Here are the pros and cons of a hub motor vs a crank drive motor for an electric bike, so you can decide which would work better for your needs. This post starts with a chart summing up the Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs Crank Drive Motors for ebikes. After that, we explain each point in more detail. By the end of the post, you most likely will have made up your mind about which to choose for your ebike – a hub motor or a crank drive motor.
Most electric bikes have a motor on the hub or on the crank drive. The vast majority of electric bikes have hub drive motors. However, crank drive motors are readily available on many electric bikes, if you want one. Deciding which to choose is tricky, as both have advantages and disadvantages. The best advice is to be very clear on the pros and cons of each motor, and then decide which works best for your own needs.
Chart Summing up the Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs Crank Drive Motors
|Crank-Drive Motor (also called Mid-Drive Motor)
|Position of Motor
|In the hub of the wheel. Usually the rear wheel
|In the crank-drive, that is, between the pedals
|Pros and Cons of Position
|✔ Highly efficient
|✔ Highly efficient
|✔ Low center of gravity
|✔ Low center of gravity; classic bike feeling
|✔ Easy to access for repair. Also easy to access other parts of the bike for repair
|X Tricky for repairs to motor and to other parts of the bike too
|✔ Easy to retrofit to almost any bike
|X Very difficult to retrofit
|Pros and Cons for Installation
|✔ Relatively easy; handy people can buy a kit and do it themselves. Easy to transfer to a different bike, too
|X Installing a crank-drive motor is highly technical, and very few people could just buy one and install it to their existing bike
|Pros and Cons for Cycling Feeling
|X A bit less natural, because you are being pushed along
|✔ Very natural, as the power is integrated into the cranks that you are turning
|Pros and Cons for Heating Up of Motor
|X Completely sealed system, so it is hard for heat to escape. However, with most units this is not a problem because of controllers
|✔ Usually have a fanned casing to allow heat to escape
|Pros and Cons regarding Weight
|X Hub motor and large battery add substantial weight to the bike
|✔ Crank motor and sometimes lighter battery add less weight to the bike
|Pros and Cons regarding Power
|✔ Due to the design, these can be extremely powerful
|X Due to limitations imposed by the strength of chain and sprocket, these are usually limited to 250 W. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the fact that mid drive motors work in tandem with your gears
|Pros and Cons regarding Maintenance
|✔ Sealed units, and therefore usually maintenance free
|✔ Very hardy and resistant to elements. Can be hard to find parts as most are proprietary
|Pros and Cons regarding Wear and Tear
|X Tough on brake pads
|X Tough on brake pads and entire chain drive system
|Do they Work in Tandem with the Gears?
|X No, they operate completely independently
|✔ Yes, the motor works in synchronicity with the bike’s gears
|Pros and Cons regarding Getting Up Steep Hills
|✔ Because there are few limits on their power, hub drive motors are better for steep hills
|X Crank drive motors are not as powerful when it comes to getting up sharp, steep hills. On longer, winding hills, you can use gears and the motor together to get up long hills
Hub Motors on an Electric Bike
Hub motors are by far the most common motors on electric bikes. These motors have been refined over many years into extremely efficient and reliable machines. As the name suggests, they are embedded in the hub, usually the hub of the back wheel. As such, they operate on the simple principle of pushing your bike along. Thanks to this simplicity, they can be extremely powerful.
By far the majority of ebikes have hub motors.
Related Post: 7 of the Best Budget E-bikes under $1000
Crank Drive Motors on an Electric Bike
Crank drive motors are inside the crank drive, that is, between the pedals, and directly linked to them. As such, they are also called mid–drive motors. Crank drive motors directly power the crank drive, and usually work in concert with your gears. These motors tend to be more about smooth and efficient performance than simple brute force.
Crank drive motors for ebikes are much more popular in Europe than in North America. Panasonic and Yamaha are the two leading companies that have refined these motors into outstanding machines.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Position on the Bike
The hub motor is handily placed in the wheel hub, causing no change to the basic design of the bike. The center of gravity is quite low, which is good for balance and retaining the classic bike feel.
The hub motor is directly attached to the wheel it is powering, making for high efficiency. And it is easy to access a hub motor if it needs service or repair.
Because of the positioning, a hub motor can be retrofitted to almost any bike using a conversion kit. This will cut your costs, if you already have a suitable bike.
For example, I installed my very first hub motor on one bike, and then a few years later, moved it with relative ease to a new bike.
