A sensible choice for commuters and recreational riders, belt drive bikes are becoming the weapon of choice for commuters and recreational cyclists alike. We’re left wondering why they aren't more popular with no grease marks, improved durability, and incredibly low upkeep.
If you're seeking a set-and-forget city bike and assuming the budget allows, a belt-drive bike won't disappoint. This article gives you a rundown of the pros and cons of opting for a belt drive system and go through what we deem some of the best belt drive bikes on offer for 2019.
Chain Versus Belt
A belt drive system carries several benefits over a traditional chain based drivetrain, making it an excellent option for those who regularly ride in urban and city areas.
Belt drives are made from carbon fibre, making them durable, lightweight and rust-proof. A carbon belt drive doesn't wear the same way a chain does, so its lifespan can be up to twice as long as a typical chain. Additionally, carbon belts don't need to be oiled or lubricated like a chain, meaning there's no chance of oil and grease patches on your pants. A spray of water is all that’s needed to be kept running smoothly, making it practically maintenance-free, super smooth and virtually silent.
By comparison, a bicycle chain is a series of interlocking metal pieces that articulate. These individual pieces require lubrication to reduce metal on metal friction. Chain performance and reliability suffer when it wears.
As good as a belt drive system sounds, some drawbacks need to be considered.
The first is that carbon belts typically can't be broken and re-installed like a regular chain. Belt drive bikes will feature specially designed frames referred to as a "split frame" so that the belt can be installed.
Belt drives are also limited to single-cog out back to run in a straight line, limiting drivetrain options to either single-speed or an internally geared hub. In other words, a belt drive cannot be used with traditional derailleur gear systems.
Additionally, as belt drive bikes are not all that common outside of Europe, finding parts or locations for repair can be more laborious than conventional drivetrain systems. Likewise, economies of scale certainly play a role. As such, belt drive bikes are priced at a premium over their chain equipped counterparts more often than not.
What Type of Riding Can You Do?
Belt drive bikes are perfect for commuting, but they can also be found on mountain bikes, e-bikes, stationary and fitness bikes. The design of the belt means that the teeth are efficient in shedding mud, dirt, and other debris, making them functional for mountain biking and riding in the snow.
The most popular belt drive system available is the Gates Carbon Drive System. The system meets and typically exceeds the same maximum load industry standards required by chain drive systems and is more than capable of being ridden hard.
Bikes to Consider
Below (in no particular order) are what we deem some of the best belt drive bikes on the market right now. We'd typically narrow down the field to a set dollar value. Still, given the somewhat limited options available outside of Europe, we've picked various popular options for you to consider.
BMC Alpenchallenge 01 ONE
The Alpenchallenge 01 ONE is a sophisticated belt drive bike that features clean lines complemented by a sleek phantom grey colourway. From a functional point of view, it ticks all the boxes too, featuring a triple butted aluminium frame and fork, internal cable routing, and hidden fender mounts that BMC says can be installed or removed in less than a minute.
A Gates belt drive system is used in conjunction with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed rear hub to provide a wide spread of gears. Hydraulic disc brakes take care of the slowing, in this case, provided by Shimano. At the same time, large 28c Continental tyres are sure to deliver confidence-inspiring grip in all weather conditions.
Lekker Amsterdam M2 Elite
A stylish commuter bike that aims to blend Dutch cycling heritage with Australian culture, the Elite M2 is the latest iteration of the Amsterdam commuter bike from Lekker. It is home to an impressive list of features.
The rust-free aluminium frame features a short reach to put riders in an upright position, a wide wheelbase for stability, internal cable routing, and mounts for pannier racks to carry bulky items. An 8-Speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub provides a good range of gears that rival a traditional 10-12 speed derailleur gear system. The Gates carbon belt drive system is used with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and 47mm wide versatile 650b WTB tyres.
n+ Mercedez-Benz EQ Silver Arrows
Relative newcomers to the stacked mid-range e-bike market and true disruptors [n+] feature here with their flagship offering, the Silver Arrows E-Bike. Finished in a premium, hand-polished brushed aluminium frame combined with concealed dual batteries that deliver a claimed range of 100km.
