The mid-drive motor is located in the middle of the e-bike, around the so-called bottom bracket area. Essentially, it sits inside the crank (the arm that connects the pedals), and it applies force directly to the mechanical drivetrain—the traditional collection of parts that move the bike forward. However, the hub motor is located in the front or rear hub, and while it works basically the same way, the rider feels very different. They each have pros and cons depending on terrain and riding style.
mid-drive electric bike
The mid-drive motor connects directly to the drivetrain and your pedal inputs. In most cases, the drivetrain of a mid-drive e-bike consists of a traditional chain, chainring, and freewheel that together drive the rear wheel and propel you forward.
Alternatively, you might be looking for a belt drive, which works very similarly to driving the rear wheels. Either way, the mid-drive motor increases the pedaling force you put into the pedals.
It does this because the motor itself has sensors that measure your pedaling. The motor reads this data and responds by providing extra power and applying it directly to the chain or belt, propelling you forward with more force.
Electric bikes with mid-drive motors have the most "direct response" you can get from a pedal-assist motor
Additionally, mid-drive motors are sometimes able to provide more peak assist than hub motors, making them the mode of choice for electric mountain bikes, where riders often need a higher level of assist for very tough terrain.
The downside of this direct connection is that you may experience increased drivetrain wear as it has to handle the force you apply through the pedals and the generally higher force provided by the motor. In the medium to long term, this may mean that you need to replace some worn components more frequently.
hub drive electric bike
Fundamentally, in-wheel motors work the same way as mid-drive motors - the boost they produce increases your pedaling force, allowing you to accelerate faster and ride easier.
The difference is in the way the in-wheel motors take the data and apply for its assistance. Also, the positioning of the motors has changed a few things.