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.

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    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
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    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
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    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
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    @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.


Wow, this discussion really highlights how bike cultures can differ across regions, I'll try to stay as objective as I can.

  • Chains allow for single speed, geared hubs and derailleurs, belts allow only for single speeds and geared hubs.
  • ~~Chains wear much faster than belts. Statements vary, claiming a belt outlives 4 to 30 chains. At any rate, the lifetime makes up for (most) of the price difference in favor of belts.~~ edit: I broke a belt after 4000km.
  • Belts are lighter than chains. However, if you want gears, keep in mind a derailleur is lighter than a geared hub, so do the calculations for your setup.
  • Equivalently, belts run more smooth than chains, but again, derailleurs run with less resistance than internal gears.
  • Belts are eerily quiet.
  • Chains need to be tensioned more often than belts.
  • Belts require a frame break in the rear triangle to mount the belt, so most frames are not belt-ready.
  • Chains require regular lubing. This might sound like a minor issue if you are a recreational biker, but for a commuter this is a potential dealbreaker. A belt will not leave grease stains and splatter on your hands and clothes if you (accidentally) touch it.

  • wear on chains is visible and gradual so you can replace parts that start to look old. Belts will just snap out of the blue at some point.

  • Can I suggest: belts allow single speeds, internally-geared hubs, and gearboxes? Also, chains on derailleur bikes are tensioned by the rear derailleur. – Weiwen Ng Jan 16 at 22:29
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    "claiming a belt outlives 4 to 30 chains" is that compared to the usual chain lifetime that is mostly for derailleur gears or is it corrected for chains also lasting much longer with single speed/internal gear hub setups (I'm on chain no. 3 now after something in the order of magnitude of 30000 - 60000 km with my internal gear hub) – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 17 at 20:19
  • "Belts require a frame break in the rear triangle to mount the belt" -- depends on the frame geometry. More often now, belt-specific frames are designed with an elevated chainstay, so that the belt runs entirely below the chainstay, instead of having to go through the loop formed by the seatstay, chainstay, and seat tube. That said, whether through an elevated stay or a break in the frame (typically at the dropout), the frame needs to be designed to accommodate the belt, so the general sentiment still applies. – Peter Duniho Jan 19 at 21:37
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    "A belt will not leave grease stains and splatter on your hands and clothes if you (accidentally) touch it" -- in my experience, while it's true you don't get grease/oil stains, the belt is still a dirty part on the bike, and will get your hands and clothes dirty if you touch it. The dirt is just accumulation of road grime; it typically doesn't build up on the parts in direct contact with each other (surface of hub, inside of belt teeth), but that leaves plenty of surface area on the belt that can still get really dirty. – Peter Duniho Jan 19 at 21:39

Another heretofore unmentioned difference - suspension and tension.

Derailleur gears and chains have a tensioner in the rear mech whereas Belt drive bikes have to have "the right tension" set in the belt.

So if your bike frame has flex from a rear suspension setup, then it cannot have any variation in effective chainstay length else a belt drive will not work.

A suspension setup with a rigid rear triangle, with the BB in the moving part could work with a drive belt.

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    The Mitsubishi belt drive has an auto-tensioner which behaves similar to a derailleur. (Not recommended.) – Ian MacDonald Jan 17 at 15:32
  • @IanMacDonald nice - I was unaware of that. Is it rated for continuous changes or is it more of a convenience? For many rear-suspension bikes, the effective chainstay length varies over a single pedal stroke, hence my comment. – Criggie Jan 17 at 22:07
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    AFAIK, it’s only for convenience as there’s a quick-release lever that totally expands it and allows the wheel (when unattached) to come out without having to negotiate with the belt. There is a hex key socket that enables adjusting tension once latched, as well. After destroying two cogs and breaking a belt, I’ve since switched to a Gates drive on a frame that has adjustable (and lockable) vertical dropouts. Makes for little-to-no calibration on reinstallation of a wheel, while not sacrificing durability of the drivetrain. Rear suspension could be better with the auto-tensioner, though. Hmm. – Ian MacDonald Jan 18 at 0:53

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.

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    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
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    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
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    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


  • Pros:

    • Widely available
    • Most flexibility for the gears
    • easy to maintain
  • Cons:

    • Have to be lubed and maintained more


  • Pros:
    • Almost no maintaining
    • Silent
    • fancy
  • Cons:
    • Multiple gears only with a gear hub
    • More expensive (especially with gear hub)

Shaft drive:

  • Pros:
    • Almost no maintaining
    • Silent
  • Cons:
    • Multiple gears only with a gear hub
    • Not widely spread, hard to find and repair (looks like no new bikes comes with shaft drive at the moment)
    • Proprietary bikes, no compatible with any bike

I don't think there is a lot of difference in therm of efficiency, and there is certainly as much difference between different model of a certain type of transmission. I would say the main parameters to consider is the need gears, after that it would be a matter of taste/fanciness.


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.

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    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
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    @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
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    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
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    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
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    During the previous winter I need to change around 1.5-2 months. 250 km/week + very muddy tracks (continuous rain) + cheap chain (Tiagra) + incomplete fender coverage resulted in massive drive train wear. The Tiagra chains were dying at around 1500 km or 1.5 months. My point is my experience is anecdotal just as your experience is anecdotal. Prescribing duration rules based on your experience assumes everyone reading the answer rides a bike in similar conditions and in similar amounts. The world is a diverse place. – Rider_X Apr 22 '15 at 19:22

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