Why do the big bike brands (almost) never use hub motors?

Asher

Well-Known Member
Given that hub drives have some benefits over mid drives, you'd expect them to be fairly common among big bike brands offerings (Cannondale, Canyon, Trek, Specialized, Giant, etc). Not as a complete substitute, but as a common alternative to mid-drive motors. But it seems like there are almost none to be found, even among low end offerings.

You could blame the suppliers, but even Bosch and Yamaha already make hub motors for mopeds, so that just shifts the same question. The hub motor tech is simpler. It's not like EU customers are too good for hub motors, given how arguably the premier ebike brand, Stromer, uses them.

Do low legal power limits (250 w in EU) favor mid-drives? I can't think of any compelling reasons for why the legacy brands + suppliers have refused (geared) hub motors.

I tried to find relevant threads and only found this:

 
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AHicks

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USA
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Snow Bird - Summer S.E. Michigan, Winter Gulf Coast North Central Fl.
I think that maybe if I were limited to a motor rated at 250w max, that I would want to take maximum advantage of the extra power available with different gear ratios available with a mid drive.

A hub drive leaves you stuck with 5:1 for the most part. They work great with more power, but with 250w max, maybe not so much. Better than a direct drive hub for sure, but that's not saying much....
 

FlatSix911

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
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Silicon Valley
Here is a good article on the pros and cons of hub vs. mid-drive motor systems.

Electric bicycle hub motors vs mid-drive motors: Which should be on your next e-bike? - Electrek

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TLDR... So what’s the verdict? 😉

"The most annoying answer: it depends!
Mid-drives have a lot of improvements over older hub motor technology, but they have their own unique issues. There’s a reason hub motors have been around so long – they work.
The main advantages of mid-drive include lower weight and better gear usage, which makes them more appropriate for off-road use and those with hilly terrain to traverse.
Hub-motors, on the other hand, are fairly bulletproof and low maintenance, and thus are usually better for commuters and those that want a simple, reliable e-bike with very little maintenance."
 
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Court

Administrator
Staff member
Good question, @Asher, I've wondered the same thing. I noticed that Giant and Trek/Electra each introduced an affordable model to their lines in 2020 that use semi-generic hub motors and rear rack battery setups. Here's the Townie Go! 7D review I did for Electra that shows it. There's a lot to discuss on this topic, so I'm going to share a few ideas in bullet form:
  • European regulations focus on motor nominal watt output (limiting to 250 watts) which isn't very satisfying on a hub motor because it effectively only has one gear to work with... the size of the rear wheel. A mid-drive allows the rider to feel much more power as they shift gears. In this way, they are both more satisfying and capable of climbing.
  • Mid-drive systems tend to be more efficient and get better range than hub motors if the rider shifts thoughtfully.
  • Mid-drive motors allow for quick release wheels front and rear, which makes maintenance easier and allows them to share parts with non-electric bikes. Since the big brands usually have shop networks, they probably care more about economies of scale on parts and ease of repairs.
  • Mid-drive motors are "fancier" and command a higher price point. They also "don't work super well" with throttles... and since those aren't allowed in Europe (the biggest market for most of the big brands) they get an excuse for why they don't carry throttles over to the US and Canada. I see it as a straw man argument that protects their economies of scale and the regulations they pushed for in the US (against Pedego around ~2018). This is also why the lines are blurry for Class 3... they don't mention throttle at all, this is to give their mid-drives without throttles (which are also Class 3 in Europe) a leg up legally vs. smaller US brands that want to have throttle to 20mph and pedal assist up to 28mph.
In summary, I think it's partially the result of big powerful companies that are trying to make more money globally by having fewer skews. This is one reason you may see me cheering on Pedego, Rad, M2S, and some others that offer blend of products with throttles, some with the Bafang mid-drive + throttle setup like we saw from DOST last year :)
 

Asher

Well-Known Member
Good question, @Asher, I've wondered the same thing. I noticed that Giant and Trek/Electra each introduced an affordable model to their lines in 2020 that use semi-generic hub motors and rear rack battery setups. Here's the Townie Go! 7D review I did for Electra that shows it. There's a lot to discuss on this topic, so I'm going to share a few ideas in bullet form:
  • European regulations focus on motor nominal watt output (limiting to 250 watts) which isn't very satisfying on a hub motor because it effectively only has one gear to work with... the size of the rear wheel. A mid-drive allows the rider to feel much more power as they shift gears. In this way, they are both more satisfying and capable of climbing.
  • Mid-drive systems tend to be more efficient and get better range than hub motors if the rider shifts thoughtfully.
  • Mid-drive motors allow for quick release wheels front and rear, which makes maintenance easier and allows them to share parts with non-electric bikes. Since the big brands usually have shop networks, they probably care more about economies of scale on parts and ease of repairs.
  • Mid-drive motors are "fancier" and command a higher price point. They also "don't work super well" with throttles... and since those aren't allowed in Europe (the biggest market for most of the big brands) they get an excuse for why they don't carry throttles over to the US and Canada. I see it as a straw man argument that protects their economies of scale and the regulations they pushed for in the US (against Pedego around ~2018). This is also why the lines are blurry for Class 3... they don't mention throttle at all, this is to give their mid-drives without throttles (which are also Class 3 in Europe) a leg up legally vs. smaller US brands that want to have throttle to 20mph and pedal assist up to 28mph.
In summary, I think it's partially the result of big powerful companies that are trying to make more money globally by having fewer skews. This is one reason you may see me cheering on Pedego, Rad, M2S, and some others that offer blend of products with throttles, some with the Bafang mid-drive + throttle setup like we saw from DOST last year :)

