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  1. #1
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Belt drive versus fully enclosed chain - pros and cons?

    I was mulling over a future city commute bike project.

    In Portland, during the winter my commute is in rain or at least wet roads practically 100% of the time. Drivetrains get gunky and require pretty frequent maintenance.

    So I was thinking about either a fully enclosed chain, or a belt drive.

    What do you consider the pros and cons of these options?

    These would go with an IGH, drop bars, disc brakes, wide tires (maybe 650b), the fullest-coverage fenders with long flaps, generator hub and lots of lighting, and possibly a small "bikini" type fairing.
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    S'Cruzer pierce's Avatar
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    belt is perfect for this, but it requires a frame with a rear triangle that can be 'opened' so you can install/replace the belt. trek has one where the rear 'dropout' can be seperated, specialized has a joint up by the brake bridge on the seat stay. this pretty much limits you to a factory bike.

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    Even a fully-enclosed chain drive system is still going to get water and crud splashed into it and the chain will still need lube so will not be totally maintenance free. It will also be an extra hassle when fixing a flat.

    The belt drive is nice but the frame concerns noted above do exist. Also if you decide to change the chain wheel or cog to change the IGH range you will need a belt-specific one as well as a new, correct-length belt, you cannot add or subtract links like with a chain.

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    Never used them, but I would forget the rubber belt. They have poor cog selection and torque. I doubt they like muddy cogs either. What LBS would ever stock that stuff anyway ?
    I used Sturmey Archer 90mm drum brake hubs this year, dyno and oil filled RD5w. Flawless performance with zero fiddling with the non-adjustment brakes, not so with discs. For best results use long cranks and yes to a full chaincase.

  5. #5
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    For either set up (chain or belt) consider flat proofing the rear tire best possible. I've worked on enough full chain guarded bikes (usually an internal geared hub) and a few belts drives. All I can say is they both would be a pain out on the road, in the cold and rain, if you got a flat. Andy.

  6. #6
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jyl View Post
    These would go with an IGH, drop bars, disc brakes, wide tires (maybe 650b), the fullest-coverage fenders with long flaps, generator hub and lots of lighting, and possibly a small "bikini" type fairing.
    I was out riding today. Beautiful day , but lots of icy spots to avoid. Made it back unscathed.

    I think you're describing something like Rob English's Winter bike: http://www.englishcycles.com/customb...-bike-project/ . It's made it through 3 Oregon winters and 7000 miles of use with essentially zero maintenance.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    For either set up (chain or belt) consider flat proofing the rear tire best possible. I've worked on enough full chain guarded bikes (usually an internal geared hub) and a few belts drives. All I can say is they both would be a pain out on the road, in the cold and rain, if you got a flat. Andy.
    A belt drive with Open forward horizontal (traditional road type) or vertical dropouts with a chain tensioner system, like an eccentric BB, or moveable dropouts are easy to work with on belt drive because there's no need to remove the belt.

    If you plan this with rear opening (track) dropouts make sure there's room between the rear sprocket and dropout for the belt. You also need enough forward room in the slot to move the wheel up and slacken the belt enough to come off the sprocket.

    An enclosed chain, at least up to the rear wheel, if not fully, will stay fairly clean and lubed in rough weather so that's a viable choice. I've not enough experience to comment on how grit and dirt affects belt wear, but don't assume belts are magically shielded from dirty, gritty road spray.

    Years ago all weather riders with single speeds or IGH used split plastic tubing of the kind used to keep wires in place wound fully around the chain. This worked amazingly well, though it would eventually get worn at the slot. I'm a bit surprised that I don't see this stuff anymore.
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  8. #8
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Half of a solution:
    http://www.universalcycles.com/shopp...&category=3920



    There's also the Hebie Chainglider:
    http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/catego...inglider-33772



    but I don't know who has these in the U.S.
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  9. #9
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
    I was out riding today. Beautiful day , but lots of icy spots to avoid. Made it back unscathed.

