Hub Motor vs Mid Drive: The Battle To End All Battles

Informational / Monday, November 26th, 2018

The endless war of ebikes continues. Hub motor vs mid drive, which one should you get?

Ebike motors have come a long way, and are now super cheap to grab and install yourself onto an existing bike.

But depending on what you want to use your bike for, will affect what kind of ebike motor you should get.

So today let’s go in-depth to figure out exactly what you need, what you should get and why!

First, we’ll learn about the two types of motor!


Quick Overview

Item Hub Motor Mid Drive
Cost Cheaper More expensive
Best Terrain Flat or very small hills From flat all the way to very steep hills
Ease Of Install Very easy - replace the wheel More complex and in-depth
Best Uses Leisure rides, commuting, on-road Off-road, commuting, mountain biking


What Even Is A Hub Motor?

Rear Hub Motor
A rear 350W hub motor

A hub motor is a broad term to define the kind of electric motor that sits inside your wheel. It powers the bike wheel directly. Often the hub motor is in the rear wheel hub, but can also be found on front wheels (though much less common).

The motor is usually fully contained and requires no maintenance within the unit itself.

There are two types of hub motor. A geared and gearless hub motor. The geared hub motor has planetary gears that step down the RPM of the motor to a much slower speed to drive the wheel. On the other hand, the gearless hub motor directly connects to the wheel. Driving it directly with no extra gears.

Hub motors do not use your existing drivetrain (chain, gears, pedals, etc) to operate. This means you won’t be placing any extra stress on your chain or gears. Over time this causes less wear and tear on your drivetrain. And it can reduce stress overall since you will be using electric assist in addition to your pedal power.

A downside to hub motors being direct drive is that they’re not very good with hills. Since you can’t change gears for the motor, it will try and spin as normal. But when you’re going uphill, the motor finds it hard to spin as fast as usual. This bogs down the motor, and it isn’t very efficient.

As you can imagine, a gearless hub motor has fewer parts to fail and can last a very long time. Although in saying that, a geared motor isn’t likely to wear out very quickly at all, owing to its self-contained build.


Hub motors are quite heavy, which also makes the entire bike very heavy. If you have to pedal with no electric assist, you can certainly feel the extra weight as you pedal. Also with the motor being in the rear wheel, it can cause the bike to feel different or weird when you use it compared to a normal bike.

Hub motors placed in the rear wheel are most common because they are generally safer and more natural feeling. If you have a hub motor in the front wheel, it can sometimes cause the wheel to spin on the spot. This is due to there being significantly less weight over the front wheel compared to the rear wheel. Spinning your front wheel in the rain can be especially dangerous if you hit the throttle in a corner. You may end up falling over with the bike as it slides out beneath you.

A rear hub motor also gives a more natural “motorbike” feeling. As you are pushed from behind rather than being pulled by the front wheel. It makes it way more fun too, I can be confident in saying that!

Once you’re travelling at speed, the differences between front and rear hub motors are not noticeable.

One huge advantage to hub motors is that they’re cheap. Like, really cheap.

Hub motors are made by the hundreds of thousands, and that makes them a really good choice if the price is a huge factor for your purchase.

A great advantage to hub drives is that if you break something in your drivetrain, you can still use the hub motor to drive home! Since the wheel is driven directly, a broken chain won’t stop you getting home safely and happily. Woohoo!


So What’s A Mid Drive?

Hub Motor vs Mid Drive: Shimano Mid Drive Motor
A Shimano mid drive motor

A mid drive motor is a motor that sits in the middle of your bike. Right between your pedals.

The motor connects directly to a front gear (called the chainring) and drives the chain directly. This uses your existing gears and drivetrain which can definitely place extra stress on your chain and gears. So make sure you’re using a good SRAM or Shimano chain so you won’t break your chain on a long ride from home!

I’ve never had an issue with my SRAM chain in my 11 months of riding it. So I doubt you will either!

Mid drives are great for efficiency, as they use all your existing gears on your bike. Meaning you can keep the mid drive in the happy RPM range. All you have to do is ride it like you would ride your normal bike. Change down to lower gears when going uphill. Go to a higher gear when you want to go faster. And change down gears when you come to a stop!

A really great part of using a mid drive is that you get to keep a centre of gravity in the middle of the bike. This means it will feel just as you would expect a bike to feel and handle.

A great benefit of a mid drive is torque and power! Since you can use your gears, going uphill the motor can spin at its happy RPM and deliver lots of power to get you up the hill with ease.