Thanks for the thoughtful response :). I had seen some skepticism from Ravi and others here that mid drives are actually less efficient, though I suppose when you take into account how riders actually use them, especially in the presence of a throttle, that may change and hub motors then get less range. Ie, people rely on the motor more when using a hub motor.

The repairs/parts explanation makes sense, I know that lots of bike shops resent touching the rear wheel when it has a hub motor on it with a huge but locking it down. Mid drives being more expensive may not help them get established initially, but once they are, the higher prices and rates of service (chain replacements) may help them keep their place among brands and shops.

We do seem to be on the cusp of brands diversifying beyond a few motor makers, principally Bosch, and that may well open the doors to hub motors. It's apparently still difficult to do at a very high level of quality, thus the nearly ubiquitous outsourcing of motors to suppliers. Vanmoof for instance gets horrid reviews for reliability after trying a few innovations with its electronics. I'd just rather them settle on something simple and functional. Ride1Up and soon the Zen Shakti seem pretty encouraging in this respect. It would be cool too to see Bosch and Yamaha get forced into bringing a hub motor to market to compete.
 

AHicks

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USA
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Snow Bird - Summer S.E. Michigan, Winter Gulf Coast North Central Fl.
Regarding hub motors and electronics, if you are interested in quality and innovation, if you haven't already, check out Grin, with their GMAC motors based on the MAC motors....

And don't make the mistake of selling the hub drives short when it comes to efficiency..... There's a LOT to that, including what controller has been paired with the hub motor.
 

Asher

Well-Known Member
Regarding hub motors and electronics, if you are interested in quality and innovation, if you haven't already, check out Grin, with their GMAC motors based on the MAC motors....

And don't make the mistake of selling the hub drives short when it comes to efficiency..... There's a LOT to that, including what controller has been paired with the hub motor.
Are there any production e-bikes with G/MAC motors? I know Juiced used to have a MAC motor model in the Hyperfat, their high powered model is now a Bafang.
 

indianajo

Well-Known Member
GMAC is a geared hub motor designed to drag just like a mid-drive with the power off. I ride a Mac12 that doesn't drag unpowered. 99% of ebike riders will never ride unpowered, but I like breathing and it is not a guarenteed skill at age 70. 70 miles a week mostly unpowered bike riding gave me enough breath to get through 137 days of Covid19 with no hospital or oxygen required. Now bbcnews is saying the UK varient may be able to infect us again. Oh, Boy! Use those watthours, you don't need to breathe on your own. The ventilator will do it for you. 990 times out of 1000.
 

FlatSix911

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Silicon Valley
I ride with a good friend who has a RadRover 5 with a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) Battery.
Unfortunately, we now have to avoid steep hills as he is unable to climb these grades and has to dismount and walk.

He was told by Rad that the geared hub would be able to climb hills but is this is not the case and he is now shopping for a mid-drive.
I believe hub drives are excellent motors for specific use cases but not a one size fits all solution. Hope this helps other EBR members.
 

harryS

Well-Known Member
Court covered it. Hub drives are the low end of the ebiking world, and if you compete in that market segment, you compete on price only against a whole slew of sub $999 imports. Pedego has done it with hub motors for a while, and I hope they continue, because there is a market segment that wants their kind of service without the intimidation you get in the typical bike shop that formerly catered to the spendex crowd and now carry the big four ebikes,

By the way, I always thought Class 3 was no throttle, but bike sellers like Mikes Ebikes who got himself banned would look at our Illinois statutes (we're in the same town) and still claimed otherwise,
 

harryS

Well-Known Member
I ride with a good friend who has a RadRover 5 with a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) Battery. Unfortunately, we now have to avoid steep hills as he is unable to climb these grades and has to dismount and walk.
If you swapped bikes, could you drop down to the granny gear and climb that hill? And vice versa. Could he climb with yours? I assume you did that swap,
 

Sierratim

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Region
USA
City
Nevada City, CA & Paradise Valley, AZ
GMAC is a geared hub motor designed to drag just like a mid-drive with the power off. I ride a Mac12 that doesn't drag unpowered. 99% of ebike riders will never ride unpowered, but I like breathing and it is not a guarenteed skill at age 70. 70 miles a week mostly unpowered bike riding gave me enough breath to get through 137 days of Covid19 with no hospital or oxygen required. Now bbcnews is saying the UK varient may be able to infect us again. Oh, Boy! Use those watthours, you don't need to breathe on your own. The ventilator will do it for you. 990 times out of 1000.
Again, not all mid-drives have drag with the power off. My Brose motor is drag free, as are many geared hub drives.
 

