to maintain than mid-drive ebikes.
Motor Size and Weight
Mid-drive ebikes weigh around 2-10 lbs (0.9-4.5 kg) less than hub motor models, on average. The reason is that mid-drive motors are lighter than hub motors. Hub motors weigh anywhere from 10-20 lbs (4.5-9 kg). Geared hub motors are lighter than gearless. Mid-drive motors weigh around 7-10 lbs (3.2-4.5 kg). The lightest models weigh in at around 5 lbs (2.3 kg).
A lighter bike is faster, more efficient, and easier to maneuver. It’s also easier to lift up and carry around. If you have to carry your ebike up a flight of stairs, into your home, you want it to be as light as possible.
It’s important to note that extra weight on an ebike isn’t nearly as big of a deal as extra weight on a non-powered bike. This is because the motor compensates for the extra weight. You probably won’t notice an extra pound or two on an ebike. On a non-powered bike, every ounce matters.
Mid-drive motors also tend to be smaller than hub-drive motors. Some are so small that they can be almost hidden. Some high-end ebikes come with batteries that are hidden in the frame. There are some stealthy mid-drive ebikes on the market that have no visible motor or battery. Hub motors are much larger and harder to hide. Hub motor ebikes are more noticeable for this reason.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes are smaller and lighter than hub motors.
If you regularly cycle in a hilly area, you’re better off with a mid-drive ebike. The mid-drive motor allows you to climb steeper hills and climb faster. This is because mid-drive ebikes can use the mechanical advantage of the gears to make climbing easier on the motor.
When you encounter a steep hill, you can reduce the gear ratio by shifting down. It takes less force to turn the cranks when the bike is in a lower gear. The motor doesn’t have to work as hard. This way, the electric motor can maintain a higher RPM while powering you up the hill. Electric motors perform better while running at high RPMs. Generally, if you have to climb grades greater than 6%, you’ll be better off with a mid-drive ebike.
Hub motor ebikes sometimes have trouble with steep hills because they can’t gear down. They only have one speed. A small hub motor model may not have enough power to take you up a particularly steep hill. This is a common issue for heavier riders. 250 watts of power may not be enough. On long ascents, hub drive motors can also overheat. Over time, this can cause damage to the motor.
For climbing, the motor size is important. With a mid-drive, you can get away with a 250 watt motor because you can always gear down. To climb steep hills with a hub motor, you’ll need a more powerful 500-1000 watt motor.
One common issue new ebike riders have when climbing hills with mid-drive ebikes is that they forget to downshift before starting the ascent. You have to remember to shift down before your reach the beginning of the hill. This is because the motor on most mid-drive ebikes automatically cuts as you downshift to avoid causing damage to the drivetrain. If you don’t shift early enough, you can lose momentum and get stuck. If this happens, you might have to downshift under your own power and then start using the pedal assist again.
One solution to this issue is to use an internal gear hub. These allow you to shift while stopped. If you get stuck in too high of gear on a hill, you can simply stop, downshift, then start riding again.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes climb hills better than hub drive models.
Reliability of Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor eBikes
Hub motor ebikes tend to last longer than mid-drive models of similar quality. This is because the motor is so much simpler. Direct drive hub motors have no moving parts inside other than the hub bearings. This means there are no gears inside that can wear out or break. The only things to look out for are rust and worn-out bearings.
Geared hub motors are less reliable than direct drive because they have moving parts inside. Mid-drive ebikes have complex electronics and gear reduction systems that reduce reliability. These motors have more points of possible failure. This can reduce reliability. Of course, quality ebike motors last many thousands of miles. Reliability is rarely an issue.
One major benefit of hub motor ebikes is that they give you some redundancy. Because the motor works independently from the drive system, you can still ride home if your chain breaks. If your motor fails or if your battery dies, you can still ride home under your own power by simply pedaling. You basically have a backup drive if one system fails. This makes hub drive ebikes better for those who plan to ride in remote areas.
Mid-drive motors do not offer this redundancy. If your chain breaks, you can’t ride home. If the motor fails, you may or may not be able to pedal the bike. It depends on the design and nature of the failure. You may have to push your bike home.
Winner: Hub motor ebikes are more reliable than mid-drive ebikes.
