Pros and Cons of different hub versus mid drive motors (and brands)

Pros and Cons of different hub versus mid drive motors (and brands)

I am constantly amazed by the number of people who come in to see us with set ideas about which kind of motor system is best. Most often this happens with mid drive motors. This is because the customer has been told by a bike seller, or read in a bike forum, that one motor type performs better than another – when it simply is not true. Or they have read a price tag and assumed that one bike is better than the other because it's 'made in Europe', (rather than Chinese, and thus more expensive) or simply because it is more expensive than another motor type. 

Canberra Bike Tour Company, Urban Adventures, for example, choose our bikes for their bike hire and tour fleet over the other bikes available in Canberra because our bikes with front hub motors and hub gears are comparatively light, simple to use, reliable, very easy to maintain and well supported locally with parts and electrical/mechanical expertise if anything went wrong.They have happily been using our bikes for the past 18 months. 

The reality is that each motor type, front or rear hub or mid-drive, has advantages and disadvantages and really it depends on how you are going to use your bike, what type of bike it is and what type of rider you are.  Numerous times, I’ve seen people riding around on completely inappropriate and highly expensive e-mountain bikes, for example, because that’s what they’ve been told is best to buy (even though they might be riding a couple of kms to work each day and not much else). Frequently in the last year I’ve seen people commuting short distances on bike with price tags of $5, 500 when they could have bought a perfectly adequate bike for less than half that price.

Many times people have come in to see us wanting only to try one type of motor and walked out with a different one because they have realised after trialling a few different motor types that they actually prefer a different one to the one they had been told to buy.

At Switched On Cycles we sell three different motor type all produced by Bafang Motors (also known as 8-fun). We choose to use Bafang products as we believe them to be one the best, most efficient, most reliable motor on the market while also being a reasonable price, especially compared to European equivalent systems and bikes with in frame batteries and motors which are much more expensive. 

What I love about Bafang products is that the motors have truly been tried and tested. As one of the biggest manufacturers of bike motors in the world, Bafang know what they are doing! And as one of the smallest suppliers of e-bikes and kits around, I love how every time I go and visit the Bafang headquarters in China (and I’ve been at least 6 times) I am treated like I’m one of their biggest suppliers. Bafang have always supplied us with parts and advise beyond anything that any other supplier has done. Imagine how well I would be received if I turned up at Bosche HQ in Germany and wanted to have ask advice or view their R&D department! I’ve turned up with motors which have been used and abused in my suitcase and Bafang has fixed them on the spot.

On top of this we can fix, or replace parts easily, which is not something we could do with the other brands (where we would have to send them away for repair). We can also keep our customers old bikes going much longer than the majority of bike shops (who often send us their customers as they no longer stock the parts for their older model bikes).

Enough of a rave, here’s the pros and cons of motor types.

Mid drive motors pros

  • Most mid drive motors require a special frame build around the motor. Because of this, the motor is fully enclosed, which might be more aesthetically pleasing and work better for single track mountain bike riding, however, it also significantly increases the cost of the bike.
  • The mid drive motors we use can be added to a normal bike frame, which has the advantage of making the bike easier to repair if needed, as well as a lot cheaper to buy as an integrated e-bike because we don’t have to make a ‘special’ frame.
  • Mid drive motors keep the weight of the bike low, which can also be an advantage, especially compared to the heavier older style hub motors.
  • Mid drive motors are more efficient because they directly drive the cranks. This means that you can get more distance out of your battery.
  • Mid drive motors tend to suit experienced cyclists more, because you have to push more to get more torque. So while mid drive motors are quite good at low speed/ high torque going uphill and will use less power doing so, you will need to use more leg power to get the same speed as an equivalently powered hub motor.
  • Because of the low speed/ high torque in combination with the central location of the motor a mid drive motor can work well with towing a trailer or with larger riders. 
  • It’s easier to change a tyre with a mid-drive motor because you can still have quick release wheels.
  • Mid drive motors are fairly quiet.

Mid drive motor cons

  • Mid drive motors are more expensive than hub motors.
  • Hub motors assist you more than mid drive motor, so if you are not an avid cyclist and want maximum assistance you might be better going for a hub motor.
  • Mid drive motors tend to be sold with torque sensors rather than pedal assist sensors (which means you may have to push more to get more assistance) so the riding style doesn’t suit all riders.
  • Generally, you are limited to having one chain ring up front with a mid-drive motor. This can be particularly annoying if you want to retrofit a bike with a motor as you end up losing lot of your gears.
  • There’s more wear on the drive chain on a mid-drive motor, so these bikes can require more maintenance/ expense to replace than on a hub motor.
  • Most mid drive motors are enclosed units which may have to be removed and sent away to specialist authorised dealers to be replaced (they are not as easily repaired as hub motors). This can be expensive.
  • Mid drive motors tend to be heavier than new style hub motors.
  • If you are looking at converting a bike, mid drive motors can't be fitted as readily to all bike types eg. dual suspension bikes and hub geared bikes (can be fitted, but need to adjust the way you change gears). 

Front hub motor pros

  • New front hub motors are very light and very easy to retro fit onto most existing bikes
  • Hub motors love to spin so work very well in conjunction with using your gears. This means that you don’t have to push if you don’t want to when using a hub motor so these motors tend to offer more assistance than mid drive motors.
  • Hub motors are cheaper than mid drive motors as they can be fitted to a normal bike frame.
  • Front hub motors are easy to replace or repair (dependent on type and seller).  
  • Front hub motors can easily be used with hub gears, derailleur gears and belt driven bikes.
  • Front hub motors can be easily used with adult tricycles.
  • Front hub motors don’t require as much maintenance on the drive chain.
  • If retro fitting using a front hub, you don’t need to change the gears at all and it’s a very easy conversion to do (so fitting costs tend to be cheaper). Also, if you want to change bikes, it is easy to reverse the conversion.

Front hub cons

  • Some older style front motors are heavy and effect the weighting of the bike.
  • Front hubs lack traction on dirt roads so the wheel can spin on start-up especially going up-hill.
  • Some lighter style hub motors have less torque at low speed, so are better not used for towing, on dirt or lots of uphill riding.
  • Its not as easy to change a tyre. You will need to use a spanner to do it.
  • Slightly more wear on the front brake pads.
  • Not as efficient as mid drive motor bikes, so use more battery power. 

Rear hub motors pros

  • Rear hub motors are well established technology and can be used for retrofitting most bikes.
  • Newer rear hub motors are generally quite torquey, fit standard frames and work well with derailleur gears
  • Rear hub motors are better on dirt roads than front hub motors
  • Rear hub motors are generally cheaper than mid drive motors
  • You can use rear motors for retro fitting carbon fibre bikes
  • Maintenance costs are around the same as a front hub and there tends to be less wear on the drive chain.

Rear hub motor cons

  • Rear hub motors generally have more spoke breakages than front hub motors, particularly if a lot of weight is carried on the back of the bike.
  • Harder to change tyres on rear hub motors than front hubs or even easier,  mid drive motors.
  • You can’t use rear motors for retrofitting bikes with hub gears.
  • Slightly more wear on the rear brake pads.
  • Not as efficient as mid drive motor bikes so use more battery power.