Asher

Well-Known Member
Hub drives are the low end of the ebiking world, and if you compete in that market segment, you compete on price only against a whole slew of sub $999 imports.
Stromer would beg to differ.

It's not a matter of high vs low end, because mid-drives are not uniformly superior, the same way minivans are not uniformly superior to station wagons.

I ride with a good friend who has a RadRover 5 with a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) Battery.
Unfortunately, we now have to avoid steep hills as he is unable to climb these grades and has to dismount and walk.

He was told by Rad that the geared hub would be able to climb hills but is this is not the case and he is now shopping for a mid-drive.
I believe hub drives are excellent motors for specific use cases but not a one size fits all solution. Hope this helps other EBR members.

May just be a Rad issue. Rad uses bottom of the barrel parts. If it was a Stromer, that would be a more persuasive indictment of hub drives as a whole.
 

legsofbeer

Active Member
I ride with a good friend who has a RadRover 5 with a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) Battery.
Unfortunately, we now have to avoid steep hills as he is unable to climb these grades and has to dismount and walk.
I'm a bit astonished at this, having the same bike in SF and never having had to walk up a hill. What are these un-doable climbs? I used to live in the south bay, and grinding up black road or montebello rd or moody on a hybrid unpowered bike was a regular weekend workout. I would be happy to ride a radrover from Santa Cruz to San Jose on one charge (I know those back roads).
 

legsofbeer

Active Member
Do low legal power limits (250 w in EU) favor mid-drives? I can't think of any compelling reasons for why the legacy brands + suppliers have refused (geared) hub motors.
As AHicks alluded, low legal power limits (250w) do favor mid-drives, where you can convert that power to torque better by using your cogs. Note also that it's a power consumption limit, not a power output limit, which would be a Newton-meter limit. I will bet that a number of these european 250w mid-drives are consuming 250w at a nominal test level, and behaving like a volkswagen diesel emissions control unit at other usage levels. Regardless, if I lived in a 250w limit country I would seek out a mid-drive. But I don't live in one of those countries. The US permits 750w motors.

So let me relate an anecdote from around when I bought my first ebike. I have a buddy whose self-built (from donor bike) was stolen. He wanted to replace it with something that could do marin county technical singletrack, so went with a mid-drive bulls at about 53 lb. Got a steal on an essentially new, remaindered 2 year old model for $1450. Yeah, 36V battery, but it rides well. Two catches on that bike that he told me: First, if the motor gives up the ghost he's looking at a minimum of $1000 to replace it, and that is with the same model motor. Second, he had to buy a yamaha charger in the aftermarket, which was $250.

Now, compare that with a geared hub drive bike. If the motor kicks it, you don't replace it with the manufacturer's stock motor, you replace it with a better one, for only $200 to $250. You can replace that motor four times for the price of one mid-drive motor replacement. (I have 4000 miles on the bike, no replacement needed so far.) If you break your chain (a significant concern with a mid drive, less so with a hub), you throttle your way home.

I think this "geared hubs can't climb hills" is nonsense, some kind of defensive reaction from folks trying to justify their sunk costs in a rather non-trivial price point difference. I'm not knocking mid-drives, I think they do ride a bit more naturally and I wouldn't mind having one (with chain breaker in seat bag), but not at 3 times the price, and I'm getting a little tired of the retconning of, whatever question is asked, the answer is, you should get a mid-drive.
 
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indianajo

Well-Known Member
I ride with a good friend who has a RadRover 5 with a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) Battery.
Unfortunately, we now have to avoid steep hills as he is unable to climb these grades and has to dismount and walk.
I have a 500 W Mac12 geared hubmotor and I can start 330 lb gross (94 lb bike+tools, 165 lb me, 80 lb ag supplies+groceries) on a 15% grade. That is 7/8" rise in 6" run. If I hit the grade @ 25 mph I cross the top 100' later at >15. What does your friend weigh, 300 lb? Glad I didn't buy a Rad. I have a 48 v 17.5 AH battery & by the time I get to the 15%ers outbound it is discharged down to 46 v or below. The 1300 W ebikeling motor costing $221 could do the same thing. The Mac12 cost $720 wheel+controller+throttle.
 
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