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Mid drive vs hub motor drive is the biggest debate in the eBike industry. While both sides have pretty solid arguments, I’m here to end this debate once and for all. By carefully examining each and every aspect of hub drive vs mid drive eBikes, I’ll prove why mid drives are so dope – except in two cases, though. 

This is probably going to be the most in-depth mid drive vs hub motor comparison you’ll ever read. For the attention-deficit folks out there, I have put a table that highlights the main points of difference between hub motor and mid drive eBikes, so they can just do with it.

Here’s what I’ll be covering in this blog.

Mid Drive vs Hub Motor Drive eBike

All differences between hub motor and mid drive eBikes are due to their design, placement, and working mechanism. Since I have already covered how these motors work, I’ll be very brief here.

Hub motors, as the name suggests, are placed inside the hub of either the front or the rear wheel, forming the axle. When current flows into these motors, they directly spin the wheel to propel the bike forward. 

Mid drive motors are placed within the center of your bike frame at the bottom bracket, midway between the cranks. Unlike hub motors which are independent of the drivetrain, a mid drive motor transmits power to the wheel by either a chain or a belt.

Mid drive motors also have complex gear reduction systems in them to generate more torque. Hub motors can be both geared (to amplify torque) or gearless/ direct drive (to amplify speed). 

Here’s a summary of the main points of difference between hub motor and mid drive eBikes.

Hub vs Mid Drive eBike Comparison Summary

Mid Drive eBike Hub Motor eBike
Motor Placement Bottom bracket, middle of cranks.  Inside the hub of the front or rear wheel 
Bike Gears  The motor is integrated with the drivetrain, so can use bike gears  The motor can’t use gears, as it directly spins the wheel
Efficiency More, as gears keep the motor in ideal RPM range and amplify the power Less, as motor often exceeds or lags behind the ideal RPM range
Range More, as motor delivers more power for less energy Less, as the motor works too hard
Performance High power output due to efficient gear ratio Poor performance. You are always in one gear 
Torque Almost twice for the same motor wattage Poor torque output
Hill Climbing Easy, as you can shift to lower gears Unsuitable for hills and gradient
Weight Distribution Even, with a lower center of gravity Uneven. Skewed to either front/ rear
Ride Handling Stable and balanced with easy maneuvering and more traction Unbalanced. Bad steering due to gyroscopic effect
Suspension Motor weight is suspended with the frame, so not noticeable Motor weight isn’t suspended, so the ride is less predictable
Ride Feel Natural, as power is delivered to the drivetrain Unnatural pulling or pushing sensation
Pedal Assist  Usually torque sensor. Senses pedal strength  Usually cadence sensor. Senses pedal speed
Power Delivery Responsive, seamless, intuitive, instantaneous  Unresponsive, jerky, rough 
Throttle  Not present (Class 1). You always have to pedal Present (Class 2 or 3). You can ride without pedaling
Motor weight Less. Usually 6-9lbs (2.7-4kg) More. Usually 10-20lbs (4.5-9kg)
Maintenance Both motor and drivetrain need frequent maintenance  Low maintenance. The drivetrain is not prone to wear
Tire changing Easy, just as regular bicycles Difficult with the motor inside the wheel
Motor Failure Rare, as the motor doesn’t work too hard Prone to overheating and burning
Chain Breaking Common due to incorrect gear use Not common, as the motor is independent of the drivetrain
Spokes Failure Immune, as the chain would break first Common
Frame Failure Immune, as the chain would break first Common. Fork dropouts in the front hub are most prone to fail
Battery Service Life Longer, due to fewer charging cycles Shorter. The battery needs to be replaced earlier
Regenerative Braking Not offered, due to the presence of gears Direct drive (gearless) hub motors offer regenerative braking
Pricing  Costlier. Premium option Cheaper. Budget option
Component Options More. You can use dynamo/ internal gear hub, chain/ belt drive, etc. Limited component options
Bike Options Limited. Mid drive eBikes are costlier and harder to produce More. There’s a huge market with numerous types of hub bikes

Difference Between Hub Motor and Mid Drive

Let’s now have a detailed comparison, starting with hub motor vs mid drive efficiency – as this is what actually lies behind most points of difference between hub motor and mid drive eBike

Hub Motor vs Mid Drive eBike - Bosch Mid-drive system shown

Photo Credit: Bosch

Efficiency & Range

Mid drive motors are significantly more efficient than hub motors. This is why mid drive eBikes always offer more mileage than a hub drive electric bike with a battery and motor of a similar size. 

