Visiting a Chinese factory these days is a rare and enlightening experience. For an E-bike fanatic like me, visiting a hub motor factory is like a kid winning a golden ticket to the Willie Wonka chocolate factory. China has changed the face of the electric bike market place. They provide the components needed to make an inexpensive hub motor powered electric bikes that are popping up in droves across the planet. No where are electric bikes more prevalent than the streets of China.
Customarily, reporters are not allowed to photograph or video the workers in a China factory. Working conditions are generally poor (compared to the US), and it is immediately obvious that it is hazardous to work in these conditions, and this is one reason why China is able to produce products so much cheaper than a western factory. If you get hurt while visiting or while working in a Chinese factory it is your own damn bad luck. Good luck suing anyone in China for your own misfortune.
Anyway, thanks to some discreet smart phones, we were able to sneak some photos and videos of a Chinese hub factory (which shall remain un-named) to share with the readers of electricbike.com.
Most large hub motors that come out of China are based on the 9-Continents motor (or 9C). This is the most common direct drive hub motor on the market. Currently there are hundreds of Chinese factories churning out whats called “9C clones”. In China there is pretty much no respect for copyright law and once a design has proven itself to work well, it is replicated in bulk. The 9C clone is what the faster e-bike kits consist of, and is actually the same design that the new Crystalyte (read review) was based on. For a detailed explanation of what a 9C motor is made up, read our detailed story on the 9C motor.
9C hub motor clones come in all shapes and sizes. A customer who is making a large enough order can specify the diameter of the motor, the width of the magnets, the thickness of the copper wiring, and the thickness of the wires going into the motors. It’s amazing to see piles of hub motors which I know will bring many hours of joy to whoever owns one. It gets me juiced up and excited to think of all these delicious motors mounted to bicycles of all shapes and sizes all over the world:
Naked hub motors in massive quantity are always fun objects to drool over. I definitely count them as E-bike porn…and very affordable E-bike porn at that:
It use to be that “made in China” was synonymous with cheap price and low quality. Even though the Chinese still make cheap priced products, their quality has gone way up. For example, most of the direct drive hub motors such as these are now made in China. There is nothing wrong with the quality of these motors, and they will provide their users with years of trouble-free use. If you have any doubts about the direct drive motors design or quality…remember that it was a hot rodded $100 9C motor like the ones in this pic that climbed to the top of Pikes Peak, actually beating $15,000 Optibikes to the top. (read the inspiring story here)
There is one area where you do really have to watch the quality in the China factory, and that is when it comes to building the wheel around the motor. Chinese hub motor wheel-builds tend to be sloppy if the customer does not keep a close eye on the process. Part of the reason is that the Chinese tend to use inexpensive and thin steel spokes (using a lower grade of steel) which tend to bend and slip out of true over time. In fact many hub providers in the united states have opted to order their hub motors not built into the rim and do their own rim builds in the United States.
The other option is to go to China and meet the people who are building your hub motor rims, check out the quality of the spokes, and make sure your rims are being built right. This adds a bit to the cost of the motor (especially the trip to China) but it can be worth the effort, and its definitely fun. The hub motor in the picture is a very inexpensive one, and can be bought in China laced in the rim for $60. (WOW! that’s a lot of joy potential for $60). When you see all the labor and material that goes into building one of these motors, you wonder how they are able to offer them for so cheap.
For anyone who has ever hand-wound an electric motor, they know what a tedious job it is. Watch how these ladies make it look easy. Trust me this is hard on their hands and fingers:
Here is some more video, shot when the maker of the Juiced Rider electric bike visited a 9C hub motor factory in China. Because he speaks the native language he was able to video his entire experience. I highly recommend watching his entire multiple-part series if you are interested of what goes into making a quality E-bike in China:
Looking at all these ladies working in a Chinese factory, making cool electric bike components is inspiring. I would like to do my own take on it. I am thinking of starting my own hub motor compound in China where I get young and hot Chinese ladies who hand wind motors in bikinis, with American rock blasting on the radio. Also I want young Chinese ladies with machine guns as security guards. My motors will be slightly more expensive, but will come hand signed and imprinted by the winder. Its my new life mission. To have my own hub motor factory that’s run my way. I will be like Willy Wonka of E-bike candy and make my own brand of e-bike porn.
You guys can come visit me in China! One of my heroes is cell_man. He moved to China, and is known for working with the factories in China and then selling high quality motors, controllers, and batteries (made from authentic and high-quality cells from a123) sold from his website and shipped direct from his shop in China. By living near the factory, he can keep a close eye on production quality. And by being a direct-shipper, he cuts out the middleman, so he can offer the lowest possible price for quality components.
When customers for his popular geared-hub began asking about how his 6-turn motor was a little faster than they wanted, but the 8-turn was a little slower than they wanted…cell_man came out with a 7-turn motor. When some customers began asking if the builders could add a temperature probe to the motors stator, cell_man became to only one so far to make this an option. Temp probes are very cheap, but a customer would have to order one, and then dis-assemble his hub to insert the probe, and then thread the wire through the hollow axle. Very easy for the assembly line to do, very hard for the customer. Right now, cell_man is closely watching the cooling experiments…so keep an eye out for air-cooled hubs from cell_man in the near future.
cell_man has spent the last few years establishing a reputation for good products at the best prices. He is also known for good customer service, but be aware he can take a long time to answer e-mails because the recent boom in E-bikes is keeping him very busy.