E-Bike Tech Comparison: Bosch Frame Mounted Motors vs. Bion-X Hub Motors

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Have you noticed there’s been a growing mention of electrically motorized bicycles lately? That’s because they’re coming, whether our domestic infrastructure is ready or not. While Europe’s been enjoying the boost at a broader level for a few years, brands with strong stateside distribution are starting to push them into dealers in select markets, establishing themselves for when the tide turns.

Who? Specialized will have a lower cost version of the Turbo, Felt is bringing several models in, as is Lapierre, and BMC has their premium Stromer line. And that’s just the beginning.

Across the board, there are two dominant methods of integrating a motor into a bike: Building the motor into the frame or putting the motor in the rear hub. There are multiple systems, but two of the higher tech, more established ones are from Bosch and Bion-X. Both were at PressCamp this summer, both have their pros and cons, and both gave us an in-depth look at their tech. Read on and see which one makes sense for your next commuter.

We’ll start with Bosch. Bosch builds entire e-bike drivetrain systems that hit the market in 2010, and their latest generation is just now shipping. It’s built around a crank-located motor, which integrates into the drivetrain in a way that develops more torque than a hub motor with the added advantage of keeping unsprung weight lower on full suspension bikes…

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The first generation was built with the motor unit angled downward, which meant a very low hanging unit that was really designed for commuter bikes that didn’t need to worry about effective BB height. But to make it work on a mountain bike, something needed to change.

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Haibike, which is a huge brand in Europe, suggested they rotate it’s mounting orientation to improve BB height. Once that was done, they incorporated it into their mountain bikes. People laughed. Then they rode one, and they were laughing for a very different reason – joy. Since that time, a lot of brands have added motorized mountain bikes to their line. Bosch started with a handful of customers, now they count more than 50 brands spec’ing as OEM. And models are getting more and more sophisticated with long travel, aggressive trail bikes attracting throngs of groms at Eurobike (I witnessed this in person…seriously).

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At Sea Otter this year, they created a U.S. spec version, starting with their Performance system. It generates up to 20mph of assistance with 300Wh and 400Wh 36 volt batteries that charge fast. For the U.S. market, there’s only the 400 watt/hour size. They’re similar Li-ion cylindrical power packs that Tesla uses in their cars. This powers the 350 watt motor (U.S. market), which is helping drive the crankset. Since it’s then driving through the gears in the back, it helps maximize efficiency.

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The Intuvia control center has a small remote by the grip that lets you change the assistance level at will, even turning it off on downhills to save battery. It also lets you toggle views, showing remaining range among other things. Eco power boosts your own human output by 50% and is the lowest assist level. In ideal conditions under a light rider on flat roads, it’ll boost you along for up to 100 miles. More realistically, a mix of terrain and usage will yield 30 to 60 miles of assist. Or boost it into Turbo mode and it’ll pump out 275% of your human effort, blasting you up hills but giving you less range.

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It figures it all out by measuring crank torque, wheel speed and cadence.

It’s all pedal assist. There’s no throttle, so you still have to pedal. The entire system adds about 15 pounds to the bike and about $2,500 to the retail price to a similar non-powered bike. It requires a dedicated frame design since there’s no way to integrate it into a standard frame. The upside is that it’s fully integrated and completely sealed, so there’s virtually no maintenance. If something does go wrong, the dealer plugs it into their computer to read the error code. Any part, including the motor unit, is easily swappable. For the U.S., Magura is handling service, spare parts and warranty claims.

For 2015 model year, there’ll be a wider variety of Haibike models in the U.S., everything from a very fast looking commuter to a DH mountain bike and a full carbon XC hardtail. Learn more about Bosch’s system here.

BION-X HUB BASED MOTORS

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Bion-X takes a very different approach to putting a motor on your bike…and we do mean your bike. Their system can be retrofitted onto virtually any bicycle you own. We’ve ridden their system on one of our old hardtails in the past, and it’s awesome. Fortunately, the system has seen some marked improvements in the four years since we first tested it, boosting battery lifespan and power output.

