Rear wheel chain sprockets

Traditional Chain or Modern Belt Drive?

Chances are, the ebike you are using has a chain, and every single bike you have ever ridden in the past has had a chain from the pedals to the sprockets on the back wheel. It is a simple well-designed system of driving a bicycle and has been around for well over one-hundred years with very little change.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

The main reason there has been very little innovation and change to the traditional drive system for bicycles is the fact it works well, it is easy to manage, and costs are minimal. On a well-maintained bicycle, a chain will last for years before a replacement may be necessary. If you do need a new chain, virtually every bike vendor will have them in stock, reasonably priced.

Chains are efficient, virtually all the power you put into the pedals, or all of the power from a crank drive motor, goes to the rear wheel via the chain. Chains work with derailleur gears, or hub gears. Chains are fantastic…

Until they break

Which can be a disaster if you are somewhere remote. Of course, they can be fixed easily if you are proficient enough with bicycle maintenance, and have the tools with you, though it can be a dirty oily job even on a good day weather-wise. If you are not proficient, then you are walking home, or waiting by the side of the road till someone comes to pick you up.

Traditional bike chain

But chains are strong

A chain is made of metal links, it is strong and durable, and dependable. Gears are easy to change in a cycle with a chain, and faults developing with a chain are easily fixed with either new links, or a replacement chain. The main downsides to having a chain driven ebike is the cleaning and oiling of the chain. It can be a dirty and messy business, but is necessary if you want the chain to work well and last.

Has the chain finally had its day?

The new kid on the block is the belt drive, and it has several major advantages over a chain:

You won’t have to oil a belt. It won’t rust, and the links won’t stiffen and seize through lack of lubrication, a belt has no links.

Your clothes are safe from oil stains. A belt is clean and dry.

Belts are maintenance free, fit and forget. If you find cycle maintenance a chore, you will love belt driven ebikes.

Belts are lighter than chains

Belts are quieter than chains.

Belts don’t stretch unlike chains which lengthen as they wear.

Since the belt is not metal, it will cause minimal wear to sprockets.

A belt will give the same performance over time.

Eventually, a belt may snap, but this will be over a time span of several snapped chains. Belts are resilient and lasting.

Belts are a fantastic innovation and a great step forward, but they will not replace the chain which has proven its worth over the years.

Photo curtesy of Keanu @ no:wp – Belt-drive. © CC BY-SA 3.0

See also: Gearing on Ebikes and Ebike Motor Choice

Chain or Belt?

A belt, like a chain, is a loop that connects the pedal sprocket to the rear wheel sprocket, and continuously rotate around both, transferring power from the pedals and mid-drive motor, to the rear wheel. That is its only role. A belt is a clean and smooth piece of light synthetic rubber/plastic reinforced material, a chain is many metal links joined together, oily and noisy at times, especially during gear changing. A belt is modern, a chain traditional. Chain driven cycles are the mainstream, they work well with derailleur gears, belt driven cycles won’t. Belt driven cycles tend to be on the more expensive side of the market, so if you decide to opt for a belt driven ebike, be prepared to pay a bit more. Belt drives either have no gearing, hub gears, or gearing integrated with the motor.

Photo curtesy AndrewDressel Belt-drive multi-speed rear hub gear © CC BY-SA 3.0

Summary

If you are in the market for a new ebike, then think carefully about what kind of drive you want. Be prepared to pay more for an ebike with a belt drive. These tend to be fitted on ebikes with mid drive motors with internally geared hubs. As a package, this tends to be on the more expensive side of the market.

A traditional chain driven cycle has proved its worth though, for over 100 years, and in reality, the maintenance required is little to keep a chain running smooth and efficient. With derailleur gears, you have a proven combination that will provide you with few problems over the life of the cycle with regular maintenance.

If cutting edge is what you require, and you have the budget, then go for the belt driven ebike. Whatever ebike you go for though, chain or belt, both will serve you well.

28 JUN 2021

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