Mid motors operate at the most efficient RPM

Mid motors operate at the most efficient RPM by taking the mechanical advantage of the bike’s gears, which is a huge advantage over hub motors.

For instance, if you’re riding a mid drive eBike up a gradient, shifting to lower gears would make it easy for the motor to rotate the cranks. It means the motor won’t have to work too hard to let you climb the hills and will stay in its ideal RPM range, saving you a lot of battery power.

Likewise, when riding on flat roads, you can prevent the motor from running too fast by shifting up into higher gears. Once again, the motor would remain in its optimal RPM range to keep operating efficiently. 

With hub motors, you simply can’t have this benefit. 

Hub motors can’t operate within their ideal RPM range

Since hub motors directly rotate the wheels and work independently from the drivetrain, they can’t use the gears to their mechanical advantage. They can’t operate within their ideal RPM range and would either exceed or fall behind it. The end result is a loss in efficiency and, by extension, the range of your eBike.

The difference in range between hub vs mid drive can be a deal breaker for many commuters. 

And if you don’t need the extra range offered by mid drives, you can simply go for a smaller battery to cut some weight and save some money. So it’s a win-win either way.

The type of pedal assist sensor also impacts the range

The difference in range between mid drive vs hub motors gets more apparent when you compare a mid drive eBike with a torque sensor to a hub drive eBike with a cadence sensor. 

With a torque sensor, you only get as much power from the motor as you need. But with the cadence system, the motor can often provide you with more power than you need, which significantly decreases your efficiency and range.

However, when you use a hub motor with a torque sensor, this gap in efficiency and range difference somewhat closes down. The hub drive kind of sucks less in this case.

Performance & Torque

When it comes to hub vs mid drive performance, mid drives are clearly supreme. 

Mid drive motors produce 2x torque for the same wattage

Hub drives can simply not keep up the incredible torque output of a mid drive motor. For a similar power rating, the mid drive motors create almost double the amount of torque as a hub motor. 

Let me show you a quick comparison of Bafang hub vs mid drive motors to make my point.

Bafang’s most powerful and efficient 250W hub motor – the H700 – can produce 32Nm of torque. On the other hand, its most efficient 250W mid drive motors – the M500 and M510 – can generate a whopping torque of 95Nm, which is thrice as much. Even the least efficient 250W mid motor – the M445 – is one and a half times more powerful at 50 Newton-meters of torque.

When you move to more powerful 750W or 1000W units, the difference in performance is just crazy. What’s even insane is the fact that mid drive motors don’t consume more power to create the additional torque and draw the same amount of current from your battery. It’s one of the things that make these motors so dope.

The reason why mid drive motors are so powerful than hub motors is the same as why they’re more efficient. Since they apply power on the crank instead of directly spinning the wheels (as hub motors), they can take the mechanical advantage of gears, operate at their ideal RPM, and deliver more power for less energy.

Hub eBikes are always stuck in a single gear

Since the hub motors operate independently from the drivetrain and can’t use the gears like the mid drives, riding a hub eBike means you’ll always be stuck in one gear and one speed, forever!

Just imagine if you can only use the third gear in your car for all purposes, how inefficient it would be, and how much gas would it consume. While you’ll be fine on highways, what about when you are climbing hills or starting from rest at a traffic light?

Mid drive electric bikes use an efficient gear ratio

On the other hand, with mid drive motors, you can actually use the gears of your bikes in the way they’re meant to be used. 

You can shift down to a lower gear ratio on ascents or whenever you need more starting power to turn the cranks without straining your motor, and then back to higher gears when you need more speed. 

So basically you’ll always be operating at the optimum gear ratio, which would increase your efficiency and overall power output. 

Mid drives are suitable for high-torque applications

This is why you find mid drive motors on bikes designed for high-torque applications, such as electric mountain bikes. Even a 250W mid drive motor can easily carry a heavy rider up a steep hill. And when going down hills or on flat pavements, you can achieve more top speed than hub drive motors by shifting up into a higher gear ratio.

