There are lots of different types of ebikes out there to choose from, but one common way to subcategorize them is based on the type of motor they use.
There are two main types of motors found on electric bikes: mid-drive and hub-drive. It’s important to know the differences between them as the type of motor you choose will have a significant impact on the ride quality of your electric bike.
But fear not—we’ve got you covered! In this post, we’ll be comparing mid-drive vs hub motor ebikes in detail.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand exactly what each of these terms means and know the differences between them. That way, you can make a more well-informed purchase decision and be able to pick out the perfect ebike model for your needs.
Let’s get started!
What is a Hub-Drive Motor?
Hub-drive motors are a type of electric motor that is incorporated into the hub of your front or rear wheel (or in rare cases, both). It drives the wheel directly, independently of your bike’s gear system, to propel you forward. As we’ll see shortly, this is very different from the way mid-drive motors work.
Hub motors were the first type of motors found on early electric bikes. They’re relatively simple and inexpensive to produce compared to their mid-drive counterparts. As a result, they’re most often found on cheaper ebike models.
What is a Mid-Drive Motor?
Mid-drive motors are a more modern type of motor system that is growing in popularity. Unlike hub motors, mid-drive motors aren’t built into the wheel—they’re usually mounted in the middle of the bike between your pedals (near/under the bottom bracket shell).
Instead of driving the wheels, mid-drive motors drive the bike’s belt or chain, so the propulsion is provided at the pedals and transmitted to the wheel via the drive train. In other words, mid-drive motors interact with your gearing.
Because mid-drive motors utilize the electric bicycle’s gear system, they’re able to deliver power more efficiently and offer a range of other benefits. However, they’re also more expensive. As a result, they’re usually found on high-end, performance-oriented ebike models.
Hub-Drive vs Mid-Drive: Key Differences
Now that we’re a little clearer on what hub motors and mid-drive motors are, let’s take a closer look at the differences between them. Here are the most important distinctions you need to be aware of.
Balance and Handling
Generally speaking, mid-drive motors are superior to hub-drives when it comes to balance and handling.
This is because mid-drive motors operate at the pedals and apply torque directly to the chain/belt, which makes the ride feel more natural and gives you a greater sense of control. The pedal-assist gives you the push you need to ride fast while expending less energy, but you still feel as if the driving force comes from you.
In contrast, with hub-drives, torque is applied directly to the wheel independently of the gears. This can make it feel more as if you’re being pushed or pulled along (depending on which wheel the motor is placed on), rather than propelling yourself through your own power.
Aside from the way torque is applied, the actual placement of the motor on the bike itself also affects handling. With mid-drives, the motor is at the center, directly under you, so the weight is distributed evenly across the bike. This makes it feel more natural and easier to maneuver.
With hub-drive bikes, the weight is concentrated towards either the rear or the front, which throws off the balance. Depending on the model you choose, this extra weight can be offset by the design of the bike, but it usually has a negative impact on handling.
Another major difference between mid-drive motors and hub motors is that the former tend to use torque sensors, whereas the latter usually rely on cadence sensors.
Without going into too much detail, the main difference between these two types of sensors is that cadence sensors work by detecting how fast you’re pedaling, whereas torque sensors measure how hard you’re pedaling.
The upshot of this is that torque sensors tend to be more efficient and feel more natural to pedal compared to cadence sensors.
I should point out that some hub-drive bikes do use torque sensors, but it’s much rarer to see them than it is on mid-drive bikes.
Efficiency and Range
As we’ve discussed, mid-drives take advantage of your bike gears, whereas hub-drives operate independently of them. Another one of the upshots of this is that mid-drives tend to be more efficient in terms of power usage.
This is because mid-drive motors are designed to operate efficiently at a natural pedaling speed, so as long as you always change to the right gear for a comfortable pedaling speed, your motor will always be running at max efficiency—regardless of the terrain.
In contrast, hub drive motors are basically stuck in one gear. As a result, if you’re climbing a steep hill, the low motor RPMs will burn through your battery power quickly. With mid-drives, you can gear down and keep your motor RPMs in an optimal range with much less wasted heat.
This improved efficiency means you’ll get more range out of a single battery charge with a mid-drive. A 500Wh battery on a hub drive bike won’t usually get you as far as the same size battery on a mid-drive.
And we’re not talking about a tiny difference here—we’re talking about 20+ miles difference, depending on how you ride.
Throttle vs Pedal-Assist
Both hub-drive and mid-drive motors are found on pedal-assist ebikes. On pedal-assist ebikes, the motor kicks in as you pedal to provide you with an extra boost to help you ride faster without exerting yourself too much.
In addition to pedal-assist, some bikes also offer throttle-assist. Throttle-assist ebikes still have pedals, but you don’t necessarily have to use them in order to move forward.
All you have to do is press the throttle button down (or twist the throttle) in order to accelerate, much like you would on a motorcycle or electric scooter—no pedaling required.
If you want to use a throttle on your ebike, hub drives are pretty much your only option. There are very few mid-drive models with throttle-assist functionality.
