Chain, Belt, Shaft Drive Pros & Cons

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322
Location
Cleveland, OH
What are the pros and cons of motorcycle chain, belt, and shaft drive options? I am primarily talking about street use motorcycles. I have only owned chain drive bikes, which seem the least durable followed by belt and finally shaft driven bikes. Feel free to post up your thoughts/experiences!
 
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4,056
Location
Chicago, IL
I have one of each. chain, probably the most efficient, but requires maintenance and requires periodic replacement. belt: probably the next most efficient, and certainly smooth shaft: probably has more power loss than the others - but well-suited for cruisers.
 
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14,822
Location
Central NY
Prior to a few months ago, I had no idea that there were shaft driven bikes. Really cool! Friend of mine bought a cruiser from the early 80s
 
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5,295
There's something about power changes in curves and how it effects the bike's poise that is different shaft vs chain/belt but I forgot.
 
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7,485
Location
S California
A belt appears to be an excellent choice especially for bikes that don't have a lot of horsepower/torque and are not ridden in a very aggressive manner. Friends that exclusively ride Japanese bikes claim that a belt is a good choice for many Harley-Davidson models because of their sluggish engines and poor suspension that discourages the kind of abuse that would make a belt impractical (lol).
 
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496
Location
Australia
Belts are the most efficient drive system, and basically maintenance/trouble free for normal use. They're generally the lightest drive system. For competition use on a track, a chain drive is stronger and more reliable and is a requirement for nearly all bikes used for competition. It's also easier to change sprocket ratios. It can tend to be heavier than a belt drive. It requires frequent maintenance and lubrication. The shaft drive system in the main is pretty low maintenance, but it has a lot of moving parts that are complex in their relationship with each other, which can lead to odd handling characteristics when wear in the components occurs. It can cost quite a lot to do repair work on a shaft drive when it's required. The shaft drive system has a couple of problems with torque reaction and backlash that is hard to engineer out, but it's pretty well advanced in that regard. But not perfect. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I have had them all, and mostly prefer the chain drive system for sports bikes, and the belt drive for heavy cruisers up to around 130-140 horsepower.
 
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1,510
Location
Ca USA
Mercy me chains are a pain... shafts are too heavy... belts spell relief... I engineered my own belt drive on my 86 VF500F Interceptor... my friends coined the term Belt-0-Ceptor... I racked up 98,000 trouble free miles... Currently I'm engineering my own 11mm pitch belt drive on Mr.RC45... Gates Poly Chain comes in 3 belt sizes... 14mm pitch is what HD employs on their cruisers... 8mm is what I used on the VF500 Belt-0-Ceptor... 11mm is the little known in between belt but only comes in lengths of 155T and 172T... I need 166T to make it work on Mr.RC45... I started with a Buell 11mm pitch sprockets and belt... a 30T up front and 70T out back... they were machined them to fit Mr.RC45... so far so good Buell's steel 30T 11mm spocket installed on the RC45 primary shaft... Buell's aluminum 72T 11mm sprocket installed on the RC45 axle... I machine my own 76T sprocket so I started with a 20lb block of 7075 T6 Aluminum... After the teeth were cut by RCD Engineering the block was down to 10 lbs at this stage... After milling the spokes using only hand eye coordination it was down to 1 lb 13 oz... Mock up
 
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5,653
Location
Central IA
I have seen belt drives on Hayabusa's. You can make them work on higher horsepower bikes, but if you really flog them, you do run a decent chance of breaking the belts. If I had 900 bucks to blow I would be getting the QPD belt drive conversion for my Triumph.
 
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5,762
Location
the canyons
Originally Posted By: BusyLittleShop
Mercy me chains are a pain... shafts are too heavy... belts spell relief...
Do you plan to run a belt tensioner, like Buell? I wish I could run a belt on my streetbike, but by the time I get to a belt size that can handle the power reliably, we're talking a belt width that is too wide to be accomodated. RCD Engineering does nice work. All of the Blower drive components we use, are made by them.
 
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5,295
@ BusyLittleShop: [censored] son, that is some DIY masterpiece par excellance there! Seriously, that took some skill and patience.
 
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1,510
Location
Ca USA
Originally Posted By: 02SE
Do you plan to run a belt tensioner, like Buell?
I'm open to a tensioner but my plans are to keep it simple and go without...
 