Another great thing that I like about mid drive motors is their compatibility with belt drives and internal gear hubs. Internal gear hubs, in particular, are quite useful as they allow you to shift while at rest. It may not sound a big deal, but it is, especially when you’re riding in hilly areas or in stop-and-go city traffic. 

Handling & Ride Quality

One area mid drives have a great advantage in when you talk about mid vs hub drive is their handling and ride quality.

Hub vs mid drive ebike weight distribution 

The handling and ride quality of an eBike is greatly affected by the weight and placement of its motor as well as its battery. You want all your weight to be evenly (50/50) distributed across both axles and you also want to keep your center of gravity as low as possible. Luckily, a mid drive offers all these things.

A mid drive motor is mounted at the bottom bracket, at a lower position on the bike. It lowers your center of gravity – which has HUGE benefits for your handling and ride quality. 

Mid drive eBikes have a stable and balanced ride

For starters, you don’t feel the motor weight while maneuvering at low speeds, your bike is stable at all times especially when climbing hills, you have significantly better traction, and you can turn harder without feeling like your tires are sliding out from under you.

Another thing I really, really like about mid drive electric bikes is their even weight distribution. The motor is mounted at the bottom bracket, which is the bike’s center, and the battery is almost always mounted at the downtube, which too is kind of bike’s center. It further helps ensure a natural and balanced ride, especially on gradients. 

Hub electric bikes have skewed balance

With hub motors, you just can’t have this sort of balance. 

Your weight and center of gravity will either be skewed either toward the front or the rear of the bicycle, depending on where your motor is. The unbalanced weight distribution makes hub drive eBikes unsuitable for riding on hills or mountains. 

Hub eBikes have bad steering due to the gyroscopic effect 

The placement of the motor in the wheel hub also affects the steering, especially at high speeds. 

When you turn or lean, the spinning motor tries to maintain a steady direction of its axis of rotation due to the gyroscopic effect, which severely impacts your handling. The gyroscopic effect is more noticeable in front hub eBikes.

So when you talk about mid vs hub drive handling, the weight of the motor is much more noticeable when you maneuver the latter. You just can’t turn as hard or as quickly with a hub eBike, as you can with a mid drive one.

However, there’s one thing you can do to reduce (not end) this flaw in hub electric bikes and improve their handling.

You can offset the weight of the motor by placing the battery at the other end (such as at the rear rack in front hub bikes and at the front downtube in rear hub bikes) to improve the balance.

Mid drive vs hub motor weight suspension

Suspension of your bike also impacts your handling and ride quality. 

Since in mid drives, the motor is integrated into the frame, the weight of your motor is suspended, just like the weight of your frame. This is one of the factors why mid drive eBikes handle better off the road; you never feel the extra motor weight while riding on bumps or rugged patches.

The hub eBikes again have a disadvantage here.

Since the motor weight is inside the wheel, it is unsuspended and can behave less predictably when you ride on a rough road. Your handling is kind of unpredictable and your ride is not smooth. For instance, when you cross a pothole, your wheel with the motor will drop harder than the wheel without it.

Photo Credit: Rad Power Bikes

Pedal Assist & Throttle 

When you talk about the pedal assist system in hub vs mid drive eBikes, mid drives are superior due to many reasons.

Natural ride vs unnatural pull/ push sensation

As mid motors deliver power through a chain or belt instead of directly spinning the wheels, it’s the same, natural ride feeling that you get with a regular bicycle. Hub drive bikes have an unnatural pulling or pushing feel. 

However, some users do like the pushing sensation of the rear drive eBikes, which resembles a motorcycle.

Mid drives have a natural, seamless & responsive ride

The type of pedal assist sensor also affects power delivery and ride quality, since it’s these sensors that dictate when to engage or disengage the motor and how much motor power (pedal assist) to deliver at a certain point. 

Mid drive eBikes usually come with torque sensors, which measure the amount of force you deliver to the pedals or, in simple words, how hard you pedal. If you pedal lightly, you get less power (pedal assist) and if you pedal harder, you instantly get more power. 

A pedal-assist system with a torque sensor kind of works in real-time and, therefore, offers better ride quality. These sensors are so quick to react to even the slightest changes in your pedaling power that it’s hard to believe. The power delivery is instantaneous, smooth, intuitive, and natural.

