Electric bike motors explained
So you want an electric bike? That’s great! Ah, but you’re confused by electric bike motors and their gubbins. Well, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we look at what electric systems are available on our selection of electric bikes to help you make an informed decision on your next e-bike purchase. Ultimately we’re trying to find the best electric bike motor for you. Before we get going, our introduction to electric bikes is a good place to start if you’re not ready for all this technical jargon just yet!
How electric bike motors work
Electric bikes are powered by a motor, which takes its power from a rechargeable battery placed somewhere on the bike. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, the motor will be placed in the rear wheel, whereas more expensive models use a motor placed at the cranks. These mid-drive motors include a torque sensor that measures the power you’re putting through the pedals and rations it accordingly. This extra technology is worth your hard-earned cash as it, in turn, leads to a more natural riding experience and less of an ‘on-off’ ride feel.
Most electric bikes allow you to alter the level of electric assistance. A control unit on the bike’s handlebars enables you to cycle through each mode, increasing or reducing the output of the motor as necessary. This is perfect if you’re loaded up for the daily commuter, or on the flip side, you’re looking to conserve battery power on a longer ride. Some e-bike motor systems have a walk mode; useful when you’re wheeling your bike up an incline or simply pushing it down the garden path with the weekly shop in tow.
Still with us? Good! Next, we look at the key electric bike motors from Bosch, Shimano, Ebikemotion, and Fazua. Much like other components on bicycles, brands look to the manufacturing expertise of other companies to produce the power for their e-bikes; hence why you might see a BMC electric bike powered by a Shimano motor or a Tern electric bike using a Bosch system.
Bosch Electric Bike Motors
Bosch provides the power to a whole bunch of electric bikes. At Velorution you’ll notice their systems on Gazelle, Kalkhoff, and Moustache electric bikes, amongst others. There are five main types of Bosch electric bike motors.
Performance Line CX
Primarily for athletic mountain bike riding across challenging terrain, Bosch Performance Line CX is an extremely powerful system. Capable of providing 340% of support as you pedal the motor will get you up to speed rapidly thanks to its ability to pump out 85Nm of torque.
The second mountain bike orientated e-bike motor from Bosch is Performance Line. With 65Nm of torque, it packs enough oomph for mountain bikers but it also offers the requisite features that suit electric urban bikes. Four different riding modes also help you conserve or splurge power to your heart's content.
Active Line Plus
Active Line Plus and its sister Active Line are found on many a popular urban e-bike. Like Performance Line, Active Line Plus has four different riding modes. Where it differs is its maximum torque. 50Nm is more suited to urban riding conditions or leisurely weekend riding.
It’s slightly heavier than Active Line so bear that in mind if you’re worried about the overall weight of your chosen e-bike. Take a look at Bosch Active Line Plus on Schindelhauer's electric bikes.
Bosch Active Line is a no-nonsense motor for commuting or leisure riding. Ride an e-bike equipped with Bosch Active Line and you’ll experience controlled acceleration and gentle support, perfect for city riding.
The last motor in Bosch’s 2021 armory is Cargo Line. Designed solely for use on electric cargo bikes, it’s a beast of a unit capable of hauling extremely heavy loads.
Want to find out more? We look at Bosch motors, batteries and displays in much greater detail here, including their most recent 2021 updates.
Shimano STEPS Electric Bike Motors
It’s no surprise that bicycle component titan Shimano is in the e-bike game. STEPS (Shimano Total Electric Power System for acronym fans) is used by over 160 different bike brands worldwide and similar to Bosch, there are systems designed to suit urban riding and more adventurous mountain biking.
All told, Shimano offers 5 different systems - three designed for electric hybrid bikes or electric urban bikes and two for electric mountain bikes. Here’s a quick rundown of each…
Shimano STEPS E5000
First up in Shimano’s range is E5000 – a lightweight, silent option for urban electric bikes. Shimano suggests that this system is for “hassle-free everyday rides in the city.” Bikes with STEPS E5000 feature one of two batteries - 418 Wh or 504Wh - with the larger capacity option offering you a stonking 185km of riding range! Don’t be surprised then if you only charge this once a week!