They’ve also seen quite a bit of growth. Bion-X now has more than 250 dealers in the U.S. and 4,000 globally. That’s up from about 150 in January, which shows the growth of the market.

Each dealer gets diagnostic tools and software, mainly consisting of a small dongle that connects the cycling computer with a laptop/desktop. Once connected, the software checks for updates (and will download and update the system as necessary) and points out any problems. Each component shows up on the screen with its serial number, wheel size and other base info. It

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The biggest change since we first tried the system are the batteries and the move to standard freehub cassette bodies. The move to freehub bodies allow use of standard cassettes and easier integration into more bikes and the ability to upgrade or change the range. Before, they were all freewheels, but those are being phased out entirely very soon.

The latest Li-Ion batteries use a sleep cycle that allows them to sit dormant for up to 18 months without damage. The charger is much smaller now, too, since the circuitry is in the battery pack. That design means the battery will charge itself completely, then turn off, as opposed to their old trickle charger and less advanced batteries that could be ruined after a couple months of non-use (which is what happened to ours). Current batteries are also much more powerful, offering 237 Wh up to 555 Wh, and have around 600 charge cycles under warranty. They say they’re actually capable of more than 1,000 charge cycles when you follow the instructions.

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The minimum wheel speed before motorized assistance kicks in can be set by the program, as can the strain gauge in the motor. So, you could set it to kick in with as little as 0.25mph or up to 2mph.

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Unlike the Bosch system, the BionX does have a throttle, so once you’ve started pedaling and have it running, you can just hold the throttle and scoot along with no effort of your own. It also offers regenerative effort that trickle charges the battery while also providing engine braking, though you do have to set it to that mode manually before any long descents.

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For the motors, they’ve introduced a new D-Series motor that uses a non-structural composite motor case. It’s a higher performance system than the original that gets a larger 550 watt/hour battery. The motor’s overall diameter is larger, about twice what it used to be. This increases tangential torque, which essentially gives the motor more leverage. That means more power with less effort, so it runs cooler and lasts longer. It doesn’t affect battery life, but it lets the system maintain higher output under load. Previously, the smaller system would heat up under heavy loads like climbing steep hills and power would drop to protect the system. Now, they’re able to maintain full power under load, so climbing

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The top speed of the motor is 20mph (32km/h), which is faster than what’s allowed in some parts of Europe. So, if someone moves here, the dealer can request a change to top speed setting. The dealer can also connect to their remote tech support center for more detailed analysis. They can tell how many charge cycles the battery’s seen, how long since last charge and much more. Updates happen every 2-3 months and usually deliver small functionality enhancements like smoother operation or enhanced battery life.

Kits are available with 20” to 29” wheels and are sold as complete systems. They’re sold only to dealers, not direct to consumer, since the installation is pretty key. One big safety concern is getting the rear axle bolt tightened to 30 ft/lb of torque. They’re working on adapters and new designs to let the system work with thru axle frames and wider frames like fat bikes.

Pricing has gone up a bit over the years with all the new technology. They range from $1,500 up to about $2,500. More at RideBionx.com.

Editor’s Note: I photographed motorized mountain bikes because that’s what was available at PressCamp. We understand and appreciate the concerns e-MTB’s present with regards to trail access, but that’s a dialogue for another place and time…comments that are off topic will be deleted. Both of these systems are widely available on commuter and city bikes and that’s where we anticipate the most growth stateside in the near future. This story is to highlight two different systems to keep you abreast of the latest technology and options. Personally, I’d also suggest keeping an open mind. Remember when a suspension fork was heresy? I know, right? Personally, I’m looking forward to putting the Bion-X system on my Yuba cargo bike this fall.

Comments

JC - 08/11/14 - 1:46pm

Also, this:

http://stevetilford.com/2014/08/03/exclusive-jimmy-mac-interview-why-i-left-mountain-bike-action/

I love that someone as visible as McIlvain has taken a stand. Dirt Rag has too.

jacob - 08/11/14 - 1:55pm

why dont you just ride a motorcycle…………

slamman - 08/11/14 - 1:59pm

Sorry has the name of the site changed? I thought it was Bike Rumour, not Motorbike Rumour????