Hub eBikes have an unresponsive, jerky & rough ride

Hub eBikes, on the other hand, usually come with cadence sensors, which measure how fast you are turning the pedals. The power delivery in a pedal-assist system with cadence sensors doesn’t feel natural and intuitive as cadence sensors aren’t so quick to react to changes in your pedaling speed. 

The low-end cadence systems can’t even adjust or regulate the power and act just like an on/off switch. They engage the motor at full power when you start pedaling, making your ride rough and jerky. You either have full motor power or no assist at all.

However, keep in mind that cheap mid drive eBikes can come equipped with cadence sensors and high-end hub bikes with torque sensors. In that case, the hub electric bikes would have better power delivery and ride quality.

Hub electric bikes come with a throttle

While mid drive eBikes may have a better power delivery system due to their motors directly powering the chain, hub eBikes also have a big advantage unique to them. The throttle!

The presence of a throttle means you can ride your electric bike without any pedaling at all, just like a motorbike or an electric scooter. Mounted onto the handlebars either as a lever or twist grip, the throttle can be really helpful when starting from rest.

While avid cyclists may not care so much about it, the throttle can be extremely useful for seniors or those with bad knees or joint issues. They can use the throttle to accelerate from rest, before shifting to pedal assist. 

With mid drive eBikes, you’ll always have to pedal, no matter how barely you do so. Some rare mid drive electric bikes do come with throttle though.

Motor Size & Weight

When it comes to the size and weight of eBike hub motor vs mid drive motor, mid drives come out a winner.

Mid drive motors are compact and lightweight 

Since a mid drive motor is more efficient, it’s always smaller than a hub motor for the same torque output. It explains why mid drive eBikes usually weigh less than hub drive electric bikes. 

Most mid drive motors have a weight anywhere between 6 to 9lbs (2.7 to 4kg). I just love how small and compact they are. Hub motors, on the other hand, weigh a lot more. 

Even the most efficient hub motors – the geared hub ones – weigh at least 10lbs (4.5kg). The direct drive or gearless hub motors are quite heavy and can weigh up to 20lbs (9kg).

Mid drive eBikes are lightweight

The size and weight of the motor have little impact on the performance of your electric bike. But they can considerably influence its geometry, aesthetics, and portability. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but these things are pretty important to me.

If you have to frequently move your electric bike around or carry it up a flight of stairs, you might want to stave off every ounce of weight. A lightweight eBike is easier to handle and maneuver as well as faster and more energy efficient.

Maintenance & Repair 

Mid drives are hard on the drivetrain & have more moving parts

One thing that I don’t like about mid drive eBikes is that they require more maintenance than the hub ones. 

Since the mid drive motors create an insane amount of torque and power your drivetrain instead of the wheels, your chain, cogs, and other drivetrain components are more prone to wear. 

It means you have to clean and grease your drivetrain more often and replace your chain, chainrings, and gear cluster more frequently than a hub eBike. 

In case you want to get rid of all the fuss about the drivetrain maintenance in mid drive eBikes you can always go for a bike that has a belt drive and internal gear hub system. They may cost more, but you’ll get a lot of other benefits as well.

Mid drive motors are also prone to wear as they have more moving parts, gear reduction systems, and complex electronic components inside them. 

Hub motor electric bikes are low maintenance 

Compared to that, hub drive motors are low maintenance due to two reasons. First, they’re not connected to your drivetrain, and second, they are pretty basic, mechanically speaking.

The direct drive or gearless hub motors, in particular, are way too simple in design and operation. There are practically no moving parts inside the gearless motors, which means they’re almost not susceptible to wear. 

The only maintenance needed in these bikes is keeping the hub clean and greasing the hub bearings after every year. Even skipping that won’t be a problem.

So, when it comes to the maintenance of eBike hub motor vs mid drive motor, hub electric bikes have an upper hand.

Tire changing is difficult on hub motor electric bikes

However, one thing that I absolutely hate about hub eBikes is how cumbersome and inconvenient it is to change the tire or repair a flat with a motor installed in it. 

You need to disconnect and remove the motor and have to be really, really careful every step of the way to avoid any damage to it. The hub motor wheel is extremely fragile when you compare it to a standard one, so that makes things a lot messy.

