Hub Drive VS Mid Drive | Electric Assist on a Recumbent Trike

Hub Drive VS Mid Drive | Electric Assist on a Recumbent Trike

Electric Motor Throttle vs. Pedal Assist on Trikes Reading Hub Drive VS Mid Drive | Electric Assist on a Recumbent Trike 11 minutes Next Seat Height on Recumbent Trikes Explained

Mid Drive vs. Hub Drive Motors

Whether you’re all about the speed and want to accelerate your recumbent trike when out on the trails, find you’re tiring more easily, or just love the idea of getting further faster, e-trikes provide next-level riding experiences. However, you’ll have to make a few choices when shopping for your e-trike. 

The first is whether you want pedal-assist or throttle power, and the second is whether you want a mid-drive or hub-drive motor. Unless you have limited leg strength, we always lean towards the pedal assist as it offers a far more enjoyable and intuitive ride. That leaves the mid-drive vs. hub drive option up for discussion. Here we look at the differences between the two to help you decide which is right for your needs.

What is a Hub Drive Motor?

Hub drive motors are located either at the front or rear wheel, with rear motors being the most common. As a result, they work separately from the gears.

How Does a Hub Drive Motor Work?

A hub drive motor applies torque directly to the wheel, which means it works separately from the gears of your trike. Torque refers to how much exertion the motor can provide. For many riders, this takes away from the intuitive, natural feel of the ride. It also reduces control over your ride when traveling complicated terrain that changes from hills to flat stretches. The rear hub is more common as it tends to put less wear and tear on your drive chain. Although hub drives can be operated with a throttle, the preferred systems are pedal assist, activated by pedaling using speed and cadence sensors. As you pedal, you trigger the motor, which stops when the pedaling stops.

How Much Power Do Hub Drive Motors Have?

Laid Back Cycles’ hub motors come in 350-watt and 500-watt options. If you enjoy basic riding, the 350-watt is recommended, while the 500-watt is best on hilly trails or if you need a little boost of power to tow a trailer. Hub motors also come with different battery options, which determine how many miles you’ll get out of the battery. On average, a hub motor battery will get you between 40 to 50 miles. However, you can opt for an extended-size battery to improve the travel range by about 20%. 

What is a Mid-Drive Motor?

The mid-drive motor is located between your pedals, applying torque to the chain or belt. As a result, they work in hand with your gears, offering more control when faced with varying terrains.

How Does a Mid-Drive Motor Work? 

Mid-drive motors are designed to be far more intuitive than the hub drive motor. As a result, the motor provides power differently. This torque-based system reads how much pressure you put on the pedals and uses a cadence and speed sensor to accelerate or decelerate. It also senses how fast the trike is going to calculate how much power is required. Mid-drive is much “smarter” than the hub drive, as it can also multiply its power across the drive chain because of its location. As a result, you can continually alter the power without worrying about adding too much stress to the drive chain.

How Much Power Do Mid-Drive Motors Have?

Mid-drive motors range from 250 to 625 watts, while dual batteries can reach up to 1250 watts. You’ll see varied ranges depending on how you use the motor, which can be as little as 20 miles and as many as 80. It all depends on the conditions you encounter while you ride, the power demanded throughout the ride and how you manipulate your gears. 

While this might sound negative, it is actually one of the benefits of the mid-drive, as it allows you to control your ride and make the most of your battery life. You can use your bike’s gears to improve efficiency using a natural pedaling cadence to maintain a nice level of energy use for your battery. For example, you’ll experience better energy use when taking on a steep hill because you can shift gears. This isn’t possible with the hub drive motor.

Which Motor Offers the Better Ride?

Because the mid-drive motor applies torque to the belt or chain, they provide a more intuitive ride that provides the pleasures of pedaling with less effort. The position of the motor is centered which can also create a feeling of better balance compared to the hub drive. When riding the hub drive trike, you might find a rear hub motor that feels like you’re being pushed forward, while the front hub has a feeling you’re being dragged. 

Typically, the mid-drive offers a more natural feel to the ride because they use torque and cadence sensors to improve the speed, while hub drives depend on cadence sensors alone. The additional input provided by the torque sensor considers how hard you are pedaling to improve the response. Just keep in mind not all mid-drives include a torque sensor when shopping around.  

Consider Your Goals

The best way to decide which motor is best is to consider your goals when riding your e-trike. For example, if you find you’re not up to pedaling as much as you used to, the idea of not pedaling at all has its appeal. If you either are tiring more easily or have leg strength or mobility issues, you’ll need an electric motor throttle as opposed to a pedal assist motor. Because it is very hard to find a mid-drive throttle, you’ll need to go for the hub drive with a throttle. If you’re looking to achieve higher speeds, want to extend your rides without tiring or want to get to where you’re going faster, the mid-drive is the answer.

