Posted on: 12th January
Bicycles have been around for over two centuries. During this time they have evolved dramatically, not only in their uses and aesthetics, but also in their construction, technology, and how we ride them. One of the earliest innovations for the bicycle was the inventive idea to use a belt rather than a conventional chain, to drive the rear wheel. This was first patented way back in 1890 by Charles D. Rice. It didn’t take off for another 100 years or so, when Bridgestone offered a belt drive bicycle, where it was very popular in the Japanese market. Today, belt drive bicycles are somewhat common, especially in the commuter bike and touring bicycle markets.
So the question is, why would you buy a belt drive system rather than a conventional chain driven one?
A belt drive bicycle offers a maintenance free (for the most part) system. Comparing the parts that make up a belt drive compared to a chain drive system, there is a lot less moving parts, which in turns requires less lubrication, and does not wear out nearly as quickly as a chain drive system. With the invention of internal hub gears, it is now possible to have a drive system with up to 14 gears. With most E-Bikes now going to a one-by drivetrain, this means a smaller gear range. Having a larger range is not as crucial on an E-Bike, as it is on a conventional bike, as you have the assistance of the motor. In turn, internal hub gears are not exposed to the elements like a conventional drive system is, therefore less maintenance.
Majority of belts found on belt drive systems are made of hardened rubber with a carbon reinforcement layer. This gives them an extraordinarily long life, with the most popular manufacturers suggesting that they only need to be changed at around 10,000km. Compared to a chain drive system, some chains on an E-Bike may only last a few hundred kilometres. Obviously this is very dependant on the rider and the terrain the bike is going through, and also maintenance.
The main downfall for a belt drive system though is the ease of rear wheel removal. You may need to remove your rear wheel from the bike to repair a flat, or for other maintenance of the bike. Being belt drive, the bike will have some kind of system in place to adjust the tension of the belt. This is usually achieved by having sliding drop outs with grub screws to apply the correct tension. The rear triangle of the bike will also have to have a split in it to be able to remove or replace the belt. This can create a weak point in the frame if it is poorly designed.
This brings me to my next point; price. Due to the added strength required in the frame to accommodate this, belt drive bikes are usually a bit more expensive than a regular bike. The added cost is due to the construction of the bike and also the more expensive hub gear systems that are found on them.
Comparing what we have learnt, belt drive vs chain drive systems is something we could ramble on about for a long time. The key differences to know is that a belt drive system will be a lot less maintenance, smooth, quiet, trickier to work on and more expensive. A chain drive is easy to work on, cheaper, easier to find replacement parts and requires more maintenance. It is worth putting some thought into the positives and negatives of each system and weighing up which one might be best for you. It is also recommended to test ride each system. This will be a huge benefit in determining which system is right for you.