Most electric bikes are powered by hub-drive motors but as e-bikes evolve mid-drive motors are becoming more common and more affordable. Is a mid-drive motor better than a hub-motor? I’ll try to answer that with my own personal experience.
I own three electric bikes, two of which are hub-driven and my newest e-bike, the Liv Amiti E+4 which uses a mid-drive motor. Do I notice a difference? Yes the Giant SnynDrive Sport manufactured by Yamaha provides a very natural pedaling experience. Much of that has to do with the PedalPlus 6 Sensor technology that controls the motor.
The PedalPlus 6 Sensor technology not only knows when you’re pedaling but also is capable of sensing slope, torque (the amount of pressure put on the pedals), speed, motor and pedal rotation, cadence, and also utilizes an accelerometer.
This makes for a very natural feeling ride in which the motor is working in proportion to how you are pedaling. With the added sensor to determine slope the motor will know it needs to provide more power on hills. Not all mid-drive motors have all these sensors but most use more advanced sensing technology than hub-drive motors.
Typically most hub-drive motors just know when you’re pedaling using a cadence sensor which use typically 6-12 magnets on the crank that detect when you begin and stop pedaling. It basically informs the motor when to turn on and off based upon whether you are pedaling or not. Hub-drive motors can also have torque sensors but most only use cadence. Better cadence sensors use more magnets. 12 is a good number to look for.
Personally, I have just as much fun riding my RadRunner with a hub-drive motor as I do the Liv Amiti E+4 which has a mid-drive but I’m not anticipating the same experience. Plus, the RadRunner cost less than half what the Amiti did and that’s a big factor for most people.
With the RadRunner I’m not looking for a super nimble bike to be in tune with my body. I just want the motor to kick in when I begin pedaling.
Hub-drive motor of the RadRunnerYes, you can still get a nice workout with a hub-drive motor and they can be just as powerful as a mid-drive motor in assisting you up hills or up to higher speeds but they probably won’t give you that classic riding experience that you might remember from a road bike. Mid-drives are much better at that.
A big advantage of a mid-drive motor is their position on the bike which is low and centered on the frame. This provides better balance and weight distribution.
Hub-drive motors are usually in the back wheel which obviously puts more weight in the back than the front. This isn’t so much of an issue if the front of the bike also has some weight to it. I haven’t noticed any balance issues with the RadRunner but it’s built like a tank. It’s a very stable though heavy bike.
Tire Maintenance and Options
Something else to consider is tire maintenance. When it’s time to replace tires or fix a flat, the rear wheel of a mid-drive is going to be easier to take off. You’re not going to have the added weight of the motor or as many wires to worry about. I’ve taken the rear wheel off of my RadRunner and the weight definitely made it more of a chore.
Mid-drives will allow you to choose different wheel diameters and tire widths if you so desire. Also, hub-drive ebikes usually have fairly fat tires which makes pedaling more of a chore if you don’t want to use the motor all of the time.
Mid-drive ebikes usually have lighter frames and tires that are more narrow and efficient. The tires are still wider than what you’d find on a road bike since ebikes heavier but it’s much more enjoyable to ride my mid-drive Amiti without the motor than my heavy fat tire RadRunner. I wouldn’t want to go without the motor on my RadRunner even on gentle inclines.
But there is one major advantage of a hub-drive motor and that is they aren’t dependent upon the chain. In fact you don’t need a chain at all to use the motor. You just have to be pedaling or using the throttle if the bike is equipped with one. This is possible because the magnet cadence sensor in the crank only cares if you’re pedaling. The chain has nothing to do with the motor’s ability to turn the wheel.
However, if the chain breaks on a mid-drive bike you’re out of luck. The motor utilizes the chain to spin the rear wheel, just like when you’re pedaling without a motor.
Mid-drive motors have been known to break chains especially during shifting. Newer ebike technology seems to have mitigated this problem quite a bit. With better sensing the motor knows to ease up when you shift gears, greatly reducing the strain on the chain when it’s most vulnerable but not all mid-drives have this technology. Bosch mid-drive motors are probably the best at this.
If you want to avoid breaking the chain with a mid-drive motor the best advice is to just ease up when shifting. I haven’t noticed any problems with my mid-drive bike but it’s something to always keep in mind.
But mid-drives allow for more gears. Hub-drive motors are typically limited to just 7-8 gears while mid-drives can have many more. You’re very limited in what type of rim or tire you can use with a hub drive. Since the motor is encased in the hub of the wheel you’re probably not going to want to go through the expense of placing that motor in another compatible wheel.
Another thing to consider is that mid-drive motors are usually found on bikes with better components. You’ll probably have a bike with a better derailleur, shifters, brakes, and so on which is going to greatly affect overall riding experience. Hub-driven bikes are usually more budget friendly so it probably won’t have higher end components. That’s not always true!
So, I think I’ve covered most of the pros and cons of each. Basically, for a more natural riding experience I’d recommend going with a mid-drive. That doesn’t mean that hub-driven bikes ride horribly because they don’t.
I’m impressed with how dialed-in my RadRunner’s cadence sensor and controller is for smooth takeoffs. That isn’t so much dependent upon the motor’s location but rather sensing technology and programming of the bike’s controller. You can get a very satisfying ride from a hub-driven motor but mid-drives are just a little smarter and probably a little more efficient because of how mid-drive ebikes are usually built with better components.
You want to look at more than just the motor when choosing an ebike. Take a look at the derailleur, shifters, brakes (hydraulic is superior to mechanical), battery placement on the frame, tire width and more. Look at the whole package.
Having said all that I enjoy riding the Amiti on the trails for a very satisfying workout and traditional riding experience but I also enjoy sitting back on the RadRunner and letting the throttle do the work for a more laid back stress free experience. Yes I can pedal the RadRunner but I use the throttle a lot. The pedaling experience on the Amiti is far superior but not so much because of the motor but more leg extension and riding style.
The bottom line is that both hub-driven and mid-drive bikes are fun but I use them in different ways. So your best option? Get one of each like I did! You can never have too many ebikes!