Pros and Cons » Chain vs Belt Drive Bicycles

Bicycles using belt drives are becoming more and more common than bicycles using chains, especially among commuters and visitors that make use of cycles. 

While there is a consumer base for both chain and belt drive bicycles, there’s one major difference between the two. A bicycle with a chain drive uses a chain loop as a driving system, whereas a bicycle with a belt drive uses a belt for mobility.

Although some people still tend to stick with the established norm of chain bicycles, the question remains: Which drive system is better and suitable for a bicycle?

To assist you in selecting the drive system that is appropriate for your riding style, this information compares and contrasts chain and belt drives for bicycles.

What Is a Belt Drive?

In this system, the rear wheel of a bicycle is propelled by a nylon-toothed synchronous belt that has been strengthened with carbon fiber cords. Instead of the usual bike chain, a belt is employed. 

Strong stainless steel cogs and alloy chainrings are combined with belts. The result is a driving system that is very durable, hygienic, and long-lasting with no need for maintenance. 

Motorbike belt drives and auto racing engines both employ the same belt technology.

What Is a Chain Drive?

As suggested by its name, the chain drive is composed of chains with unique features like teeth on one side and a similar carving on the other side (drive shafts). 

The chain drive operates when the two sides connect, which gives both power and chain movement. 

Additionally, the designs and structures enable the chain to maintain and hold it in a single location and orientation.

Difference Between Chain Drive and Belt Drive

Belt DriveChain Drive
The belt drive is a friction-type mechanical drive that uses the friction force between the belt and pulley to convey power and motion.A mechanical drive known as a chain drive transmits power and motion by repeatedly engaging and disengaging the chain from the sprocket.
Because of frictional loss, belt drive efficiency is rather low.Chain drive efficiency is high, typically above 95%.
Temperature and the atmosphere have an impact on belt tension. As a result, external influences also affect the belt drive’s performance.Typically, temperature and climatic conditions have no impact on chain drives.
Belt drive is preferred for shaft centers that are between medium and long.Chain drive is optimal for centers with short to medium length.
Belt drives require less routine maintenance.Proper lubrication is a frequent part of chain drive maintenance.

Which Is Better: Chain or Belt Drive?

The answer depends on what you consider a better drive. If you’re looking for speed then both bicycles output the same speed. Although according to Jason Smith at Friction Facts, the chain drive is a notch more efficient than the belt drive bicycle.

If you think a better bike means one with low maintenance, then belt-driven bikes are better.

Or if you consider less noise and cleanliness as a standard for a better bike then, once again, belt bikes are the sure winner. 

They produce little to no noise and are much cleaner than chains that use oils or other lubricants.

What Are the Pros of Belt Drives?

Low Maintenance

Belt drives require almost no maintenance. You don’t need to regularly lubricate or correct them. If they become caked with mud or filth, all they need is a simple brush down. And they’re good to go.

» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: (Average Cost): How Much Is a Bike Tune-Up? – Bicycle

High Durability

Chain drives are less durable than belt drives; a belt drive can last up to three times as long as a chain drive with adequate maintenance. 

Some riders have used a single belt for 20,000 miles (or roughly 30,000 kilometers). Chains typically only last 300–5000 miles.

Cleaner

Since oiling is not necessary for belt drives, the chances of getting your hands or clothes dirty in the process are negligible. Also, belts don’t easily attract mud or sand because they aren’t coated in lubrication. 

Having said that, some bikers do opt to lubricate the belt a little with silicone. 

Although not typically necessary, this lubrication can extend the belt’s lifespan and make it run a little more smoothly.

Quieter 

Belt drives run practically with little to no noise. This enables you to better hear the natural sounds like the wind, people, and animals in your surroundings. The mechanical noise of the chain is very audible, especially while changing gears.

Lighter

The belt weighs just around 80-90 grams. While a typical bike chain may weigh around 300 grams. 

You also have to carry less equipment. For instance, you don’t need to bring a chain breaker, extra links, chain oil, degreaser, or chain cleaner when touring with a belt drive. 

