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Old 11-07-09, 10:21 PM   #1
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Review of Abio Bikes - Are belt drives ready for prime time?

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the guys at Abio Bikes. "Would you mind test riding one of our folding bikes?", they asked. I had never heard of Abio Bikes, but hey, if someone wants to offer me a new bike to ride for a while, I'm not genetically built to turn that offer down. Turns out Abio is a new company out to establish a niche for chainless drive-trains. "Sure," I says, "but what's the catch?". Well, there's no catch. They just want to get some feedback on the bike, and for me to write up my thoughts (I guess that's a bit of a catch, but it's not too onerous).

While waiting for the bike to arrive, I looked up the specs on the website. The Verdion model is a standard mid-frame fold, 20" folder. Belt-drive, 4 Speed Shimano Nexus internal geared hub. 6061 aluminum frame. I must admit, I was ready to be under-whelmed. After all, I have, over time (and at risk to my son's college education) accumulated some of the nicer folding bikes on the market today - the Tikit, Strida, Brompton, Moulton TSR, among others. I'm a pretty strong rider, familiar with belt-drives as a Strida owner, and was perversely looking forward to seeing how much I could make the Abio belt drivetrain slip while hauling my 190 lb. ass around, heh, heh.

The bike arrives, and it's a pleasing green color. The belt drive is by Gates, which is the premier belt drivetrain maker (same as Strida). I check the bike over, tightened the belt, filled up the tires, and was ready to go. The first impression that the Verdion makes is how quiet the ride is - it's virtually silent. No whirring of the chain (although I confess to liking that sound), no clicking of derailleurs shifting. The bike geometry is very stable with the 65psi stock Kenda tires. I found myself being able to ride hands-free in short order. The cockpit is a little cramped for this 6 footer, but I have ordered an Aber Halo rotating stem (from Thor) that'll resolve that. I rode into town (an 8 mile ride round-trip), and found myself smiling and quite happy on the bike. Hmmmm...

Here's a picture of it in some of the rough scenery I have to put up with on my way to town:



Over the next couple of weeks, I put the bike, and more specifically the belt-drive system, through progressively more severe tests. I rode it in the rain up a 6-7% slope for about 75 yards. To my amazement, it did not slip! I rode it in the dirt to see if a dirty drivetrain could mess up the belt system. I rode it along paths where the Strida's belt has always slipped. But, no, the Abio belt did not follow suit. The profile of the "teeth" on the two belts look the same (same depth and angles). I guess the difference is the Abio's stiff frame and 31" inch low gear. The Strida's 3 tube triangle frame, as elegant as it is, is not exactly what you would call stiff, so the belt tension slackens as the frame moves. Also, the Strida is a single speed, 54 gear inch configuration, so under the same conditions, it takes much more torque. Over the past 3 weeks, in doing around-town rides, I've been able to count only 3 occassions where the belt slipped. Twice when I stood up on the pedals from a spirited standing start, and once, going up a very steep bridge where most people with brains would have walked up. Not too bad. All this time, belt tension has held and I have not had to adjust it. Hmmm....

I'll leave the discussion of aesthetics and bike design for others, as my interest is mainly in the belt drive. However, I must mention one other dimension that will be important to folder owners - the ability of this bike to roll when folded. There is a unique, patented hinge lock on the Abio bikes. Yes, the hinge, when unfolded has a positive locking mechanism. It will not come unfolded unless you release it. So, that means when the frame is folded over, the bike will roll on its two wheels very nicely when pushed with the seat. With many other mid-frame folding bikes, that is difficult to do. I made a little video of it here, and will try and do a better one shortly - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgliqNeS_Ig

So, I have come to develop a pretty good deal of confidence in the Abio's belt drive. But, I'm going to push the bike's abilities a little further. I'm going to take it beyond the casual, round-town rides and test it out on some of the routes I take with my full-size road bikes. I'm talking hills and fast. I'll be making some mods on the bike to make it more road-worthy before doing that, so stay tuned.....
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Old 11-07-09, 10:27 PM   #2
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Cool. I would assume that the target audience probably isn't going to blast away on the bike. Judging from the short review, it sounds like the belt drive is appropriate.
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Old 11-07-09, 10:28 PM   #3
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How about belt wear on the plastic chainring teeth? that seems to be a problem on my Strida 3.

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Old 11-07-09, 11:21 PM   #4
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Sounds pretty cool, thanks for the review.
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Old 11-08-09, 10:44 AM   #5
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How about belt wear on the plastic chainring teeth? that seems to be a problem on my Strida 3.
I'd think if the alignment and belt tension remain constant (as SC implies in his road test), the teeth shouldn't wear abnormally early.. the Strida has a lot of frame movement as you pedal.. that tosses the belt alignment off as well as the belt tension... I would also expect Abio to stock sprockets to be made available to end users who do encounter wear, as well as custom aluminum aftermarket pieces as offered for the Strida 5.. the crank looks to have the same bolt circle as the Strida 5 .. maybe SC will measure/compare..
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Old 11-08-09, 02:22 PM   #6
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Sounds very good so far SC. Good review.

