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Types, Brands, and E-Bikes That Utilize Hub Motors
All e-bikes designed for consumer use provide assistance to riders through either a mid-drive motor or a hub motor. The hub motors, as the name implies, are mounted in the center of either the front or rear wheel, while mid-drive motors are centrally placed at the bottom bracket and connect to the e-bike’s cranks. In this comprehensive guide to e-bike hub motors, we will focus specifically on the latter type. Continue reading to explore the distinctions between various motor types and scroll down to discover some of the top hub motors available on the market!
Currently, electric hub motors are more cost-effective compared to mid-drive motors and, as a result, are more commonly found. Additionally, hub motors are often lighter in weight than their counterparts, making them suitable for urban e-bikes or folding frames that require frequent carrying. They also work well in conjunction with low-maintenance belt drives and internal gear systems. In fact, some of the best electric bikes we have had the pleasure of reviewing are equipped with hub motors.
On the other hand, mid-drive motors have gained a reputation for being more efficient and responsive compared to hub motors. However, the technology behind hub motors is constantly improving, gradually narrowing the gap between the two. Mid-drives are also favored for their ability to mimic or come close to the experience of riding a non-electric bike. They do tend to be more expensive and are commonly found on high-end models.
The topic of e-bike motors is intricate enough to warrant a separate guide dedicated to mid-drive motors. In this article, we will exclusively delve into the most common manufacturers of e-bike hub motors, discuss the best e-bike brands that utilize these motors, and also explore some unique outliers.
Prepare yourself and get ready to dive into the world of e-bike hub motors!
Different Types of Hub Motors
We have already discussed the two primary types of motors, but when examining hub motors in more detail, this category can be further subdivided.
Front Hub and Rear Hub Motors
The division within hub motors is based on their placement – either in the front or rear wheel hub. While there are a few exceptional cases of e-bikes equipped with dual hub motors (both front and rear), the vast majority of e-bikes with hub motors have them installed in the rear wheel. These types of motors provide riders with a sensation of being propelled from behind, although this characteristic is often subtle and easy to become accustomed to.
On the other hand, front-hub motors offer a contrasting experience, giving riders the feeling of being pulled along. These motors have an advantage over rear-hub motors in terms of being smaller and lighter. However, they can sometimes lack traction.
The Eunorau Defender S is a rare example of an e-bike equipped with both front and rear hub motors.
Geared and Direct Drive Motors
When it comes to e-bike hub motors, they can transfer power in two distinct ways. These divisions are known as direct drive and geared. If you want to learn more about the differences between these two types of hub motors, we have a comprehensive article that delves into the topic.
In a nutshell, geared hub motors utilize a system of internal gears to drive and turn the motor’s shell. They are the most common type of hub motor and offer advantages such as smaller size, lighter weight, improved efficiency, and better climbing abilities. Additionally, they tend to be more affordable.
On the other hand, direct drive motors are gearless and rely on magnets to turn their shell, which is an integral part of the motor itself. Although they are larger and heavier, direct drive motors are renowned for their quiet operation and exceptional longevity. They excel at high speeds and are primarily used in Class 3 (speed pedelec) e-bikes.
Torque and Cadence Sensors
Every e-bike motor requires input from a sensor to provide optimal assistance. There are two main types of sensors used with e-bike motors: torque sensors and cadence sensors. Normally, only one type is used in a particular e-bike, but some models incorporate a combination of both.
Cadence sensors, which are more commonly used with hub motors, are relatively cost-effective. These sensors activate the motor as long as the pedals are in motion. However, they are less efficient compared to torque sensors, as torque sensors respond to the rider’s input. Responsive cadence sensors can provide assistance with just a quarter-turn of the e-bike’s cranks, while slower versions may require a half or even a full turn.
While torque sensors are less prevalent and slightly pricier than cadence sensors, they are generally considered superior. They are highly efficient as they detect the amount of effort the rider applies and adjust the motor’s output accordingly. This ability to provide responsiveness based on the rider’s input resembles the experience of riding a non-electric bike. Torque sensors are commonly paired with mid-drive motors, but they are gradually becoming more affordable and commonly seen with hub motors as well. For example, we have noticed the inclusion of torque sensors in the updated lineup of Aventon e-bikes.
Popular Hub Motor Brands
There are numerous hub motor manufacturers in the market, and while we will highlight some of the major ones, the list continues to expand rapidly. These companies produce some of the finest hub motors available today.
One prominent hub motor brand is Bafang. Formerly known as Suzhou Bafang (due to their headquarters in Suzhou near Shanghai) and 8Fun, Bafang is arguably the largest manufacturer of e-bike hub motors globally. With a history dating back to 2003, they have established themselves as a reputable and innovative company. While their primary manufacturing center is located in China, Bafang also operates a dedicated mid-drive motor factory in Poland, along with sales and service centers in the USA and across Europe.