Your toolset will be significantly lighter and more compact as a result. 

No Corrosion

Carbon fiber and nylon are among the contemporary synthetic materials used to make belts. These materials do not rust. 

Belt drives are a fantastic option because of this characteristic for environments where corrosion is widespread, such as those near the ocean.

» I have covered more on this subject in this blog post: How-To: Remove Rust from Bike Chain (Step-by-Step)

Pro Tip: If you’re the kind of cyclist who likes to make use of the newest and most advanced equipment in the industry, then contemporary and high-end belt drives offer you this thrill.

What Are the Cons of Belt Drive?

Limited Options

Only internal gear hubs, Pinion gearboxes, or single-speed bicycles can use belts. Derailleurs are incompatible since a belt cannot run at an angle. It has to follow a straight path. Your drivetrain options are thus limited.

A split must exist in the back triangle of a bike frame for the belt to be attached, making it compatible with belt drives. Since a belt is made up of one continuous loop, this is necessary. 

It cannot be broken into two pieces and installed like a chain. 

Stiffness

Stiffness is a factor to be taken into account while selecting a belt drive compatible frame. When under stress, the belt will skip if the frame flexes excessively. A belt tensioner is also necessary for your frame. 

Expensive

Chain drives are less expensive than belt drives. A replacement belt will set you back around  $80-$100. 

The price of a new front and rear sprocket is between $60 and $80. An internal gear hub is also required. A high-end alternative can cost anything from a few hundred to well over $1000. 

Note: A belt drive lasts a lot longer than a chain drive. Considering this, the costs get significantly closer.

Low Availability of Spare Parts

Finding replacement belts or sprockets will be challenging or impossible if you’re traveling in a developing country or an isolated location. 

Belt-driven bike parts are not commonly kept in stock by small bike shops or department stores. You might need to locate a high-end bike shop or order replacements online. 

Some countries don’t even import components for belt-drive bicycles. 

Driving Efficiency

Belts are less effective at low power inputs, thus if you’re just casually cycling, a chain drive bike will require less energy from you than a belt drive.

The bottom bracket and rear hub may wear out more quickly as a result of belt drives since belts operate at a considerably higher tension than chains. 

The bottom bracket and rear hub bearings are subjected to increased strain as a result of the added tension, which accelerates their rate of wear.

Fewer Options In An Emergency

In the event of a catastrophic breakdown, you might be trapped. You’ll need a replacement if your belt is defective or if it is cut or damaged in an accident. 

Like a broken chain, a broken belt cannot be repaired to allow you to make your way home. You might not have a choice if belts are not accessible where you are traveling. 

Other Restrictions

Because belt lengths are fixed, changing your gear ratio by adding a new chainring or rear cog is difficult. They cannot be adjusted. 

You must get a replacement belt that is the right length if you wish to alter your gear ratio.

Belts might restrict the size of your tire or the breadth of your rim because they are wider than chains. 

The belt may rub if your tire or rim is excessively broad. This limits the width of your tires on some frames.

The majority of full-suspension bikes are incompatible with belts because many bike suspension systems vary the effective chainstay length as they compress. 

Belts can’t allow this movement because they need to maintain the same tension.

» Read my blog post: Internal Gear Hub vs. Derailleur

What Are The Pros of Chain Driven Bicycles?

Compatibility

First of all, every known bike frame is compatible with chains, which are the industry standard for bicycle drivetrains. Every frame has been created to complement them. 

No specific characteristics, such as a split in the frame, tensioner system, or additional rigidity, are required.

Less Expensive

A new chain costs anywhere from $10 to $20. A brand-new cassette costs $20 to $40. A chainring may cost $20 to $80. 

For less than the price of a single carbon belt, you could replace all three of them. Additionally, derailleurs are far less expensive than internal gear hubs. 

Note: A chain drive is your most affordable choice if you’re on a tight budget.