I would be interested in a belt drive for commuting because the one thing I am ALWAYS busy with is the chain. After every wet ride I blow the chain dry with a compressor (amazing how much water comes off!) and relube; this has enormously increased my mileage, but it is still a hassle I'd like to do without.

That said, I wonder if blowing dry would be necessary on the belt as well; it might accumulate a similiar amount of wet dirt which might wear the teeth. I think regular wet rides would be a very severe test. Might also affect the slipping.

One positive thing about the abios is the forward-leaning stempost. I also like the in-tube cable routing, The other cables are rather neat too.

On the other hand, I wonder about the durability of the seat tube stuff - this is where lots and lots of folding bikes have met their match. Keep a close look out for any cracks in that area.

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Old 11-08-09, 07:23 PM   #7
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the crank looks to have the same bolt circle as the Strida 5 .. maybe SC will measure/compare..
Yes, same bcd. The chainwheel is much bigger on the Strida vs the Abio, however.

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Sounds pretty cool, thanks for the review.
You're welcome to borrow it any time.

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How about belt wear on the plastic chainring teeth? that seems to be a problem on my Strida 3.
I've had the bike for 3 weeks. No sign of belt wear yet
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Old 11-08-09, 08:10 PM   #8
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Saw an ad in the Portland Mercury (best described as a counter-culture newspaper) this afternoon while having coffee - it was for a shop called "Joe Bike" on Hawthorne, advertising their cargo bikes. Wife and I are fascinated by such pedal powered vehicles, so we drove the 2-3 miles from the coffee place to the bike shop and had a look. They had Torker bikes and Flying Pigeon bikes, too. But, outside, hanging high on a rack was an ABIO Verdion folder.

After we checked out the cargo bikes in the store, I went outside to see the ABIO. As I did, the guy inside the store we had been talking to came out and asked if I would like to take it around the block? He didn't have to ask twice. After he raised the seat (I'm 6'3") and I took off.

My reactions: Effective top-tube length was a little short for me. Bike is very stiff - felt good. It was silent. It seemed to be geared a little high, but comparison of published gear range shows it to very close to wife's new BF Pocket 8. (like 31" to 88"). Felt more like my Dahon S1 than my custom-built NWT. Ride was nice with the 1.75" tires. Didn't like the shifter - move lever to go up, and push button on top to go down - not a natural movement - prefer grip-shift. Due to custom plastic chain ring (for the belt drive) system changing gear range by downsizing it would likely be impossible.

Wife's reaction: Loved the color! Noticed the BIG welds - had to remind her it was an aluminum frame, not steel.

Dealer quoted price as $749 or $799. (?) On companies website it's on sale for $550.

Just thought a second, though limited review, might be interesting.

Lou

Last edited by Foldable Two; 11-08-09 at 08:16 PM. Reason: Corrections
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Old 11-09-09, 06:02 AM   #9
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thanks for this semame and foldable two, been very keen to see reviews of the Abio
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Old 11-09-09, 08:45 AM   #10
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Foldable Two:

Thanks for your comments. Nice to know they're out in stores where people can try them out. It's a pleasing ride, isn't it?

And, oh yeah, women love the color. I got comments on mine as well. Abio's other model, in the purple Wine color, is even more eye-catching to the fairer sex.

So, guys, if you want to meet women, take your Labradoodle puppy for a ride with your Abio! If you can't get a conversation started with that combo.....
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Old 11-09-09, 08:50 AM   #11
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That said, I wonder if blowing dry would be necessary on the belt as well; it might accumulate a similiar amount of wet dirt which might wear the teeth. I think regular wet rides would be a very severe test. Might also affect the slipping.
I'm impressed - you blow out your chain with a compressor! Wow, you take good care of your bikes!

I agree, if the belt drive got wet and dirty, it would be equally, if not more, destructive. I would think the belt is easier to clean than the chain, though. Less places for the grime to accumulate.
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Old 11-09-09, 11:02 AM   #12
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Dealer quoted price as $749 or $799. (?) On companies website it's on sale for $550.

Just thought a second, though limited review, might be interesting.

Lou

$550?? That's a very competitive price for that bike .. I would expect to see a few more on the road in the near future.. a good belt drive, hub geared bike should satisfy some prospective buyers looking for a a clean, versatile, low maintenance folder.. can't wait to see the SesameCrunch leather clad, stretch version ..
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Old 11-09-09, 12:53 PM   #13
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You're welcome to borrow it any time.
I may take you up on that.
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Old 11-10-09, 12:38 AM   #14
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Foldable Two:

Thanks for your comments. Nice to know they're out in stores where people can try them out. It's a pleasing ride, isn't it?

And, oh yeah, women love the color. I got comments on mine as well. Abio's other model, in the purple Wine color, is even more eye-catching to the fairer sex.

So, guys, if you want to meet women, take your Labradoodle puppy for a ride with your Abio! If you can't get a conversation started with that combo.....
Yes, it rode well - felt solid and smooth.

My wife says she'd be suspicious of any guy riding that bike in the company of a Labradoodle. Doesn't think the guy would be interested in her.