Mid-Drive Motor Pros and Cons

  • Helps when climbing steep hills
  • Retains a better sense of balance
  • Offers a more natural feel to the ride
  • Easier to change tires as they aren’t attached to the motor
  • Could be more vulnerable to chain wear and tear if you aren’t using your gears properly
  • Can be more expensive than hub drives

Hub Motor Pros and Cons

  • Less wear and tear on chains and cogs
  • Still operates if the chain is damaged in most cases
  • Less expensive in some cases
  • Creates a pushing or pulling feeling depending on the location of the motor
  • Most common on throttle e-bikes
  • Changing tires is more complicated

We always advise taking the time to test-ride your trike to make sure it feels right for your needs. While we tend to sell far more mid-drive e-trikes than we do hub drives, if you’re looking for a throttle motor, so you don’t need to pedal, the hub drive is your only option.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, this is James, the master trike technician at Laid Back Cycles. Today we are going to discuss the differences between a hub drive motor and a mid-drive motor.

 So, first off, the hub drive motor is as the name implies. The motor is in the rear hub of the trike and this has its advantages. With the hub motor driving the rear wheel, it doesn’t put excessive wear and tear on top of the drive chain. The hub drive can also be turned on by use of a throttle. Primarily though, the hub drive is activated by the pedaling. It’s what we call speed and cadence sensor. When you pedal, the motor turns on and when you stop pedaling the motor turns itself off. So, it is never going to keep you going if you are not pedaling. These motors come in two powers, the 350 Watt and the 500 Watt. The 350 Watt is recommended for general riding in most areas. The 500 Watt is useful if you are in a lot of hills or if you are towing something. And there are different battery options. This particular battery is typically good for about 30 miles minimum. Some people have gotten up to some very high mileages like 60 or 70, but most people are getting around 40 and 50 miles. And the extended size battery will add about a 20% greater range.  

 Did you guys know that 80% of you watching this video right now are not subscribed to the Laid-Back Cycles channel? Go ahead and subscribe to the channel and hit the bell notification to get all the cool videos that are coming up that will tell you everything you would ever want to know about trikes.

 The mid-drive motor, like this Bosch on this Terratrike E.V.O., is kind of a misnomer in the trike world. It is called a mid-drive because in the world of bicycles it sits between the front and the rear wheel, there by calling it a mid-drive. But since trikes have the pedals up in the front it’s out in the front. I guess we could have called it a front drive motor.

 The Bosch system is special, this one has a lot of electronics in it and it does a lot of thinking. So, the mid-drive motor operates with a combination of:

  • How much pressure you put on the pedal, called the torque-based system.
  • How fast the pedal goes, which is the cadence and speed sensor.
  • And how fast the trike is going.

And from there it does calculations to determine how much power it should put into the system. The mid drive-motors on top of the trikes have the benefit of multiplying its power across a drive chain. The Bosch is special because it continually alters the power to make sure it doesn’t give too much power and stresses the drive chain out at any given time. This is the most natural feeling of all the motor systems.

So, which motor system is right for you? Well, for about 90% of people the mid-drive system is going to take care of you and because it is so natural feeling. If you have ever been on a regular unmotorized bike or trike and gone down a slight hill with the wind on your back, that’s what it feels like all the time. You know you are getting some exercise and our studies are showing that you only lose about 20% of the cardio. Current studies are showing that it follows a calorie burn and you are only losing 20% of the calorie burn on a motor vs a non-motorized trike. But because people spend more time on the motorized one, the net gains are huge.

The hub drive is recommended for those with any adaptive situation, or if you are the type of person who is now getting a little tired on some of the bigger rides. With the cadence speed sensor, it’s the pedaling motion that determines how the motor comes on. You don’t have to push as hard, especially for the end of the ride. Also, the throttle is there to get you out of trouble if for some reason you cannot ride at all. People get that all the time from cramps in the legs. And unfortunately, that is what happens as we all get older. Regardless of what you need, we have a motor system that will work for you!

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Laid Back Cycles

Laid Back Cycles

Hi Ron, it sounds like a mid-drive motor would be sufficient for this situation. The reason you may go towards a hub-drive is if you want a throttle. Otherwise, a mid-drive motor like the Bosch Line or Shimano STEPS works wonderfully in most cases.

Hi Ron, it sounds like a mid-drive motor would be sufficient for this situation. The reason you may go towards a hub-drive is if you want a throttle. Otherwise, a mid-drive motor like the Bosch Line or Shimano STEPS works wonderfully in most cases.

Ron Caraway

Ron Caraway

I have a 2021 catrike 559. I want to add electric assist. I am 82 yes old but am in great shape, at least for now, lol. I ride only paved trails with some hills. Which would be better for me, hub or mid drive

I have a 2021 catrike 559. I want to add electric assist. I am 82 yes old but am in great shape, at least for now, lol. I ride only paved trails with some hills. Which would be better for me, hub or mid drive

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