Shopping for an Ebike? Confused by the choice between a Hub-Drive vs Mid-Drive Electric Bike? Here are the FACTS to consider.
With the popularity of electric bikes, there are new models and options continually being added to the already crowded market. Besides multiple wheel sizes and frame styles, the most important decision is which type of electric motor is best for you. Choose the wrong type of drive for your primary riding style and you will be dissatisfied. You have TWO options:
1. The motor built into the hub of the rear wheel.
2. The motor built into the frame of the bike, located at the bottom bracket (that is, between the pedal crank arms), which is called mid-drive.
The choice between hub-drive and mid-drive is your important and first consideration when selecting your electric bike.
This article will get right to the point and help you decide which drive type is right for you. The next articles will add more background information and detailed reasons for choosing a hub-drive vs mid-drive electric bike. After you choose the best drive for your intended riding, all the other choices (wheel size and frame style) will follow.
The choice between hub drive and mid-drive continues to be a topic of debate with strong opinions on both sides. Let me try to simplify this choice. There are only two Ebike drive motor choices – and most of you will clearly fall in one camp or the other.
Most riders prefer hub-drive Ebikes.
First, let’s acknowledge that the majority of electric bike riders select rear hub drives. (As you will learn, some mid-drive Ebike buyers would be happier with a hub-drive!) There are many more models to choose from. Ebikes with hub motors also cost less, sometimes half the price of mid-drive bikes. So, based on price alone, many shoppers automatically purchase hub-drive electric bikes.
But there are other important differences. Hub-drive Ebikes are easier to ride. There is almost no “learning curve”. Compare a hub-drive Ebike to your car with an automatic transmission or a scooter. Even if you have little experience riding a multi-speed bike, you can get on and ride. Pedaling and shifting will make the ride faster and extend the range, but these inputs enhance the propulsion of the hub-drive motor. You could totally disconnect the bike chain and still “ride” a hub-drive Ebike!
These factors make hub-drive bikes the best choice for commuters, students, and parents hauling children. Hub-drive electric bikes are perfect for paved city streets and easy unpaved bike paths. Hub-drive bikes are very popular for people travelling in RV’s or boats who want bikes to ride around town or the campground.
Riders seeking performance advantages choose mid-drive Ebikes.
In contrast, mid-drive Ebikes are more comparable to motorcycles. Instead of a gas engine driving the chain you have an electric motor. As described above, shifting gears with a hub-drive Ebike will increase performance but is optional. Some hub-drive Ebike riders NEVER shift the rear derailleur and only change the “pedal-assist” level. In fact, there are SINGLE speed hub-motors available for urban commuters.
But shifting gears with a mid-drive Ebike is mandatory - just like driving a motorcycle or a vehicle with a manual transmission.
However, this opposite driving style provides performance advantages. Mid-drive motors typically have lower gearing that allows you to tackle abrupt, steep hills. Mid-drive motors also have higher mechanical efficiency (that is, higher output with the same electrical input.) Because of the active participation of the rider, mid-drive Ebikes will usually extend the battery power over a greater range. Mid-drive motor gearing also delivers more torque for starting and climbing.
More power and torque can also mean that improper operation may result in breakdowns, specifically a broken chain. (Although you will learn in the next articles that proper operation of high-performance, powerful mid-drive Ebikes isn't complicated. In addition, quality motor controllers also include gear-shift sensors to lessen the opportunity of "driver error". Still, the operational requirements of mid-drive Ebikes sometimes scare away casual riders.)
The mechanical advantages are why mid-drive Ebikes are the preferred choice of riders who prioritize performance – either riding on challenging trails or steep hills. Ebikes with mid-drive motors are the first choice of experienced mountain bikers (and motorcycle riders or sports car drivers.) The power of a mid-drive motor complements the bicycle pedaling motion, adding speed and power. Mid-drive motors are also the best choice for riders planning to push their bikes to the limit – whether long, high-speed rides or rides that require the most power, including fat bikes in mud, sand, and snow.
Riders who prioritize performance accept the added cost of a mid-drive Ebike over the common hub-drive models. Mid-drive electric motors require a completely custom frame. In addition, many mid-drive electric bikes cost more because they are equipped with larger motors (that is, higher wattage) and often larger batteries.
The “BEST” Ebikes always costs more, right?
It is important to note that shoppers who associate the higher price of mid-drive Ebikes with the very best technology and components may actually make the wrong buying decision. Their low-impact, casual riding style may be better suited to hub-drive electric bikes.
As an experienced rider looking forward to hard riding, I favor the mid-drive performance. But if I was selecting an Ebike for a commuter or recreational rider who never ventured off-road - especially anyone needing the capacity to carry groceries or install a child seat - I would always recommend a less expensive, uncomplicated hub-drive Ebike.
Which electric bike drive matches how and where you ride? By choosing accordingly, you will get the most enjoyment and prevent a costly purchase mistake.
For another comparison, here is a helpful video that describes the Pros and Cons of the two Ebike drive options - but from the perspective of an experienced rider and Ebike mechanic:
A small minority of riders may straddle the lines between the simplicity of hub-drive and the performance of mid-drive electric bikes. Unless you have the ability to buy one of EACH Ebikes (or substitute a conventional bike for either commuting or aggressive mountain biking) you will need to live with the Pros and Cons of whichever bike you choose.
Can’t decide? Need more information? Then continue to the next articles in this series to learn the finer details of hub-drive vs mid-drive electric bikes. These expanded discussions should help you feel even better about your purchase decision, plus provide some tips to get the most out of your new Ebike.