Saturday, October 1, 2022

Hub vs. Mid Drive Electric Bikes: Which Is Right For Me?

Until around 2010, choosing an electric bike was relatively easy. You just had to choose your budget, your brand and go with what you liked best. As time has gone on, people have become overwhelmed with the number of options available.

So, today, I’m going to help you narrow down your options and choose a hub or mid-drive electric bike. Then you’ll be ready to pick the perfect model for you.

A hub electric bike will always be the most cost-effective entry into electric bikes and is perfect for you if you’re on a budget. A mid-drive electric bike is the best option if you are determined to get the best performance, handling, and range and are willing to spend a few hundred dollars more.

For the rest of this article, I’ll show you the key differences between hub motor and mid drive e-bikes.

Then I’ll help you choose the one that’s right for you by asking you a set of questions and comparing the two, as well as discussing initial costs and maintenance. So, keep reading.

Hub E-Bike Advantages Mid Drive E-Bike Advantages
Lower CostBetter Performance
Ability to take breaks from pedalingGreater Range
Loads of new brands, models, and featuresLess Exhaustion
Better Handling
Get Help Choosing a Hub vs Mid Drive Electric Bike below
Electric Bike Hub Motor on Rear Wheel
Hub Electric Bike with Motor on Rear Wheel

What Is A Hub Electric Bike?

When the first electric bicycles were released, they came with a hub motor. This was revolutionary when it came to commuter bikes. In this section, I want to explain what the hub motor electric bike is briefly. So, let’s get into it.

The hub motor is an electric motor placed on the front or rear wheel. It provides power directly to that specific wheel. Because of this assistance, you can expend a lot less energy when riding than you would with a normal bike.

Another name for the hub motor is direct drive. Keep in mind that the motor has nothing to do with your drive train, gears, or anything else. It simply works with the wheels of your e-bike.

What Is A Mid Drive Electric Bike?

The mid-drive or mid-motor system was released around 2010. It changed the way that electric bikes work. Instead of providing power to one or two of the wheels on the e-bike, it does things a little bit differently.

The mid-drive electrical system provides power to the gears of your bike. This difference has a few effects on the electric bicycle. It primarily acts as a more efficient power delivery system. Instead of helping the bike to move by providing power to the wheels, it assists the rider with pedaling effort (aka pedal assist).

Mid-drive motors are also known as central hub or mid motors. It’s installed by the e-bike’s pedals and is therefore ideally placed to provide power to the bike’s drive train (which includes the pedals, chain, cassette/freewheel, and derailleur).

Mid drive motors generally give better weight distribution as well, since they’re located in the middle of the e-bike.

The Key Differences Between Hub And Mid Drive E-Bikes 

Before discussing the advantages of both hub drive motors and mid drive motors, or before discussing which one you should get, it’s important to discuss a few of the key differences between front of rear hub motors and mid motors.

The main differences have to do with the motor placement, how each type of motor works (pedal assist), and the range. Let’s take a look at these three things.

Placement Of The Motor

Mid-drive motors are placed by your e-bike’s pedals, while hub drive motors are placed on one of your wheels. It could be the front wheel or the rear. This placement affects something called weight distribution, making the bike’s handling significantly better or worse.

In my experience, a mid-drive motor improves the handling of your electric bike because of its placement. With all vehicles, any added weight is less noticeable the closer it is to the center of gravity.

Quiet Kat mid-drive electric bike
On the Quiet Kat Apex E-Bike, the mid-drive motor is in the middle near the pedals.

Find out how long your e-bike motor will last!

How The Motors Work

Hub motors apply power directly to one of the wheels of the bike. So, for example, a rear hub motor is placed on the rear wheel.

On the other hand, mid-drive motors work with your gears. This makes mid-drive motors a lot more efficient than hub motors. However, you do need to pedal with a mid-drive motor, while with hub motors (that also include pedal assist), you can take short breaks and let the motor power the ebike until it slows down.

