Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bycicle Drive System Comparison

There are a few choices on how you can push yourself along on a bike these days. I'm going to quickly run these down with their pros and cons.

Traditional Chain

This is the traditional type of drive found on 99% of the bikes out there.

  • Cheap with lots of competition
  • Parts are available anywhere
  • Every bike mechanic and probably a few of your friends know how to fix it
  • Rain or Snow requires prompt cleaning and lubrication or rust will form
  • requires periodic calibration/alignment/tensioning or gears don't mesh/switch properly
  • Your pans/skirt need protection from the drive system or you get dirty/torn clothing.


Currently only provided by Gates Corp.. This is an old technology from cars being applied to bicycles in recent years. Trek, Norco and a few smaller bike manufacturers are selling bikes with this.
  • Silent operation.
  • Almost zero maintenance required for any weather condition
  • Smooth feel
  • Less dirty as it doesn't required lubrication.
  • Expensive relative to chain
  • Can only be used with a single cog front/rear
  • requires "broken triangle" frame so you can pass the belt through
  • requires internal geared hub if you want more then one speed, which adds to the cost and repair complexity
  • Few shops have experience and probably less have spare parts. That being said, it's easy to work on and more durable than a chain so not a large issue

Shaft Drive

This is the most exotic of the drive systems. Most commonly found on certain Biomega bikes.
  • Sealed system against elements
  • Never have to worry about your pants/skirt getting dirty/caught.

  • Very expensive. The highest cost of this list
  • requires internal geared hub if you want more then one speed, which adds to the cost and repair complexity
  • Can only be used with the frame it came in. This is not a standard
  • mechanical loss due to bevel gears
  • Huge issue if you have a flat while riding. Requires disassembly to change tires.
  • Maybe one shop per city knows what to do with it. Parts are special order
  • Heaviest of the types


I recently purchased a new bike. I chose a traditional driven bike due to price and maintainability. Yes, it requires more care and attention, but it's all stuff I know how to do. The bike was also under $1k which is not going to happen with the other drive systems. That being said, if money had not been a factor, I would have gone with the Norco Ceres belt drive bike.