The carbon belt drive, rethinking the drive train

As ebikes gain popularity worldwide, our industry is forever propelling itself forward. Enter RETHINK, a series of articles where we highlight our own work and the industry players we admire who are re-imagining what e-mobility and the bicycle sector can do.

This time we feature the carbon belt drive, which was first developed for bicycles in the early 2000s. Since then, it has become a key component for the drivetrains of many top-end bicycles all over the world, evolving as a high-tech, rust-free, low-maintenance replacement for your typical bicycle chain.

Here’s a rundown of the history of the carbon belt drive, how it works and what the benefits are.

The History

Initially, carbon belt drives were most commonly found on motorcycles, in fact they appeared on motorcycles from as early as the beginning of the 20th century.

The concept was (and still is) simple - a lighter, more reliable drivetrain system which won’t rust and won’t need as much maintenance as your average chain system.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Gates launched its bicycle belt drive system, the first of its kind, and totally transformed the bicycle industry. Since then, Gates has been the leading player in belt drive technology, pushing the tech forwards with the development of over 150 belts of varying shapes and sizes.

How does it work?

Reinforced with multiple carbon fibre cords, carbon belts are made from a series of nylon teeth that grip onto the cogs by your pedals as you move.

Because they are not compatible with derailleurs, the most common mechanism for shifting gears, carbon belt drives are typically paired with gear hubs or crank-based gearboxes. The belt runs through the gear hub or box, slipping seamlessly from ratio to ratio.

At MODMO, we built a Gates carbon belt drive into our Saigon+ model, pairing it with an Enviolo gear hub for a beautifully smooth ride. You can read about the Enviolo hub here - it’s a brilliant piece of technology designed with an infinite number of gear ratios so that changing between gears is as intuitive and unburdened a process as possible.

What are the benefits of a belt drive system?

There are a number of benefits to using a carbon belt drive over the typical bicycle chain, although the chain remains the most common system on the modern bicycle and continues to be a reliable, powerful form of drivetrain.

Probably the best thing about the carbon belt though is how low-maintenance it is. Chains are easier to find and replace so they may make more sense for long distance or touring cyclists. But belts don’t need to be lubricated or de-greased, and they don’t rust. The most you may have to do is give your belt a scrub with a toothbrush and water from time to time.

There are other benefits too:

Lifespan

Your average belt drive will last upwards of 30,000km. Gates promises ”more than twice the life of a chain.” Because the carbon belt doesn’t stretch like a chain does, it lasts a lot longer before needing to be replaced.

Weight

The carbon belt drive is lighter than a chain simply because of the materials it is made from. This can mean an overall lighter bicycle, which in turn can make cycling easier for those who prefer a lighter load. The Gates belt drive weighs about 240g, which is half the weight of the average chain.

Smoother and softer

Finally, belts tend to provide a smoother ride than the average chain and are typically quieter, operating without the clicks and squeaks you would expect from the links of a chain.

Find out more!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Gates, the belt drive manufacturer we partner with, or about how their belt drive system works with our Saigon+ please feel free to visit our product pages.

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