Best Belt-Drive Bicycles in 2020
Belt-drive bicycles have passed the initial ‘break-in’ period and have proved to offer a great alternative to classical chain & derailleur systems. We wouldn’t go as far and say that belt-drive bikes are better than the traditional drivetrain system, but surely – bikes with a belt-drive system have a solid place to stay in the ever-changing bicycle industry.
What is the belt-drive system on a bicycle?
Belt-drive bicycles use a polyurethane or carbon fiber belt on the drivetrain instead of the traditional steel chain. This provides several advantages, most notably a cleaner, a quieter bike that requires less maintenance. Belt drive bikes gained popularity in Japan when Bridgestone released the Picnica folding belt drive bike in 1980. In 1984, Gate Corporation took the belt drive design to the US, although it only really caught on in 2007 with the modern Carbon Drive system.
Chain – Belt
See photos, PROs / CONs down below!
Silent – Clean – Maintenance-free
Belt-drive system usage
‘Open’ belt-drive systems have been used in the automotive and industrial fields for literally ages. More often, you’ll see belts being used as power transmission elements between two pulleys that convert heavy power. Therefore, there’s no need to doubt the durability of belt-drive systems on bicycles.
- Harley-Davidson motorcycles use a belt instead of a chain since 1992
- Serpertine & Timing belts – Car’s fan and alternator belt, etc
- Stepped shaft lathe machines
- Shaper machines
- Bicycles drivetrains – Yay!
Is the belt-drive drivetrain going to be the next big thing?
Probably not, but it sure has a special purpose in a tight niche – especially in the touring communities. Due to their incompatibility with traditional gearing systems and the need to split the frame to install, belt drives remain a niche product used mainly by dedicated fans of the system.
Best Belt-Drives Bikes in 2020
- MTB – Viral – Skeptic
- Cheapest – Priority Bicycles – Coast
- Gravel – Priority Bicycles – Apollo
- Value – Co-op Cycles – CTY 1.3
- Sportiest Hybrid – Cannondale – Bad Boy 1
- Foldable – Oyama – Skyline
- Best Bike Type for a belt-drive system – Touring, Bikepacking, Commuting, Trekking
- Best Belt-Drive Bicycle Brand – Priority Bicycles
- Best Belt-Drive System brand – Gates Carbon Drive
Cannondale Bad Boy 1
One of the most iconic belt-drive bicycles
The Cannondale Bad Boy 1 is a unique hybrid bike in many ways, not least due to the Gates Carbon Drive CDX belt driving a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal hub. The Bad Boy 1 also features Cannondale’s proprietary Lefty Lightpipe, a rigid fork with only one tube on the left side.
This striking feature not only gives the bike an interesting look but provides improved strength and agility – not to mention integrated LED lighting. The Bad Boy 1 is a very cool hybrid commuter bike that looks tough and means business. It has 650b wheels with thick 40mm WTB tires, hydro disc brakes, and high-quality FSA components.
- 8-speed Shimano Alfine Rapidfire
- 650b wheels – 27.5″ x 40mm
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Lefty rigid fork
- USB-rechargeable lights
- Weight: 27lbs
Co-op CTY 1.3
The CTY 3.1 from Co-op Cycles is a sporty belt-drive hybrid bike. It uses a Gates Carbon Drive belt with an 8-speed Shimano Alfine internal hub groupset and hydraulic disc brakes. It makes an excellent commuter bike that’s also versatile enough for longer weekend rides through the city or countryside.
The frame is made from lightweight 6061 aluminum, with 700c wheels and 35mm Kenda Kwik Trax puncture-resistant tires. With additional mounts to add a rear rack and fenders, this is the ideal bike for shopping or delivering goods, and could even be used for short weekend camping trips.
- 8-speed Shimano Alfine
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- 700c wheels
Priority Bicycles Classic Plus (Gotham Edition)
Priority Bicycles – Produces belt-drive bikes online!
The Classic Plus Gotham Edition from Priority Bicycles features an all-black commuter bike inspired by the streets of New York City. It has a comfortable upright seating position and comes equipped with all the necessary city-cycling add-ons like a kickstand, bottle cage, and puncture-resistant tires.
It uses a Gates Carbon Drive belt with a 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal hub, which is perfect for city commuting but could be a bit difficult on hills or over a long distance. Its lightweight aluminum frame comes in three sizes with both a standard ‘Diamond’ or ‘Step-through’ style for easy mounting.
- 3-speed Shimano Nexus
- Gates Carbon belt
- Puncture-resistant tires
- Models for both Men & Women
- Comfortable handlebar
- Weight: 25lbs
- 700×35 tires – Schwalbe valves
- Alloy frame, steel fork
More Priority Bicycles under $1,000 range
– Brilliant L Train $650 (7-speed)
– Turi $899
– Classic Plus $499
Amsterdam Elite – M2 NuVinci
Where else to look for the latest trends of cycling than the Netherlands – the world’s most successful Cycling Nation. The number of bicycles exceeds their own population, therefore the Dutch must be mastered the art of bicycle manufacturing. The M2 NuVinci is built for fast and hustle-free commuting, equipped with essential components for $1,000 bike – there isn’t much to add or remove from the bike. The geometry and the tires make it a good all-rounder bike from paved roads to cobblestone streets, and why not tackle some light trails – the 650b wheels are among the most versatile out there!