In addition to manufacturing motors, Bafang also produces batteries, sensors, controllers, and HMIs for e-bikes, as well as a variety of products for electric scooters. As of now, Bafang offers approximately twelve models of rear hub motors, ranging from 250W to 1000W, nearly as many mid-drives, and a few front hub motors.
The quality and affordability of Bafang products have made them popular among a wide range of e-bike companies, from small startups to well-known brands like Pedego, Juiced, Aventon, and Charge.
Shengyi, also known as Suzhou Shengyi Motor Company, is another major and reputable company based in Suzhou, China. Established in 2003, the company achieved sales of over 800k units in 2020 and is likely to reach the one million mark by now. Shengyi has manufacturing facilities in Suzhou and Taiwan, with sales offices in Germany and Tianjin, China.
In addition to producing mid-drive and hub motors for e-bikes, Shengyi also manufactures motors for electric scooters and motorcycles. Currently, they offer a lineup of more than a dozen rear hub motors, around ten front hub motors, a few mid-drive options, and a couple of brushless single-piece wheel units with integrated motors. These motors range in output from 180W to 1000W.
Shengyi products have been utilized by globally recognized companies such as Giant, Rad Power Bikes, MFC, and Aventon.
Dapu, also known as the Chuo Bussan Group, is a Japanese-owned company with over ten years of experience in producing e-bike components. They prioritize the production of durable and powerful products with precision. Dapu operates manufacturing plants in Japan, China, and Vietnam, which supply e-bike companies in the US and Europe.
Similar to Bafang, Dapu offers a diverse portfolio focused exclusively on e-bike products. Their current range includes an extensive selection of front and rear hub motors, torque sensors, HMIs, controllers, and a few mid-drive models. Dapu’s catalog boasts nearly twenty motor models with output ranging from 250W to 1000W.
Well-known e-bike brands such as Pedego and Evelo have utilized Dapu products.
Pedego and Evelo, both reputable e-bike brands, have chosen to incorporate Dapu products into their offerings. These brands have recognized the high quality and reliability of Dapu’s components, making them a trusted choice for e-bike enthusiasts.
MXUS: A Pioneer in E-bike Components
MXUS, originally known as the Changzhou Huayuxinfeng Motor Company, has been at the forefront of e-bike component manufacturing since 1996. In 2004, the company shifted its focus solely to e-bike products and changed its name to the Changzhou MXUS Import and Export Company. Today, MXUS has expanded its presence across Asia, Europe, and both North and South America.
MXUS offers an extensive range of products for e-bikes and e-scooters, including batteries, chargers, controllers, HMIs, throttles, and even cargo racks. However, their specialization lies in front and rear hub systems, with a diverse lineup of over 25 models. These hub systems come in both geared and direct drive variations, providing customers with options to suit their specific needs. Notably, MXUS boasts one of the most powerful hub motors in the market, with output capacities ranging from 180W to an astonishing 5000W.
The Electric Bike Company and various other brands have recognized the excellence of MXUS products and have incorporated them into their e-bike offerings. One prominent example is the Electric Bike Company’s Model Y, which features the impressive MXUS rear hub motor.
Exploring Other Noteworthy Manufacturers
TranzX, a Taiwan-based company, offers a comprehensive range of e-bike components, excluding frames. Their product lineup includes various motors, such as hub motors and mid-drives. These motors have been utilized by well-known brands like Raleigh, Diamondback, Bergamont, and Lapiere.
Aikema Electric Drive System Company, hailing from China, is another notable manufacturer in the e-bike industry. Aikema has collaborated with renowned names such as Ampler, MAHLE, and VanMoof. Their impressive array of motors and components has garnered attention and trust from industry experts.
Neodrives, a German-based manufacturer, specializes in producing motor, battery, and display systems for e-bikes. Their innovative systems have been incorporated into e-bikes from respected brands like Pegasus, Raleigh, and Rennstahl.
TDCM, a Taiwanese manufacturer, not only produces e-bike hub motors but also supplies components for the automotive, EV, and medical industries. Their hub motors have gained recognition from brands such as Brompton, Stromer, Flyer, and even bike ride share programs like Lyft.
Originating from Japan, SR Suntour is primarily known for their magnesium suspension forks. However, they have also ventured into the e-bike industry with their three models of HESC (Human Electro Synergy Components) hub motors. These motors have been successfully integrated into Carrera e-bikes and other reputable brands.
Exploring Unique Hub Motor Brands
In contrast to the aforementioned large-scale manufacturers, the companies in this section offer a distinct approach to e-bike components.
