This article first appeared in the July issue of the Ashland Locals Guide:
The Wheels Go ‘Round & ‘Round
by Jerry Solomon
There are various types of motor drive systems in use on ebikes today. The most widely used type are hub motors, and that will be the focus of this article. A hub motor is an electric motor that is laced via the spokes directly into one of the wheels of the bike. It serves as the central hub/axle assembly. There are two types of hub motors to choose from: direct drive or internally geared.
Direct drive motors are the simplest design of the two. A relatively basic electric motor becomes the central hub and axle of the wheel. As the motor turns once, the wheel turns once, hence the name direct drive. They are smooth and quiet running at higher speeds and are very durable. No internal moving parts means nothing to wear out. Direct drive motors can handle higher voltages and stand up to considerable (ab)use. The downside is that they create a noticeable amount of drag that can be felt when pedaling the bike without running the motor. They are heavier and provide proportionately less riding range than the more energy efficient geared motors.
Geared motors have a set of planetary gears inside the case that allows a smaller motor to run in the neighborhood of a 5 to 1 ratio, increasing the power output relative to its size. This allows them to deliver more power from a standstill with less electricity than a direct drive. Geared motors are smaller and lighter. They create very little rolling resistance when running under pedal power alone and their efficiency provides greater range from each battery charge. The flipside is that they are a bit noisier and, since they have moving gears inside, will require replacement parts eventually.
As to the question of which is better; there is no definitive answer. It depends on your needs and desires. If you’re looking for an ebike that’s lighter and feels more like a standard pedal bike, a geared motor is the choice for you. If you want a rock solid motor that can ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’ or you want the quietest option available, a direct drive motor is the choice for you. Ultimately, choosing between different bikes should be based on much more than just the motor type. The final decision should be made, quite literally, by the seat of your pants. Come test ride the different styles and see which one feels the best to you. All details and specs aside, the bike that you’ll say “Yes” to riding the most is the best bike for you. So, what are you waiting for? Its time to discover your new two-wheeled partner in adventure and travel!