Handling has been an essential consideration in the design of this steed. By mounting the power unit and battery in the centre of the bike, the Mid Drive Torque-Sensing power unit delivers 50/50 weight distribution with the total bike weighing claimed to weigh in at a competitive 19kg.
Finally, the n+ Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows eBike offers world-class reliability with a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. The belt drive system is paired with a stepless automatic Enviolo rear hub, which provides a gear range that rivals a traditional 11-speed groupset.
Specialized Como SL 5
Sitting as the flagship option in the [Specialized] step-through urban e-bike range, the recently refreshed Como SL 5.0 is arguably the benchmark for urban e-bikes. Designed as a do-it-all town bike, the Como SL features a range of accessories as standard that requires nothing more than a rider to pilot it.
With up to 150km of range on offer (when paired with the optional range extender), a rear rack, frame-mounted front basket and an integrated lighting package, the Como is more than capable of running errands or getting riders from A to B around the clock.
Mechanically, the Como SL 5 uses Shimano’s flagship Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub, paired with hydraulic disc brakes. Double-wall alloy wheels shod with wide and puncture resistance 650b tyres finish off this stylish ride.
Cannondale Bad Boy 1
The Bad Boy range of commuter bikes from American innovators, Cannondale, is one of the better-known options to appear on this list. Renowned for its in-your-face and blacked-out styling, mixed with any road capability, the Bad Boy 1 is a trendsetter amongst super commuters.
Featuring eight gears out back courtesy of Shimano's flagship Alfine internal gear hub. With beefy Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, there's no shortage of gear range for going or stopping power when you need to. A 650b (aka, 27.5in) wheelset wrapped in 40mm wide WTB Byway rubber completes this capable build.
Avanti INC 2
Presenting as one of the best bang for your buck options on this list, the INC 2 from New Zealand outfit Avanti comes loaded with premium components at a not so premium price. Finished with integrated reflective features in its paintwork, the INC 2 serves as a fantastic option for those seeking a little more visibility on their low-light commute.
A Gates carbon belt drive system mated to an internal Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub ensures the INC 2 is as silent as it is low on maintenance. Finished off with mechanical disc brakes, a Syncros cockpit and grippy Kenda rubber, the INC 2 is well suited for the urban environment.
Marin Presidio 3
The most value-packed option on this list, the Presidio is American outfit, Marin’s dedicated commuter option, replacing the Fairfax we’ve covered on the BikeExchange Blog in the past. The Presidio has an aluminium frame and fork, with mounting points for fenders, rack, and kickstand also provided.
The groupset is courtesy of Shimano in its workhorse Nexus 8-speed internal geared hub. It is complemented by the Gates carbon belt drive and capable flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes. 32c wide puncture-resistant tyres wrapped around sleek looking alloy rims round out this solid commuter build.
Tern HSD S8i
The HSD S8i is an ultra-versatile, low-maintenance, cargo-friendly e-bike courtesy of folding bike specialists Tern.
Constructed from hydroformed aluminium, the HSD folds flat or fold out in just 15 seconds. It makes it a cinch to keep under a desk at work, sneak onto a busy train, or keep neatly tucked away when not in use.
Featuring a Gates belt drive system mated with Shimano's 8-speed internal-gear Nexus hub, a total load-lugging capacity of 60kg. The Verge is a super-portable super-commuter with electrical assistance and a gear range sure to get riders up any city incline. With lighting front and rear courtesy of Valo, an extra-long wheelbase for stability and a claimed range of 110km paired with a quality Bosch drive unit, it's sure to get you to work, the supermarket, or to the cafe quickly, safely, and cleanly.
- Price: AUD$6595
In the market for a new ride and don't know where to start? Check out our guide on How to Choose the Right Bike for more information