MrFiver - 08/11/14 - 2:05pm

For the love of all that is good in the world, please stop classing these as bicycles and reporting on them.

trainwreck - 08/11/14 - 2:23pm

please don’t do this to us. :-(

Heffe - 08/11/14 - 2:23pm

Are you guys covering mopeds and such now? I don’t even like electronic drivetrains so much.

SamSkjord - 08/11/14 - 2:24pm

That’s a funny looking motorbike.

Andrew - 08/11/14 - 2:33pm

Anything that removes barriers to getting on a bike is a massive step in the right direction. I was once a stubborn e-bike cynic. A customer approached me excited because he felt that an e-bike might allow him to commute the 10km each way to work, previously a challenge as he was 350lbs. We didn’t sell e-bikes so he bought a kit off the internet, a bike from us, and I built it for him. 12 months later he had dropped over 100lbs, sold his car, and had taken up mountain biking. If you don’t like e-bikes don’t read the e-bike articles, Bike Rumor has PLENTY of content for bicycle ‘purists’. Content arguments aside, this article was ridiculously well written Tyler.

paulpalf - 08/11/14 - 2:34pm

Lighten up guys.
Like it or not, E-bikes are coming and will be a big sector of the market. If it gets average joe out of his car I’m all for it.
While I would never have an E-MTB, if my commute was a bit longer I would be building one of these too.

Greg - 08/11/14 - 2:41pm

Good for them but no thanks.

trainwreck - 08/11/14 - 2:48pm

hey, if they want to start an e-bike rumor it’s ok with me. if i want to read about motos i go to a moto site not bike rumor. if i want to read about bicycles i come here. if i want to read about 29er trends i go to twentynineinches.com sorry, i just see them as a different entity.

Joe Pah - 08/11/14 - 2:50pm

Bought my FS Electric Bike 5 years ago and loved riding it every day. Got me back into biking.. And now, after getting back in riding shape, am riding stricktly regular bikes and mountain bikes.

Plenty of retiring Baby Boomers will see this as another shared activity, and electric mountain bikes will provide a very entertaining activity. They will see value in these $4-7k high end eMTBs.. Better get used to it, because popularity is ramping up. Yamaha and Bosch are throwing quite a bit of capital towards these mid drive power plants..

AlanM - 08/11/14 - 3:11pm

I still don’t understand why people click on articles that they don’t want to read. And then comment on them. Just skip over them!

Gunnstein - 08/11/14 - 4:11pm

I can understand the “motorbike” complaint in a US context, given throttle operated machines with up to 700W (as I remember) and high assist speeds. IMHO it doesn’t apply to EU-standard ebikes: no throttle allowed, pedal assist only, max 250W, no assist above 25 km/h. You still have to work to get up steep hills on those, all they do is flatten the climbs a little. It might be an idea to keep this distinction in mind when discussing “motorbikes”.

Topmounter - 08/11/14 - 4:13pm

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Keith Jankovsky - 08/11/14 - 4:24pm

I just bought a specialized e-bike and IT’S AWESOME!

I beat every strava section in my neighborhood, rutted out a newly constructed trail system, ran a boyscout troupe off a switchback, and I don’t have to worry about my DUI’s keeping me from commuting to work! This is Devolution and it’s finest and its an affront to cycling culture.

JustaJasperChirper - 08/11/14 - 4:37pm

I just came here for the comments…
and to voice my opinion.
Because I can’t wait for the day people understand that just because you put these on a MTB doesn’t mean people are going to ride your trails with it, I have worked in a few different bicycle shops and lived in a lot of MTB oriented towns, not once have i seen or heard anybody talk about using an e-bike anywhere except pavement and town trails. Maybe people should just shut there pie holes and wait to see if it actually becomes a problem before they start causing an uproar.

