Mid drives are the holy grail power-providers for electric bikes. If you want to know how you can spend a lot of money on an electric bike and get the ultimate in efficiency and performance this is a good start. Mid drives are not the easiest or the cheapest electric bikes to build, but can be the cream of the crop once you are out riding, especially off road, especially climbing hills or even mountains.
When compared to a hub motor, a mid drive is an elegant solution. This is because mid drives allow you to use the bike’s transmission as the motor’s gears, so the electric motor can run in its optimum RPM range. This translates to a happier more efficient motor and a lighter better balanced e-bike. Why a lighter bike? When going through the gears, you dont need as heavy a motor to propel you up hills without smoking, and you dont need as much battery because a mid drive is considerably more efficient than a hub motor especially when climbing.
If a manufacturer is looking to do a quick and cheap solution they will go with a hub motor E-bike. Hubs will continue to be the simplest (and thus least expensive) method of adding E-assist. There are plenty of manufacturers throwing together hub motor powered e-bikes which can be made cheaply in China, and sold cheaply to the consumer. When you get into mid drives they are much harder to design and produce, more expensive, and made in smaller numbers.
So why pay the extra money to go with a mid-drive and not go with a hub motor? This is an important question. Check out our Hub Motor Break Down story to help ponder.
Hub motors are Ugly, put heavy weight in one of your wheels (negatively impacts handling) and common (90% of E-bikes are built with hub motors).
Mid drives offer great weight distribution and motor efficiency.
However, mid drives come with their drawbacks. mid drives are expensive, they tend to be noisy compared to hub motor bikes, and they are complicated containing many parts that can fail, and they cause wear and tear on your pedal drive train that a hub motor will not. Also they are less intuitive to ride with since you have to ride changing gears and always must consider which gear you are in. If you do not live in a hilly region and do not plan to ride off road, or you are on a budget, a mid drive is not recommended.
Check out this video from a Guerrilla Electric biker which does a good job of illustrating the advantages of mid drive bikes with this video, while overcoming many of the drawbacks. This is a mid drive hub motor that was cheap to build, is quiet, and is not that complicated:
Check out our Supercharged Specialized story to see another fine example of a home built mid drive, utilizing a hub motor in the frame:
Pikes Peak Electric Bike Race
In the last few years, a great proving ground for electric bikes has been the Assault on the Peak, a bicycle race up to the top of Pikes Peak on Colorado which allows electric bikes to compete in their own class. This is a grueling 2o mile climb, with an elevation gain of 8,000 feet. Many hub motor bike have entered this race but none have finished without turning back or burning out.
The only type of E-bike to ever get to the top of Pikes Peak has been mid-drives, most notably the Optibike which last year entered 7 bikes (1100r) and all 7 bikes made it to the top. The two other bikes to finish are included in the list below. If you are considering an electric bike to do a commute over large hills or mountains, with long excruciating climbs, a mid-drive might be your only option.
So are you interested in owning a mid-drive electric bike? The easiest way to accomplish this valiant goal is to spend the big money and buy a mid-drive bike ready-to ride. Most of the bikes on this list cost over $10,000, and four of them are on our 10 Most Expensive Ebike List, but there are also a few budget Chinese bikes for those who want to mid-drive on a budget. Lets take a look at the commercially available options:
10 Examples of Commercially Available Mid Drive E-Bikes
Optibike- Motorized Bottom Bracket (read review here)
$10,000 entry price will get you into a proven mid drive system that finished pikes peak race multiple times (20 miles 8000 feet climb). This is probably the most proven mountain climber bike in the world right now.
Hanebrink Hub Motor Mid-Drive (read review here)
Starting at $6000 the Hanebrink uses a hub motor as its mid-drive, built into the frame. This is a very unique and quirky ebike that is a blast to ride. I tested the Hanebrink against a bmc hub motor bike, and on a severe one mile climb with no pedalling allowed and the Hanebrink was nearly twice as efficient.
Kalkhoff/ Focus / EMotion
One of 3 types of bikes to finish Pikes Peak hill climb race. Uses the Panasonic motorized bottom bracket drive system. There is a number of European companies selling descent quality conversion bikes with this Panasonic 250 watt drive train. This is a proven reliable and efficient system. It is very common in the hilly regions of Europe. (Read our review of the Focus Jarifa with its 300 watt Panasonic drive here)
Bosch Cannondale E – Series (read review here)
Like the Panasonic, its only 250 watts, but through the gears this bike is still an effective climber. Uses a Bosch drive system. The reason 250 watts is a recurring number is because it is the watt limit in many European countries.
M55 – elegant mid drive (read story here)
The m55 is not very practical since it costs over $30,000. But it stands tall as a jewel of a mid drive putting out over 2000 watts and a 14 speed Rohloff.
KTM Egnition – Clean Mobile Drive System and a Rohloff (read story here)
The Ktm Egnition also uses a Rohloff as its transmission and although it has not been released yet, with the Rohloff and Clean Mobile drive system running 2000 watts, it promises to be a real mountain climbing (and descending) contender.
Audi E-bike – Clean Mobile Drive System (read article here)
The Audi Ebike also uses a clean mobile drive system running at 2500 watts. The bike exists only in prototype right now, but stands as one of the most exciting electric bikes ever built. We hope that Audi has the balls to unleash it on the public.
Blacktrail Bt-01 - Clean Mobile Drive System
This bike borders on the ridiculous with outlandish company performance claims. But it runs the Clean Mobile drive system and is rumored to use the awesome Plettenberg Predator RC motor. Maybe the bike really can go 60mph. Price? $8o,000. However PG bikes does offer some more affordable mid drives including the $7000 black box 2. (read our story on the Blacktrail here)
RonZ Powered Electric Mountain Touring Bike (website)
This is an Astro powered bike and one of 3 types of bikes to make it to the top of Pikes Peak. It is made in USA and can be had for $6000 and is a proven quality E-bike
R Martin /HiTek Bikes / Evelo
There are a number of US companies selling this bike with different labels which is a fresh out of China version of the mid drive. This is only a 250 watt system, but a couple of people have managed to pedal two of these bikes from New York to San Francisco to prove the durability of it. The best feature of this bike is that it retails for less than 2 thousand dollars. An amazing feat for mid drive. The cheap Chinese entry into the mid drive world. If you want to mid drive on a budget this is your only good commercially available option.
2014 Mid Drive update
If you want to keep up with the latest mid drive KITS that you can add to your own bike, check out our January 2014 article on mid drive kits.
If you want to know the latest on FACTORY MID DRIVE E-bikes, check out our January 2014 article on Factory mid drive E-bikes.
Written by senior editor Eric, June 2012