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  1. #1
    Senior Member PJCB's Avatar
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    Belt Drivetrains

    I've noticed a lot of belt-driven bikes lately, and I was wondering what the deal is with those. Who uses them? Why?
    Life Goal: keep riding.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member GordoTrek's Avatar
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    i know the trek soho comes with that as standard equipment, and that bike is geared toward a city commuter.. honestly i don't know the benefits of them, noise? more reliable? smoother ride? who knows..

  3. #3
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    Upsides: Quiet.
    No metal-to-metal joints to wear.
    No greasy chain.

    Downsides: You need to open a frame member to mount.
    You need a unique belt size for each frame/gear configuration since there are no links to add/remove.
    You need special chainwheels and cogs.

  4. #4
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    Down:
    Eccentric bb or horizontal rear dropouts to properly tension the belt.

  5. #5
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    The bike industry is still in the alpha phase concerning belt drives. There is not enough real world (and non experienced dealling with) belt drives to make long term conclusions yet. Our current drive systems (chains) have over 100 years od use, billions of miles and millions of users to detirmine the broad acceptence of chains. Belt drives are not even a crack in the road, comparitively.

    Having said that, the recent build up (for a shop customer) of a belted Seven with a Rholoff does make me interested. Andy.

  6. #6
    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    I can see a belt/IGH combination for commuting in all-weather conditions. No matter the maintenance you can wipe out a chain riding in grit. I suppose in areas like the Northwest the perpetual rain washes all the grit away so you're mainly fighting rust - much easier problem to solve.
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  7. #7
    Can'tre Member 3alarmer's Avatar
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    Almost all IC engines that were not overhead valve designs
    at one time had timing chains, not all that different from
    bicycle chain drives. Now, the use of timing belts is almost
    as universal in the car industry.

    Belt drives have significant advantages, in terms of weight,
    durability, and silence, but their biggest advantage would be in
    the elimination of chain lube threads here on BF.
    Quote Originally Posted by Terrierman View Post
    No wonder everybody hates you.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
    Belt drives have significant advantages, in terms of weight,
    durability, and silence, but their biggest advantage would be in
    the elimination of chain lube threads here on BF.

  9. #9
    Senior Member PJCB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
    Almost all IC engines that were not overhead valve designs
    at one time had timing chains, not all that different from
    bicycle chain drives. Now, the use of timing belts is almost
    as universal in the car industry.

    Belt drives have significant advantages, in terms of weight,
    durability, and silence, but their biggest advantage would be in
    the elimination of chain lube threads here on BF.

    +1
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  10. #10
    Watching and waiting. jethro56's Avatar
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    I've had experience with Gates products in replacing drive chains in industrial applications and indeed they're impressive. They are also rather expensive and you can't just buy a length of belt and cut it to fit. Proper tension is very important for long life. When you apply this to bicycles you run into a market niche where you're selling low maintenance to offset higher purchase costs. But you just can't upgrade a regular bike to use this as the frame needs modified to make up for the lack of a masterlink. I would think maybe a commuter that has to leave his bike outside in the rain, likes IGH drives, doesn't need multiple chainrings and is willing to spend extra for no chain maintenance would be interested. Trek's SoHo deluxe @ $1369 compared to a FX 7.3 Disc @ $800 shows how expensive this is to do. I'd rather have the 7.3 for sure.

  11. #11
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    The belt drive systems for bicycles is interesting, and if service life of other belt drive mechanisms is any indicator, reliable too. I considered a belt drive on a single speed frame, but decided to wait. The reason and the only concern, other than cost, was belt tension. Every belt drive I've seen had an incredible amount of tension on the belt. I'm thinking this can't be good on the bearings/axles, and increase the rolling resistance of the hub. Time will tell I guess.

  12. #12
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    Even though I make chain lube and depend on steel chains for a living, I can see the logic behind belt drive for certain applications, especially IGH and single speed commuter and urban utility bikes.

    Belt is clean, quiet and zero maintenance. It's immune to most of the causes of chain problems, so makes for a relatively carefree system for those looking for that. In low load applications belt drive life is very high, but the jury's still out on how well belts will hold up where loads are higher, because of steep hills, and/or heavy riders.

    BTW- I should note that belts would achieve a certain market share even if they didn't make sense technically. The bike world operates on trendiness as much as anything else. Right now belts are cool, so it's no surprise to see their use growing. If it later turns out that they don't hold up well, they'll go out of style, until they get cool again in another 15-20 years.
    FB
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  13. #13
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jethro56 View Post
    They are also rather expensive and you can't just buy a length of belt and cut it to fit. Proper tension is very important for long life. When you apply this to bicycles you run into a market niche where you're selling low maintenance to offset higher purchase costs.
    If you ever have to replace one, especially 5-10 years down the road, that looks to me like it might be a hard to source item.

    On the other hand, our motorcycle brothers have been using them successfully for decades. Why would use on a bicycle, with a comparatively wimpy powerplant, be any different.

  14. #14
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    I think all of the downsides look surmountable. Even if belts of current design don't prove strong enough, that can be improved, probably cost effectively.

    In other words, I think belts will win, given enough time. Chains will prove to be as obsolete as natural corks for wine bottles.
    You don't read my signature anyway, do you?

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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    I think all of the downsides look surmountable. Even if belts of current design don't prove strong enough, that can be improved, probably cost effectively.