MSRP from $1,298
- 650b + 47 Road plus Gumwall tires
- Aluminum frame & fork
- Flat handlebar
- Tektro Hydraulic disc brakes
Priority Bicycles – Apollo Gravel
The newest, if not the first gravel belt-drive bicycle on the market! The Apollo by Priority Bicycles is inspired by many touring bikes that have used carbon belt-drives in the past and have proved to be successful in their range. I mean, people have crossed continents and traveled around the world with a belt-drive bike which requires maintenance after every 19,000miles! The bike is well equipped for both a beginner and a seasoned cyclist due to its ease of use and durability.
- 11-speed, 409% gear range
- 700c x 40mm (650b compatible)
- i23 TCS rims
- WTB Pure saddle
- Integrated shifter (Right-side)
Canyon Commuter Sport 8.0
This rather extraordinary looking belt drive bike from Canyon has straight handlebars connected directly to the steering column with almost no stem at all. The result gives it a strikingly minimalist look that was quoted as being “like no other bike” by the Design and Innovation Award judges. In addition, it sports an impressive 11-speed Shimano Alfine internal hub driven by a Gates Carbon Drive belt and finished off with Deore hydraulic disc brakes. The 29” Alexrims wheels are wrapped in fast-rolling, puncture-resistant Schwalbe Kojak tires for a safe and smooth ride.
- Aluminum frame, Carbon fork
- 11-speed Shimano Alfine
- SRAM Pressfit GXP bottom bracket
- Gates CDN belt
- Alexrims MD19 aluminum wheels
- Weight: 24lbs
- Shimano MT500 hydraulic disc brakes / RT54 rotors
Priority Bicycles – Coast
Available in different designs, for men & women
This attractive looking bike from Priority Bicycles is a lovely old-style cruiser with a modern twist. The 3-speed sealed Shimano internal hub is driven by a Gates Carbon Drive belt, making the entire drivetrain impervious to the damages of salty and humid air. This is where the Priority Bicycles Coast gets its name – as the perfect bicycle for coastal living by the sea.
It also features 26” rustproof alloy wheels, stainless steel fenders, and an ultralight rustproof aluminum frame. The Priority Bicycles Coast comes in both traditional and step-through models, with a one-size-fits-all build and a choice of single or three-speeds.
MSRP from $499
- Single or 3-speed
- 26″ wheels
- Puncture-resistant tires
- Coaster and front V brake
- Balloon-type tires
- Rustproof frame & fork
- Gates Carbon Drive belt system
- Sealed bearings
- Double Kickstand
Oyama – Skyline In7B
This is most likely the most versatile bicycle out of the bunch, and not only due to its folding capabilities! The Skyline by Oyama is a perfect choice for sailboats, RVs – or for anyone who expects the least hustle and wants to travel and carry light! Oyama is a brand that produces a wide range of foldable bicycles from a country where the density is truly dense!
Oyama as a bicycle brand is known for its premium touches and attention to detail. If you haven’t owned a folding bicycle before – this might be one of the most bulletproof choices you could go for!
- 20″ wheels
- 6061 Alloy aluminum
- Serviceable LM3 joint
- Strong V-brakes
- Weight: 30lbs
- Telescoping handlebar
- Folded dimensions: 15″ x 34″ x 27″
Marin Presidio 3
The Marin Presidio 3 is a high-quality hybrid commuter aimed at cyclists who want to keep maintenance to a minimum. The corrosion and dirt-free belt drive combined with internal cable routing and puncture-resistant tires mean you’ll barely have to do any upkeep on this machine. It comes with an 8-speed Shimano internal hub and Gates Carbon Drive belt and crankset, all mounted on a 6061 aluminum frame with flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes. The Presidio 3 is a high-quality, hassle-free commuter bike that is ideal for getting around town in the easiest way possible.
- 700×32 tires
- Hydraulic disc brakes
Cube – Travel EXC
Only for the European market
This 8-speed belt drive bike from Cube is more than just your standard hybrid commuter. It comes kitted out with front and rear lights, a rear pannier rack, and a kick-stand. Add to that thick 47mm tires and a low maintenance drivetrain and you have the ideal belt-drive touring bike. The lightweight aluminum frame is built from extra-strong double-butted aluminum, with a Shimano Alfine hub and Gates S150 CDN crankset and belt. Even the tires are tour-quality Schwalbe Marathon Mondial with puncture-resistant Kevlar lining. Simply pack your bags, hop on, and escape to the great outdoors.