-Rizza - 08/11/14 - 4:37pm

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chad cheeney - 08/11/14 - 5:28pm

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nightfend - 08/11/14 - 5:37pm

Sadly, in 10 to 15 years via peer pressure, we will all be riding these crappy e-bikes. Strava will be completely filled with e-bike assisted records, etc. It is going to suck as finally the machine you buy really will matter more than the rider.

wheel-addict - 08/11/14 - 5:44pm

Please stop covering motor bikes.

Al Boneta - 08/11/14 - 5:50pm

No one made you click on the article. There was no gun to your head. I love when people complain about something no one is making them pay for

Flint - 08/11/14 - 6:19pm

These are not motor bikes….. if anything we should be encouraging people to get off real motor bikes and onto these. If you don’t like e-bikes then don’t read the article, it’s not rocket science people. B1tching and moaning about it won’t achieve anything other than make you look like a tool.

Mortimer - 08/11/14 - 6:22pm

My vote is for this being an e-bike free zone.

kmmalek - 08/11/14 - 6:51pm

I’m confused. Is the motorbike analogy due to the telescopic forks? Or the disc brakes?

ShopMechanic - 08/11/14 - 6:55pm

A motorized mountain bike is a motorcycle not a bicycle. C’mon Bike Rumor, do the right thing and stop covering motorized mountain bikes.

AdventuresAnonymous - 08/11/14 - 7:14pm

Read the JimmyMac article (linked above, at the top of the comments). He says it all. We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot as MTBers.

fleche1454 - 08/11/14 - 7:18pm

I dont think the people who use strava and the people who ride e-bikes are the same demographic. I mean one sucks and is pretentious and the other gets more people riding to work and getting more fit when they dont think they can do it.

That said the bosch motor style setup is the future of e-bikes the weight is lower and more balanced. Im guessing that a KERS style system is on the way for e-bikes in the future which would make them even more available to people since they would be able to go even further than just an outright charge could take you.

Mike - 08/11/14 - 7:28pm

JustaJasperChirper: E-bike are an issue in some places. When I ride in Laguna I often come across E-mountain bikes on multi use trails. This is not theoretical, people ride single track on motorcycles and think it’s ok because they are electric.

BikeRumor-please respond to the request to stop E-mountain bike coverage. I agree with the majority of the commenters in that this has no business here. If the bike is designed for off road use and powered it is not a mountain bike.

goathead - 08/11/14 - 7:37pm

These abominations suck the soul out of mountain biking.

skyungjae - 08/11/14 - 7:55pm

These e-bikes are better compared to segways than motorcycles. They are as much motorcycle as a golf cart is a car.

-Rizza - 08/11/14 - 7:55pm

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Tim A - 08/11/14 - 10:27pm

+1 for boycotting e-bike coverage. Unless it’s to remind people that they’re not mountain bikes and should be restricted to motor-approved trails. That is all.

roadrash - 08/11/14 - 10:35pm

Many of you guys are very confused about the bikes. First let me say i am a bicyclist through and through, i ride road, mountain and cross. I have been commuting by bicycle to work for years and after some big rides this year, i noticed i have been riding to work less and riding on the weekends even less. We are a one car household and wanted a change, i did not want to buy a second car, and debated a new motorcycle, but didn’t want the reg, insurance, gas, maintenance, and drama of another vehicle. I got a Spesh Turbo. Best choice i ever made, using a few cut throughs and a short ride on a bike path, my commute takes the same time as it would in a car. The turbo is unlike these other bikes where you can just hit a throttle and go, plus most those bikes top at at 20mph, many guys can ride faster then that, so its not like bikes are the only thing flying around. The turbo is really you stronger, i can ride at my comfortable pace and not get sweaty and nasty on my way to work, and ride a easy 25mph all the way to work. After work, i have been kicking it to normal mode or even regen mode, which is like riding and pulling a sled. Gives me a killer workout on the way home. As a 50 pound bike, riding home with no motor is for sure building strength. Don’t knock it, it might not be for you, but its less cars on the road. Between riding this to work 20 miles a day and riding all weekend long. I really do live on my bikes now and that is a plus. Thanks bike rumor for all the updates you do on anything with two wheels.