    I think you're describing something like Rob English's Winter bike: http://www.englishcycles.com/customb...-bike-project/ . It's made it through 3 Oregon winters and 7000 miles of use with essentially zero maintenance.
    Good for you! I was in bed with a hangover until 11 AM.

    It is getting cold enough that I'm having to remember that, hey, ice is possible now. The other day I was hustling from west bound NE Couch onto the Burnside Bridge. You know the "S curve" there. I was diving into the first S when I realized, uh-oh, the road surface looks different this morning. Too late to slow down but I took the curve as wide as I could. Wasn't icy as it turns out, but at 5 AM it could easily have been.
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  10. #10
    Constant tinkerer FastJake's Avatar
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    When you say fully enclosed chain, do you mean one of the chain cases with the oil bath? That would be cool.

    The bike you described sounds perfect. I would probably forget the chain case and just run the cheapest 1/8" chain I could find, and run it until it skipped. Which would probably be a while on an IGH. That would mean replacing the cog and possibly the chainring too, but it might be cheaper/easier than dealing with proper maintenance, a chain case or belt drive.
    Why "derailer" is the correct way to spell the gear-change mechanism: sheldonbrown.com/derailer.html

  11. #11
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
    I was out riding today. Beautiful day , but lots of icy spots to avoid. Made it back unscathed.

    I think you're describing something like Rob English's Winter bike: http://www.englishcycles.com/customb...-bike-project/ . It's made it through 3 Oregon winters and 7000 miles of use with essentially zero maintenance.
    I went through a Gates belt in 1300 miles on our tandem. Actually, not the belt - the rings, being aluminum, simply wore away from grit. Didn't help the belt any, either. I washed the bike regularly, too. I went back to chain. I do think a Center Track belt would last longer, but not any 7000 miles. English obviously doesn't count swapping out not just the belt, but also the rings, as maintenance. He can't have changed belts without changing rings, and his rings are more expensive than ordinary chainrings. Tires? I never wear out a tire, no, but they get cut badly enough to be unrideable in between 50 and 1000 miles in the winter around here. Tubes? He never flats? I call BS on this. Not to say that what he suggests is a bad idea. But saying that there's not going to be maintenance on a bike that's ridden constantly in a PNW winter is simply not correct.

  12. #12
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    ... but I don't know who has these in the U.S.
    Aaron's in Seattle is retailing Hebie chaingliders..


    I thought belt drives would be good , fully enclosed.. the grit wearing the cogwheels
    is one reason..

    Having it anonimous is annother [belt outside is a show off, since recent and pricy]

    Enclosed chains unless in an Oil bath, tend to be ignored too much..

    Now,a Chain kept clean AND running in a oil bath , like the timing chain
    running Overhead cam engines.. last a very long time ..100k + miles

    but on a bike you have rear punctures.. to remove the wheel is
    requiring the chain case to be opened, and oil to likely spill..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 01-26-13 at 12:12 AM.

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    How about a shaft drive system? Totally enclosed and the gears are in a lubricant bath. Here is an example which has many of the features you have specified; http://shop.dynamicbicycles.com/Tempo-8-Tempo-8.htm
    Drop bars and a dyno hub/lights could be easily added. http://www.ecovelo.info/2008/11/12/a...ith-drop-bars/
    A local park has a similar model for rent and the concessionaire has vouched for their reliability. Here's the drive manufacturer's page: http://www.sussex.com.tw/index.html

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsbrantjr View Post
    How about a shaft drive system? Totally enclosed and the gears are in a lubricant bath. Here is an example which has many of the features you have specified; http://shop.dynamicbicycles.com/Tempo-8-Tempo-8.htm
    I had a chance to ride one of those last summer. Even on a level park road, the drag was obvious and it felt like riding on badly underinflated tires. With their obvious strength and low maintainence, shaft drives would have taken over the bicycle world if their efficiency wasn't so dreadfully low.

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    I'd go with the enclosed chain system at the moment. Belt drives require too many components that are manufacturer-specific so I'd wait until it's clear there's a uniform design that'll be around for a long time and have multiple sources.

