When it comes to e-bikes, there are two main kinds of drive systems: belt drives and chain drives. Which one is better, and what are the pros and cons of each? Which one is better suited for you?
Chains are cheaper, easier to replace, and more efficient at low power outputs. However, they also require more maintenance and wear out quicker. Belt drives, on the other hand, are more expensive and more difficult to replace. However, they are quieter and don’t require maintenance.
This article will explain, in a simple and non-confusing manner, the differences between the two drive systems and how to decide which one is for you, if you have the choice while shopping for a new ebike or a used one or working on your own ebike conversion kit. If you want to find out and learn more, read on.
What Is the Most Common Drive System for Ebikes?
The most common drive system uses a chain to drive power to the wheels. This type of drive system has been in use for at least a century. Most bicycles, electric bikes, and motorcycles use chains, and it may be the only kind of drive system you have personally seen. However, other kinds of drive systems exist, and the belt drive is among the most well-known alternatives to the chain drive.
What Other Drive Systems Exist for Ebikes?
Other drive systems include the belt drive, which uses a belt instead of a chain. The belt drive uses a belt made out of a single part instead of a chain, which is made up of many parts. The belt will have small grooves to fit into the two pulleys – one on the gearbox and one on the wheel.
While belt drives are probably most common after chain drives, there are some other types of drive systems out there as well. These include shaft drive, string drive, treadle drive, and direct drive, though these are not common (except direct drive, used for unicycles).
Pros and Cons of Chain Drives for Ebikes
This section will discuss the pros and cons of using a standard chain drive.
- They are cheaper: Chain drives are generally cheaper than less common belt drives.
- They are common and easy to find: If you need to replace your chain, you can find a new chain ebike chain, online or at your local bike shop. If you need to replace a belt-drive, you will have a harder time finding one.
- Compatible with most bikes: Chains are compatible with most bikes, regardless of the kind of motor or frame they have, however some ebike require a special stronger chain. Belts, on the other hand, are not compatible with certain bikes. For example, belts are not compatible with derailleur gears.
- You can take them apart: Since chains are made up of many parts, it is easy to take them apart. On the other hand, it is impossible to take a belt drive apart, so you will have to take apart the frame instead of removing it or replacing it.
- You can fix a broken chain: If a chain snaps, you can always fix it. A belt drive comes in one piece, so it is damaged for good if the belt snaps.
- They can rust: Belt drives don’t rust as chains do, making it more of an issue to ride your bike in the rain or park it outside.
- They wear out quicker: Chains simply are not as durable as belts.
- They can be loud: Chains make more noise than belts due to the chains’ material and the many parts involved. They can squeak and make other annoying noises.
- They require more maintenance: Chains require a lot more maintenance. You have to clean them often and apply wet or dry lube to ensure they keep running smoothly. You also have to check for rust and make sure the chain isn’t worn out.
Pros and Cons of Belt Drives for Ebikes
This section will go over the advantages and disadvantages of using belt drives.
- Less maintenance is required: Belt drives simply require less maintenance. You don’t have to oil and lube the belt like you have to with a chain. For the most part, you can just leave the belt as it is, and it will continue to work great.
- They last longer: Belts wear out much slower than chains. Belts can last between 5 and 10 times as long as chains. This means that although belts are more expensive initially, you may end up spending less in the long run due to not having to replace them as often (and not having to buy lube).
- They are quiet: Since belts are made of rubber instead of metal, they don’t make as much noise. If you enjoy peaceful, quiet rides in the morning while enjoying nature and the birds’ singing, you may want to opt for a belt drive.
- They stay on the bike: if you’ve biked a lot, you may have experienced a chain falling off the bike. This won’t happen with a belt; you won’t have to stop on the side of the road to put your chain back on.
- They are lighter: Chains are heavier than belts. Belts weigh down your electric bike a lot less than chains. Also, you won’t have to carry around lube on long trips just in case your chain needs lubing.
- They are more expensive: As mentioned, belt drives are more expensive than chain drives. This is due not only to the actual drive being more expensive to produce but also because they require certain gearboxes. If your belt does snap or get worn out, it will be more expensive to replace it.
- They are harder to replace: It will be harder to find a replacement for your belt, especially if you are on the road and go to the nearest store. It is also harder to replace a belt because, as mentioned, you can not simply take it apart. You will have to take apart the frame instead. If you are in a more rural area, it may be even harder to find a replacement.
- They can be less efficient: This varies. Belt drives are more efficient than chain drives at high power outputs and when going up inclines. However, at standard or low power outputs, which is most likely what you will be using if you are doing city riding, belt drives are less efficient than chain drives.
So, Which Is Better for You?
It is hard to say which drive system is better, as both have their pros and cons. If you are on a budget, consider sticking to standard chain drives. You may have to replace them more often, and you may have to spend more on maintenance, but the cost of maintaining and replacing chains is not very high. On the other hand, if you get a belt and it does break, you will have to spend more money to replace it.
On the other hand, if you want to try something new, have a larger budget, and are tired of constantly cleaning your dirty, grimy chain and getting lube all over yourself and your garage floor, consider going for a belt drive. This also applies if you are tired of constantly putting your chain back on when it falls off or replacing it when it wears out or snaps.
This YouTube video provides a great summary of the pros and cons of each type of drive system:
However, keep in mind that if you already own an e-bike, it may not be compatible with a belt drive system. You may have to get a new e-bike for that.