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Different ebike drive types, (and should you care?)

Jonno Leonard - Friday, September 09, 2016

Just for fun lets divvy up the available ebikes on the market by 'drive system', and see what each one delivers, and how that matches our perceived needs...

Broadly speaking there are 3 main drive types, and 2 are more common in NZ. You have:

Direct-drive Hub Motors: Big beasties that take up much of the rear wheel. The motor is the whole hub, and they have a fair bit of mass involved. They are 'always on', they don't freewheel, and to be honest we don't see them around much in NZ

Geared hub motors: A more compact rear-wheel motor, and with the added benefit of your gear system the same as a regular bike. A good level of performance with a low level of wear on componentry.

Mid-drive motors: The genuine alternative to geared-hub motors, and can have excellent performance particularly in hill-climbing applications. Often found on high-end electric mountain bikes. Heavier wear on componentry due to loading up the chain and gears, but does leave the rear end lighter and easier to work on.

In use:

Focussing on the geared-hub vs. mid-drive debate, which is where the differences lie. With the ability to match a 'natural' pedal revolutions rate, hardened hill-climbers can express a preference for mid-drive. There is also the weight-forward factor of having the motor beneath the pedals, whereas a hub motor will always have more weight over the rear, which some like (better traction) and others dislike. For full-suspension mountain bikes, mid-drive is superior as the motor remains stable in the frame rather than bouncing around 

Geared-hub motors perhaps give away a bit of climbing performance and can 'bog' a bit if you are straining, but in use that can be countered by being in the correct gear and keeping the pedals spinning at a smooth revolution rate. 

Price is often a factor, and the marketplace reveals that direct-drive motors tend to come on more premium bikes (with premium price tags).

As with any technology, trialing and testing to find what works best for you at your budget is always the best advice. The SmartMotion range currently features only geared-hub motors for the best price-performance, but who knows what is around the corner!

A muscly Bosch mid-drive on a full-suspension e-mountain bike

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