Crank Drive Motors
By definition, a crank motor will be in or near the bottom bracket, so the extra weight is low on the bike. This contributes to good balance and a classic bike feel.
However, the integrated positioning can make for challenges in servicing and repairs. This is especially true if the motor is integrated with gears on the rear sprocket. In this case, even removing a back wheel to repair a flat becomes a challenge.
The mid-drive position also makes it very difficult for most people to retrofit onto their existing bike.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Installation
Anyone who is handy can buy a electric bike kit with a hub motor and mount it on a bike they already have. If you are not that handy, you can expect to pay a bike shop around $100 to $150 to do the install for you. And based on personal experience, pretty much any bike shop can do it. You don’t need one that specializes in electric bikes.
Hub motors are relatively simple motors and are completely self-contained. This means you can use one off the shelf on almost any bike, and move it from bike to bike if you upgrade your bike. For example, the Bafang 48 W ebike conversion kit is highly recommended. In one day, you can transform your existing bike into a powerful electric bike!
Installing a crank-drive motor is highly technical, and very few people could just buy one and install it to their existing bike. Most commonly, crank-drive motors are part of the original manufacture of an e-bike.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Cycling Feeling
Hub Motor vs. Mid-Drive Motor
A hub motor basically pushes you along from behind, via your rear wheel. By contrast, crank motors pretty much integrate with your pedaling. Because of this, many experienced cyclists say that e-bikes with crank-drive motors provide a more natural cycling feeling.
On the other hand, if your primary focus is on transportation, the feeling is probably not your top concern.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Engine Heating
The hub motor is completely sealed. This means that theoretically there can be overheating issues, as there is no easy way for heat to escape. However, most units have controllers that monitor and control this. You should not have overheating problems with a quality bike from a reputable manufacturer. In many years of using hub motors, I have never had an overheating problem.
Crank drive motors usually have a fanned casing, which allows for heat to be more effectively released than in a hub motor.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Weight
The hub motor makes the wheel quite a bit heavier. The minimum extra weight is around five pounds, but it can be substantially more than that. That is part of the reason why the average e-bike weighs more than 45 pounds.
Crank Drive Motors
Mid-drive motors tend to be quite a bit lighter than hub drives. Both the engine and the battery are likely to be lighter. That said, they obviously do add some weight to a bike.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Power
Hub motors operate on a fairly simple principle, and so they can be very powerful. In most countries, the only limitation is how much power you are legally allowed to have on your bike. This means that you can ride extremely long distances, go extremely fast, and manage massive hills. All with a minimum of pedaling, if that is what you prefer.
Crank Drive Motors
The key limitation on crank drive motors is that they are limited by the strength of the chain and the sprocket. To date almost all systems use standard bike chains and sprockets, which were never designed for motorized use, so the power has to be kept quite low. In practice, these motors are usually limited to 250 W.
This is of course balanced to some extent by the fact that mid drive motors work in tandem with your gears.
However, the bottom line on power is that if power is the most important thing for you, you are probably going to prefer a hub drive motor.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Maintenance
Because hub motors are sealed units they are extremely low maintenance. They are usually impervious to wind, rain, snow, and sleet. I can personally attest to using these motors in monsoon-like rain, freezing rain, and snow, without ever having a problem. I have never had one fail on me, despite using them for countless miles.
If the motor ever does fail completely, you can usually just replace it while not impacting any other part of the bike. You can also easily update to a newer or more powerful motor if you want.
Note that there are gearless and geared hub motors. The former can last pretty much forever. The latter will eventually fail, when a gear tooth wears down. The advert below is for a gearless hub motor conversion kit.
Crank Drive Motors
Like hub drive motors, crank drive motor systems tend to be very hardy and resistant to the elements.
There are a lot of great crank drive motor systems. However, most are proprietary. So if you ever need parts and the company has disappeared, it could be expensive or impossible to do repairs.
The entire unit is sealed (motor, controller, and torque sensor). So if one component fails you have to replace the whole thing. Of course, this can get expensive.
However, much the same can be said of hub drive motors.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Wear and Tear on Your Bike
A hub motor places no place extra strain on your chain drive system, as it is completely independent. In fact, for many people, the chain will last longer, as there will be many times when you are not pedaling.
On the other hand, as with any electric bike, your brake pads are not going to last as long. This is simply because you have a heavier bike and will be achieving higher speeds. This requires more stopping power, and so you will wear down your brake pads faster.
This brings up another point. With an ebike, you are better off with disc brakes than caliper brakes. Disc brakes provide the enhanced stopping power you need. Note that even with disc brakes, you will be replacing parts more often than with a regular bike.