Whether or not you’ll need throttle assist comes down to how you like to ride. If you’re not a strong rider and like to take short breaks without pedaling, it’s a handy feature to have. That said, most riders prefer pedal-assist machines as they’re more efficient and versatile.
Each type of motor has its own advantages when it comes to maintenance.
It’s easier to fix a flat tire on a mid-drive ebike as you don’t have to worry about a motor getting in the way. You can remove the front or rear wheel just like you would a regular bike. In contrast, on a hub drive ebike, you usually need special tools to do the same.
On the other hand, it’s easier to deal with a broken chain on a hub drive. The motors on a hub drive don’t interact with the chain—they drive the wheel directly—so you can just turn the throttle on and get home fine even if yours breaks. On a mid-drive, a broken chain means you’re stuck until you can fix it.
Plus, mid-drive motors are more likely to suffer from broken chains in the first place. Mid-drive ebike users have to deal with snapped chains often due to the added stress from the motor torque. This is especially true if you plan on off-roading or steep-hill biking.
Hub-drive motors are independent of your drive train so they put less stress on your chain, which means they can be replaced less often.
Another point worth mentioning here is that while mid-drives can be more costly to repair due to their more complex construction (more moving parts), they usually need less maintenance in general. This is because mid-drive motors are more efficient so they will go through less wear and tear over the same travel distance compared to hub motors.
Pros and Cons of Mid-Drive Electric Bikes
As you can see, there are plenty of important differences between mid-drive electric bikes and hub-drive electric bikes. Before we move on, let’s quickly recap the main pros and cons of each type of motor, starting with mid-drives.
Advantages of Mid-Drive Motors
- Increased efficiency. Mid-drive motors are almost always more efficient than hub motors as they can utilize your gear system. This is especially true when functioning at a lower RPM range under load (such as when hill climbing). Single-speed hub motors are not efficient under these conditions.
- More balanced. The placement of mid-drive motors allows for even weight distribution, which helps with balance and handling.
- Feels more natural. Because torque is applied to the chain or belt, the ride is often more natural compared to hub-drive bikes.
- Great for varied terrain (uphill/downhill riding). Mid-drive ebikes are the obvious choice if you plan on riding over anything other than flat terrain.
Disadvantages of Mid-Drive Motors
- Expensive. It’s very difficult to find a decent ebike with a mid-drive motor for less than $2,000. If you’re on a tight budget, a hub-drive ebike may be a more economical choice.
- Require constant shifting. With mid-drive motors, it’s important to be able to use your gears correctly in order to maintain good efficiency and performance. For beginners who are used to single gear bikes, this might not be ideal.
- Additional chain stress. Mid-drive motors put increased stress on your bike’s chain, which can cause it to snap more frequently than on a regular bike. This can be problematic if you’re not comfortable with roadside maintenance.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motor Electric Bikes
Next, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of hub-drive electric bikes.
Advantages of Hub-Drive Motors
- Great value for money. By far the biggest benefit of choosing a hub-drive bike is the price. They’re much cheaper than mid-drive bikes as they’re less complex and easier to make. You can find many hub-drive ebikes for under $1,000.
- Good for beginners. Hub drives don’t interact with your gear system so it’s not as important to shift in order to maintain good efficiency.
- No need to pedal. Hub-drive ebikes usually come with a throttle. They’re not limited to pedal-assist like most mid-drive models, so you can take short breaks and still keep moving.
- Larger batteries. It’s easier to find hub drives with 600+ Wh batteries than mid-drives, which can make up for the difference in efficiency so you still get decent range.
Disadvantages of Hub-Drive Motors
- Poor performance. Compared to mid-drive, hub-drive bikes suffer from worse handling, range, and efficiency.
- Feels less natural. The push/pull sensation caused by the direct wheel drive makes hub-drive ebikes feel less natural and negatively impacts ride quality.
- Only recommended for flat terrain. Hub-drive ebikes aren’t a great choice for uphill riding or offroading. At under 5mph, they’re not very efficient at all.
- Increased unsprung weight. The additional weight of the electric motor on the wheel hub adversely affects handling and ride quality. It causes the wheels to feel more sluggish and leads to a less comfortable ride when you’re traveling fast over bumps.
Which Should You Choose for Your Electric Bike?
That’s pretty much everything you need to know about the different motor systems found on electric bikes.
But let’s get to the big question we all want to know. Which is best: hub-drive vs mid-drive?
Well, it depends. You’ll need to think carefully about your budget, priorities, and where you want to ride in order to determine the best choice for your needs.
But generally speaking, mid-drive e-bikes are the best choice if budget isn’t a consideration. They cost more but they’re more efficient and offer better overall ride quality. They’re also pretty much essential if you’re going to be riding up steep hills or offroading regularly.
Hub drives are a good budget-friendly choice for beginners, city riders, and anyone who wants the option of using throttle-assist. The ride quality of hub motors isn’t as good as it is with mid-drives, but they do just fine on flat terrain.
If you do opt for a hub drive, try to look for one with a good torque sensor. This will make it feel much more natural and improve the ride quality so that it’s closer to a mid-drive.
We hope you found this helpful. Happy riding!