Hub Motor and Mid-Drive Safety
When using a hub motor, it is important to consider the strength of your bike’s frame. The torque created by a powerful hub motor can weaken the dropouts over time. The forces can eventually cause a dropout to fail. This can be incredibly dangerous. Imagine a wheel coming off while you’re traveling at 30mph. You need a strong frame to safely run a powerful hub motor.
Front hub motors are more likely to cause frame failure than rear hub motors. This is because fork dropouts are not as robust as rear dropouts. The motor’s power pulling on the fork blades can also cause the fork to flex and fatigue over time. This can cause the fork to fail prematurely. A catastrophic fork failure is extremely dangerous. A crash could cause serious injury.
Rear hub motors are less likely to cause frame failure. This is because the rear dropouts and rear triangle are much stronger. When you use a rear hub motor, you don’t have to worry as much about putting additional wear and tear on the frame.
To avoid frame failure, you should only install a hub motor on a durable steel frame or fork. It is not considered safe to pair a hub motor with a carbon or aluminum frame, though some people do it anyway.
It’s also a good idea to use a torque arm on a hub motor ebike. A torque arm is a metal piece that braces the dropouts and prevents the axle from rotating in the dropouts. This greatly improves safety and reduces the likelihood of dropout failure. Without a torque arm, the motor can pry the dropouts open. If this happens, your wheel can fall out.
You don’t have to worry as much about frame failure with a mid-drive ebike because the frame is designed specifically for that motor. The motor is often integrated into the frame. The frame is designed to handle the forces generated by the motor. If the motor were to generate too much power, it would simply break the chain instead of the frame. The chain acts as a failsafe.
Regardless of the motor type or placement, you should periodically inspect your ebike’s frame, fork, and dropouts. Look for cracks or dents in the fork arms, seat stays, and chainstays. Check all of the welds for cracks or crimping. Carefully inspect the dropouts for cracks. Stop riding and take your bike to a bike shop for a professional inspection and repair if you spot any damage. It is not safe to ride an ebike with frame damage.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes are safer than hub drive.
Mid-drive ebikes are more efficient than hub motor ebikes because they can use the gears to keep the motor in its ideal RPM range. In addition, mid-drive motors do not create additional resistance.
Direct drive hub motors can create some electromagnetic resistance. This reduces efficiency. Geared hub motors have a freewheel mechanism that eliminates the additional resistance by disengaging the motor when not in use.
There are several benefits of riding a more efficient ebike. First, you’ll have a longer range. An efficient ebike can cover more ground using less power. A mid-drive ebike may give you 10-20 miles more range than a hub motor ebike, assuming the motor and battery size are the same on both bikes. If you don’t need the extra range, you could opt for a smaller battery on your mid-drive ebike. This would save you some money and cut weight.
The efficiency can increase the life of the motor. A mid-drive motor doesn’t suffer as much wear and tear because it doesn’t have to work as hard. Thanks to the gears, the motor remains in its ideal RPM range whether you’re climbing a steep hill or speeding along a flat surface. You don’t have to worry as much about the motor overheating. Hub motors can fail prematurely if they’re overworked.
The efficiency also increases the life of the battery. When your bike has a longer range, you won’t have to charge the battery as frequently. For example, you might have to charge your hub motor ebike 3 times per week. You might only have to charge a mid-drive ebike 2 times per week due to the added efficiency.
This is important because batteries have a limited number of charge cycles before they need to be replaced. Most ebike batteries can last about 500-600 cycles. For most riders, that’s 3-5 years. If you charge less frequently, the battery lasts longer. You might get 5 years out of a mid-drive battery but 3 years out of a hub motor battery. You won’t have to replace the battery as often when you ride a mid-drive ebike. This saves you money.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes are more efficient than hub motor ebikes.
Some direct hub drive ebikes are capable of regenerative braking. This feature converts some of your momentum into electricity, which charges your battery. Regenerative braking kicks in automatically when you apply the brakes.
This can give you a little extra charge as you brake or descend hills. Regenerative braking may improve your bike’s efficiency by 5-10%. If your bike has a 30 mile range, you might get an extra 1.5 miles per charge. Regenerative braking can also prolong the life of your brake pads by creating resistance in the motor, which helps you slow down. In other words, you won’t have to brake quite as hard or often.