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1,510
Location
Ca USA
Originally Posted By: LoneRanger
@ BusyLittleShop: [censored] son, that is some DIY masterpiece par excellance there! Seriously, that took some skill and patience.
Thanks Lone... At Daytona in 84 Honda's engineers said it was *impossible* to add a belt drive *their* bike because I would need to first start with a belt and then design the whole bike around it... I thought OK I got my answer from the experts but I wasn't happy about abandoning my dream... I had to solved it and I did and when I showed the same bunch my engineering and machining work they just nodded affirmative and ask what was I going to do next to my bike??? maybe build my own aluminum frame I shot back... this time they replied that I was probably the one who could to that...
 
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1,510
Location
Ca USA
The pros and cons of each... Lightest weight... 1 belt 2 chain 3 shaft Best efficiency... 1 belt 2 chain 3 shaft Lowest maintenance... 1 belt 2 shaft 3 chain Most expensive... 1 shaft 2 belt 2 chain Least amount of drive line snatch... 1 belt 2 shaft 3 chain Biggest vocal following... 1 shaft 2 chain 3 belt 1... belt drives are 5 lb. lighter than chain... 2... belt drives only sap 2% of available engine power and never take more through it's life... whereas chains start sapping 2% and progressively sap up to 7% near their end... 3... belts don't need slack and therefore are positive drives whereas chains need slack and are snatch drives... So lighter... more power... less snatch is why I went ahead and converted my VF500F Interceptor into the famous Belt-o-ceptor... plus the fact Honda said it was impossible... well all it took was 8 months worth of engineering and machine work plus $1500.00 in parts... Belt life was good... going 2 times the distance of a chain and it covered 40K miles without needing any adjustment... Honda VFR1200 Veefalo $4148.00 / 40 pound shaft system...
 
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Messages
496
Location
Australia
Great work. I see 1 engineering flaw. It looks as though you will get some fatigue cracking around the bolt holes near the hub on the rear sprocket. I think it needs more meat at the spokes around the bolts. Time will tell. Anyway it will be easy to re-engineer the rear sprocket as required, because you've certainly broken the back of the project. Well done.
 
Messages
10,195
Location
OH
Originally Posted By: BusyLittleShop
The pros and cons of each... Lightest weight... 1 belt 2 chain 3 shaft Best efficiency... 1 belt 2 chain 3 shaft Lowest maintenance... 1 belt 2 shaft 3 chain Most expensive... 1 shaft 2 belt 2 chain Least amount of drive line snatch... 1 belt 2 shaft 3 chain Biggest vocal following... 1 shaft 2 chain 3 belt 1... belt drives are 5 lb. lighter than chain... 2... belt drives only sap 2% of available engine power and never take more through it's life... whereas chains start sapping 2% and progressively sap up to 7% near their end... 3... belts don't need slack and therefore are positive drives whereas chains need slack and are snatch drives... So lighter... more power... less snatch is why I went ahead and converted my VF500F Interceptor into the famous Belt-o-ceptor... plus the fact Honda said it was impossible... well all it took was 8 months worth of engineering and machine work plus $1500.00 in parts... Belt life was good... going 2 times the distance of a chain and it covered 40K miles without needing any adjustment... Honda VFR1200 Veefalo $4148.00 / 40 pound shaft system...
The only one I disagree with is maintenance. Shaft drive requires less maintenance than does a belt. Belts need to have the tension adjusted, and they need to be replaced from time to time, which requires the removal of the swingarm. The only thing shaft drive requires is the occasional oil change...
 
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10,195
Location
OH
I would own ether a shaft or belt drive, but I'd never own another bike with chain drive...they require too much maintenance and they're messy...
 
Messages
796
Location
Michigan
I don't know what all this maintenance and messy chain stuff is all about. I use this Lube and let it dry, no mess and chain and sprockets never seam to wear. I also use 630 chain-high end EK for drag racing, need an army tank to stretch that chain. BTW there's two types of that lube...I use the one with moly not the Teflon base. That said, if I could go to belt drive on the KZ1000 I would in a heart beat smile
 
Messages
1,510
Location
Ca USA
Originally Posted By: grampi
The only thing shaft drive requires is the occasional oil change...
You didn't mention the occasional re greasing of the splines and drive pins...
 
Messages
496
Location
Australia
And replacement of axles, axle seals, bearings and trunions in the various articulated joints associated with the Rear Drive. Also the bushes in the control links/arms. Shaft drive systems can be overrated, and they're certainly over complicated by necessity otherwise they perform poorly.
 
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