Electric bikes are exploding in popularity and with so many great e-bikes to choose from these days, it’s truly a great time to consider investing in one.
But if you’re new to e-bikes, comparing options can get overwhelming fast.
The sheer number of bikes alone can make it tough to find the best model for your price range, but it gets even tougher having to compare specs and features you might not be that familiar with.
Case in point, e-bike motors.
The motor is arguably the most important feature to look at before purchasing an electric bike and there’s more to consider than pure power.
The location of that motor, for example, may be just as important, especially depending on how you plan on using your new bike.
Basically, most e-bikes come with a rear-hub or a mid-drive motor and they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
In this article, I’ll go over the key differences between rear hub and mid-drive e-bike motors, as well as provide my two cents regarding which motor is best suited for whom.
After reading, you’ll know enough to decide for yourself which type of motor is best suited for your needs.
Rear Hub vs Mid-Drive Electric Bike Motors
|Rear hub Motors||Mid-drive Motors|
Easy to maintain
Tons of options
Often more torque
Bike's weight centered
|Disadvantages||Not as smooth|
Adds weight to rear of bike
More expensive to maintain
Before I get too far down the rabbit hole here, I do want to point out that front hub motors are a thing too – they just aren’t as common.
Most pre-fabricated e-bikes come with either a rear hub or a mid-drive motor, but that doesn’t mean you won’t come across a front hub motor here and there.
And if you decide to go the e-bike kit route and transform your existing bicycle into an electric bike, you’ll probably be using a front hub motor.
Because it’s usually easier to add a front hub motor than a rear hub.
But again, rear hub motors are more commonly used, so I want to focus on these (and mid-drive motors) for this article.
Rear Hub Motors
As their name might suggest, these e-bike motors are located with the rear wheel and they propel the bike from the back.
Rear hub motors come in 2 varieties and can be described as being either “direct drive” or “geared”.
With a direct drive rear hub motor, the rear axel (the thing the tire sits on) is stationary and the motor itself spins around this axel (it’s shaft).
And it’s this spinning motor, aka “hub” that propels the rear wheel, causing the bike to move forward.
This is opposed to a geared rear hub motor, which has internal gears and a rotating shaft that connects to the rear tire’s axel.
Geared hub motors can create more torque than direct drive motors, allowing them to provide more acceleration.
They’re also usually a bit lighter-weight and can coast without drag, unlike direct drive rear hub motors, but you can’t use regenerative braking with ’em.
The key takeaway here though, is that both kinds of rear hub motors are located at the bike’s rear tire.
Rear hub motors can provide plenty of power, but since they’re on the rear wheel, they add extra weight to the back of the bike.
This can throw off the balance of the bike, especially if the bike’s battery is also located near the back of the bike.
This unequal weight distribution can even lead to unwanted wheelies when taking off from a dead stop (especially for really strong motors).
Something else worth knowing is that if you have a rear hub motor e-bike and your rear tire goes flat, it may require a little extra work to replace said tire.
You know, because the motor is located on that rear axel.
Depending on the e-bike, it could be you only to have disconnect a motor cable before removing the tire, but it is a little more work than for a mid-drive motor where the motor is located up on the frame with the pedals.
But rear hub motors are generally more affordable and lower maintenance than their mid-drive counterparts, making them a popular choice for casual riders.
Mid-drive motors are located in the middle of the bike’s frame, right between the crank arms (the things the pedals are attached to).
These motors have spinning shafts and gears inside them, which attach to a chainring.
This means mid-drive motors aren’t attached directly to either tire, but instead are connected to the crank arms where your pedals are attached.
This central location puts the motor’s weight right smack dab in the middle of your bike’s frame, which makes for a better balanced bike.
And with mid-drive motors, you don’t have to worry about all the weight being located around the rear tire.
This usually makes mid-drive e-bikes easier to transport, but they also tend to handle a little better while riding too.
These motors usually provide smoother operation as well, with less jerky accelerations and a better overall pedaling feel (they offer a more natural pedaling feel because the motor is technically helping you pedal).
And this rule isn’t written in stone anywhere, but mid-drive motors tend to be more efficient as well, offering better overall ranges.
But this sophistication comes at a price – these motors tend to cost more and are more expensive to repair if something goes awry.
As I’ve mentioned, in general, mid-drive motors usually cost quite a bit more than rear hub motors, but these things still come in a wide range of prices.
The most affordable mid-drive e-bikes usually start around $2k, but your average mid-drive e-bike is probably more in the $3k – $4k range.
And they can go a whole lot higher than that (some of Trek’s high-end electric mountain bikes cost north of $10k).
On the other hand, you can get a cheap rear hub e-bike for well under $1k – I wound’t expect too much from an e-bike in this price range, but hey, they’re still out there.
Realistically, most respectable rear hub bikes start around $1k and go up from there, depending on features and components.
So, in general, getting an electric bike with a mid-drive motor will often increase the overall cost by about $1k.
So, Which Motor Is Better?
There’s no real correct answer to this question, but most will probably agree that mid-drive motors are preferred.
The extra level of efficiency and smoothness they offer make ’em a popular choice for folks looking for a higher-end e-bike.
And the fact that they’re smaller, lighter-weight, and centered on the frame make ’em a good choice for people looking for a high-performing electric mountain bike too.
But I’m not trying to hate on rear hub motors because they can work great.
Rear hub motors can provide tons of power and can provide smooth operation – and rear hub motor bikes come in all varieties, so whatever you’re looking for, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it.
And the budget-friendliness of rear hubs can be reason enough for a lot of folks to opt for them – especially for people simply looking for an e-bike for recreational purposes.
If you plan on using your e-bike for daily travel and want the smoothest ride possible, it could be worth the extra cost to invest in a mid-drive motor.
Oh, I think I forgot to mention this earlier, but mid-drive motors are usually a little quieter than rear hub motors too, so if noise is a concern (I’m not sure why it would be), a mid-drive motor could make more sense.
The biggest takeaway here is that rear hub motors are located with the rear tire and mid-drive motors are located with the pedals.
When comparing the two, rear hub motors are usually simpler are more affordable, while mid-drive motors are more advanced and more expensive.
If you’re looking for the smoothest, most efficient ride possible, going with an e-bike that has a mid-drive motor makes a lot of sense – just know that you’re gonna have to spend more to get that ride.
If you’re looking for a more affordable e-bike that’s fun to ride, you could go with a bike that has a rear hub motor and be very happy.
Regardless of which style of motor you end up with, you’ll of course also want to consider the motor’s strength (watt output), the battery’s expected range, and what other features and accessories it comes with.
Anyway, I think that’ll about do it.
I know this was kind of short and to the point, but I hope you still found it helpful.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave ’em below and I’ll get back to you shortly.