This feature is only available on higher-end hub motor ebikes. Mid-drive ebikes cannot offer regenerative braking because the motor isn’t turning while you’re not pedaling.
Winner: Some hub drive ebikes are capable of regenerative braking.
Bike and Component Options
Hub motor ebikes are much more common than mid-drive. Most low-end to mid-range ebikes come with a hub drive due to the lower cost. There is a large market for these entry-level bikes because most buyers have a lower budget.
Hub motor ebikes are also easier to make. They use standard frames and the motors are mass-produced. Loads of companies offer hub motor ebieks. You’ll have far more ebike options to choose from if you go with a hub motor model.
Higher-end ebikes tend to come with a mid-drive motor. There is a small market for high-end ebikes. Most people don’t want to spend $3000+ on a bike. Mid-drive ebikes are also more complex and harder to manufacture. There are fewer options to choose from because fewer companies make these complex bikes. That said, mid-drive ebikes are becoming more common these days.
If you prefer, you can convert your existing non-powered bike into an ebike. Many companies sell ebike conversion kits. The vast majority of these conversion kits use a hub drive motor. You replace your wheel with a hub drive wheel and install the electrical system. There are mid-drive motors that you can bolt onto your existing frame. These are much less common. For more info on ebike conversions, check out this guide.
One benefit of mid-drive ebikes is that they give you more component options. You can use standard wheels. You can choose whatever hubs, rims, and spokes you like. This allows you to use an internal gear hub and dynamo hub. if you prefer, you can also use a belt drive instead of a chain drive.
You don’t have these component options if you use a hub motor. You must use a derailleur drivetrain with a chain. If you wanted a belt drive on a hub motor ebike, you would have to either use a Pinion gearbox or go single speed.
Winner: There are more hub drive ebikes available. Mid-drive motors give you more component options.
Because mid-drive ebikes provide power through the drivetrain, they offer higher performance. You can accelerate faster, climb better, and reach a higher top speed.
Shifting into a low gear gives you more torque due to the mechanical advantage of the gears. This extra torque allows you to accelerate quickly from a stop. This is ideal while riding in stop-and-go city traffic.
The extra torque also allows you to power up steep hills. This makes mid-drive ebikes the better choice for those who ride on hilly terrain frequently. When you encounter a hill, you can shift down and continue pedaling as if you’re riding on a flat surface.
You can also maintain a higher speed by shifting up into a higher gear and using the pedal assist. This allows mid-drive ebikes to achieve a higher top speed than comparable hub motor models. If you like riding fast, you’ll prefer a mid-drive ebike.
In many European countries, ebike motors are limited to 250w by law. In these countries, mid-drive ebikes are more popular because the gears give the low-powered bike higher performance. A 250w mid-drive ebike can accelerate quickly and climb steep hills A 250w hub motor ebike can feel underpowered in many situations. A heavy rider on a 250w hub motor may not be able to make it up steep hills.
Mid-drive ebikes also tend to feel more responsive due to the torque sensor. When you start pedaling harder, the bike instantly gives you more power and accelerates. When you stop pedaling, the motor instantly cuts power.
On a hub drive bike with a cadence sensor, power delivery can feel a bit uneven. On some models, there is a delay before the motor kicks on. This makes it more difficult to accelerate quickly from a stop. You have to start pedaling under your own power before the pedal assist kicks in.
Mid-drive ebikes also offer better handling due to the weight distribution of the motor. The superior handling allows you to safely ride at higher speeds. You can maneuver more easily and tackle uneven terrain more confidently. Hub motor ebikes can feel a bit unnatural in some situtions due to the weight of the motor in the wheel.
Winner: Mid-drive ebikes offer better performance. They climb better, accelerate faster and smoother, and handle better. This makes them a better choice for those who need to climb hills, ride fast, and cover varied terrain.
Ebikes are categorized into 3 classes. Class 1 ebikes only have pedal assist and are limited to a maximum speed of 20mph. Class 2 ebikes have a throttle and usually pedal assist. They also have a maximum speed of 20mph. Class 3 ebikes have a max speed of 28mph and can have either a throttle, pedal assist, or both.
Many hub motor ebikes give you the option to use the pedal assist or use a throttle to control the motor’s power (class 2 or 3). You can pedal or not pedal.
