Bikes Fun & Games
Chainless bikes: becoming mainstream soon?
trekchainless.jpg

The non-chain on the new Trek Soho

It looks like Trek may succeed in making non-chain bikes mainstream. Via CNN:

Trek Bicycle is part of a movement to bury the finger-pinching, pants-munching, rust-prone sprocket and chain, and usher in an era of belt-driven bikes that might have the inventors of the self-propelled transportation Schwinning in their graves.

Wisconsin-based Trek is introducing two models this holiday season that are chainless, instead using technology most often found in things like motorcycles and snowmobiles. While some smaller custom bike makers have used them before, Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.

The largest U.S. domestic bike manufacturer is hoping to capitalize on a new group of urban pedal-pushers who are trading their cars for a more low-tech way to get around because of gas prices as well as health and environmental concerns.

the new belts are a low-maintenance solution to a chain, which has roughly 3,000 parts including all the links and connectors.

Aside from the whisper-quiet ride, the lighter and longer-lasting carbon-fiber composite belts won’t rust, can’t be cut, won’t stretch or slip and won’t leave grease marks around your ankles. A guard over the belt-drive and the construction of the system makes getting your pants stuck an unlikely scenario…

Trek’s far from the first to offer alternatives to chains on bikes;there’s a good overview of shaft-driven bikes on Wikipedia. At $900+, Trek’s take isn’t exactly inexpensive. If nothing else, they’ll be interesting to test-ride!

46 thoughts on “Chainless bikes: becoming mainstream soon?

  1. first thing that came to mid when i saw the pic: how do you switch gears? or is it only for the über-hip fixed-gear bikes?

  2. Must be a bear to change the belt, having to take the frame apart and all. Belts are quiet and have less friction than chains, and from what I see in the world of motorcycles, last longer than chains, which is a good thing if you have to disassemble the frame to change it.

  3. thank you trek for once again making bicycles harder to work on.

    the people who invent bikes and the people who have to do general maintenance are two entirely different groups.

  4. This is a major advancement in bicycles.

    There is less inertia with a belt compared to a chain, which means more power to the road. There is less overall weight, which all bike owners strive for. There would be less maintenance than a chain, not more, because it doesn’t stretch or require oil. It’s quiet and non-toxic.

    There is nothing “harder to work on” here.
    Toothed belts replaced timing chains in cars a long time ago.
    As a mechanic, I’d rather replace a belt than a greasy chain any day!

  5. This is a major advancement in bicycles.

    There is less inertia with a belt compared to a chain, which means more power to the road. There is less overall weight, which all bike owners strive for. There would be less maintenance than a chain, not more, because it doesn’t stretch or require oil. It’s quiet and non-toxic.

    There is nothing “harder to work on” here.
    Toothed belts replaced timing chains in cars a long time ago.
    As a mechanic, I’d rather replace a belt than a greasy chain any day!

  6. mrfixitrick: Any energy lost with the typical chain is going to be nominal compared to the energy required to move a 100lb body on the bicycle. I would figure more energy is used due to heavy pedals or the like than a chain.

  7. Oh, if you’re a mechanic, the amount of grease you encounter replacing a timing chain isn’t anything that should concern you since real mechanics constantly encounter greasy items in cars. That’s just the way it is.

  8. Simultaneously niche marketed, and marketed for the lazy, inept, or unaware. This will be built with obsolecence in mind, so no, it won’t last long. and, of course, there is the repair problem-a good chain can go forever, and any breakage can be solved easy. cleaning, grasing, with a decent chain are a snap. Plus, these are specialized-can’t be used with a derailleur-and internal hubs are quite expensive.

  9. For people who use their bikes as transportation, there’s an awful lot to like here.

    These comments contain a lot of ill-informed complaints, though.

    It is just not true that “a good chain can go forever”. The best chain, impeccably maintained, will still stretch over time and wear down the sprockets. Belts suffer from this much less. The belt and ‘sprockets’ will need to be maintained and replaced much much less frequently. As for belt installation, I suspect there’s a bridged split at the rear drop-out, to facilitate isntallation of a new belt.

    Internally geared hubs are becoming increasingly popular with bike commuters, if not with weekend cyclists commenting on blogs.

    Yes, internally geard hubs are more difficult to work on than derailluer systems. But, they also require far less maintenance since they are completely sealed. They weigh more and are less efficient than a well maintained derailleur system (though most aren’t well maintained), but for commuters and casual bicyclists, the loss is minor. Further, many (most? all?) internally geared hubs let you shift at rest or as you hammer up a hill– 2 benefits derailleur systems lack.

    Rohloff offers a 14 speed internal hub– enough to effectively remove the need for any other gearing. If you really need 28 speeds (you don’t), the new Hammer-Schmidt from SRAM is an internally geared system to give you 2 gears at the crank. Apparently, it’s not ideal for working with the Rohloff at the moment, due to the ratios, but the technology exists and is robust.

