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Chain Vs Belt Drive on Electric Bikes - Which is Best?

If you've been thinking about purchasing your first electric bike or perhaps wanting to upgrade, you may have come across e-Bikes with a belt drive rather than a chain. But what is the difference between them?

We're here to guide you.

what is a belt drive?

A belt drive e-Bike is an excellent option for those looking to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors. The belt drive uses nylon teeth on its synchronous belt, which is reinforced with carbon fibres, paired up nicely with stainless steel cogs and alloy chainrings.

The result is an incredibly clean, tough, and long-lasting drive system that requires very little maintenance, and this is the same belt technology used for motorcycles and auto racing engines.

Belts-driven electric bikes are popular among commuters for their low maintenance requirements and cleanliness. Bike Tourists are switching to belt drives due to their long maintenance intervals, meaning more time to explore.

Gates© Carbon Drive System

belt drive pros

  • Belt drives are practically maintenance-free. You don't need to lubricant them or adjust them periodically. All they need is a quick scrub; if they get caked with dirt and mud, the belt drive will keep working. 
  • A well-maintained belt drive can endure 3-5 times longer than a chain drive. A single belt uses around 20,000 miles, while chains have a limited lifespan of 3000-5000 miles.
  • Eliminate dirty hands. Belt drives do not require cleaning or oiling, which means cleaner hands and more time to enjoy your adventures. Bikes with belts are less likely to get caked with mud or sand since they are not lubricated.
  • Belt drives operate almost silently, which allows you to hear the birds, cars, the wind, and everything going on around.
  • The belt only weighs about 87g. A standard bike chain typically weighs around 300g. There's less gear that you have to carry. For example, while touring with a belt drive, you don't need to take extra equipment, which cuts a significant amount of weight from your toolkit.
  • The carbon belt is one continuous loop. In terms of simplicity, the belt has no moving parts. If you want gears, you'll need an internal gear hub (this adds complexity compared to derailleurs).
  • Belts don't stretch or wear like chains, so they don't need to be replaced often. On the other hand, chains tend to expand and deteriorate with time. They also degrade at different rates than cassette and chainrings as they wear down.
  • Carbon drive belts are corrosion free and made from modern synthetic materials such as nylon and carbon fibre. Because these materials are rust-free, belt drives are an excellent choice for locations where corrosion is common, such as along the sea.

Analog Motion Carbon Drive E-Bike

belt drive cons

  • Belts are only compatible with an internal gear hub or a single speed and are not compatible with derailleurs because the belt cannot run at an angle, limiting your drivetrain options.
  • Belt drive compatible bike frames must have a split in the rear triangle; this is necessary because a belt is one continuous loop and cannot be split apart like a chain. Another consideration when choosing a belt drive frame is stiffness.
  • You may replace your belt and sprockets for the price of a whole new derailleur. A replacement belt will set you anywhere from £65 to £80. A new front and rear sprocket will cost around £50-£65 each. The costs are similar because a belt drive lasts far longer than a chain drive.
  • Belts can reduce the size or width of your tyres; this might cause clearance problems. If your tyre or rim is too large, the belt may rub against it. Some frames limit the width of your tyres due to this.
  • Belt compatibility with full-suspension bikes is an issue because most bike suspension systems change the effective chainstay length as they compress. Belts must stay at the same tension and cannot tolerate this movement.

Traditional Chain Drive

chain drive pros

  • The chain is the most popular bike drive system; it doesn't require unusual features like a split frame, tensioner mechanism, or greater stiffness.
  • A chain-driven bike is the best if you're on a budget. A new chain is about £15-£25, a replacement cassette costs roughly £25 to £50, and a chainring costs around £20 to £95. Replacement of all three for less than the cost of a single carbon belt is possible. Derailleurs are less expensive than internal gear hubs because they don't require gears.
  • Chains, freewheels, cassettes, and chainrings are all available from any cycle shop. You can usually locate a replacement for your chain or a worn-out cog just about anywhere.
  • Chains are simple to change. If you decide to use a different size chainring, you must lengthen or shorten your chain as needed. There are a limited number of distinct length chains available.
  • Chains are easy to service and replace. Every bike mechanic knows how to set up a traditional chain drive. A belt drive is a bit more modern and complex.
  • Bike chains rarely catastrophically fail, but if the chain breaks, you can remove a few links and limp your way to the nearest bike shop. If you do this, you might need to run single speed, but at least you can continue riding. A chain tool will be required to make this repair.

Lombardo Valderice WM

chain drive cons

  • To keep your chain running smoothly, you must keep it clean; this involves removing the grease and dirt and applying some new lube. It's about a 10-15 minute job. A casual cyclist must clean and lube their bike chain about weekly. Belts operate pretty much maintenance-free.
  • An average bike chain typically lasts around 3,000-5,000 miles. Every time you change your chain, you'll probably have to replace your cassette. Belt drives can last 10,000-20,000 miles before a replacement is required. One way to extend the life of your chain drivetrain is to swap chains around 500 miles or so.
  • As chains wear, they tend to "stretch." This stretching is the loss of material on the chain from wear. As chains wear out, they become loose, reducing tension and leading to slippage. Cogs can also wear down to the point that the chain doesn't fit quite right. By not cleaning and lubing the chain often also enough reduces efficiency.
  • The metal chain running against metal cogs will make some noise. Shifting gears also produce a bit of noise. The noise is amplified if the chain is worn, dirty, or out of adjustment. Belt drives are almost silent. A perfectly cleaned and adjusted chain can also be quiet.
  • Metal chains tend to rust, particularly common if you ride near the ocean or during the winter in an area that salts the roads.
  • Chains have a lot of moving parts. A bent or clogged component can render your chain useless. Each link includes pins, outer plates, inner plates, and rollers.