Mid drives have a clear edge here. Changing a tire or repairing a flat in them is the same as on a regular bicycle. 

And when it comes to repairs, the repair bills of both types of electric bikes can be equally steep. However, hub drive eBikes are prone to more kinds of failures than the mid drive electric bikes, which I’ll explain in the next section.

Reliability & Safety

Mid drive motors may be more prone to wear due to more moving parts, but they’re less prone to overheating than their hub counterparts.

Mid drive vs hub motor failure & overheating

Since mid drive motors can use gears to remain in their optimum RPM range, they don’t have to work too hard even when you’re climbing hills. The gears multiply the power output without straining the motor, which kind of balances out the wear you get due to gear reduction and other moving parts, eventually increasing its life.

But with hub drives, it’s a totally different matter. If your ride a hub bike too hard, say on a hill, you are basically asking for more power from the motor than it can actually deliver. Hub motors can’t multiply their power using the gears, so it would eventually lead to overheating or burning of the motor. 

Hub vs mid drive chain breaking

I don’t mean that mid drives are without fault. They can sometimes put a lot of strain on your drivetrain, especially when operated by an inexperienced rider. Using incorrect gears on a mid drive or shifting gears at the wrong time, such as when under power, can damage or even break the chain. 

This gives hub motors an advantage. 

If you break your chain in a hub drive bike, you can still ride it home since the motor doesn’t need the chain to deliver power to the wheels – it’s completely isolated from the drivetrain. 

In case your motor fails, you can pedal it like a regular bicycle.

But with mid drives, if your chain breaks and you don’t have a spare chain or the master links in your accessory bag, you’re done!

You just can’t pedal your way back and would have to push your bike. 

In case a mid drive motor fails, which is rare but possible, it would depend on your motor design and the nature of failure whether or not you could pedal your way back.

Chain breaking in mid drive is always due to the rider’s fault. It can be avoided by riding in correct gears and slowing the pedal speed before shifting gears. Most high-end mid drive electric bikes solve this problem by cutting power to your motor the moment you shift gear.

Hub drives are prone to spokes failure

Besides the burnt motors, spokes failure is another flaw that plagues hub electric bikes. These tiny spindles are what actually transfers the power from the hub to the wheels and can often work themselves loose. 

While changing a broken chain on a mid drive is cheap and quick, fixing the loose spokes or replacing the shredded ones isn’t something you can do on the side of a road. It ain’t cheap either.

Hub motor vs mid drive eBike frame failure

The frame failure is another fatal flaw associated with hub eBikes, particularly the ones with front hub motors. 

If you have a powerful front hub motor on a low-strength frame, your fork dropouts can weaken over time and can even fail, sending your wheel flying off during use. Thankfully, the fork failure can be avoided by using a torque arm, which braces the fork dropouts and stops the axle from rotating. 

Rear dropouts are more robust, so frame failure is not common in rear hub bikes. 

Mid drives are immune to frame failures due to perfect integration in a frame that has been specifically designed for them. And even if the motor generates a power output that’s too much for the frame to handle, it would be the chain that breaks and not the frame. 

So, the chain in a mid drive electric bike kind of works like a failsafe.

Hub vs mid drive battery service life

Another great advantage with mid drive eBikes is that their batteries have an overall longer service life. It’s because these motors are efficient and can deliver more power for less battery juice.

If you think that’s insignificant, let me put it this way.

Electric batteries need to be replaced after a certain period and a limited number of charge cycles. If you charge your battery less frequently, it would last longer. While hub batteries usually last for 3 years, mid drive batteries can be used for up to 5 years – which, if you ask me, is good economics.

Hub eBikes offer regenerative braking

Hub bikes, however, have a great advantage, unique to them as well. The regenerative braking!

Though regenerative braking is pretty useless in charging your battery when you apply brakes as the regenerated charge is too small to have any significant impact on your battery life and riding range, it has one huge benefit. It creates resistance in the motor to instantly slow you down, which prolongs the life of your brake pads.

In other words, regenerative braking is just an awesome braking technology that not only helps you stop efficiently and safely, but is also not hard on your brake pads. 

Regenerative braking is particularly helpful in cargo bikes or the bikes used by heavy adults on long descents. However, it’s only available on high-end hub electric bikes that use direct drive (gearless) hub motors. 