Karbon Kinetics / GoCycle: Striving for Perfection
Founded in 2002 by Richard Thorpe, Karbon Kinetics set out to create the ultimate e-bike. Combining his passion for cycling and experience in designing McLaren racing components, Thorpe developed the GoCycle. The first iteration of this lightweight, folding e-bike was introduced in 2009 and aimed to embody elegance, joy, and exceptional functionality. Since then, Karbon Kinetics has continued to release updated models that consistently set new industry standards. These cutting-edge models feature rapid folding mechanisms, Bluetooth technology integration, and the use of innovative materials and manufacturing techniques.
One of the Core Elements: The GoCycle G4drive Front Hub Motor
The GoCycle G4drive front hub motor is a remarkable component in the current iteration of the GoCycle. It is an exclusive creation, known for its proprietary design and outstanding performance. Despite its small size, this 500W unit possesses an impressive amount of power, allowing for exceptional speed and effortless uphill travel. When we had the opportunity to review the GoCycle G4, we were truly amazed by the motor’s capabilities. It is worth mentioning that this remarkable piece of technology is unique to this specific e-bike.
The Unobtrusively Powerful GoCycle Front-Hub Motor
Undoubtedly, one of the standout features of the GoCycle is its front-hub motor, known as the G4drive. This particular motor, despite its unassuming appearance, boasts an incredible level of power. The compact size of this proprietary motor allows it to blend seamlessly with the overall design of the e-bike. It delivers an exceptional performance that truly surprised us.
MAHLE: Innovators in Automotive Technology
Based in Palencia, Spain, MAHLE SmartBike Systems is a division of the renowned MAHLE Group. This group is dedicated to developing advanced automotive technologies and components. MAHLE SmartBike Systems focuses on both hardware and software design, catering to e-bike owners, dealers, and manufacturers. With a strong commitment to innovation, they strive to create cutting-edge products that enhance transportation by making it comfortable, efficient, and environmentally-friendly.
MAHLE’s Exclusive Drive Systems: The X20 and X35
Beyond manufacturing components like batteries, chargers, shifters, and displays, MAHLE specializes in producing two exclusive drive systems, namely the X20 and X35. These rear hub motors are incredibly lightweight and compact. Every element of these drive systems is meticulously designed to seamlessly integrate with an e-bike’s frame. In fact, MAHLE proudly claims that their X20 system is the lightest drive system available in the market. It’s important to note that the X35, previously known as the Ebikemotion X35, was acquired by MAHLE in 2018.
MAHLE’s Influence on Sophisticated E-Bikes
MAHLE’s high-performance products find their place on the most sophisticated e-bike models, which include those crafted by BMC, Orbea, Cannondale, and SCOTT. These brands recognize the value of MAHLE’s drive systems for their electric mountain, urban, gravel, and road bikes. By incorporating MAHLE technology, these brands elevate the overall performance and riding experience of their e-bikes.
ZEHUS: International Expertise in EV Drivetrains
ZEHUS is a notable player in the field of EV, e-scooter, and e-bike drivetrains. Since 2019, this innovative company has been under the ownership of Eldor Corporation, an automotive technology company. Leveraging international development and manufacturing resources, ZEHUS has emerged as a leader in producing cutting-edge drivetrains.
Revolutionary BIKE System by ZEHUS
Previously recognized for their cable-free BIKE all-in-one system, ZEHUS has gained widespread acclaim. This system encompasses a motor, battery, sensors, and Bluetooth connectivity in a single package, offering a seamless riding experience. The 250W system delivers an impressive 40 Nm of torque and has a minimum range of 35 km / 22 miles in Turbo mode or a maximum range of 60 km / 37 miles in Eco mode. It is available in both a single-speed version and a cassette version with 4, 7, or 9 gears.
Introducing the Upgraded BIKE System with Unlimited Range
In a momentous unveiling at the CES in 2023, ZEHUS introduced their upgraded BIKE system. This enhanced version boasts an incredible claim of unlimited range, thanks to its groundbreaking Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). The innovative regenerative braking system allows the battery to recharge while backpedaling, ensuring extended riding without worrying about power limitations.
ZEHUS and Their Presence on European E-Bikes
ZEHUS drivetrains have found their way onto European e-bikes produced by esteemed brands such as Cooper Bikes, Neomouv, and Hummingbird. These companies recognize the excellence and reliability of ZEHUS drivetrains, making them a preferred choice for their electric-assisted bicycles.
Velotric’s Proprietary Velopower Motor
Velotric takes great pride in their proprietary Velopower motor, designed by a team of skilled engineers. This exceptional motor is manufactured by a prominent but unnamed motor producer, ensuring the highest quality and performance. With their Velopower motor, Velotric aims to provide an unmatched riding experience in the world of e-bikes.