Derailleurs are the most straightforward, affordable, and popular type of bicycle gear system, and chains are compatible with them. You must use a chain drive if you wish to use a derailleur.

Easy Availability Of Spare Parts

Finding spare parts is simpler because chains, freewheels, cassettes, and chainrings are available in any bike shop. 

Anywhere you go, you may simply get a replacement if your chain snaps or a cog wears out. Even in far-off regions of the planet, chain drive spare parts are easily available.

More Efficient

Chains are more effective at low power inputs, so using one will result in minor energy consumption, especially when cycling for leisure.

Long Bearing Life

Bearings in the bottom bracket and the rear hub live longer because chains have a lower tension than belts. As a result, the bearings experience less strain and wear more slowly.

Easy To Modify

Chains are simple to modify. If you choose to use a chainring of a different size, you can quickly change the length of your chain to accommodate the new one. A fresh chain is not necessary. 

When you purchase a belt, the length is fixed. There are only a certain amount of lengths offered.

Easy To Repair

Every bike mechanic is familiar with how to set up and maintain a chain drive, making chains simple to maintain and replace. 

A belt drive is a little more sophisticated and modern. It requires more expertise to set it up correctly.

In the event that a chain breaks, it may usually be repaired on the spot. You can almost usually take off a few links from the chain and limp to the closest bike shop if it breaks or bends. 

Tried and Time-Tested

The roller chain has been used since the 1880s, and chains are common. This indicates that chain drives have now been a feature of bicycles for more than a century: a technology that has been tried and tested.

» You can also read my post: Tube Vs Tubeless Bicycle Tires

What Are The Cons of Chain Driven Bicycles?

Additional Maintenance

You must keep your chain clean to keep it operating efficiently. This entails removing the grease and grime before applying fresh lubricant. 

The job takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes. About once a month, a casual cyclist will need to clean and lubricate their bike chain. 

You might need to clean your chain every few days if you’re touring. Belts work essentially without maintenance.

Short Life

Chain drives don’t last as long. If properly maintained, a bike chain can last between 3,000 and 5,000 kilometers. You’ll likely need to buy a new cassette every other time you change your chain. 

Between 10,000 and 20,000 miles can pass before belt drives need to be replaced. Chain replacements roughly every 500 miles is one approach to prolong the life of your chain drivetrain. 

Over time, chains become less effective because they start to “stretch” as they get older. The material on the chain is actually being worn away by this stretching. 

Chains get loose as they age. This lessens the tension and may cause slippage. Additionally, cogs can deteriorate to the point where the chain no longer fits snugly. This could lead to more friction and inefficiency. 

Dirtier

Chains need to be cleaned and greased more frequently. The task is messy. You’ll ultimately get oil on your hands and equipment from handling your chain regularly.

Weighs More

The weight of a chain is greater than three times that of a belt. A typical 9-speed bicycle chain, for instance, weighs around 250 to 300 grams. 

The weight of a Carbon Drive belt is about 85-88 grams. Much more simple!

» I have also written this post, about: Weight of Bicycle by Type: Here’s How Much a Bike Weighs!

Noise

Chain drives are noisier because of the noise created by the metal chain rubbing against the metal cogs. Additionally, changing gears makes some noise. 

If the chain is filthy, worn out, or out of adjustment, the noise is increased. Belt drives are virtually noiseless. 

Note: A correctly maintained and adjusted chain is usually very quiet.

Prone to Rusting

Given that they are made of metal, chains are prone to rust. If you ride near the ocean or in the winter in an area where the roads are salted, this is particularly typical. Belts don’t rust because they are designed with synthetic materials.

Has More Parts

Chains feature more working parts than other mechanical devices, making them more complex. There are rollers, outer plates, inner plates, and pins on each link. 

Conclusion

Chains and belt drives have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Both systems are dependable, strong, and productive. 

The price and level of upkeep needed are the key distinctions. The decision ultimately boils down to personal preference and riding technique. 

Here’s hoping that this advice helps you in making a better decision!

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