The throttle makes the ebike operate like a motorcycle or scooter. When you engage the throttle, the motor provides power. When you release the throttle, the motor stops providing power. The throttle is a lever or twist grip mounted to the handlebars. You control it with your fingers.
A Throttle comes in handy when starting from a stop. You can use the throttle to get up to speed then start pedaling and using the pedal assist. This is a nice feature for those with joint issues. If you have bad knees, you can use the throttle to get you up to speed then start pedaling.
Mid-drive ebikes usually only offer pedal assist (class 1). You can usually adjust the level of pedal-assist so you barely have to pedal. You do still have to pedal. There are a handful of mid-drive ebikes that have a throttle. These are pretty rare. Partly because it’s harder to implement a throttle in a mid-drive system.
It’s important to note that throttle-controlled ebikes are not permitted in many countries for safety reasons. This is the case in much of Europe. For this reason, they are much less common than pedal-assist ebikes. Before buying an ebike with a throttle, you should make sure it’s legal in your jurisdiction.
For more info, check out my guide to throttle vs pedal assist ebikes.
Winner: Many hub motor ebikes come with a throttle. You don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to. Most mid-drive ebikes do not have a throttle so you have to pedal at all times.
Who Should Ride A Mid Drive Ebike?
Those who need a long range are better off with a mid-drive ebike. Most mid-drive ebikes can travel 40-50 miles on a single charge. They are efficient.
Those who value performance will also prefer riding a mid-drive ebike. Being able to utilize the mechanical advantages of the gears allows you to accelerate faster, climb better, and maintain a higher average speed. The weight distribution improves handling. Torque sensors make the bike more responsive.
Mid-drive ebikes are ideal for those who live in a country that limits ebike power. If your country only allows 250 watt ebikes, you’ll be better off with a mid-drive model. Because mid-drive ebikes can take advantage of the gears, low-powered mid-drive ebikes can accelerate faster and climb better. This is important if you’re a heavier rider.
Those who ride in a hilly area will also be better off with a mid-drive model. Having the ability to gear down allows you to easily ride up steep hills without overworking the motor. This is important if you regularly ride up grades steeper than 6%.
Those who have a higher budget may also prefer mid-drive ebikes. They tend to be a bit more premium. Most models come with higher-end components such as a torque sensor and better quality drivetrain components. These improve the overall ride quality of the bike. A quality mid-drive ebike is a dream to ride.
Who Should Ride a Hub Motor Ebike?
Hub motor ebikes are ideal for those who are on a tight budget. Mid-range models cost around $1200-$1600. You can save $500-$1000 by choosing a hub motor ebike over a mid-drive. To save even more money, you can convert your existing bike into an ebike.
Those who ride high mileage may also prefer hub motor ebikes because they are more reliable and require less frequent maintenance. The chain, cassette, and chainrings last longer because the motor doesn’t provide power through the drivetrain. The motor may last longer as well because there are fewer moving parts. Direct drive hub motors are incredibly reliable and long lasting.
If you ride in remote areas, you may also be better off with a hub motor. The redundancy of the motor and drive system also gives you a way to get home if one system fails. If your chain breaks, you can still use the motor. If your battery runs out of power, you can still pedal. This reliability is nice if you commute to work or school with your ebike. You’re less likely to get stranded.
A hub drive ebike is also the better choice for those who want to have a throttle. Being able to ride without pedaling is a nice feature to have when you’re feeling tired or lazy. You don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to. It’s also nice for those with joint issues.
Final Thoughts About Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor Ebikes
Ebikes are quickly increasing in popularity. They are one of the fastest-growing sectors in the bicycle market. Ebikes are great for commuting, running errands, recreational riding, and even exercise. Riding an ebike is much cheaper and better for the environment than driving. It’s also significantly faster and less tiring than riding a non-powered bike.
The choice between a mid-drive and hub motor ebike really comes down to the range you need, the type of terrain you ride, and your budget. For casual riders who just need a reliable and affordable bike to get around town with, hub motor is a great way to go. If you need a bit more range or performance and your budget is higher, mid-drive may be the better option. Whichever type of ebike you choose to ride, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you ride a mid-drive or hub motor ebike? Share your experience in the comments below!
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