Should You Buy a Mid Drive or Hub Drive Ebike?

Hub drive? Mid-drive? What's the difference between the two types of ebike? Let's dive in, take a look and work out which is right for you.

Marin Sausalito and Marin Stinson E side by side

Are you considering an ebike or electric bike in your life?

If so, you’re probably wondering which one is right for you.

And you’re almost certainly going to be faced with the question “should I buy a hub drive or mid-drive ebike?”

There’s a huge array of different models and intended uses out there, and one of the key differences is where the motor on the bike is located. This might seem like a minor detail, but it’s actually really important in getting the right bike for you.

If you’d like to learn the basics about what ebikes are and what they do, you can read our handy guide here.

Let’s Start With The Basics

On some models of ebike the motor is located in the centre of one of the wheels - usually the rear one. These are known as ‘hub drive ebikes’ or ‘hub drive electric bikes’. An example of a hub drive ebike is the Marin Stinson E, our urban electric cruiser that's built for everything from bike path cruising to daily commuting.

On others, the motor sits centrally in the bike frame, between the pedals. It’s the middle of the bike, so this type of eBike tends to be called a ‘mid-drive ebike’ or ‘mid-drive electric bike’. An example of a mid-drive bikes is the Marin Sausalito, our go-anywhere, multi-surface explorer that's perfect for mid-week commutes and weekend adventures alike.

Both types of motor, hub and mid-drive, are limited to a continuous power output of 250W, and will cut out above a certain speed (20 mph in the US, 25 km/h in Europe). Simple, eh?

Woman riding Marin Sausalito down a hill in city

Hub Drive, Mid-Drive, What’s The Difference?

Things get a little more complicated from here though, as there are lots of ways that mid-drive and hub-drive eBikes differ.

Hub motors have a reputation for appearing on bikes at the more value-oriented end of the market, while mid-drive motors tend to pop up on higher-spec bikes. But, it’s not always that way round.

You can get high-end hub motors and cheap mid-drives, so it’s not as simple as saying that one is good and the other one is bad. There are lots of different systems out there, with different features. And, of course, what's right for one person might not be right for the other. It's about picking the right bike for you and your riding.

But in general, there are a few things to watch out for, which tend to show up on each type of bike.

Marin Stinson E in woodland

Talking Sensors

Street legal eBikes only provide assistance when the rider is pedaling, so they all feature some way of telling the motor that the cranks are turning.

At the basic end of the spectrum, this is just a sensor that detects movement.

Whether you’re pedaling hard or hardly pedaling, the motor will still be putting out the same amount of power. This type of sensor relies on you selecting the right level of assistance from the motor controller (that little box on your handlebars). If you buy a cheaper eBike with a hub drive, there’s a good chance it’ll be a movement-sensing type.

More sophisticated eBikes feature a different type of sensor.

This doesn’t just detect the cranks turning but also measures the force (or technically, the torque) going through them. When you ride a torque-sensing eBike, it detects how much effort you’re putting in and increases the power of the motor to match. This means that you don’t have to increase or decrease the level of assistance as much yourself, and also means you’re not wasting battery power on easier sections of road or trail.

All of Marin’s eBikes, even the hub drive models, are torque sensing for this reason.

Where’s the weight?

Along with the battery, the motor on an eBike is one of the heaviest components, and the weight on a bike is more noticeable in some places than in others.

Extra weight on the wheels of a bike is especially hard to ignore, as, to put it in physics terms, you have to overcome the rotational inertia of the wheels to move the rest of the bike forward. Adding a hefty motor to a wheel can change the feel of a bike, even if it’s offset by the assistance on offer.

Weight at one end of the bike is also more noticeable than weight in the middle. You might not notice this at all when riding on pavement, but off-road, where the wheels are trying to follow uneven terrain, extra weight at the front or back of the bike can make it feel a lot less nimble.

If your bike has suspension, it also works better when more weight is carried on the frame of the bike, instead of the wheels. In short, if you’re planning to venture onto mountain bike trails, a mid-drive motor is the way to go.

Close up of hub drive motor

Gear up

Hub drive motors apply power directly through the front or back wheel, which means they can be very effective, but also means they aren’t able to work with your bike’s gears. On a bike with a mid-drive motor, you’ll be able to use your full range of gears to get the most efficiency out of the assist.

Lower gears for climbing put less strain on the motor and battery, while at the other end of the range, having higher gears means your legs can do more of the work on pedaling sections.

Most hub drive motors replicate this to some extent thanks to an internal gearbox, but they won’t have the same capacity as a mid-drive motor paired with a modern drivetrain.

woman sitting in cafe next to Marin Sausalito

Get connected

Modern ebikes are highly tuneable, they allow you to adjust their motors to suit what works best for your preferred riding style and terrain. For example, the Shimano motors on Marin’s eMTBs can be paired with your smartphone to let you precisely tweak how much power they put out in different settings.

While some hub motors out there will let you connect and customize them, most are preset at the factory. You’ll still have a range of assist options, but won’t be able to adjust these to your personal preference.

Marin Stinson E on gravel path

Maintenance matters

Hub and mid-drive ebikes need slightly different maintenance regimes.

Mid-drive bikes can wear out chains, chainrings and cassettes quite quickly, as all the combined power of the rider and the motor goes via these components. We build our bikes with more durable drivetrain components developed specifically for eBikes which can really help offset this.

In a hub drive ebike, the chain and cassette will be under less stress, as the power is delivered to the centre of the rear hub. However, some everyday mechanical issues like punctures can be trickier to deal with on a hub drive bike, as it will have extra connections to the rest of the e-bike system. Hub drives are also quite hard on wheels and you may need to budget for a little more maintenance from your local dealership.

Whichever type of drive your eBike has, our network of Marin Dealers can help and are well-trained in maintenance and repair of Marin eBikes. You can find your nearest Marin bike shop here on the Marin dealer listing.

Woman on ebike looking at golden gate bridge

So, Hub Drive or Mid Drive?

This choice pretty easy to work out from the Marin electric bikes collection.

The Marin Stinson E is designed to be a more affordable ebike, designed to help give you an eBoost whilst keeping costs as low as possible. It’s a solid, reliable, easy-to-ride ebike with a hub drive motor. It’s great for buzzing around town, riding to work, and collecting the groceries.

Our higher-end ebikes (like the Marin Sausalito)and emountain bikes (like the Marin Rift Zone E) all use high-performance mid-drive units, from Shimano. They’re reliable, tuneable, serviceable and a blast to ride. They’re perfect for riding on and off-road, great for long distances and more challenging terrain. They offer higher performance, improved ride quality and even more fun than hub drive.

So, if you’re on a budget or looking for quick, local trips then a hub drive ebike could fit the bill.

If you have a little more money to spend and want a slicker, higher-performance setup we’d recommend a mid drive ebike.

Whichever type you go for, we’re sure your new ebike will open up an exciting new chapter of your cycling life. Have fun!

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