Neither the geared hub motors nor the mid drive motors can offer it.

Pricing & Options

When it comes to the pricing of an eBike in hub vs mid drive comparison, hub electric bikes have a clear edge. 

Hub eBikes are much cheaper 

Hub eBikes are much cheaper than mid drive eBikes as they are less complex, have fewer parts in motors, and use older motor technology. And since they can use standard frames, they’re easier and cheaper to manufacture.

Mid drive eBikes, on the other hand, require custom-made frames built around their motor and are therefore quite expensive. They also use a relatively new but complex motor technology with complicated controllers, gear sensors, and gear reduction systems. 

Mid Drive vs Hub Motor eBike

Photo Credit: Brose

Mid drive electric bikes also need more advanced programming and computer software to control the ride. 

Another reason is that they almost always come with a torque sensor, which regulates the motor power in real-time and is, therefore, more expensive than a cadence system. All this can add up to a hefty tag.

Price comparison of mid drive vs hub motor eBikes

A mid drive electric bike costs around $600-$1000 more than a hub electric bike with comparable specs on average. You can get a good mid drive electric bike for $2500-$3000, while the premium units can cost you up to $8000.

With hub eBikes, you can get a great unit for just $1500-$2000. 

Another good thing about hub eBikes is that there are many budget options available on the market for as little as $600. Though these hub electric bikes are quite low-end, I’d still recommend them to beginners. 

In case you have a regular bicycle and it’s in good shape, you can convert it to an electric bike at an incredibly economical cost. When it comes to hub vs mid eBike conversion, both cost almost the same, though the vast majority of conversion kits are offered in hub configuration. 

If you want to know more about these kits, check out my guide on the best eBike conversion kits in 2022.

Mid drive eBikes offer more component options

As far as component options are concerned, hub drives are pretty limited. For instance, if you want to shift to belt drive, you can’t use the derailleur drivetrain and would either have to go single speed or use a Pinion gearbox.

With mid drive eBikes, you can have a lot of component options. You can choose any rims, hubs, and spokes, or even use a standard wheel. You can use a dynamo hub, internal gear hub, chain drive, belt drive, or whatever you want.

Hub electric bikes offer a lot of bike options 

One thing I really like about hub electric bikes is that you have a lot of bike options to choose from. 

Since these electric bikes are easier and cheaper to mass produce and most buyers don’t want to spend three thousand dollars on mid drive units, hub bikes have a huge market. It means you can get pretty much any kind of hub eBike, in pretty much any budget range.

With mid drive bikes, you don’t have a lot of companies and a lot of variety. It’s not just they’re costlier and harder to manufacture (as I described above). They’ve also been around for a very short time compared to hub electric bikes.

But the good thing is, mid drive eBikes are becoming more and more common. So you can expect their market to grow and their prices to maybe fall a bit.

Hub Motor vs Mid Drive: Which eBike to Choose?

Since I have already explained everything you need to know about the hub motor vs mid drive eBike comparison, I’ll be really brief here.

If your commute involves long ascents, hill climbing, or off-roading, buy a mid-drive eBike. If it involves flat urban roads, save your hard earned money and just buy a hub eBike. You’ll be fine even with a front hub unit.

In case you haul heavy loads on long descents, buy a direct drive (gearless) rear or dual hub eBike with regenerative brakes. It’s safer and would last long.

As far as cycling experience is concerned, I never recommend beginners to buy a mid drive eBike as these bikes are simply too much for them to handle. Inexperienced riders with little knowledge of gears usually end up damaging their mid drive electric bikes. 

I also don’t recommend mid drive bikes to seniors or anyone who has knee problems. Hub bikes with throttle can help them accelerate from rest in an effortless way, so they are clearly better in this case. 

However, if you’re an experienced cyclist looking to upgrade your ride, mid drive eBikes are the way to go. They’re more efficient, more powerful, more natural, and more reliable.

Most importantly, they’re more fun than hub bikes could EVER be! 

Author

  • Frank Gao

    Frank is the owner of eBikeDaily. He moved to Canada from China at 16 and went on to study Mathematics in college. He now lives in Shenzhen (the hub of eBike industry in China) and works in close collaboration with many notable Chinese electric bike brands. A huge eBike nerd himself, Frank can be found riding or testing one – at all times!

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