Could someone provide a comparison between having a bike with a chain, with a shaft drive and with a belt drive like the Gates Carbon Drive?

It could be good to know who fares better in terms of low maintenance, durability, and efficiency.

  • 1
    The chain is familiar, cheap because of high volumes, and works well in a derailleur setup. The belt is quiet, smooth, low-maintenance, potentially cheap but not yet high volumes, limited to a single speed unless you have a complicated, expensive multi-speed hub. The driveshaft is complicated, heavy, unfamiliar, probably noisy/rough, probably high-maintenance, and limited to a single speed like the belt. Both chain and belt are quite durable, hard to say about the shaft. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 21 '14 at 11:27
  • 1
    Sheldon Brown's Glossary (sheldonbrown.com/gloss_ba-n.html#belt) has a good description of the advantages and disadvantages. A key point DRH missed in his answer is that frames which use belts must be specially designed for belt drives. – Batman Oct 21 '14 at 12:10
  • A chain is plenty durable and is repairable on the road. Bring a couple extra links, which you likely already have from shortening the chain you bought, and you can fix a chain easily. The same cannot be said for a belt or a shaft drive, although I guess you could bring a spare belt with you. The only advantage I see to a belt drive is the lack of grease. It seems no matter how careful I am, I always end up with grease on my bike clothes after a month or two. – Kibbee Oct 21 '14 at 12:30
  • 1
    @DanielRHicks Shaft drive is a popular option on motorcycles, it is really low maintenance compared to chains (no lube, no stretch). I'm not sure about sound, but packed full of grease will probably keep the noise down. Not sure how they will take a good hit though. However they are heavy and the do rob some efficiency. – BPugh Oct 21 '14 at 14:20
  • Here is a question on the shaft drive: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/20591/… – BPugh Oct 21 '14 at 14:24

For fixed, single speed and hub gears belt drives are great, if slightly more expensive initially. They don't work with derailleurs.

The key difference is that as chains wear they also wear the sprockets and chainrings and therefore all need replacing if you leave it too long or don't lubricate often enough.

Belt drives are used in many applications which are harsher and less maintainable than bike drivetrains - 70k Miles @ 3000 RPM for a car cambelt should give you confidence to fit and forget a belt on a bike. Also used on big motorbikes (Harley, Yamaha, Buell) as a chain replacement.

Shaft drive is too inefficient and heavy for practical use on a bike.

I have both chain and belt drives on different bikes - they do different things but are both fit for their respective purposes. The chain needs lubricating frequently and replacing from time to time. And the belt-drive simply doesn't.

Bike radar did a pretty good article on this, which you can find here.

My personal opinion is Carbon Drives/Shaft drive are quite fancy but pretty useless. They are more expensive, require specific frames which are usually quite expensive, and their try to solve a problem that simply does not exist. With a carbon/shaft you can only run a single gear hub (maybe with internal gears, but that's not the point). A normal bike chain lasts a few years in mountain/road riding and keep in mind rear derailleurs play a huge part diminishing a chain life. On a single speed bike the chain pretty much has no wear and just lasts and lasts.

Regarding maintenance, if you live in a dry climate, the oil on the chain will last a few months, and if you constantly ride on the rain I don't believe you don't have 20 seconds per month to spray it with a good oil. Because that is all it needs.

I do have a bunch of cheap (around $150) single speed bikes with chain that have been working perfectly for a few years with once a year maintenance.

Please keep in mind this is an opinion assuming money is a conditional when searching for a new bike. i.e., I am saying that for practical purposes, when you justify them comparing features and price, chainless options are not worth it. In the same it is not "worth it" to have a Ferrari, even though I sure would love one in my garage.

  • 6
    There is a lot of false information in this answer. Chain life in years will depend on how much riding, what conditions, and how much maintenance it receives. Rear derailleurs have almost no involvement in chain life. Single speeds the chain doesn't wear any slower than multi-speed, you just don't necessarily notice the wear as easily as when a multispeed starts skipping due to uneven wear amongst cogs. – whatsisname Apr 21 '15 at 18:42
  • 2
    @whatsisname - I agree. The number of incorrect statements based on anecdotal experiences is frightening. For example, I personally have to change my chain about every 1 - 2 months due to mileage and conditions. It would be foolish to the same interval to more casual riders. – Rider_X Apr 21 '15 at 20:20
  • Hey. I need to defend myself :) – super Apr 22 '15 at 18:50
  • 1
    Ups :) I agree chain life will depend on riding, conditions, maintenance etc. Where you are wrong is in geared systems not having an impact in chain wear. They do. Having a straight chainline or lack of chain drag, both because of geared systems, plays a huge part on chain wear. See wikipedia for example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-speed_bicycle @Rider_X, if you have to change your chain every 1 or 2 months there is something very wrong with your bike and you should check it out. Really. I also wouldn't call you anecdotal but we are on the internets so that is ok. – super Apr 22 '15 at 18:58
  • 1
    Some linkzzz: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/15478/… bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/24599/… (check the comment from a bike mechanic) – super Apr 22 '15 at 19:00

I have an 8 speed hub, with a conventional chain, I do about 150 km pw. My chain will be useless after 8 months, and probably would need replacing after just 5 (I just don't get around to it till it's really bad). Problem is, I can't just replace the chain, the front and rear sprockets need replacing too, and the wear also damages my hub. Once you've paid for all that (including labour) the economics swing in favour of a belt drive, which I can replace myself, and it doesn't require new sprockets , which will usually outlive the belt by several times.

  • 2
    So change the chain every 3000 km and the cluster should last 15,000 and the chainrings will do 30,000 km between changes. Leave the chain to 6000 km and all three will need doing at once. Don't put maintenance off, it compounds. – Criggie Dec 1 '15 at 19:59
  • 2
    I'm really curious about how a worn chain or sprocket damages the hub, and how it does so in a way that a worn belt/sprocket doesn't. Can you please expand on that? – Móż Dec 1 '15 at 20:44
  • 1
    You should be getting way more mileage out of your setup if you weren't negligent. 3000 miles for a front chainring is absurdly low and it is on the low side for a rear cog. You could go through 1-2 chains with that mileage. And replacing a cog and chain at home is trivial to do at home. – Batman Mar 7 '16 at 23:21

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.