E-Bike Motor Brands and Partnerships
Globe / Electra / Volt / VanMoof / Velotric / Etc.
These names are grouped together because they likely follow a similar approach: collaborating with one of the larger companies mentioned earlier to produce their own unique motor systems. We can assume this is the case for Globe (a subsidiary of Specialized), VanMoof, and Electra (owned by Trek), although specific details about their motor manufacturing are not readily available on their respective websites. It is more understandable in the case of Globe, as information about their first e-bike is still limited at the time of writing. Electra, on the other hand, promotes their use of Bosch mid-drives, but their more affordable line of “Go!” e-bikes utilizes their own rear hub motors.
Other brands are more transparent about their partnerships, such as Volt, who collaborates with Bafang to produce their SpinTech rear hub drive system. Similarly, Velotric, while keeping their manufacturer undisclosed, openly acknowledges their partnership in developing the proprietary Velopower motor.
E-Bike Motors Branded for Specific Companies
Aside from the aforementioned partnerships, it is important to note that many motor manufacturers offer custom branding services for large orders. This often makes it difficult or even impossible to determine the actual manufacturer of a motor that features an e-bike brand name instead of a dedicated manufacturer’s stamp. This can also complicate the process of gauging the quality of such motors. Some may be manufactured by reputable companies like Bafang, while others may be produced by small startups offering low-quality components.
Conversion Kits with Hub Motors
While not as popular as they once were, conversion kits that transform regular bicycles into e-bikes still provide an affordable solution and allow riders to give their favorite bikes an electric boost. Bafang, as mentioned earlier, offers conversion kits, but there are also several smaller, more unique options available.
One conversion kit that stands out is the Swytch Kit, which is widely considered to be the best and most common hub motor conversion kit on the market.
Swytch was established in 2017 with the aim of encouraging drivers to become cyclists by making electric-powered transportation more accessible. The company is also committed to sustainability. It initially gained recognition through a highly successful Indiegogo campaign for its Swytch Kit and later released a second-generation model in 2019, following the same approach. Swytch now boasts a customer base of over 60,000 worldwide.
At present, Swytch offers two conversion kits: a universal model and one specifically designed for folding bikes. Both systems utilize a 250W geared front hub motor, along with a choice of two compact battery packs that are scarcely larger than a smartphone. One pack provides a range of up to 15 km / 9 miles, while the MAX model can power the motor for up to 30 km / 18 miles. Swytch Kits are available in various wheel sizes and are compatible with both disc and rim brake systems.
Bimotal was founded in 2019 after its CEO experienced a skiing accident that left him unable to climb steep hills while mountain biking. The company, based in San Francisco, aims to develop a lightweight and easily detachable drive system to promote healthier lifestyles. Bimotal’s founder, Toby Ricco, is an engineer with experience at Tesla, and the company employs a team of other engineers with backgrounds in Formula 1 and aerospace.
Bimotal’s flagship product, the Elevate, is technically not a hub motor, but it is similar enough to warrant discussion on this list. Rather than being fixed at the center of the wheel hub, the Elevate is a detachable system that mounts onto the externally-mounted disc brakes of a non-electric bike (although it is not compatible with all frame designs) through a special brake rotor/cog system. With a 750W motor that delivers between 50 and 100 Nm of torque, it offers a range estimated at 15 to 30 miles. Moreover, the system can be attached or removed within seconds. The unit’s sleek cylindrical battery resembles a water bottle and is secured to the bike’s frame using a cage.
The company is also developing a mid-drive system with even greater torque for an enhanced eMTB experience.
The Bimotal Elevate system is a conversion kit that attaches and detaches within seconds.
Similar to the previously mentioned ZEHUS system, the SmartBikeWheel is an all-in-one system, although its hub shell is noticeably larger. The reason behind this is simple: instead of relying on torque or cadence sensors, the front hub system employs an internal gyroscope and tachometer to detect changes in terrain and provide assistance accordingly. This SmartAssist technology, combined with Bluetooth connectivity and an internal battery that offers a range of roughly 35 miles, makes the SmartBikeWheel a functional, affordable, and user-friendly option.
In our review of the SmartBikeWheel, we were extremely impressed by its power and performance, which rivaled and surpassed many entry-level e-bikes we have tested.
Hub Motor Brands and Quality
When purchasing an e-bike, the more information you have about the motor, the better. Just like with any product, a recognized brand name can inspire confidence. Although smaller startup companies can innovate and create high-quality products, the brands listed here are well-established and reputable, with a proven track record of delivering quality and performance. Custom branding can make it challenging to ascertain the true origin of a model, which is why we go beyond the surface-level marketing when reviewing e-bikes.
For more information on e-bikes and what separates the good from the bad, be sure to check out our Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide.