Last year my Eli, Joe, Drew and I took a trip to Elijay for some fantastic mountain biking at Mulberry Gap. While there we checked out Cartecay Bikes where the crew became enamored with Belt Drive Bikes. Gates makes a carbon, (It would have to be carbon wouldn’t it) belt drive system as an alternative to chain and cog to power a bike. The Gates system is called CenterTrack because it uses one center guide to keep the belt on.
So the benefits of a belt drive are pretty sweet, it doesn’t need lube, it won’t rust, it should last a long time, it’s quieter though I doubt you’d notice that. The drawbacks are equally sour, the frame must provide access to the rear triangle, since the belt must pass through it and the belt can’t be broke and reconnected like a chain. The belt can’t be used with any kind of derailleur system, but it can be used with an internal hub.
So single speeders like the idea that their bikes are pretty much bomb proof, belt drive single speeders like the idea that their bikes are bomb proof and maintenance proof as well. Eli was sold and built up a Spot, which is a steel single speed 29er frame designed to be used with a belt drive. Joe bought a pre built Redline Monobelt, another steel framed single speed bike designed for a belt.
So how did it work out? Eli had much more success with his bike then Joe. On the first ride Joe did with any mud his belt broke. The shop replaced the parts be after that he wasn’t too keen on riding the bike and took out his Monocog.
Eli’s belt performed well for well over a 1000 miles. He took it to the Great West when he took Luke to Canada so he could do the Tour Divide. The bike was bomb proof, for awhile. It began throwing the belt off regularly and finally cut the belt at about 1400 miles, I think that was about 8 or 9 months of riding for Eli.
Meanwhile Joe loaned his Monocog to Drew, who rode it steadily for around two months. He found that he was riding this simple steel single speed better then his titanium Rohloff geared hub super bike. Unfortunately the belt broke again.
Eli checked out the belt pulleys that replaces the cog and chainring of a standard chain drive system and found that his had worn… alot. Some of the teeth on his pulleys had worn down in the middle leaving sharp edges that appear to have cut the belt. Joe had the same kind of wear.
Gates has replaced the belt drive system on Eli’s bike but he’s opted to stick with a chain instead. In an email Gates told Eli that the belts weren’t installed right or tensioned correctly. Joe returned his bike to the shop and requested them to kit it out with a chain drive.
My thoughts on the matter: Mountain biking exposed the belt and pulleys to all kind of grit, mud, rocks, dirt and stuff. The aluminum pulleys aren’t tough enough to stand up to the constant grind. Even an errant rock could cut the belt and then it needs to be replaced, at about 5x the cost of a chain. The belt drive is probably a pretty good idea for a city commuter type bike thoughts not going to get in the mud, or rode hard, but even then the benefits are pretty laughable, how hard is to to lube a bike chain every now and again?
Joe later went on to say of the whole belt drive experiment that they sold him a solution to a problem he didn’t even know he had, and the solution was worse then the problem.