The Range Of The Motors

Because mid-drive motors work with your gears, they are generally more efficient than hub motors. When you shift to a lower gear, the motor’s power doesn’t have to provide as much because natural pedaling cadence becomes easier.

At the same time, when you change to a higher gear, the motor has to do more work but the change is less noticeable (the pedal assist feature continues to work smoothly and pedal speed doesn’t change noticeably). Therefore, you’ll get more range out of a mid-drive electric bike motor when in a higher gear because its workload is not constant.

Of course, this is only true as long as there is battery power (find out here what to do if your battery dies)!

Get a better understanding of how gear shifts work on an e-bike!

Should You Get A Hub Or A Mid Drive Electric Bike?

I’d like to give you the facts and allow you to make your own decisions. So, I’m not going to tell you which type of motor-driven bike you should get.

Instead, I’ll ask five questions and give you a recommendation based on each of those scenarios. Let’s jump into it.

What Is Your Budget?

The misconception that I see a lot is that hub motors come on entry-level bikes, but that’s not always true. A hub motor electric bike can be premium, but it’s still generally more affordable than mid-drive motors.

Potentially, you can save a few hundred dollars or more by choosing a hub motor e-bike. That said, I’ll discuss pricing further down in the article. However, if you are strictly looking to spend as little money as possible, a hub drive bike would be your best option.

Take a look at costs for different types of electric bicycles.

Do You Like Taking Breaks?

Because a mid-drive works with your gears instead of applying power directly to your wheels, the motor works when you pedal, so if you want to take a break during a long straight, you’ll have to stop the bike entirely.

But since a hub motor applies power directly to the wheels, you can stop pedaling and still have power delivered to the wheels to keep moving.

Don’t let that fact make your decision all by itself.

Because of the efficiency of mid-drive motors, you’ll feel less tired when riding and perhaps need fewer breaks on longer rides in general. In my experience, this is more useful than having the ability to stop pedaling, especially on long commutes.

Want to learn more about riding an e-bike without pedaling?

How Often Do You Ride Your Ebike?

The maintenance costs of mid-drive bikes tend to be higher than hub motors because more moving parts need to get looked after. However, what many people don’t tell you is mid-drive motors typically need less maintenance in general.

See, the motor is more efficient even with more moving parts, which means it goes through less wear and tear over the same distance. But, if you’re worried about high maintenance costs, hub electric bikes are your best option.

But, if you’re after convenience, then mid-drive motors are the better choice.

What Distance Do You Typically Ride?

The range you get with mid-drive electric bikes is far greater than that of a hub motor. So if you ride anything more than 15 to 20 miles per day, you should consider getting a bike with a mid-drive.

With a 750W motor on a mid-drive bike, you can cover around 45 miles of road with consistent pedaling. 

And, even though you have to constantly pedal, you won’t feel as fatigued riding a mid-drive motor e-bike the same distance as a hub motor bike, especially over long distances.

What Type Of Roads Do You Ride On?

If you ride on terrain mostly made up of straights or even downhills, hub motors will be perfectly fine. And you’ll be able to take quite a few breaks while cruising down the straights. 

If you have a few hills on your route, a hub motor will not be very efficient. Instead, you want to consider buying a mid-drive motor e-bike because it’ll assist you better with pedaling uphill. The minute you slip into a lower gear, the motor will do a great job of making it feel like you’re still going on a straight even though you are on a steep incline.

Advantages Of A Mid Drive Electric Bike

Most of you are looking for the best option available and don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars extra to get the best option (after all, you’re already shelling out quite a bit of cash for an e-bike).

So, let’s take a look at some of the advantages of mid-drive e-bikes to help you make your decision.

  • Performance: Because the motor provides power to the bike’s drive train, it feels like you have more power while riding.
  • Higher range: If you take a mid-drive or a hub bike with two similar specs, you’ll get more range out of the mid-drive bike. Remember, it’s not all about the power that a motor has; the efficiency of a mid-drive is what makes it able to go further.
  • You feel less tired: You can ride further without feeling fatigued because of the increase in power. This is especially helpful if you ride long distances or commute every day.
  • Better handling: A mid-drive motor is placed close to the center of gravity on the bicycle. This placement improves the handling of the bike.