    I'm also a little skeptical about the reluctance of Gates to release detailed efficiency test results.

  16. #16
    Drink my Koolaid MadProphet's Avatar
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    Spot bikes makes several Gates equipped models. Acme (Alfine11) and Ajax (Alfine8). Good specs and good reviews.
    Trek DS 8.3 -> Trek Domane 2.0 + (CrossRip Ltd or Crockett 5 Disc)
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    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    Recent article (02 Jan '13) measuring chain vs belt efficiency: http://www.bikeradar.com/road/news/a...-faster-36074/

  18. #18
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Super interesting link, thank you.

    If preloading was not a factor of either drive system, when the performance of the belt is compared to the performance of the chain, with all test parameters being equal, the CDS belt actually becomes more efficient than the chain at given span tensions above 21.90 lbs/span (43.80 lbs total span tension).

    BUT

    the increasing preload needed with increasing rider output will always cause a CDS to perform less efficiently than a chain drive system at similar rider output wattage.

    SO

    In theory, if a belt drive system was able to operate in a similar tension manner to a chain drive system, i.e., with low or no preloading requirements, the belt drive system would theoretically be more efficient than a chain drive at all rider outputs greater than 208 watts.

    I guess we can watch and see how belt technology develops.

    While they are at it, I wonder if the cog can be moved to the outside of the dropout, so that the belt can be replaced without requiring an opening gate in the stays.
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  19. #19
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Let's suppose I was going to look for a used bike to convert into this dream wet weather commuter. I would want disc brakes, clearance and mounting points for fenders and wide tires. The ability to use an internal gear hub - I'm thinking horizontal drops since a chain tensioner won't work with a full chaincase. Road bike or old (pre-suspension) mountain geometry with a fairly low head tube so I can get down in the drops. I'd add the drivetrain, keep the disc brakes, use Versa brifters, build new wheels.

    Any suggestions for newer bikes that would fit this bill and that I might find used or frameset-only for not too much? You know, the mythical free Surly Disc Trucker or something.

    Or am I better off finding a old steel MTB frameset for $50 and having disc brake mounts welded on? I think an old MTB rigid fork would be strong enough to mount a disc?

    Hmm but neither has horizontal drops.
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  20. #20
    S'Cruzer pierce's Avatar
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    re the old steel MTB frame, actually, you'd *braze* those brake mounts onto the stays/forks, not weld.

    a /really/ old mountain bike WILL have horizontal drops, I know my 1983 Stumpjumper does.


  21. #21
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Yeah but I wouldn't mangle up an '83 Stumpjumper.
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    S'Cruzer pierce's Avatar
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    anyways, its a total tank of a bike. weighs a ton. I once tried 26x1.5 slicks on it, and it was way twitchy handling, did better with heavier tires like 26x1.75's (never mind the phatt mudslingers it has on it in that pic)

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    I ride in Minnesota winters and I wouldn't expect good things from a chain case. The reason is, it's not going to keep out 100% of the slush, but on the the other hand, what gets in will tend to stay in. I'd expect it to accelerate the rusting of the chain, not prevent it.

    It's a moot question for me, because a chain case won't work with a derailleur.

  24. #24
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    I would like to try belt drives. They have been used for a couple of round the world records.
    The cogs are mostly aluminium but the 3 mounting tabs really need to made of steel for strength.

    You probably need to keep a small stock of belts and cogs.

    The best tensioning system is probably a split triangle at the dropout with sliding vertical dropouts.
    You can get widgets to split the frame mid seatstay and you can use an EBB but that all ads weight.

    On my own Alfine system I have changed to 1/8 chain. I use 1/8 Sturmey Archer rear sprockets but they are a bit thick so I need to sand them down for about 2 hrs to get the tabs to the correct thickness for the snap ring to work.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by jyl View Post
    While they are at it, I wonder if the cog can be moved to the outside of the dropout, so that the belt can be replaced without requiring an opening gate in the stays.
    English built a bike like that: http://www.englishcycles.com/custombikes/project-right/

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