The Dennis Kirk Blog
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When it comes to transferring power from your engine to your tires, there is more than one way to get the job done. You’ll find belts, chains, and shafts, all sprinkled throughout the motorcycle market, albeit some more than others. Each of these forms of final drive brings different benefits to the table, and each has its own setbacks. This combination of pros and cons has left a special place for each form of final drive in the motorcycle industry today. So, which of these options is best for you? That isn’t for us to say. But, we’d be happy to give you all of the information you’ll need to decide for yourself. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to give you a rundown of the pros and cons of each form of motorcycle final drive.
Belt Drive comes with a couple key benefits. The most prominent being the minimal level of maintenance required. It doesn’t require nearly as much maintenance as chain drive. You basically put on a belt and run it till it’s ready to break! Then, you put on another. Though, it’s worth noting that these belts are surprisingly long lasting, and you might find that you never even replace yours! There are other benefits as well. Belt drive systems are quieter, meaning that all you’ll hear is your bike’s rumble. These systems could also be considered safer! The belts might be more prone to breaking than their chain and shaft counterparts, but, when they do break, it is much less likely to damage the bike, and much less likely to be dangerous for the rider.
While they are a great option for casual riding, belts aren’t without their flaws. They are not as cheap as a chain, and while they are surprisingly durable given their Kevlar composition, they are still less durable than most of their metal counterparts. While belts don’t break often, when they do, they are a pain to swap out! A broken belt might leave you waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck. Durability concerns are especially relevant when they’re considered for aggressive riding purposes. Belts are less capable of handling the intense power a sport bike offers, and they’re less efficient at transferring power to the wheel than a chain and sprocket. This is a large part of why belts are found primarily on touring bikes and cruisers.
Chain drive brings plenty of great benefits to the table, benefits that have made it the preferred choice for dirt bikes and sport bikes. Most importantly, they can take a beating! A high powered bike can put some serious torque on a chain, but they are up to the challenge. The dirt and rocks kicked up by a dirt bike are another problem entirely, but again, these systems are well suited for the problem. Another benefit of a chain and sprocket are their weight. They are the lightest option on the market, which makes them ideal for the speed demons that have them on their bike. Chains and sprockets are easily changed, and if your chain starts to get loose, just tighten it up! Chains are also the most efficient way to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. Small amounts of energy are always lost in the process, but chain drive loses the least. A simple chain and sprocket also happen to be the cheapest option to manufacture. This long list of benefits is probably why they are the most common way to put our two wheeled machines in motion!
If chains were so great, everyone would be using them! But, chains do have a couple key drawbacks that have kept them from completely dominating the market. For one, they are noisy. The clanging of a loose chain can make it sound like your bike is ready to fall apart. Then, there is the danger of what happens if a chain breaks. They are durable, to be sure, but if they happen to break, they tend to go out with a bang. The snap of a chain can do damage to either the bike, rider, or both. But, the single biggest setback that people tend to dislike is the maintenance. Chains require plenty of cleaning and lubing to maintain their integrity. This results in a much more intensive maintenance regimen than you would experience with either belt or shaft drive. These negative aspects are the primary reason that motorcycle manufacturers have turned to the other two forms of final drive!
Shaft drive is meant to be the most durable final drive system on the market. They are made to last the entire life of the bike, and a lot of riders find a lot of peace of mind in their durable low maintenance system.
But, these systems, while durable, are exceptionally heavy compared to their chain and belt counterparts. They are also the least efficient at transferring power to the wheel. Then, there is the fact that they are harder to work on if maintenance needs to be done. Digging into the fully encased shaft is not the kind of project you can tackle in twenty minutes before your next ride. Shaft Drives are also the most expensive final drive system to manufacture. This list of negatives has made them the least common of the three final drive options. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t do their job well. Plenty of riders are willing to pay good cash for such a low-maintenance and reliable system.
Well, there you have it. We’ve shone a light on the benefits of each form of final drive, and warned you of their shortcomings. It’s worth noting that no one form is objectively better than another. Finding the optional final drive system for you is dependent on what you ride, how you ride it, and the amount of maintenance you’re willing to undertake. That being said, all of these options work great, and most bikes come outfitted with the most suitable option already! So ride on, and rest easy knowing not just how your final drive works, but why it was chosen for your bike to begin with. If you’ve had a chance to form your own opinion, or if you still have some questions that you’d like answered, let us know in the comments below!
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