Thanks to their simplicity, belt drive bikes are a sensible choice for commuters and recreational riders, With no grease marks, improved durability and incredibly low upkeep – we’re left wondering why they aren’t more popular.
If you’re seeking a set-and-forget city bike and assuming the budget allows, a belt-drive bike won’t disappoint. In this article, we give 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 2018.
Chain Versus Belt
A belt drive system carries a number of benefits over a traditional chain based drivetrain, which makes them 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 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 it 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, there are some drawbacks that need to be considered.
The first is that carbon belts typically can't be broken and re-installed like a normal 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 which limits 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 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 their chain equipped counterparts.
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 so are more than capable of being ridden hard.
Our Picks for 2018
Below (in no particular order) are what we deem some of the best belt drive bikes to be had in 2018. We’d normally narrow down the field to a set dollar value, but given the somewhat limited options available outside of Europe, we've picked a variety of popular options for you to consider.
Lekker Amsterdam Elite
A stylish commuter bike that aims to blend Dutch cycling heritage with Australian culture, the Amsterdam Elite is pitched as Lekker's flagship commuter bike with an impressive list of features.
The rust-free aluminium frame features a short reach to put riders in an upright position, wide wheelbase for stability, internal cable routing, and mounts for pannier racks to carry bulky items. A Shimano Nexus internal gear hub provides a good range of gears that would rival a traditional 10-12 speed derailleur gear system. The Gates carbon belt drive system is used along with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and 25mm wide Thickslick rubber. For more information, read our review of the Lekker Amsterdam Elite.
Focus Planet Belt Plus
The Planet range from Focus is designed with city riding in mind, take one look at the feature list and it's easy to see why.
Robust 35c Continental tyres provide ample grip whilst Shimano hydraulic disc brakes provide consistent braking performance in all weather conditions. The bike comes equipped with mudguards and lights for riding in poor weather conditions and at night, while an almost maintenance-free belt drive system finishes it off. This is one commuter that’s sure to tick more than a few boxes on a prospective buyers’ list.
Sadly the 2018 belt drive model is not available in Australia, but a quick search around (hint: try BikeExchange) shows that a number of 2017 options still remain available in bike shops across the country. Happy hunting!
BMC Alpenchallenge 01 Alfine 11
The most expensive bike on this list, the Alpenchallenge 01 is a sophisticated belt drive bike that features clean lines that are complimented 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 11-speed rear hub to provide a wide spread of gears. Hydraulic disc brakes take care of the slowing, in this case, provided by Shimano. While large 28c Continental tyres are sure to provide confidence inspiring grip in all weather conditions.
Kalkhoff Endeavour 8
Kalkhoff is a German manufacturer specialising in innovative and premium commuter bikes, and so it's no surprise they've paired a number of stylish steeds with the simplicity of the belt drive system.
The Endeavour 8 is a mid-range commuter option that packs a range of impressive features into its price point. To start, Shimano hydraulic disc brake have been paired with an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub out back. A “be seen” LED headlight features on the front of the bike, whilst a LED taillight can be found out back. Add to this front and rear fender, a heavy duty rear rack and of course, a Gates belt drive system, and the Endeavour 8 presents all the hallmarks of a super-commuter with a mid-range price tag.
Cannondale Bad Boy 1
The Bad Boy range of commuter bikes from American innovators, Cannondale, is one of the better-known family of bikes to appear on this list. Renowned for its in-your-face and blacked-out styling, mixed with its any road capability, the Bad Boy 1 is a trendsetter amongst super commuters.
Featuring 8 gears out back courtesy of Shimano’s flagship Alfine internal gear hub, and with beefy Magura 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 Schwalbe G-One 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 Alfine 8-speed hub ensures the INC 2 is as silent as it is low on maintenance. Finished off with mechanical disc brakes, mudguards and grippy Continental rubber, the INC 2 needs nothing more than a capable set of lights, and a willing rider in the saddle.
Marin Fairfax SC6 DLX
The SC6 DLX sits atop of the Fairfax family of bikes in Marin’s premier “sports commuter” range. The SC6 sees an aluminium frame mated to a lightweight and vibration-absorbing carbon fibre fork, a premium touch not typically found on utilitarian bikes. Fender, rack and kickstand mounts are also provided, and with accessories already attached.
The groupset is courtesy of Shimano in the form of its stellar Alfine 11sp internal geared hub. The gear range on offer is similar to what you’d find with a 2x9 (18 speed) derailleur geared group and is complemented by capable hydraulic disc brakes. Powered by the Shimano Alfine dynamo front hub, a Supernova E3 Pure 3 headlight is paired with an E3 tail light to give riders an additional layer of safety out riding. 32c wide Schwalbe tyres wrapped around sleek looking alloy rims round out this super commuter build. For more information, check out our review of the 2017 Marin Fairfax SC6 check out our review.
Cube HYDE Pro
The Hyde Pro, from German outfit Cube is designed to be a true urban lifestyle bike for riders who appreciate style as much as they do function.
A tried and tested 8 speed Shimano Nexus hub serves up all the gears you need while demanding almost nothing in the way of maintenance. Hydraulic Shimano disc brakes provide powerful, easy to control stopping in any weather condition and are aided by large 29x2.15” Schwalbe rubber. A sleek rigid fork rounds out the build that sees the Hyde Pro balancing speed, comfort, convenience, and style.
Sadly for Australian readers, the Hyde Pro is only available throughout Europe and the UK.
- Price: EUR849
Tern Verge S8i
The Verge S8i is an ultra-versatile, low-maintenance bike courtesy of folding bike specialists Tern.
Constructed from hydroformed aluminium and weighing in at a claimed 14kg, the Verge is said to fold up or fold out in just 10 seconds. Making it a cinch to keep under a desk at work, snuck onto a busy train or kept neatly tucked away when not in use.
Featuring a Gates belt drive system mated with Shimano’s 8-speed internal-gear Alfine hub, the Verge is a super-portable, super-commuter with 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 20in wheels wrapped in wide Schwalbe Big Apple tyres, it’s sure you to get you to work, or to the cafe quickly, safely, and cleanly.
- Price: AUD$3210
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