Patrick - 08/11/14 - 10:37pm

This is not motorbikerumor.com. These are not mountain bikes, and they’re not legal to ride on the trails that 99% of us ride our mountain bikes on. Just stop

Al Boneta - 08/11/14 - 11:01pm

Bike Rumor is free. You’re not paying for it like a magazine. They can report on anything they like. I don’t understand why there’s always a dozen pissed off comments on just about every story the write.

Psi Squared - 08/12/14 - 12:34am

@Al Boneta: +1.

The e-bike sector is going to continue to grow no matter how much people whine in comment sections. I couldn’t help but notice that each one of the bikes pictured above has pedals. Hmm. Sounds a lot like a bicycle. There’s no doubt that people will continue to spray bile and hate here in the comments, but that’s more a comment on them than it is this article or e-bikes. Note that no one was forced to read the story or comment on it.

Topmounter - 08/12/14 - 12:54am

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Fleche1454 - 08/12/14 - 1:52am

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Johann - 08/12/14 - 2:17am

Stromer is not from BMC but from Thömus, a little swiss brand. It might be BMC’s taking care of their distribution oversees though.

Pynchonite - 08/12/14 - 9:01am

I guess I don’t understand the hate. I’m in Salt Lake City, where the neighborhoods are sometimes on 10°+ slopes, and the vast majority of e-bikes I’ve seen and sold belong to people who want to commute on a bike without having to do hill intervals on the way home. Bion-X systems are what I see, mainly, and no one has said a peep in earshot about using one on a mountain bike. I’m more worried about the materials in the batteries, especially if these bikes are meant to replace some cars.

Adam - 08/12/14 - 9:04am

If it means less cars on the roads then why are any of complaining? E-bikes are coming and I’m all for it. This is the catalyst for revolutionizing how we move on from the current car culture which is both stratifying and lethal to our existence. Thanks for the article bikerumor!

-Rizza - 08/12/14 - 10:23am

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Jakozilla - 08/12/14 - 11:14am

As a mechanic with 20+ years of experience – I HAVE NO INTEREST IN WORKING ON THESE. If I wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic I would be a motorcycle mechanic.

I’m a pretty good sport about weird bikes. Bring me your fixie, recumbent, kid’s bike, Huffy … whatever. Electric shifting, no problem. I’ll even put air in your basketball.

I draw the line here.

Mike - 08/12/14 - 12:38pm

Please read the comments to understand where the “hate” is placed. E-Bikes riding off road on MULTI USE TRAILs is what most mountain bikers hate. If you rock an E-bike around town that is fine and dandy. If you ride a motorized vehical on multi use single track it becomes a huge problem. (assuming you are not riding legal motorcycle trails)

Bike Rumor is free, no one has to read it but that isn’t the point. The point is by covering electric powered mountain bikes this site is helping to promote those products. The industry should be taking a stand and clearly stating that electric powered “mountain bikes” are classified as motorcycles and may only be ridden on legal motorcycle trails. Right now that is not how these products are being sold. Please read the Jimmy Mac article that is linked in the first comment. I would hope Bike Rumor can see that this is an issue important enough to make an long time press veteran quit his job. Maybe they can think twice about promoting this type of product.

david - 08/12/14 - 12:40pm

It’s OK people saying ‘these are for commuting and city trails’ but…look at that first bike. It says NDURO and looks like a mountain bike. People buying that aren’t buying it to simply commute to work. As a commuting tool, these things could be great, but when you dress something up like a mountain bike, don’t be surprised when people start using it like a mountain bike.

some guy - 08/12/14 - 1:50pm

Advertising dollars are why all the paper and emags are all about ebikes. Not that you can actually ride them anywhere you can’t already ride a real Moto that would be cheaper and probably safer than the E-nduro bikes we’re being sold as the next cool thing. Def read the J-mac article linked to above

Just in man - 08/12/14 - 2:55pm

Wow all this hate is crazy. 350w compared to motorcycle?!? A dirt bike motorcycle is 18hp so that is around 14,000w. Are you really worried about someone riding up a hill with assistance from a motor, it will not rut up the trail at those power levels! More people using the spaces is not bad, it means more people trying to protect it. All these people are proably the sons and daughters of the people who used to complain about full suspension not belonging on the trails.