Crank Drive Motors
Inevitably, a crank drive motor will lead to increased maintenance on the drive chain, including all cogs and sprockets.
When I commuted with a crank drive motor, I replaced my chain once a year. This was not a huge cost. I kept a chain wear indicator tool handy so as to keep an eye on the wear and tear of the chain. I highly recommend that all bike owners own one of these. It also comes in handy to check the chain when you are buying a used bike. For example, if the chain is completely worn out, then the seller’s claim that the bike is “hardly used” is probably untrue!
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Working in Tandem with the Bike’s Gears
In a nutshell, hub drive motors operate independently. You can easily do a long ride without ever changing gears. Simply engage a middle gear and then use more or less assistance from the motor, depending on whether you are going uphill or downhill.
Some people will love this; others, not so much as it detracts from the traditional feeling of cycling.
Crank Drive Motors
The key advantage of a crank drive motor is that it works in synchronicity with the bike’s gears. This means that your crank-drive powered bike can perform better on hills than an equivalent sized hub motor.
As an example, I have cycled up extremely long, winding hills on my electric bikes. I seldom detected little difference between my race bike that used a 250 W crank drive motor, and my BH Emotion Neo City bike that used a 350 W hub motor. The only difference was that I had to use my gears more effectively. I had to actually think about cycling.
Pros and Cons of Hub Motors vs. Crank Drive Motors with regard to Getting Up Steep HIlls
I do find that for very steep hills, a 350 W hub motor is better than a 250 W crank drive motor. (And as mentioned, it is hard to get bigger crank-drive motors than that). But for long winding uphills (less steep), the 250 W mid-drive motor is smooth as butter. And a lot of fun!
That is precisely why, on a personal level, I love crank drive motors. My BH race bike required a lot of effort from me to get up hills. But I loved the way I had to work the gears and my legs, to achieve a kind of synchronicity with the bike. Together, we moved that bike up countless enormous hills. It was my trusted commuter bike for many happy years.
Another example is the Cube Elly Ride 400 Hybrid below. Maggie used to own this one. The engine is just 250 W, but it works synergistically with 10 Shimano Deore gears to help her up the massive hills in our neigborhood.
Examples of Excellent E-Bikes with Crank Drive Motors
Haibike is famous for its perfectly designed ebikes with crank-drive motors. We currently own two Haibikes, and love them both. The Haibike Xduro Trekking Pro is crank drive; and so is the Haibike Sduro Hard Seven. The latter is a lot cheaper.
Rear View Mirrors for Bikes
You will ride fast on an electric bike, so it is a good idea to do it safely. I highly recommend a Mirrorcycle as a safety feature. It is cheap, but it makes cycling SO much safer. In fact, I recommend a rear view mirror as an essential safety device for all cyclists. You wouldn’t drive without a rear view mirror, so why cycle without one?
On at least one occasion, my life was saved by my mirror. I was cycling up the side of a major road (6 lanes), and a guy in a jeep had turned onto the road very fast. His turn was too wide, with the result that he was speeding up the behind me in the bike lane. I had time to move to the sidewalk, because I saw him coming. Without that mirror, I would have been another fatality of the most common cause of death for cyclists – being rear-ended by speeding motorists.
Get a Great Bike Lock
If you are going to get a great bike, get a great bike lock. This is the best selling bike lock on Amazon, and it’s great value for money.
Related Post: 7 of the Best Bike Locks to Keep Your Bike Safe
Bottom Line on Hub Motor vs Crank Drive Motor for an Ebike
So that’s it – all the pros and cons of a hub motor vs a crank drive motor for an electric bike. Decide which one you like, and bear it in mind as you choose your electric bike. And if you want more help with choosing an electric bike, take a look at my book, How to Buy the Best Electric Bike.
Good luck with buying the perfect electric bike for your needs, and riding it for many happy years!
Did you like this post or find it useful? If so, please support us and our blog:
Please consider clicking through to one of our reputable affiliates for your online shopping needs. We are proudly affiliated with Amazon, which sells pretty much everything except puppies - and has outstanding, free return policies. When you buy from our affiliates we make a small commission, and this is the only way we earn some income for the many hours of work we put into our reviews and posts. Plus, it costs you nothing at all - a real win/win situation!
Related Post: Which Garmin Edge Bike Computer is the Best?
Related Post: All Garmin Edge Bike Computers Compared: Edge 130 Plus vs Explore vs 530 vs 830 vs 1030 Plus