    The biggest drawbacks for those of us who aren’t weight obsessed racers are probably price and lack of flexibility in choosing your gearing. THen again, the vast majority of bicyclists just accept whatever gearing the manufacturer stuck on their bike.

    Speaking of price, it’s not that bad on this Trek. $900 is more than I want to spend, but for a complete quality bike it’s not too far out of line with the rest of the market. Take a look at what $900 gets you for an urban/commuter bike at REI, for instance.

  10. mrfixitrick – You said that “There is less overall weight, which all bike owners strive for.” Nope – some bike owners go for comfort, beauty, and style. I’ll take a heavier bike any day if it fits me better. And for some bikes (cargo bikes come to mind) strength is much more important than weight.

    That said, I love seeing innovation on bicycles. Not that belt drives are particularly new, but I love bikes in all their variation, and bringing things like this to the mainstream is great.

  11. As presented, this system compromises a lot of what makes bikes so wonderfully hackable as they are now. This system will require specially sized replacement belts that will vary bike-to-bike, and potentially frame size-to-frame size within the same exact model of bike. A replacement chain will work on any bike using the same chain drive system (7-8, 9, or 10 speed).

    Drive ratio changes (beyond what is allowed by the -very expensive- internally geared hub) will potentially require a new belt unless the drive pulley and hub pulley are a specially matched set or someone gets clever and includes a tensioner pulley. Belts like this are intolerant of planar misalignment of the pulleys and will therefore make it harder to cobble together a junk-part drivetrain just to see what happens. Breaking a belt on a ride means a long walk home instead of a quick fix with a multi-tool.

    I’m all for moving the state of the art forward, but this smells more like an attempt to create a market for replacement parts. A guard on a straight chain confers all of the same benefits claimed by the belt copy-writers and leaves the door open to experimentation and DIY solutions. Bonus.

  12. @ehrichweiss-

    “Oh, if you’re a mechanic, the amount of grease you encounter replacing a timing chain isn’t anything that should concern you since real mechanics constantly encounter greasy items in cars. That’s just the way it is.”

    Huh? Why yes we do encounter greasy things all the time. That is exactly why the reduction of such is such a nice thing!

    We ‘real mechanics’ often wear latex gloves to minimize contact with the greasy parts. Your statement is as ignorant as “pigs love to lay in s**t”.

    Anyhoo…
    The belt drive is neat, but the realization there are 10+ speed internal bike hubs…wow. THANKS MAKE!!!

  13. “Chain stretch” isn’t elongation of the links, but wear at the bearing surfaces due to grit, corrosion, etc. A near fully sealed drivetrain on a bicycle creates an extremely long wearing, non-pants eating, non-messy-to-the-user system. A friend brought a 50 year old Raleigh commuter bike with such a drivetrain to a picnic the other week. Being a mechanic, he had opened it up to see how much life was left in the chain. He said it was practically pristine.

    Chain drives are quite efficient in weight, power transmission and size, not difficult to maintain. This is a novelty. But if it gets more people on bikes, good for them!

  14. Nobody likes a pedant, but come on. One link of bicycle chain consists of four parts (two plates at the side, and two rivets or rollers, depending on the kind of link), and is half an inch long. A chain with 3,000 parts is 750 links, or 375 inches long, or 31 feet. I don’t know what kind of bicycles they have at CNN.

  15. Mr. fixitrick and A.M.-I won’t be buying these anytime soon. For me, part of a beautiful design, is how easy repair is. As said before, internal hubs are both expensive-a Nexus 3-spd is 170$, and that’s just for the hub-they ship it, you have to build the wheel around it-and highly complex. One needs an exploded diagram to repair an internal hub.

    Beautiful design, at least for me, requires durability, ease of maintenance and repair, and flexibility. Yes, bike chains can be, within the common sizes, used in a wide majority of configurations. and derraileurs are fairly easy to troubleshoot, replace, and repair. As the one guy said, break a belt, walk home. I’ve been on rides where someone broke a chain, and I had the chaintool, and links on hand.

    Now, that’s not to say it isn’t a really nice looking item, and likely very quiet (keeping in mind that a well maintained chain can be pretty quiet on it’s own.), just that I don’t see it being mainstreamed, anytime soon, even though it will have it’s fans, like the Biopace chainring.

    Oh, that and, I just realized, there’s no way you’ll ever see these on racing bikes.

  16. Well I have had a belt driven bike for over 15 years. IT is a foldable one. It cost 150e current money (new). I have pedaled thousands of kilometers on that and it works still perfectly. So nothing new here, only odd thing being that these things aren’t yet de facto in one speed (or multi speed hub) bikes.

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Luke Iseman

Luke Iseman makes stuff, some of which works. He invites you to drive a bike for a living (dirtnailpedicab.com), stop killing your garden (growerbot.com), and live in an off-grid shipping container (boxouse.com).

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