    In other words, I think belts will win, given enough time. Chains will prove to be as obsolete as natural corks for wine bottles.
    I beg to disagree. Yes, belts can and should take their place in the single speed and IGH world, but there's no way now, or in the foreseeable future that they can overcome the width and lateral flexibility barriers keeping them off derailleur bikes.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member miamijim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    The bike industry is still in the alpha phase concerning belt drives. There is not enough real world (and non experienced dealling with) belt drives to make long term conclusions yet. Our current drive systems (chains) have over 100 years od use, billions of miles and millions of users to detirmine the broad acceptence of chains. Belt drives are not even a crack in the road, comparitively.
    I think the motorcycle world has this covered.
    WWW.CYCLESPEUGEOT.COM 2005 Pinarello Dogma; 1991 Paramount PDG 70 Mtb; 1976? AD Vent Noir; 1989 LeMond Maillot Juane F&F; 1993? Basso GAP F&F; 1989 Terry Symmetry; 2003 Trek 4700 Mtb; 1983 Vitus 979

  17. #17
    Senior Member
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    The only thing that I'm not fond of is the durability of a belt. There is a reason why car companies require timing belt changes on predetermined mileages such as every 60 or 90k miles. They break.

    Timing chains can last the whole life of an engine without ever needed to be changed.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobotech View Post
    The only thing that I'm not fond of is the durability of a belt. There is a reason why car companies require timing belt changes on predetermined mileages such as every 60 or 90k miles. They break.

    Timing chains can last the whole life of an engine without ever needed to be changed.
    That's still 60,000 miles on the low side. How many bikes ever see 60,000 miles of use? I'm thinking the percentage is single digits.
    Also, an automobile timing belt, depending on the engine design, can have a big downside with it breaks so it pays to be conservative. The downside on a bicycle is significantly less.

    There's still the issue of a couple decades of motorcycle use that you haven't addressed.

    I think the biggest hurdle is the remarkable efficiency of a well maintained derailleur gear system. A bicycle is cursed with a wimpy motor so there isn't any power to spare. Consequently, drive train efficiency is king. If somebody could build a belt driven IGH that was more efficient than a derailleur gear system, I'm thinking the racers would flock to it.

  19. #19
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    That probably depends more on the IGH, and right now the creme de la creme is a Rohloff and it's definitely not a light option.

  20. #20
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
    Almost all IC engines that were not overhead valve designs
    at one time had timing chains, not all that different from
    bicycle chain drives. Now, the use of timing belts is almost
    as universal in the car industry.
    Not really. Belts hit a peak in popularity in the 90s, now manufacturers are going back to chains. Belts are quieter and lighter, but have limited life. On most IC engines, a timing belt going can end up being very expensive. Ford Duratec/Mazda engines have gone back to chains in '04. I think the goal here is to reduce TCO.

    I'm not sold on belts for bicycle applications. They are quieter and cleaner yes, but breaking the frame to replace one seems like it would require a heavier frame. Furthermore rocks and such can trash belts very quickly, this is an issue for motorcycles also. Mostly it seems like a solution looking for a problem. Is throwing a bit of oil on a chain every now and then, and replacing it once a year (if you ride quite a bit, I suspect most people don't fall into this category) so much to ask for? IMHO a sealed drivetrain running on a chain is the way to go.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by ivan_yulaev View Post

    I'm not sold on belts for bicycle applications. They are quieter and cleaner yes, but breaking the frame to replace one seems like it would require a heavier frame.
    This is a non-issue. A gate can be added to a seatstay with a trifling weight penalty. Remember belts are used with IGH so there's already a much larger weight penalty. The main advantage if belts is their cleanliness. Commuters, and people who often need to transport their bikes in cars, or on mass transit can see a meaningful benefit here.

    Are belts better? NO.
    Will they ever be better? doubtful.

    But there are a viable alternative for niche applications and hopefully here to stay.
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  22. #22
    Senior Member Ira B's Avatar
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    One a wide scale, belt drives will be in when internally geared hubs are it and derailleurs are out.
    Could be a nice tidy set up actually.
    Yep, THAT Ira

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch View Post
    That's still 60,000 miles on the low side. How many bikes ever see 60,000 miles of use? I'm thinking the percentage is single digits.
    Also, an automobile timing belt, depending on the engine design, can have a big downside with it breaks so it pays to be conservative. The downside on a bicycle is significantly less.

    There's still the issue of a couple decades of motorcycle use that you haven't addressed.
    .
    If a motorcycle belt breaks, it really isn't catastrophic. When a chain or belt breaks on a bike, it will probably happen as the rider is pedalling really hard while going up hill or something and it could cause him to fall badly.

    A bike belt is going to be considerably smaller than a typical timing chain so it is comparing apples to oranges.

  24. #24
    Senior Member miamijim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobotech View Post
    If a motorcycle belt breaks, it really isn't catastrophic.
    I suppose if you downshift to pass the big rig and the belt breaks.....
    WWW.CYCLESPEUGEOT.COM 2005 Pinarello Dogma; 1991 Paramount PDG 70 Mtb; 1976? AD Vent Noir; 1989 LeMond Maillot Juane F&F; 1993? Basso GAP F&F; 1989 Terry Symmetry; 2003 Trek 4700 Mtb; 1983 Vitus 979

  25. #25
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobotech View Post
    If a motorcycle belt breaks, it really isn't catastrophic. When a chain or belt breaks on a bike, it will probably happen as the rider is pedalling really hard while going up hill or something and it could cause him to fall badly.

    A bike belt is going to be considerably smaller than a typical timing chain so it is comparing apples to oranges.
    What to know what I think is really funny? I'm one of the folks defending belt drives and I'm the retro grouch.

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