In addition in the USA, if it is less than 750w, two wheels and functional pedals, it will be treated as a normal bicycle in all ways.

Darren - 08/12/14 - 5:46pm

Was following one of these things on a multi-use trail (Vermont Trail Wash DC) not sure if it was allowed. Was a Mountish bike was going like 25mph, was able to draft on him for a bit, but just could not keep it up since he would slow sometimes for other users and then was back at 25mph in a jiffy. I think these things on roads are great, but not sure about anywhere else, or maybe have a 15 mph limiter on them since most paved trails that is the speed limit(most people go over that).

dontcoast - 08/12/14 - 9:48pm

As far as on the two different systems:
I’m a big fan of mid drive, especially on cargo bikes and in places with many hills.

BionX is such a great way to make a used bike or nice new bike that fits and looks perfect into a personalized e-bike.

But the new bionX is really nice, now I’m torn between mid-drive and bionX for my Yuba Mundo

Now just impatiently awaiting the $200-600 entry-level commuter conversion kit so we can get this transportation shift happening

Adam2 - 08/13/14 - 12:30am

Thanks for offering us this interesting article! Totally worthwhile read for me!

Richard Edge - 08/13/14 - 12:28pm

There is an incredible amount of ignorance displayed in the comments to this article. It seems too many do not have a clue about e-bike and their status. As such they should educate themselves first before commenting. Ever heard of the saying better to remain quiet and to be thought a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

I have a Bionx 350 e-assist motor on my recumbent trike and in BC it meets to legal requirement to still be classified as a bicycle because:

1. It has 2 wheels or more.
2. The motor is limited to 32 kph (20 mph).
3. It requires the pedals to be used to propel it forward to at least 3 kph before the more can power the bike.
4. It cannot provide more than 500 watts continuous output.

This is pretty much the same legal requirement throughout Canada and the US. Europe has lower upper speed and power limiting requirements.

Added benefits to the Bionx is that the power proved at each of the 4 levels is proportional to the amount of pedaling effort exerted. It also has braking regeneration and 4 levels of regen that can be used as resistance traing or higher regen down long steep hills.

I added this system to my trike about a year ago due to losing some strength in my legs from Parkinson’s Disease when attempting the steeper hills in my area. Since suffering a stroke 1 month ago, it has now become a part of my rehab while my other bikes are temporarily stored.

Like many others the e-assist allows me to continue to do what I love to do, ride my bike and yes some of us with physical limitations read bike rumours too so those who aren’t interested in e-bikes should go to the next article and keep their comments to themselves.

Don’t be so selfish and quick to judge especially when it is clear you don’t know what you are talking about.

yahsper - 08/13/14 - 8:49pm

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Psi Squared - 08/14/14 - 4:50am

Kudos to you, Richard Edge. Keep pedaling!

Nan - 09/13/14 - 3:11pm

I don’t have an ebike or ebike kit but I really want one. And here’s why: now middle aged, trying to start riding for exercise, terribly weak and even the easy hills beat me up. I know that’s normal but it’s still discouraging. I’m lucky if I can do a 3 or 4 mile ride. I ride streets and some paths and have a hybrid bike that is a combo road and city type bike, so no mountain biking for me. I see an ebike conversion as a way of helping the older or out of shape rider get into cycling and allow them to experience the joy of riding longer and easier. I wish I had pedal assist to help me as on a mild hill I’m barely able to do more than 3 mi/hr. That’s walking speed, folks. We aren’t all fit or Tour de Force wannabees. But I personally would love to be able to ride 20 mi and not have to go home in an ambulance.

meadows dad - 09/15/14 - 11:33pm

Unless you own and use an electric assist bike, you shouldn’t be negative. This technology makes biking more fun for more people, so it increases bike usage, which is good for the environment and everyone who rides them. So often people jokingly say we (wife and I) are cheating. But without the electric assist we wouldn’t be riding in the first place. And we do get lots of exercise and fresh air.

So try one, you will probably buy one.

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