Trek's belt drive bikes that were unveiled last August at Trek World are getting quite a bit of press this week in an AP story. The Trek Soho and District city bikes come in a belt drive version that's getting a lot of interest from consumers and the story is now at CNN:
Trek Bicycle is part of a movement to bury the finger-pinching, pants-munching, rust-prone sprocket and chain, and usher in an era of belt-driven bikes that might have the inventors of the self-propelled transportation Schwinning in their graves.
Wisconsin-based Trek is introducing two models this holiday season that are chainless, instead using technology most often found in things like motorcycles and snowmobiles. While some smaller custom bike makers have used them before, Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.
I'm a big fan of belt drive bicycles -- no mess, and little fuss. What are your thoughts? Better than chains? Do they work well for fast riding, or should they be limited to slower, urban and utility riding or even for folding bikes like this Abio?
Another method that's sometimes used to reduce maintenance and mess is the use of a shaft drive. What about shaft drive bikes like this Biria Newport? Is a shaft drive a realistic way to get the wheels moving on a bicycle?
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These are all different ways of doing the same thing and each has its own advantages/disadvantages for different uses.
I don't think belt drives will take over fast riding anytime soon, since (current) geared hubs can't really compete with derailleur systems when it comes to gears, weight, and cost.
For someone like my dad, who owns a hybrid for exercise, getting rid of the messy chain that requires regular maintenance would be a good move. He can't even keep his tires properly inflated.
Shaft drives are cool too, but still rely on geared hubs plus they have an efficiency loss compared to chains.
I'd buy a bike with any of the three, provided that the drive-system was matched with how I intend use the bike.
I'm hesitant to jump on the belt-drive bandwagon. I'm a clydesdale with gear mashing tendencies. That means I'm pretty tough on drive train parts. Maybe I'd consider a belt drive in a few years if they seem to be working out for others, but chains are just too well proven for me to give up on.
As far as taking it easy on a bike goes, though, I've never been able to do it for more than a couple of minutes, regardless of how relaxed my intentions are. If I'm physically able to skip the thing I probably would every time I see a green light in the distance, or find a gap in traffic.
I've seen comparisons between this belt-drive system and the belt drives on Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycles...the comparison being that if those high-powered motorcycles can use a slip-free belt, it will probably be PLENTY strong enough for us mere meat-powered mortals.
I'd love to try one...coupled with an IGH like an Alfine or i9 or Speedhub, we might really have something practical, clean and low-maintenance for commuters and other urban cyclists.
Oh, and shaft drives: I've spent some time on one (Dynamic Crosstown 7) and was really surpised/pleased by the experience, but on the other hand I've heard lots of assorted horror stories from other users.
Has no one in America heard of the Mercedes Benz bicycle? About 2 decades ago they were selling belt-driven bicycles in Europe, complete with disc brakes and cables running inside the frames. They were retailing for about $1,800 then. The owners I talked with swore they were the greatest.
There must an efficiency loss in going from chain to belt, so this is an engineering step back. Still, it may find its niche in the market on considerations other than efficiency - personally I doubt it will take off in volume.
Trek is just a marketing company. They do this bike to draw attention, not because it works or is better. 1.The belts break. Saw it my own eyes @ Interbike. 2.They have very high drag. The frictional loss is big! 3.To install or replace the continuous belt, the frame must come apart, usually at the dropout. This means a new frame, not a retro fit. 4.The bike industry invented the chain the way we know it, a hundred years ago.And it is still the most efficient energy transfer method known.
When you change a chain, you use a tool to remove a pin, and the chain is no longer a loop. However, with belt drives, the belt is a loop...unbroken. Therefore, the bicycle frame must have a slot to insert the belt. You cannot replace a chain (and modest components) with a belt drive system. The use of a belt requires a unique frame.
Trek is not the first company to offer a belt drive system on a mass produced bicycle. Bridgestone, the famous tire company also happens to make bicycles and they offered a belt driven bike that was mass produced way back in the early 80's. I took a couple of pictures of my 1983 Picnica folding bike incase your curious what I'm talking about;)
Hi Yokota Fritz, I used my own flickr page to host those 3 pics so the rest of the page is just filled with my own personal pics.
It's a bit difficult to find info on the belt drive Bridgestone Picnica because I believe it was only sold in the Japanese market. My father purchased this particular one in Japan back in 82 or 83. I'm pretty sure they sold the chain driven Picnica in the states though.
If you would like more pics or have any questions about the Picnica, let me know. PS, that sounds sort of like a Japanese/German sounding handle you got there, is there a meaning if you don't mind me asking? Cheers! Chris.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention what the naysayers feel about the the belt drives durability. Being that it's manufactured by an automotive timing belt company, I would think it's pretty durable.
Think of the extremes in temperature as well as the speed that a timing belt has to endure.