Belt drive bikes are a sensible choice for commuters and recreational riders thanks to their simplicity, durability and incredibly low upkeep. If you are intrigued by a belt drive bike and contemplating purchasing one, we've had a look through some of the best options for 2017 and also given you a run down of the pros and cons of opting for a belt drive system.
Chain versus belt
A belt drive system has many benefits over the traditional chain based system that make it a great option for those who regularly ride in urban and city areas.
Belt drives are made from carbon fibre, making them strong, lightweight and rust-proof. A carbon belt drive doesn't wear the same way a chain does so it's lifespan is far greater, potentially twice as long as a typical chain. 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, and we've all been there. A spray of water is all it needs to be running smoothly making it practically maintenance free. And best of all, because there is no metal on metal contact, riding is 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 as they align and sit into the teeth of the front and rear sprockets (cassette and chain rings). Chain performance and reliability suffers when it wears.
As good as a belt drive system sounds, there are some drawbacks that need to be considered.
The first is that carbon belts can't be broken and re-installed like a normal chain. Belt drive bikes need to have specially designed frames referred to as a 'split frame' so that the belt can be installed. If you do try to retro-fit an existing frame it will void the manufacturer's warranty so it's best to stick to purpose-built frames.
Belt drives are also limited to single-cog use and run in a straight line, which, means either a single-speed or an internally geared hub are the only two drivetrain options available.
And because belt drive bikes are not all that common outside of Europe, finding parts or locations for repair can be a harder task than with conventional drivetrain systems. Likewise, economies of scale certainly plays a part and so belt drive bikes are typically priced at a premium over more chain-equipped bikes.
What type of riding can you do?
As mentioned, 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 teeth sheds mud, dirt, and other debris making them functional for mountain biking and riding in the snow. And one of the most common systems, the Gates Carbon Drive System, meets or exceeds the same maximum load industry standards required by chain drive systems so they are more than capable of being ridden hard. The question is whether the available gearing options are suitable for the kinds of terrain you intend on riding.
The best 2017 options
Below are some of the best belt drive bikes for 2017. We normally narrow down the field to a set dollar value, but in this case, limited choices of imported options into Australia means we've picked a variety of options for you to consider.
Lekker Amsterdam Elite - AUD$1,598
We recently reviewed the Lekker Amsterdam Elite, a stylish commuter bike that aims to blend Dutch cycling heritage with Australian culture. It is pitched as Lekker's flagship commuter bike with an impressive list of features.
The 100% rust-free aluminium frame features a short reach to put riders in an upright position, wide wheel base for stability, internal cable routing, and mounts for pannier racks to carry large, heavy items. The internal NuVinci N330 gear hub provides a good range of gears that a 10-12speed derailleur gear system would typically offer and the popular Gates carbon belt drive system is used along with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and generous 28mm tyres.
Focus Planet Belt Plus - AUD$1,799
The Planet range from Focus was designed with city riding in mind, and one look at the features it's easy to see why. Continental provides large, robust 35c tyres; Shimano provides hydraulic disc brakes for consistent performance in all weather conditions; it comes equipped with mudguards and lights for riding in poor weather conditions and in the dark; and as we've said, they'll be no oil or grease marks on your pants thanks to the Gates belt drive system.
BMC Alpenchallenge 01 Alfine 11 - AUD$3,499
The Alpenchallenge from BMC is a sophisticated looking belt drive bike with a phantom grey colourway and clean lines throughout. 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. The popular Gates belt drive system is used along with a Shimano Alfine 11 rear hub to provide a good spread of gears. Hydraulic disc brakes are once again the system of choice, in this case, provided by Shimano and paired with large 28c Continental tyres that will provide confidence in all weather conditions.
Kalkhoof Integrale i8 - AUD$5,999
Kalkhoof is a German manufacturer specialising in innovative and premium commuter bikes, and so it's no surprise they've paired the environmentally friendly, easy to ride qualities of the e-bike with the low-maintenance, and simplicity of the belt drive system.
The Integrale i8 is a premium commuter option with a list of outstanding features. To start with the engine is the 'Impulse Evo RS' with 250-watt capacity, paired with an Impulse Evo Smart display that has Bluetooth, a USB charging socket, navigation and can even interface with your smartphone. It also features Shimano hydraulic disc brake, twin headlights, front and rear fenders, a heavy duty rear rack and of course, a Gates belt drive system. A full battery provides a distance range of 205km, which for most would means days on end without requiring a charge.