The Pros and Cons of Hub-Drive Ebike Motors

hub-drive ebike by lake

What is a hub-drive ebike motor? Electric bikes come with an electric motor that is located in one of two different areas. There is the mid-drive style motor that is centrally located down between the cranks and the hub-drive style motor that is in the hub of the wheel. Usually the rear wheel.

This article will go over hub-drive systems. I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of having your motor in the hub and hopefully help inform you on which motor system is right for you. Without getting too crazy technical.

(if you’re interested in mid-drive motors click here)

The advantages of a hub-drive motor

  • They are less expensive
  • They can provide more power
  • Most have throttle options
  • They’re more widely available

The disadvantages of a hub-drive motor

  • Heavier – poor weight distribution 
  • Makes maintenance more difficult
  • Can be hard to find a mechanic to work on it
  • Shorter life span

Let’s start with –

the advantages of having a hub-drive electric bike

Hub-drive motors are less expensive than mid-drives

You are going to find that almost all of the “budget” electric bikes, that is ebikes between $1,000 to $2,000, are going to have hub-drive motors. So the overall cost of the bike may decide whether to consider a mid-drive option.

There are hub-drive ebikes that are well beyond the $2,000 mark, but they are usually super powered hunting and racing machines that meet the needs of a select few.

Hub-drive motors can be more powerful

Hub-drive ebikes can be more powerful than mid-drive models. They typically have a higher torque motor, which means you can ride them at lower speeds without needing as much assistance from your pedals and that helps with climbing hills or mountain trails . 

Having the motor in your rear hub helps apply that torque more directly into forward motion. For some this can have a bit of a jerking feeling when compared to a mid-drive style motor.

To be street legal in the US, the motor can not exceed 750 watts, but there are many options available that go well beyond this. Check with your state laws first, most of these will be off-road only.

Most hub-drive motor systems have throttle options

Most hub-drive style ebikes in the US will come with throttles. This means that you don’t have to pedal to propel the bike. Keep in mind that these ebikes will also allow for pedal assist, where you are pedaling and the motor helps you out. 

The best mid-drive motor options on the market do not have throttles. You can read more on mid-drives here.

Hub-drive motors are more widely available

Most of the electric bikes that you would find online are going to be hub-drive systems. There are some mid-drives available online, but not many and they are typically hard to find in stock.

Many local bike shops also carry hub-drive electric ebikes as well as mid-drive ebikes. So as always check with your local dealer first. I know at my shop it is hard to keep electric bikes in stock. The supply is very limited.

Bottom line is that you’re probably more likely to find an electric bike that is in stock with a hub-drive motor.

Now some of the disadvantages to the hub-drive ebike

Hub-drive ebikes are heavier than mid-drive ebikes

Now there are always exceptions, but generally, an electric bike with a hub motor is going to be a bit heavier than a similar electric bike with a mid-drive.

There are many factors that go into this, but a lot of the hub-drive style ebikes online have fatter tires and wheels which are heavier than more traditional-sized wheels. 

More and more companies are offering models that don’t have the big fat tires and these will be a little lighter. Also keep in mind that with these lesser expensive ebikes, the materials that are being used for the frames, wheels, and components tend to be heavier also.

Noting that the motors themselves are quite heavy and the motor is now in the rear hub, the weight distribution is heavier towards the back of the bike. Most of your rider weight is already towards the rear of the bike and this makes it ride a bit uneven.

Hub-drive electric bikes are harder to maintain

The biggest challenge here is when someone brings their ebike into the shop with a flat tire in the rear. We usually charge $5 labor to fix a flat plus the cost of a tube, $7 to $10 for standard sizes, and it takes maybe 10 minutes.

With a rear hub-drive ebike it takes 3 to 4 times longer to replace a tube, so we charge $15 to $20 labor, and if it’s a fat-sized tube those can run $20 to $25. And that’s for an experienced mechanic.

Electric bikes can get flats just like regular bikes, sometimes more often if ridden more. 

This extra labor also includes any other repair involving removal of the rear wheel such as replacing rear brake pads, cassette or freewheel, the chain, rear tire, and so on.

Another issue I have seen is, that since the motor is in the hub it produces far more stress than normal on the rear spokes, causing them to break more often. These spokes are usually not a common gauge or length that most bike shops carry and often can’t be repaired locally.

Standard Hub-drive Rear Wheel

It can be hard to find a local mechanic to work on a hub-drive ebike

For the reasons mentioned above, a lot of mechanics simply won’t even take hub-drive ebikes in for service. Please check with your local shop first to see if they will work on an electric bike that you buy online.

Big Hint – Always be super polite when talking with your local shop. No shops really want to work on online ebikes, especially if they carry ebikes of their own. But, you can often get them to, if you are really nice to them. I know this works on me all the time.

Hub-drive systems do not last as long as mid-drives

If you have read this far then you now know some of the reasons hub-drives can break down and how it can be challenging to get them fixed, but there are some less obvious reasons your hub-drive may not last. Throttles.

Throttles allow you to zip around without having to pedal but that is not what they are really designed for. The throttle is just meant to get you up to speed, for short bursts through an intersection, or for some extra power up a hill.

Throttles for hub-drive ebikes are not really meant to be used the entire time you are riding, though many people use them that way. You should be pedaling while using assistance as much as possible.

A hub-drive motor can reach a peak wattage that far exceeds its recommended riding wattage when the throttle is used. If this peak wattage is maintained for extended periods of time then the motor can overheat and potentially quit out on you. It is fun to do but throttle with caution.

At the End of the Day

In conclusion, if you have limited funds, need a throttle, or just need a super-powered hunting machine then a hub-drive electric bike is probably the choice.

Like I said before, save yourself a lot of headaches down the road by finding a shop nearby that will work on your ebike before you buy one.

Getting a hub-drive electric bike can save you some money upfront and they will give you a good introduction to the electric bike world.

As always one more person riding an ebike is one less car on the road.