At the end of the 19th century, the first documented electric bikes were already being made! They used the lead acid cell designed in the 1850s. As the oil industry worked its way to buying out the marvelous minds that invented these concepts, the design lost its spotlight so steam & combustion engines took over the world. Around 100 years later, the 1990s reflected the design in modern fashion. Sensors, computers and a lot more power from a more advanced battery found the electric bike its way into Asian markets, soon to hit the western market too.

Riding bikes downtownIn cities and densely populated areas, it is obvious that traffic is primarily cars. Even if they are electric, they take up a ton of space on the road. From experience, I can tell you there’s nothing more satisfying than passing by multiple hypercars on a busy downtown Vancouver street with a sweet two-wheeled electric slide. Trust me I love cars, and as my experience with electric bikes continues I might have a new favorite for zipping around town. Now let’s break down the main types of e bike motors that are available today.

Hub Motor

The most affordable and easy to install or uninstall on almost any bike. It is mounted into the hub of the rear wheel most of the time, but can be put onto the front as well depending on the rider’s preference. These are very common and can be easily replaced. Some are very powerful but due to it being a single gear, going up hills may be tricky with no other gears to flex up that incline. These are ideal for those that live in the city or a flat area,

Since their original development, larger and more powerful hub motors have been created. Most hub motors use a smaller battery but this increase in power means you will need more juice to have consistent torque and range. Here are the two different types of hub motors:

E bike hub motor

Hub motor on rear wheel.
Image by Rudolphsimon
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Direct Drive – These motors are reliable and tough, covering the entire wheel hub to accommodate the large size. They are heavy and have less torque due to having only one gear. They are actively engaged with the bike and use regenerative braking to return a small amount of power back to the motor. Zero moving parts makes the bike almost completely silent.

Geared Hub – Smaller, lighter and look-a-like to a regular bicycle hub. Higher torque is great for the steep hills, but trades off for speed. These motors do  not offer regenerative braking because they spin on a free-wheel. Because these types use moving parts it makes much more noise than a regular hub motor and can use more power. Make sure you have a lithium battery if you do long range daily trips to handle this.

 

Crank Drive

This was a Japanese innovation created in the 1990s by Panasonic and Yamaha. They strategically placed the motor here because leg power is situated in the same area (the crank). Having both sources of power pushing the chain in the same position made a highly advanced and efficient system that quickly gained popularity. A bike with 21 speeds will be incredibly smooth going up hills, you can still select gears while the electric motor will assist you with each rotation of the crank. This can be adjusted and serviced to each rider. They are more expensive than a regular hub motor, and the experience of ease trekking up a steep incline is hard to beat due to the ability of the motor to match the speed of the gears as the rider selects them. These features make this type of motor a very sought after type.

Doing simple repairs like replacing brakes, changing tires, or adjusting components are easier with crank drives. Most of the bikes components and instruments are commonly on the frame of the bike along with the battery. This is great for those who are not very experienced in doing repairs on an electric bike themselves. If you really don’t know what you’re doing, it would be wise to have your bike inspected by a professional.

 

Brushed and Brushless motors

The main difference between these two motors is sound. A brushless motor makes no noise, is small and lightweight. This has become the standard type thanks to no requirements of servicing for thousands of miles.

E bike front hub motor

Front hub brushless motor.  Image by iian.neworld
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Some would say that a brushed motor is better because they claim it is more reliable and tough as nails. Cheaper and simple to service (can last up to 7000 miles before maintenance is required). Good climbing power vs affordability is also a good standing argument for these types of motors.

There are also Sensorless / Permanent magnet BLDC brushless motors. These are very good motors, because they take the reliability of a brushed motor, and combine it with reduced sound and weight of the brushless motor. In most cases an electric bike will come installed with this motor because it is known to have better quality and power usage. Higher efficiency and lower noise pollution is the target and the brushless motor is the arrow. For new riders you should not worry about brushed or brushless motors because most e bikes come standard with a brushless for its proven superiority.

 

Friction Drive

A simple design that is ideal for folding bikes. Friction from a motor controlled roller installed on the seat post above the rear wheel connected to it, adds propulsion through friction with the wheel. These are easy to maintain and can be a good starter bike, but as you become more familiar with electric bikes you will notice that friction drives are significantly weaker than the more popular brushless motors (even weaker than a hub motor). I would recommend this to someone that hardly rides at all or for small children learning how to ride up a hill. One issue is that the roller and tire will wear out from their contact with each other so you will have to replace these often if you choose this type for your daily commuter.

Folding e bike with friction drive

Image by Pavel Ševela / Wikimedia Commons
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

 

My recommendations

Everyone has different needs, as mentioned before most electric bikes today use a brushless motor. They are highly reliable, needs zero to little maintenance after about 7000 miles, and can be serviced anywhere electric bikes are sold. Today we have folding bikes, race bikes, cruisers, touring and cross-country, bmx, etc. An electric motor can be installed to almost all bicycles! If you are a little heavy you definitely want to avoid a hub motor because it only pulls on one gear and combined with the incline of a hill, you can accidentally break the frame of your bike. So overall I would recommend a brushless motor or a crank drive for these riders for the proven design and peace of mind.

As an avid Electric motorcycle rider, I am here to help you find the right transportation that suites your needs. Leave a comment below if you have questions regarding this topic.

See you on the road!

Rowan – Founder of Radical Electric Bikes

 

Zero Electric Motorcycle

Riding the Zero S Electric Motorcycle in San Francisco.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    I love the layout of your site. Very user friendly packed with useful information. And a lot of education about E Bikes that I did not know. I can see that you are very professional and passionate about your craft from your website. I was particularly interested in Friction Drive. Truly amazing stuff. Great Job. Thank you for letting me learn something new that I did not know before. I also like the illustrations on your site. It flows with the rest of the information
    Great Job.

    • Rowan

      Reply

      Thank you I am glad you gained something out of reading my article. Friction drive is a unique system and I will be breaking down that particular system in another post soon. Stay tuned!

  2. Reply

    This is such a cool concept! Thank you so much for the information. The folding bike sounds pretty cool too, especially living in the city where space is limited. Can’t wait to learn more about this, I’ll keep an eye you for future posts 🙂

    • Rowan

      Reply

      You’re welcome Amber! I highly recommend these types especially for those living in limited spaces. I update the website constantly and thank you for visiting 🙂

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