What’s not so fun is breaking your chain by shifting under power. When you’re riding hard and pushing the motor, the drive train is under lots of stress. If you shift gears while applying power to the chain, you can easily damage the chain and your gears. To stop this, you can stop using the motor briefly (by cutting your throttle or stopping pedalling) to avoid damage. But because mid-drive manufacturers thought of this problem, you can buy modules to automatically cut off the motor. (Alternatively, these will come preinstalled if you purchase the bike already built). These small modules have the shift cable running through them so that when you shift, motor power is cut instantly for a second so you can shift gears.

A big downside to mid drives is if you break your chain while on a ride, you’re not pedalling that bad boy back home. You’re pushing it, like someone who doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Ouch. Because the motor and the pedals both use the chain, you can’t power the bike any other way.


What Motor Is Best For My Situation?

There are a few reasons to consider each type of motor.

Firstly, if you’re doing anything with a steep hill. Just go for a mid drive.

Hands down.

Save yourself the hassle of a hub motor crying while it attempts to go uphill. A mid drive will race up and down hills all day long if you let it.

If your hills are moderate to light, then a hub motor vs mid drive is really down to your preference.

Also if you struggle with changing a tire as it is, a hub motor isn’t going to make you enjoy changing tires more. Since hub motors are heavy and integrated into the wheel, you have to deal with the full weight of the wheel every time you need to change the tire. No fun.

If you’re just after something reliable and pretty much maintenance free, again a hub motor is going to be for you.


Hub Motor vs Mid Drive: Did You Choose Right?

I use a mid drive. The BBSHD actually. But that’s because I have steep hills to attack around my house.

Using the above comparison table and the situation guide, you should be able to figure out what suits you best!

In short, if you need to climb hills, you’re probably better off with a mid drive motor.

If you want the cheapest motor possible, go for a hub motor.

Just commuting? Go for either, they’ll both be great!

Planning on doing some sweet off-road action, with jumps and dust and dirt and a lack of road…? Go for a mid-drive.

Whatever you go for, you’ll be blown away at how fun an ebike can be.

Be sure to let me know what you picked in the comments below, I love to hear your stories!

Spread the word about ebikes:

12 Replies to “Hub Motor vs Mid Drive: The Battle To End All Battles”

    1. Hey Tom,

      Thanks for reading my blog!

      Unfortunately I don’t sell either of those parts.
      There should be some other good articles out there discussing which ones exactly – but I haven’t written one myself yet!

    1. Hey Geoffrey,

      Absolutely right – I was in Seattle a while ago and I can definitely see why you would want as much power as possible.

      Thanks for reading and keep up the good work!

  1. A large benefit of a gearless hub drive for me is regenerative braking. Simply put my old tandem bike does not have adequate braking and there is no option to convert to a rear disc on the back.
    I have read about drag with a gearless hub drive. I am wondering what that would be like. My autistic son and I ride every weekend and get quite a thrill coming down a steep hill. My wife has clocked us at over 60 mph.

  2. Thanks for the unbiased article. I recently preordered a bike for carrying in my Semi, the Lectric XP. I have an older Expressway one that I wanted to convert to electric but some west coast shops started telling me about how Hub motors are inferior and more prone to failure than mid drives, for their lack of conversion kits.

  3. Another downside to mid mounts is that you are more limited for upgrading power. Point blank if that if you start pushing over 2k watts, you are going to break something soon.

    There are DD hubs pushing 10kw. A mid couldn’t handle half that. The mid has the most torque but lower max power. Direct Drive gearless is virtually unbreakable and the sky is the limit on power, but is less efficient and the lowest torque. Geared hubs are a nice median, but the hub gears may need replacement if you push the wattage too high.

    Pick your poison, but all 3 have distinct advantages.

  4. What about two motors? …a mid drive and a front hub motor seems like a good combo. I ordered a 48V 350W Bafang BBS01B conversion kit and a 48V 16 Ah battery and I plan to use it without a throttle because I read that heavy throttle use can overheat the motor. My brother will be using the converted bike at times; he is not a very strong rider and there are pretty steep hills. So, I’m thinking at some point I may add a 48V front hub motor + wheel and run that off an independent controller and throttle (can it be without a second display?) but connected in parallel to the same battery. It seems like the ideal solution because if one drive system is insufficient or fails, the other one can be used either in tandem or separately. I’m not sure how successful this would be — has anybody tried it?

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