Lou
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Old 11-10-09, 12:52 AM   #15
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Joe Bike is just up the street from me, maybe I'll have to go and check it out
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Old 11-10-09, 03:14 AM   #16
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How about belt wear on the plastic chainring teeth? that seems to be a problem on my Strida 3.
If you have an early model Strida 3, then it won't have the nub wheel which pinches the belt against the rear pulley to stop belt jump.
Belt jump is the main cause of pulley wear.
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Old 11-10-09, 08:05 PM   #17
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My wife says she'd be suspicious of any guy riding that bike in the company of a Labradoodle. Doesn't think the guy would be interested in her.

Lou
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Old 11-10-09, 08:16 PM   #18
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If you have an early model Strida 3, then it won't have the nub wheel which pinches the belt against the rear pulley to stop belt jump.
Belt jump is the main cause of pulley wear.
no, I don't have the idler pulley, but the wear is on the front chainring, and belt jump occurs on the rear sprocket. I'm thinking it's due to one of two things: (1) flex in the bottom bracket (I've got the plastic BB mount and I can see significant flexing when I pedal hard), or (2) my overtightening of the belt to counter belt jump.
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Old 11-11-09, 04:39 AM   #19
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Yep! Those plastic BBs did flex a lot, and before the nub wheels appeared, it was always a balancing act between not tightening the belt too much (saving the bearings) and tightening it so the belt didn't jump (thus put extra load on the bearing)
If the wear is on the front pulley it is, as you say, probably due to BB flex
If you get a chance to upgrade to a Strida 5, you'll notice one hell of a difference, keep an eye open for a used one on ebay.
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Old 11-11-09, 10:13 PM   #20
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Would there be any advantage/improvement to the Strida or Abio by using the Gates carbon belt instead of the kevlar one they use now?
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Old 11-12-09, 07:29 AM   #21
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Yep! Those plastic BBs did flex a lot, and before the nub wheels appeared, it was always a balancing act between not tightening the belt too much (saving the bearings) and tightening it so the belt didn't jump (thus put extra load on the bearing)
If the wear is on the front pulley it is, as you say, probably due to BB flex
If you get a chance to upgrade to a Strida 5, you'll notice one hell of a difference, keep an eye open for a used one on ebay.
+1 on the difference between the Strida3 and the 5. I had both, and boy, the new one is much better by comparison.

Strida 5's are expensive at list price, but there are many good used ones available. I just bought an almost new one for $500 for a gift. At that price, the Strida 5 is a good deal. IMHO.
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Old 11-12-09, 07:35 AM   #22
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Would there be any advantage/improvement to the Strida or Abio by using the Gates carbon belt instead of the kevlar one they use now?
I would guess there'd be huge benefit on the Abio where the drivetrain is straight and not flexy. On the other hand, if the drivetrain is good, belt wear is not an issue to start with. I think Gates says their kevlar belt can get twice the life of a chain (don't quote me on this). With a carbon belt, there's a guy who's riding around the world with one. He got 12,000 miles on the first carbon belt. He's on his second one now....

http://www.bikeradar.com/news/articl...elmaster-23585

On the Strida, there would be benefit, but if the belt is skipping all the time .....
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Old 11-12-09, 08:04 AM   #23
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The real question is how does the belt compare to a similarly treated chain (unoiled, straight chainline, well tensioned, etc)?

I bet the "belt" would work better if it were made of steel, although kevlar or carbon would naturally be lighter.
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Old 11-12-09, 09:02 AM   #24
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I think Gates says their kevlar belt can get twice the life of a chain (don't quote me on this). With a carbon belt, there's a guy who's riding around the world with one. He got 12,000 miles on the first carbon belt. He's on his second one now....
The tandem guys appear to like the belt as a timing chain.
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Old 11-14-09, 09:53 AM   #25
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Update:

In a fit of whimsy, and just because I'm a folding bike nut with time on my hands (see this for my nuttiness credentials: SesameCrunch's Excellent Adventure), I gave the Abio a makeover. Given my comfort level with the belt drive under city riding conditions, I wanted to test out the drivetrain under more rigorous circumstances - my road biking routes - combinations of hilly and fast riding.

For these purposes, I first had to give the sedate, stock Abio a make-over. Reduced weight by taking off stock saddle, pedals, kickstand, Kenda tires. With parts that were lying around my parts bin, I added Primo Comet 100psi tires, Selle San Marco saddle, SPD pedals and curved bar-ends. I did have to purchase an Aber Halo stem for a longer, more comfy reach. The result is this:





Just a quick ride around the block reveals fun changes in her personality. The biggest impact is from the high psi tires, as one would expect. The bar-ends offer a nice, cheap solution for aero position. Combined with the Aber Halo stem, my reach is just 1" shorter than my standard road bike. Not bad.

At the earliest convergence of good weather and clearance from SWMBO, I'll be taking her out on a long ride. I'm looking forward to the funny looks I'll be getting from my roadie friends, but hey, we all know what they can do if they can't stand a joke .
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