Fashion Watch: Bicycle Chains are OUT, Bicycle Belts are IN

Went to Santa Cruz the other day to ride bikes/remember what 70 degree weather is like/make fun of hippies and stumbled across this beast.  Forget about that fixed gear noise, belt drives are the purest form of cycling.  I asked the owner if he liked the bike: “It’s great.  She’s ready to go whenever I want.  Don’t even have to use lube.”  Zing!

In other news, being covered in liquid horse shit is very fashion forward.

5 Responses to “Fashion Watch: Bicycle Chains are OUT, Bicycle Belts are IN”

  1. Joel says:

    only ones you ever see have cut frames to get the belt on. there really isn’t a good frontline kit out yet that allows you to convert your bike without drastic measures or an appointment at a shop.

  2. C. says:

    Dude. I am so glad you covering belts for bikes, so they will instantly become popular and then maybe I can get someone to make me the frame I want to go with a belt.
    This is the Gates carbon belt drive, from the same people who make belt drives for Harleys. It is a proven technology, reliable, durable, maintenance-free and supposedly a bit more efficient (and definitely cleaner) than a chain.
    What Joel says is true. There must be a break somewhere in the frame – specifically, in the seat stay or at the drop-outs, through which to slip the belt, which is one piece (unlike a chain, which can have a link detached to slip over).
    There are several ways of accomplishing this. One way is to use a S&S seat-stay coupler. Also, a local fellow, Mark Norstad of Paragon Machine Works, makes his own coupler. This coupler is similar in its (very good) design to one developed by Fixie, Inc., a small German bike manufacturer whose 2010 Peacemaker models offer a belt-drive option and whose 2008 Five Star show bike used a S&S coupler. (You basically need a pro framemaker or a serious mechanic/metalworker to install these, however.)
    Another way is to have a cut through the dropout (with a plate or insert bolting on to close the dropout), and a third way is to have a removable dropout that bolts to the stays. These ways are used, respectively, on the Spot Longboard & Highline models, and on the Trek District model.
    You also need horizontal dropouts or trackends to allow for tensioning the belt.
    You must also use special sprockets designed for a belt.
    There aren’t cassettes for belts, ‘cos they aren’t made to shift. Instead, if you want speeds, you can use internally-geared rear hubs, such as the Shimano Nexus or Alfine 8-speed hubs, the SRAM 9-speed hub, or – for $100 a speed – the Rohloff 14-speed hub. I wanted to use the NuVinci CVT (continuously-variable transmission – continuous shifting, with no fixed speeds!), but it weighs 8 lbs. and is not appropriate for lighter frames (it’s recommended just for cruisers). I believe all these hub manufacturers have announced compatibility with Gates, and there are suitable sprockets available. (You could also use a SRAM Hammerschmidt crankset or a Nikolai GBOXX in front.)
    Okay, well, roll on.

  3. unimportant says:

    I gotta say, I own one and while it’s nice and quiet, I seriously doubt it’s ready for prime time, e.g. racing or race-pace riding. I’m a diehard single speed rider for close to 20 years, and I thought a belt drive CX bike would be a perfect setup, based on what everyone said coming out of Interbike.

    First off, it’s pretty easy to ‘pop’ the belt in a standing start or coming out of a turn in CX; it sounds and feels like skipping a tooth on a chain. It’s loud, you lose momentum and instead of thinking “cool drivetrain,” everyone within 20 feet thinks “ouch, that sounds like cracking metal.” They say you can tighten the belt or get a new one, but mine is pretty tight as is, and a new belt runs $80. How is it I can get a fan belt at a gas station for $12? (Really, I know why, but they claimed rolling out the drivetrains to more manufacturers would make this cheaper.)

    On top of that, if you want to change gearing, a rear cog runs $115 AND you need a new belt to resize with it. The cogs only come in a handful of sizes, so if you’re particular about your ratios, you might be out of luck. Maybe you can find a different chainring for more combinations, but if a dinky rear cog runs $115, I can’t imagine what the front one costs. I haven’t been able to find one, despite everyone at Interbike claiming “this time belt technology will be cheaper and more widely available.”

    In the old betamax/vhs wars, we all know that betamax was “better” but they lost anyway. This time, I’m not sure the belts are really that much better.

  4. SFHope says:

    Late to the game on this post, but thought I’d point out a couple of things…

    Belt drive skipping can be minimized in a couple of ways. The first way is to have a belt that stretches as little as possible — stretching is the core cause of skips. The second way is to use teeth that increase friction when they start to pop.

    Tsubakimoto makes some very good high end belts that have both of these features.

    The third feature that helps is a belt-snubber. Basically a little wheel that rides just above the surface of the belt that prevents it from coming out. If your bike skips, the snubber might not be adjusted to the proper height above the belt. (Essentially it should ride as close to the belt as you can get it without actually touching it).

    I have some belt-drive bikes, but I’m actually quite partial to shaft-drive ones. Entirely enclosed and nothing that can eat your shoelaces.

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