I am wondering if there is a 'typical' set of ratios making up a motorcycle transmission for motorcycles with small engines (or minibikes if any use a transmission not a 'torque converter' system), and what those 'typical' ratios are.

I am just wanting to see if there is a relationship between the gears (1,2,3,4) and what "overlap" they have in the usable ranges.

Why? I'm already building an electric bike using a low-wattage motor and a 3-speed wheel hub as a transmission, but I already know this hub will be a poor solution. I want to explore using a transmission from a low-power motorcycle or at least understand the gearing setups in them with an eye on custom fabrication.

I need the gearing because to meet wattage limits legally I need to allow the motor to max it's torque delivery to the wheels for starting and going up hills.

  • Most electric vehicles don't use a transmission. You may consider this while building the bike to make things easier for you. Oct 23, 2016 at 9:24
  • Thanks Paulster2, but if I could make a 300 watt motor push me and the bike on its own... trust me I would. Legal wattage in NZ (where I live) is 300 watts max to stay classed as a bicycle, more watts and it enters a whole different vehicle class and becomes impractical to register. So - use a transmission. Same premise as motorcycles before the motors got so powerful!
    – 111936
    Oct 23, 2016 at 10:12

1 Answer 1


Before i start my ramblings, you might want to take a look at the Brammo Empulse. It's an electric motorcycle with a gearbox and a clutch, and it may give you some interesting information. Take a look here.

In your case, you can't really do without a gearbox like commented. You could do without a gearbox but only if your powersupply and engine combination allows so, and if you don't care about getting less miles per kWh. A Tesla S doesn't have a gearbox for instance. You can take a motor and a fixed gear ratio that can give you the tractive force that you want to attain, and you just feed more and more voltage to the motor as your speed increases, as long as you're under the max current and rpm of the motor, you can feed the motor as much voltage as you want. It's not very efficient any more at those speeds though. That's why a Tesla has a relatively low top speed despite it's great motor power. I've driven one, and you can deplete a Tesla's battery in minutes when you demand full power. An electric motor's efficiency gets quickly worse when you demand torque, while a combustion engine's efficiency increases. Comparing combustion engines with electric motors is comparing apples with pears, as per the saying in my language.

Your problem is that your powersupply probably has a relatively low voltage, so you can't pull off this trick. The Brammo can't do either, its battery only supplies 103V, while a Tesla supplies 400V. To determine the best gear ratios for your motor, you have to know its efficiency curve, to make maximum use of your motor's powerband. Especially because you're heavily underpowered, with 300W.

To get meaningful and effective ratios, I would set up goals for the steepest hill you want to be able to get up, and the maximum speed you want to achieve. With the weight of you and your bike, you can calculate the tractive force you'll need to have for these goals. Then you can calculate the transmission ratios you need for that.

(hereunder follows an awfully bad explained calculation of which i'm sure and hope someone will give a better version of)

Let's say the combination of you and your bike weigh 100kg together, thats 981 Newton. You want to get up a hill of 10% or 6degrees, not abnormally steep. This gives a sloperesistance of (F=sin[a]x m x g) sin(6deg)x 981= 103 Newton. If you can fully use your 300W this gives you a speed of (P=F*v) 300/103= 2.9m/s or 10.5km/h, if you neglect rolling friction. That's not really fast but still reasonable. To get a tractive force of 103N you'll have to multiply this by your wheel radius to get wheel torque. Suppose your wheel radius is 35cm. In that case it's (M=Fxa) 103x0.35= 35.9Nm of wheel torque. Divide that by your motor torque, and you have your ratio.

Suppose your 300W motor has a maximum rpm of 8000, and a torque of 0.359Nm. Then you need a total ratio of around 100:1 for first gear: 35.9/0.359= 100. On a flat road, this tractive force gives you an acceleration of 103/100= 1.03m/s2 until your motor reaches maximum rpm, or the current decreases due to increasing back-emf. That's a reasonable acceleration. Suppose your motor has a maximum rpm of 8000, which is 838rad/s. That means that your wheel is spinning at 838/100= 8.38rad/s because of your transmission ratio. The radius was 0.35m so your speed is (v=w*r) 8.38x0.35= 2.9m/s or 10.6km/h. That means there's need for more gears. Let's say you want to get to 18km/h in 2nd gear. And 30km/h in 3rd gear. That means you need ratios of 18/10.6x100= 59:1 and 30/10.6x100= 35:1. These ratios will give you accelerations of 59/100*1.03 = 0.6m/s2 and 35/100*1.03= 0.36m/s2. If you take a final drive of 1:100 you get ratios of 1.72 and 2.85, and a prise direct/direct drive.

These calculations don't take friction in account, but it's just for an impression. If i have time i'll improve this post a bit.

  • Hi Bart - Thank you for your input. I have already done a fair bit of the maths involved to establish what I need for first and final ratios - as a part of setting up the current '3-speed hub' version of the drivetrain. Regretfully this question is about existing transmission ratios for motorcycles/minibikes and what a 'normal'/'typical' set of ratios in such gearboxes might be. Knowing that information will allow me to decide between persuing the idea of adapting/using a transmission pulled from a small motorcycle further or abandoning the idea due to unsuitable ratios.
    – 111936
    Oct 24, 2016 at 20:13
  • Well, if you look at the transmission ratios of the Brammo Empulse, they don't vary that much from a standard motorcycle gearbox, so there may be hope i guess. The biggest thing i'd worry about is the loss you get over a gearbox. Even a gearbox from a minibike will rob considerable amounts of power from your small motor, so even with perfect ratios it might be unfeasible. Then you'd best be off with custom turned and final drive, and use a standard bicyle wheelhub 'transmission'.
    – Bart
    Oct 24, 2016 at 20:21
  • There's a limitation in the hub designs I'd like to get out from under: they provide the 'strongest' mechanical connection in gears other than 1st gear. (The way the hubs best suited to this application are made puts a 1:1 in 2nd gear and 1st gear is a reduction set of orbitals.) So when dumping the motor's power onto the 'lowest' gear you are unduly stressing the internals of the hub. I'm building one of these setups now. But I'd like the next iteration of the drivetrain to be strongest in 1st.
    – 111936
    Oct 24, 2016 at 20:40
  • Oh - these are WAY out of budget but they would be perfect for what I'm doing. I weep a little knowing they'll never be affordable... pinion.eu/en
    – 111936
    Oct 24, 2016 at 20:43
  • With only 300W of power, how could you stress the hub too much? It's not that much, when you cycle fast by yourself you can generate over 500W with your legs. And then there's a safety margin that they maintained when designing the hub, you can make use of that. I wouldn't worry about stress on the hub. See if you can take something from an old power drill or so as final drive. That'd be cost effective and they're designed for around 300W of power.
    – Bart
    Oct 24, 2016 at 20:51

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