If you’ve spent any amount of time shopping for an e-bike, you’ve probably noticed that they tend to come with one of two possible motor configurations: hub-drive and mid-drive.
Each of these options has its pros and cons, but especially if you’re a first-time buyer, you’re probably wondering what the difference even is.
We’ve already covered mid-drive motors in another article, so today, we’re going to give hub drives an equally detailed look.
What are the pros and cons? What does “hub-drive” even mean? If you want these questions and more answered, you’re in luck, just keep reading!
Fact: What Is a Hub-Drive Motor?
Before we dive into the positives and negatives, a quick overview is in order.
Nearly all e-bikes, with very rare exceptions, fall into one of two categories: those with hub-drive motors and those with mid-drive motors.
Mid-drive motors sit at a low, central point, generally right between the pedals, and connect to the chain from there, the same as the pedals themselves.
Hub-drive motors, on the other hand, are mounted in the wheel itself: usually in the rear wheel, but front-wheel hub-drive motors also exist.
There are various reasons one might prefer one mounting position to the other, so let’s get right into it!
1. Pro: They’re Friendlier to Your Budget
One simple reason to favor a hub drive is that they are simply cheaper.
Unlike mid-drives, which have to be integrated with the pedals, chain, gears and so on, hub-drive motors can just be slapped on the wheel and called done.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but you get the idea! There is less involved with installing, which means less cost on the manufacturing end, which in turn means less cost to you.
If you’ve ever wondered why every e-bike under $2,000 seems to have a hub-drive motor, that’s why.
That isn’t to say that high-end, expensive bikes with hub drives don’t also exist, but these are niche cases for specialized use.
Overall, hub-drive motors tend to be the configuration of choice for budget bikes, and if you’re on a tight budget yourself, this can be a point in their favor.
2. Con: They’re Heavier
Now for one of the negatives of hub-drive motors: their weight.
Well, not the weight of the motor itself per se, but due to the way they’re installed, bikes with hub-drive motors tend to weigh more than those with mid-drive motors.
And the more a bike weighs, the harder the motor has to work to keep it moving.
It’s not usually a huge difference, and we can’t give exact numbers because every bike is different.
However, it is still worth noting that, on balance, bikes with hub-drive motors are heavier, and extra weight is an undesirable trait in e-bikes.
3. Pro: They Can Be More Powerful
The power of an electric bike is based more on the characteristics of the motor itself than on where it is placed, and mid-drive motors tend to offer more pull overall.
However, a few factors lead to hub-drive motors sometimes having a higher power output.
For one thing, while a mid-drive motor offers more reliable pull and is more efficient overall, a hub-drive motor’s application of torque is more direct.
That is to say, an otherwise identical motor mounted in the hub on one bike and the midpoint of another would output more direct torque when positioned in the hub.
That’s because the rotational force (which is what “torque” means) is being applied directly to the wheel, which translates to a more responsive and harder push in the short term.
4. Con: They’re Less Efficient Than Mid-Drive Motors
While we just established that hub-drive motors more directly translate the motor’s torque into the wheel’s motion, this comes with a tradeoff.
While a hub-drive motor might give you more torque in the short term, a mid-drive motor is more efficient overall.
That’s because a mid-drive motor is integrated into the pedal, chain, and gear assembly in a way that allows it to provide a reliable, consistent pull.
Rear-mounted hub-drive motors, on the other hand, have to work harder and expend more energy to maintain your speed, because they’re pushing the whole bike from behind.
Front-mounted hub-drive motors have the same problem, except that they have to “pull” the whole bike from the front wheel.
Whichever way you slice it, a mid-drive motor is more efficient at translating its power output to consistent motion, and it will do so while draining the battery more slowly than a hub drive.
5. Pro: Full Throttle Mode
One advantage of hub-drive motors is that they often have a throttle-only mode, where you don’t have to do any work at all and just let the motor propel you forward.
By contrast, most mid-drive motors only operate on pedal-assist, where you have to keep pedaling with the motor helping you out at the same time.
There are exceptions to every rule of course, but you’re likely to find that it’s very rare for high-end mid-drive bikes to feature full-throttle modes.
So if having the option to let your bike be powered by the motor alone is important to you, you’ll be most likely to find this option with hub-drive bikes!
6. Con: They’re Harder to Maintain
Unfortunately, the placement of a hub drive directly in the bicycle wheel makes it difficult to access, both for yourself and the mechanic.
Home maintenance on a hub-drive motor is usually a bad idea unless you really know what you’re doing.
What’s more, while a mechanic should be able to get at it, it will be more difficult for them to access it as well, and they may charge more to work on your bike as a result.
Further, simple bicycle maintenance, like changing a flat tire, becomes much more difficult if the tire in question is on the wheel into which the motor is integrated.
This can lead to several additional, tedious steps just to change a tire, something that’s already tiresome enough on its own.
7. Pro: They’re More Widely Available
Since mid-drive motors are slightly more involved to install, this means that the market is saturated with a lot of hub-drive bikes due to their comparative ease of manufacturing.
This not only means they tend to be cheaper but also just more available in general.
If your buying options in your local area are limited, you might wind up opting for a hub drive simply because it’s all you can find.
8. Con: They Don’t Last as Long as Mid-Drive Motors
Finally, the last negative we have to discuss is perhaps the worst strike against a hub-drive motor’s appeal: they simply don’t last as long.
The main reason for this is actually a tradeoff with one of their positive traits: the full-throttle mode most mid-drive bikes lack.
While having the ability to zip along without any effort on your part might be appealing, it wears the motor out a lot faster than using pedal assist.
Mercifully, this is something you can actually prevent by practicing good habits.
That is to say; while hub-drive motors don’t usually last as long as mid-drive ones on average, this has more to do with the habits of the average user than anything else.
A lot of users enjoy the freedom of a full-throttle mode and, as a result, overuse it.
So if you want your hub-drive bike to last as long as possible, use pedal-assist as much as possible, and use full-throttle sparingly.
The most efficient use of the throttle mode is to let it get you up to your desired speed, then, as soon as you’ve reached that speed, switch to pedal-assist and stay there.