Mid-drive or Hub drive motors on e-bikes – What’s all the fuss about?

Mid-drive or Hub drive motors on e-bikes – What’s all the fuss about?
August 10, 2018 Ken

Mid-Drive or Hub drive. How to choose an e-bike and what options do I have?

One of the most common questions that potential buyers of e-bikes have, is whether to ‘go mid-drive or hub drive’.  You might be bombarded by friends, sales people, manufacturers and even those in their armchairs about which is option better. What is it that they’re all on about and why is it even a thing? We’re here to give you a brief and impartial review to the two.

There are two general categories of electric bicycles for sale in NZ (and Australia, U.S. and many other places).

1 – “Hub-motor e-bikes with throttles” such as eZee Sprint and more. These e-bikes are often from specialty e-bike companies as opposed to established bicycle manufacturers.

2 – “Mid-drive e-bikes”, eg e-bikes equipped with the motor drives by Bosch, such as Cube and many more. European e-bikes are highly represented here, though there are plenty of factory generic options coming through as well.

It’s a lucky thing e-bikes are inanimate objects, as generalisations on these categories are unavoidable. And although there are always exceptions, the generalisations are definitely useful:

The hub motor category is more transport-oriented and excels in the nuts and bolts of transport – they go faster, have bigger batteries and are more affordable. The geometry and sizing is usually more ‘shareable’, fitting a variety of people. They almost always have throttles and cadence sensors, though the use of torque sensors in this category is growing. The bikes hold a bit more mass-market appeal, more likely to be built with function over form and don’t generally target the existing cyclist market.

The mid-drive category is almost synonymous with the european market, for reasons we will get into later. The choices in this category are more like non-electric bicycles in many ways, including aesthetics, geometry and sizing, ride feel and component choice. These are generally made by existing bicycle manufacturers who have a ‘bike first’ design philosophy, prioritising the non-powered nature of the vehicle over things like battery size, power, top speed etc. These bikes almost never have throttles and almost always have a torque sensor to help the bike know when you want power. They are generally slower, with most not giving assistance above 25kph. However, that is very quickly changing with more available at 32kph and 45kph.


Which option is the best?

You probably know we’re not going to answer that, they’re both great options and the beauty is that they are very different to one another. For an MTB rider that plans for both wheels to leave the ground at the same time, we will generally recommend a mid-drive. For an everyday rider who wants to do the occasional wine trail, the case for the hub drives is very strong, though plenty of people will prefer a mid-drive too.

Stick to the advice that you need to ask yourself (and your supplier) the following about any bike you’re considering.

1 -Do you feel confident when leaving the house on this e-bike, that you’ll have an enjoyable and safe ride that will make you want to use it next time you leave the house?

2 – Do you feel comfortable riding this electric bicycle?

3 – Can the electric bicycle go up hills with an amount of assistance sufficient to your needs/desires?

4 – Can someone service this electric bicycle for you, are spare parts available now and will spare batteries be available in 5 years?

What are the latest trends in the technology – why can’t one system have it all?

Increasingly the benefits that one drive system use to have over another are now being shared. For example, more hub motor e-bikes come available with torque sensors (previously the domain of mid-drive e-bikes). Similarly more mid-drive e-bikes available can now go faster than 25 km/h (previously the domain of the hub-motor bikes). This blurring of boundaries will make it harder to draw to decide in one sitting at your computer which bike to buy!

Deciding what to buy before you’ve ridden it never was a good idea. In reality these extra options mean it’s easier than ever to find an e-bike that you love, you may just find there’s a few more on your list to test ride than you first thought!

Then we are also seeing the mid-drives offer higher speeds, with 32kph becoming an option for many brands, notably on most Shimano bikes since 2017 and some Bosch bikes from 2018. They still don’t have throttles and huge batteries, but for someone who wants to do most of the pedalling work but wants to go quicker than 25km/h, this is also a ‘best of both worlds’ offering. It truly is exciting times for e-bike shoppers!

Why can’t one e-bike do it all? Some constraints certainly are artificial, such as the speed limit imposed by the global market order and traffic regulations. Other design constraints are real such as – Budget – cheaper e-bikes have more basic designs, less power and/or mileage, componentry. Why do they cost more when they try to cover all bases? Because they’re having to spend more to accommodate competing interests. Evolving technology can cover some of these issues (eg lighter battery cells), but some are fundamental questions about what’s most important to you. Upright bikes are more comfortable but they’re less aerodynamic and are less suitable for swerving downhills on windy tracks – that’s a fact of physics and technology won’t change that. When riding on Tāmaki Drive shared path and getting buffeted by wind over a bridge, a heavy-set e-bike is your friend, but you won’t feel that way if you try to lift it onto a poorly designed car rack – technology won’t change that either (though a better car rack will).

There is a reason after all, why there is more than one bike to choose from! Take advantage of that fact and choose one you’ll love!

Further reading – Why do these different categories even exist? Click here


 

SHOP OUR RANGE OF ELECTRIC BIKES

VIEW ALL PRODUCTS
Action Bicycle Club