As you’d expect the system has been designed to be ridden in all weathers, so you can be sure your bike will still work when you’re accosted by a deluge on the Kilburn High Road. You’ll spot Shimano STEPS E5000 on some O2Feel electric bikes.
Shimano STEPS E6000
With an extra 10nm of motor torque, STEPS E6000 offers a step up from E5000 – albeit with a slight penalty in weight. That extra soupçon of power from the motor should give help if you’re planning to ride over longer distances, or wanting to tackle hillier terrain on your commute into the office.
Shimano STEPS E6100
The newest model in Shimano’s STEPS urban systems is E6100. Particularly proud of this one, Shimano state that it is “the most versatile system in our collection.” Utilising their knowledge from the electric mountain bike arena has helped them to deliver a powerful, lightweight motor that delivers maximum range and riding pleasure. Indeed, the motor is 20% more energy efficient than the E6000 – this helps bolster the system’s total riding range.
Shimano STEPS E7000
The first of Shimano’s electric mountain bike motors, E7000 is built to stand the rough and tumble of off-road riding. Mud and water-resistant, Shimano has been careful to keep the Q-Factor of the motor (a fancy name for the horizontal distance between the cranks) narrow to make bikes equipped with E7000 feel natural to ride.
Shimano STEPS E8000
E8000, Shimano’s top-end unit, offers riders 70Nm of torque in a stable, smooth manner for improved bike handling over all types of trail. Three power-assist modes (Boost, Trail, and Eco) will help you achieve around 100km of range before you need to locate your nearest charger.
Shimano STEPS Comparison Table
We’ve created this handy comparison table so you can easily compare Shimano’s STEPS systems. Hopefully, it’ll help you plump for one bike over another.
|STEPS E5000||STEPS E6000||STEPS|
|STEPS E7000||STEPS E8000|
|Best for||Everyday city riding||Long distance commuting||Leisure riding||Mountain biking||Tough mountain bike trails|
|Maximum possible torque |
|Recharge time||2-5 hours||2-4 hours||2-5hours||2-5 hours||2-5 hours|
And now for something different. Unlike Bosch and Shimano, the Ebikemotion drive system is centered around a motor at the rear wheel of the bike. That doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful though – their X35 system can pump our 40Nm of torque, which is comparable with the likes of Shimano STEPS E5000 and Bosch Active Line Plus.
Where Ebikemotion really shines is its overall weight – just 3.5kg for whole system – motor, battery, control unit and wiring. And because the battery is so paltry in size it’s easy to fit into a bike’s downtube, keeping a bike’s classic looks in tack. You’ll spot Ebikemotion on paired back electric urban and electric road bikes like the Orbea Gain.
German brand Fazua have taken yet another approach to e-bike motor design. Fazua Evation smashes a motor and a battery together to create the lightest mid-drive motor on the market. At 4.6kg the whole unit, motor and all, slots into the bike’s downtube.
And something else that’s pretty neat, is that the Fazua drivepack is completely removeable. So if you want to ride without assistance or head off on a flight with your bike, a Fazua equipped e-bike could be a great option.
Proprietary Electric Bike Systems
Shop our selection of electric bikes and you’ll see that some models don’t use a Bosch, Shimano, Ebikemotion or Fazua unit at all. The likes of ARCC, Brompton, Coboc and Gocycle all have their own systems, specifically designed for their own electric bikes.
By designing complete electric bikes, brands are able to match motors and batteries to the demands of the bike. Brompton’s own electric unit, for example, is lightweight, powerful enough for a Brompton and removable from the bike – great for urban living or travelling on public transport.
That’s our wrap-up of the key electric bike motors on the market today. Did we miss something? Ask away in the comments below.