This weeks blog we provide further material on the advantages and disadvantages of belt drive bikes having summarised in our article on the best carbon belt drive bikes 2019.
Pros and Cons of Belt Drive Bicycles
Bicycles with belt drives are becoming increasingly common. The pros and cons of a belt drive bike leave many cyclists keen to try a belt drive over a chain. Belt drive bicycles are getting cheaper which is certainly an influence but they are still far from cheap. What they do offer is reduced weight, simpler maintenance, better durability and the chance to go quicker. Going quicker top of most cyclists wish list in reality.
So what is a belt drive?
A belt drive is a one-piece toothed belt. It owes much of the technology to cars and motorbikes development. This single belt makes use of internal gearing allowing many moving parts to be protected. This shifting mechanism for bikes can result in them being more durable and quieter than a conventional chain.
Coupling a belt drive with e-bike technology and city bikes is far from new. The technology has existed for pretty long already. Unfortunately, belt drive technology used to be very expensive. The advantages couldn’t outweigh the cost. If you consider the cost of battery technology in electric bikes with increased costs of belt drive bikes you need deep pockets to consider this as a pairing at present.
With fewer bikes on the market with a belt drive there is less choice and faced with more costs many people would still choose a bike with a traditional chain.
Below is our list of the advantages of a bike with belt drive for you.
Advantages of Belt Drive Bikes
Belt drive is easier to maintain
A belt drive has substantially more durability than a chain. As a result it can last up to four times as long as a conventional bicycle chain. It will never need lubrication in the same way that a chain would and as a result is less likely to pick up associated dirt. Cleaning can be as simple as a quick wipe down. Over the life of a bike this can result in some savings on 3rd party maintenance and repairs.
A belt drive is much lighter
A belt drive is manufactured with carbon fibres through the core. This allows a belt drive to be much lighter than a bike chain but also gives it inherent strength. Light and tough. This toughness means unless you abuse the belt drive it can last a long time with durability to be cost effective.
Belt drive work silently
In addition to having potential for a longer lifespan with reduced maintenance, a belt drive is also blissfully quiet. No more rattling bike chain to contend with. Think of it as stealth mode for a bike. A bike chain inevitably makes some noise no matter how well you maintain your bike. All those metal components in a traditional bike chain with the teeth of gears produce a resultant noise.
A belt drive bike helps you cycle faster
A bike chain has a lot of moving links that can create inefficient motion. Even if you look after it and maintain it, it’s still a metal parts rotating against each other. This in turn results in lost energy. With a belt drive the force you exert through pedalling is more directly translated into the motion of the wheels and propels you faster. Faster without increased watt power required. Sounds like a dream.
Disadvantages of Belt Drive Bikes
With all these positives for having a belt drive bike why aren’t all bikes made that way? A belt drive isn’t as flexible as a chain which means conventional frame geometry needs some rethinking. We’ve been investing years in chain based bike frames. But in the same way that Tesla is transforming the motor industry with batter technology the same could be said for bikes. If you want some gearing to help you on the hills then belts require internal gearing that adds some complexity. These are just a few of the reasons why belts probably won’t replace chains in our advantages and disadvantages of belt drive bikes.
No Side Flexibility in belt drives
The principal disadvantage of a belt is that, unlike chains, they do not permit side flexibility. So what? Well a conventional chain permits side flex allowing it to slide up and down between cogs allowing different sized gear ratios. This lateral flex isn’t possible with a belt drive system ruling out cogs and external shifting mechanisms.
A belt drive cannot be Split up
A belt drive is a singular piece with no joining parts. This creates efficiency and little loss of energy but reduces your ease of use. A chain in contrast is a series of links that you separate and assemble based on need. But belt drives cannot be opened like a chain so the frame of the bike must be able to permit the installation of the belt. This means that somewhere in the rear geometry of the frame there needs to be split points allowing for the belt to be housed.
Internal Gears for shifting
The fact that a belt drive cannot support lateral movement across gear cogs does not mean all is lost. You don’t have to face a life as a fixie to enjoy a belt drive. The clever bods developing the Gates belt drive system have the answer. Internal gearing. Genius. It is but one drawback is that unlike a road bike that can readily deliver upwards of 20 gears with internal gearing you will be limited to a much smaller range.
Road & Triathlon Bikes
At the moment the use of a belt drive bicycle in competitive road or triathlon racing is not permitted. This is also the reality of a much smaller gear selection which if covering distance during a race can be essential to manage the hills. Track cycling different matter.
Commuting bikes are where belt drive systems are most likely to be relevant. Many companies already have options for a belt drive bicycle particularly for single-speed bikes with internally geared options. A belt drive bicycle makes for a great commuting option because of their cleanliness and lack of maintenance.
Chain or Belt Drive Bikes
Despite the many advantages outlined of a belt drive bicycle, the more conventional chain continue to dominate the market. Belt drives are compatible with the majority of bikes subject to frame modification. Chains make more sense for those on long treks with a conventional chain much simpler to replace while somewhere remote. The conventional chain will be part of the furniture for the foreseeable future.
Due to the smaller volume of bikes available and the nascent technology the price of belt drive bikes continue to be high. Gates carbon belt drive system carries a premium which covers the extra design effort, a belt splitter and the belt itself of course. Hopefully it never wears out in your tenure but if it does then a replacement will set you back around 5x that of a conventional chain solution.
The advantages and disadvantages of belt drive bikes hopefully help you decide if one will be right for you with your next n+1 bike purchase.