Looking for great performance? Check out the best e-bikes with belt drives!

Advantages Of A Hub Electric Bike

Many people prefer using bikes with hub motors because of the variety of models, styles, and brands. Plus, there are still a couple of advantages when it comes to e-bikes with hub motors.

  • Lower cost: As mentioned in this article, you can save a few hundred dollars by going for a hub motor e-bike instead of a mid-drive one.
  • Ability to take breaks from pedaling: Also, you have the ability to take breaks and still have the electric motor power the wheels and keep you moving.
  • New brands and features: As e-bikes grow in popularity, so do the number of brands, models, feature, and types…so there’s a never-ending stream of e-bikes to choose from.

Because of the variety of features and models, as well as the lower cost, many recreational cyclists still end up buying a hub motor electric bicycle (I have the Rad Mini step-thru with rear hub motor that you see below).

Hub Motor Electric Bike Cost

You can get cheap hub motor bicycles. Still, these usually come with small motors (such as 250 watts) that don’t get you very far and don’t provide great performance. Therefore, when considering the cost of hub electric bikes, I didn’t include them.

For a 500 Watt hub motor electric bike, your entry-level is around $800-$1000. Depending on the brand you go for, you can spend around $1200 for a premium model. A 750 watt motor will typically cost you a couple of hundred dollars more.

It’s important to always look at the wattage of the motor. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to get a bike that doesn’t have enough power for your daily commute. So, try and look for 500 watts or more. Ideally, you should look at a 750 watt hub motor electric bike, like my own RadMini foldable (read a review of it here).

Mid Drive Electric Bike Cost

The cheapest mid-drive electric bike I’ve seen is around $1500. However, in recent times I haven’t seen one below $2000. This is partially because the mid-drive motor itself is more expensive than a hub motor.

Further, because the motors are better, the more premium the e-bike generally is. Thus, the more it’ll cost. You can even end up spending a lot more than $2000; sometimes they reach $8000-$9000.

For a good 500 Watt or more mid-drive electric bicycle, you can expect to pay around $2500 to $3000. 

It must be said that most mid-drive e-bikes are not low-end. They simply don’t put that type of motor on low-end bikes. Instead, $2000 will get you a mid-range electric bike, while $2500 or more will get you a high-end one.

Hub vs. Mid Drive Electric Bike Maintenance Costs

I’d advise you to have your electric bike serviced regularly, at least on an annual basis but likely two or three times a year if you ride daily. Maintenance should include checking and cleaning your electric motor. If any problems are found with individual parts, they’d need to be replaced, and that’s where mid-drive bikes tend to be more expensive.

To give you the best estimate of what you can expect to pay to maintain your electric bike based on what type of motor you have, hub vs mid drive, we need to break down the costs into a few sections:

  • Batteries: $200 to $400 every three years
  • Bike service including motor: $200 to $300 per year
  • Miscellaneous parts: $100 per year

When you break those numbers down to a yearly maintenance cost, you can expect to pay around $350 to $500 every year for a hub electric bike.

For a mid-drive bike, expect to pay $600 to $800 per year.

Read our complete e-bike maintenance guide here!

Conclusion: Mid drive vs front or rear wheel hub motors

I’ve just reviewed everything you need to know about hub vs mid drive electric bikes. Choosing between both types of e-bikes is tough. My goal with this article was to try and make it a bit easier, even though that’s a relatively tough job.

The truth is that hub motor e-bikes are a ton of fun, can get you where you need or want to go, and come in a huge selection of styles in a price range that fits many budgets. So, a hub e-bike is a great choice and is what many beginner e-bike riders choose.

However, if you’re serious about riding performance and you can afford to spend a little more on a mid-drive e-bike, then this is what’s right for you. Overall, the performance advantages outweigh the heavier price tag.

I can make a case for both types of motors on e-bikes. But at the end of the day, you’ll be the one riding it! So choose which is right for you based upon the advantages of each I’ve discussed in this article!

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