There are a variety of considerations to contend with when deciding on which electric bike to purchase, however, arguably, one of the most important will be the motor.
As a potential electric bike buyer you will need to understand the difference between mid-drive or hub motors and how these design types will affect key aspects of how your bike will perform and, crucially, how much it will cost you.
In this article, we’ll help you understand whether a mid-drive motor is better for electric bikes and therefore right for you.
1. Mid-Drive Electric Bikes will Allow for a Greater Range by Utilizing Gears
Electric bikes have revolutionized the way we think about travel and the distance we can cover on a bicycle. If you want to go the extra mile (or more), then your electric bicycle will be more than happy to oblige.
However, it may surprise you to learn that it is not merely a matter of battery power that gives you the extra range.
A mid-drive electric bike can provide riders with far more miles than their hub motor counterparts, and here are the reasons why:
- Mid-drive electric bikes utilize the bicycle’s gear system.
- Mid-drive bikes have superior efficiency in comparison to hub motors.
- This efficiency is due to the mid-drive motor regulating the power that is needed.
- Regulation of power distribution allows optimal RPM to be maintained.
Let’s dive deeper into what this all means by first taking a look at one of the most significant usual differences between mid-drive motors and hubs – the sensor.
Mid-drive electric bicycles usually employ a torque sensor whereas a hub-drive electric bike is usually fitted with a cadence sensor.
What sets these sensors apart is that a torque sensor can ascertain how hard the rider is pedaling and adjusts how much the motor gives out in terms of power.
For example, if you pedal gently you’ll receive less power from the motor, but pedal hard and the motor will give you more.
However, when it comes to cadence sensors, there is a significant limitation in that they generally only turn the motor on or off.
If the rider begins to pedal then the sensor detects it and switches the motor on and if pedaling stops, the motor does too. As there is only one speed, a hub-drive electric bike is clearly less efficient and, as a result, will have a reduced range.
This is not the only aspect that comes into play when comparing the range you can achieve with mid-drive or hub.
For example, if a mid-drive electric bike had a battery and motor size that was identical to a hub-drive electric bike you would find that the mid-drive model would easily outperform the other.
WhereTheRoadForks.com crunched the numbers and revealed that:
“(…) a mid-drive ebike might give you 40-45 miles of range. A comparable hub drive ebike may only give you 25-30 miles of range. On average, a mid-drive ebike gives you 10-15 miles more range than a hub motor model.”
This significant difference is due to the efficiency that mid-drive motors achieve by staying in the optimal RPM range and utilizing the gears.
Hub motors are not able to do this because they are separate from the drivetrain and, therefore, cannot adjust the RPM accordingly.
If a hub motor electric bike is heading up a hill, then it will draw far more power than the mid-drive bike and therefore use more battery power.
The mid-drive rider in this same situation can change down gears, which sends a message to the motor, and thus achieves the optimal RPM needed to save power and let the battery last longer.
2. Mid-Drive Electric Bikes Offer far Better Handling due to their Placement
Balance is paramount to a bike rider. Stability whilst riding can mean the difference between an enjoyable day out on the bike and one that is plagued with unsteady turns that could lead to an accident.
Mid-drive electric bikes have earnt themselves the title of being far easier to handle than those fitted with a hub motor, and the reason for this is simple:
- Weight distribution is fundamental to how an electric bicycle will handle.
- Optimal handling is achieved if both motor and battery are located in the middle of the bicycle.
- This placement allows for an even distribution of weight between both bicycle axles.
- Mid-drive electric bicycles have batteries on the downtube.
- Mid-drive motors are placed low and centrally on the bike.
This placement of both the motor and the battery on mid-drive electric bicycles is in correlation with a bicycle’s natural center of gravity and, therefore, this placement helps negate the additional weight of the two components.
It’s essential to understand that electric bikes have more weight than traditional bicycles and that this same weight will affect the handling of the electric bicycle.
However, as Bosch-Ebike.com rightly points out, the position of the battery and motor on mid-drive bikes:
“(…) ensures a low and central center of gravity, providing load balancing and creating the feeling of riding a traditional bike. Riders don’t feel the additional weight of the motor because of where it is positioned, giving a mid-drive eBike solid directional and tracking stability.”
The positioning of the motor and the battery is everything when it comes to giving the rider that ‘real bike ride’ feel.
The distribution of weight that mid-drive electric bikes achieve allows the center of gravity to stay where it should be on a bicycle – low and central.
All of this gives mid-drive bikes the edge against hub motor electric bikes because the extra weight of the motor and the battery is in a position in which the rider will not notice it as much. Hub motor electric bikes, on the other hand, put more weight on one end or the other.
There are a few reasons why this has a negative effect on handling an electric bicycle:
- Without a low central center of gravity, an electric bike will have less traction.
- Less traction means that it is more difficult to turn and maneuver.
- Without the low central center of gravity, an electric bicycle is far less stable and the weight of the battery and motor are more noticeable to the rider.
- The motor’s placement on the front wheel of hub-drive electric bikes also has a negative impact on steering.
Considering the above information, if you want an electric bike with superior stability, maneuverability, and traction, a mid-drive is the better choice.
It’s also worth pointing out that mid-drive motors actually weigh less than hub motors.
Moreover, some mid-drive electric bikes have motors and batteries that are small enough to be hidden from sight, giving the owner a sleeker look to their ride as well as a smoother handling experience.
3. Mid-Drive Electric Bikes Outperform the Competition
Hub-drive electric bikes are not without their advantages. If you’ve begun searching for an electric bicycle, then you’ve probably already noticed that they are the cheaper option. This is due to the simple design – they are far easier to maintain and fix.
However, although mid-drive electric bikes have a higher price tag and are more complex, these sophisticated bicycles can really show off what an electric bike has to offer in terms of performance.
One of the key aspects that make mid-drive electric bicycles so powerful is that the motor is directly attached to the crankarms and the power is provided via the drivetrain.
Not only do riders experience a more natural and responsive experience when riding, but there is a multitude of performance perks that are created by the mid-drive system, which include:
- Faster acceleration
- Increased top speeds
- Easier to maintain top speed
- Ability to climb hills with ease
As previously mentioned, mid-drive electric bikes can take full advantage of the gears of a bicycle. Because of this, it allows acceleration to be vastly improved, especially in stop-start situations commonly encountered in busy towns or cities.
The mid-drive electric bike’s utilization of gears gives these bikes the extra torque for acceleration and the power necessary for riders to take on steep inclines. If you know you’ll be riding around regularly in a hilly area, then the mid-drive motor may be just what you need to make life easier.
WhereTheRoadForks.com explains that if you own a mid-drive electric bike and find yourself faced with a steep hill:
“(…) you can shift down and continue pedaling as if you’re riding on a flat surface.”
Additionally, on the other end of the spectrum, you can also shift up gears to ensure that you stay at top speeds whilst using the pedal assist.
It’s worth noting that in certain countries, especially those within Europe, it is required by law that electric bicycles comply with a strict 250w limit.
250w mid-drive electric bikes have no problem when it comes to climbing inclines and accelerating out of traffic; however, in comparison, a 250w hub motor bicycle will feel notably different.