Cube > Tour > Travel > Offers a variety of belt ride bikes
- 8-speed Shimano Alfine
- Dynamo Lights
- Weight: 31lbs
Viral – Skeptic
Gearbox design by Porsche engineers
The Viral Skeptic is a belt-driven mountain play bike, with knobbly 3” tires, a titanium frame, and front suspension. It’s one of very few belt-drive MTBs on the market, incorporating several new technologies to make it an impressive piece of kit. The Gates belt runs off a 12-speed Pinion gearbox installed on the crank rather than the rear hub, providing an incredible 6 times more range than a standard 1×12 groupset. The Viral Skeptic has a 148mm Boost rear hub spacing triangle with 148/12 thru-axles for varied wheel compatibility, fitting both 27.5” and 29” rims. It’s also dropper-post compatible with internal cable routing and an integrated tapered headtube.
MSRP $4,495 for frame and drivetrain kit
Used for $3,800 – The Pro’s Closet
- Viral Bikes triple butted titanium tube set delivers an amazingly defiant ride
- 27.5+ (3” tire clearance) or 29” wheel compatible, tailor this trail machine to your own desires
- Pinion C1.12 gearbox delivers 600% gear range, that’s 100% more gear range than the new SRAM 1×12 system
- Comes with Gates belt drive and front and rear Gates cogs
- 130-150mm fork compatible
- 30.9mm seat post, compatible with internal dropper post routing.
- 148mm Boost rear hub spacing
- 4.25 lbs. for medium frame
Founded by Porsche gearbox engineers, Pinion is a cutting edge gearbox company building amazing bicycle transmissions in Germany.
Ghost Hybride Square Trekking 5.8 AL
The Square Urban 5.8 from Ghost Bikes is a tough, reliable commuter bike that comes with fenders, an integrated pannier bag rack, and internal cable routing. It’s Gates Carbon Belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal hub ensures everything stays squeaky clean and requires minimal maintenance.
The innovative aluminum frame is designed for comfort and durability and is supported by Rodi Excalibur wheels with Shimano hydro disc brakes and Continental puncture-resistant tires. Altogether, the Ghost Square Urban is a very impressive, high-quality city commuter bike that comes in at an affordable price.
- Shimano Alfine gearing
- Gates Carbon Drive crankset
- Shimano Hydraulic disc brakes w/ 160mm rotors
- Ghost urban carrier rack
- Continental tires
Belt-Drive Bicycle’s – FAQ
Are belt-drive bikes any good?
Belt drive bikes require less maintenance than traditional chain-drive bicycles because they don’t use oil. Therefore, belt-driven bikes don’t attract as much dirt and are less prone to wear. However, on a rare occasion when the belt does break it can be difficult to replace.
Bicycle belts don’t extend over time, the replacement is needed due to worn cogs!
PROs and CONs of belt drivetrains on bicycles
- Lasts longer
- Belts don’t stretch
- Rust-free drivetrain
- Lighter in terms of rotational mass
- Less-frequent maintenance intervals
- More expensive
- Not as popular parts/service-wise
- Fewer gears – single speed/internal gearing
- Not as efficient in terms of friction and frictional losses
- Belt-drive bikes have to have specially designed frames
How do belt-drive bikes work?
Belt-drive works in the same way as a chain, the belt is driven by the crank and turns the rear wheel. However, belts can’t be shifted between cogs like a chain so they require an internal hub gearing system to change gears.
How do you turn a bike into a belt drive?
It’s possible to install a belt drive on a normal bike but you would need to replace the crank and install a single speed or geared hub on the rear wheel. You would also need to splice open your frame on the rear triangle to install the belt as they can’t be split apart like a chain. While the splice can be re-welded together, it would likely cause a weakness in the frame.
Also, bear in mind that ‘regular’ bicycle frames tend to flex more than belt-driven bike frames which could lead to premature belt and cog wear.
How long does the belt-drive last on a bicycle?
Gates Carbon Belts’ maintenance schedule is after every 19,000mi / 30.000km
What are the alternatives to Gates Carbon Belt Drive?
Veer – Offers a ‘split-belt system’ for a convenient retrofitting
Accord Belt Drive
Driveline Belt Drive
How to adjust a belt drive?
In order to know if your bicycle’s belt has the correct tension, there’s a Carbon Drive Application that allows you to set the recommended tension with your smartphone.
Should you question the durability of belt drive-trains?
No, as belt-drive bikes have been proved to last a long time in treacherous climates and conditions. As regular maintenance, cleaning the belt and cogs with a brush is pretty much all you have to do in between the 19,000mile range.
Riding in fine dust, the belt-drive might start to squeal, which can be removed with cleaning the belt with fresh water. (Same goes for you cars engine belt noise – where a drop of water removes the squeal most of the time)
Where to shop for the best belt-drive bicycles?
- Priority Bicycles – Whole range of Belt-drive bicycles
- REI – Cannondale, Co-op, Ghost Bikes
- Trek – Bikes & parts
- Giantnerd – Oyama Foldable belt-drive bikes