Gear Review: Gates Carbon Belt Drive System

Belt drive-maker hoping to win hearts of single speeders with latest version

Components
By replacing a chain made of several hundred parts with a one-piece belt, even the humble singlespeed becomes simpler.

By replacing a chain made of several hundred parts with a one-piece belt, even the humble singlespeed becomes simpler.

On-trail performance

Of course this is the most frequently asked question of everyone who sees the belt drive setup on my Tranny 29. Is it really silent? Yes…most of the time. Is it lighter than a chain setup? Yes. Do you feel a difference in stiffness? Absolutely. In fact, for me the most noticeable attribute of the Gates Carbon Drive system is how damn stiff the system is. While titanium, steel and even some alloy cogs and chainrings flex under power, the 12mm wide Gates Carbon Drive Belt feels noticeably stiffer when putting down donkey strength on steep climbs.

Another huge advantage of the Gates Carbon Drive over a traditional chain is with travel convenience. Because the Tranny 29 has a rear triangle that completely separates from the front, I can fit my bike into a Ritchey Breakaway suitcase and fly charge-free on airlines. Having the belt in this situation is extra nice because there is zero grease, grime or grit to deal with when breaking down and reassembling the bike. If you plan to travel with your singlespeed, and specifically with an Ibis Tranny 29, I highly recommend the Gates Carbon Drive system.

At 274 grams for an entire setup (118t belt, 46t ring and 28t cog), the Gates Carbon Drive system is just north of 100 grams lighter than my chain driven setup, with some chains like the SRAM PC-1 weighing more than an entire Gates drivetrain all together. So if you’re a weight weenie, you’re going to love the Gates system.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we think the Gates system looks pretty cool.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we think the Gates system looks pretty cool.

Now onto the topic most people ask about; is it really silent? When properly maintained, yes, the Gates Carbon Drive system is whisper quiet. There’s no squeaking, no creaking and no chain slapping off the chainstay over bumps. All that’s required is a quick hose down with water after each ride to keep it properly “lubricated”.

However, in dry, dusty conditions, the belt can develop a characteristic squeak that gets rather irritating. A quick squirt of a water bottle will silence the belt for a little while, but on hot days, you want to be putting that water into your body, not wasting it on your drivetrain. The folks at Gates told me if the belt starts to squeak on rides, simply shoot the belt with some silicone-based spray lubricant. I took their advice, and sure enough, the belt was quiet for several dry, dusty rides in a row.

Rear View
A straight chainline is crucial but easy to attain with the Gates system.

Does the belt skip, pop or jump at all? Absolutely not. Since July I have put the Gates Carbon Drive system through the ringer, literally track standing on trail obstacles trying to muster all the German/Scottish power and anger I could to make the drivetrain falter. It never did.

The only environment I haven’t been able to test the Gates Carbon Drive system in is paralyzing mud. But based on the prevalence of the Gates in areas like the Pacific Northwest, I can only conclude that it works reasonably well. Gates claims that after 192 hours of salt spray testing, zero rust or corrosion built up on the Carbon Drive system. Most traditional chain drivetrains would be completely seized by then. My only question is how fast does the belt deteriorate under muddy, grimy and gritty conditions. Perhaps some readers with experience can chime in.

Potential Drawbacks

So what are the drawbacks? Well, perhaps the most noticeable one is cost. An eight-speed chain, decent alloy cog and chainring might set you back $100 total. By comparison, the Gates Carbon Drive system costs double to triple that depending on configuration. Does the Gates Carbon Drive system last twice as long? Gates claims it does, but seriously, it would take me years to confirm that claim. I’m still running the same titanium chainring and cog I bought four years ago, and I’ve put thousands of miles on them.

Because the belt is continuous and cannot be broken and re-fixed like a traditional chain, a bike with a chainstay or seat stay slot is required to install the Gates drive.

Because the belt is continuous and cannot be broken and re-fixed like a traditional chain, a bike with a chainstay or seat stay slot is required to install the Gates drive.

Another drawback for many is that in order to run the Gates Carbon Drive system, you must have a frame that is compatible with a belt drive system, meaning your frame needs to have a slot in the rear triangle somewhere in order to fit the belt through. Therefore, the Gates Carbon Drive system might not even be an option for a vast majority of singlespeeders who already have a bike.

A third potential, albeit minor, drawback is the potential requirement of carrying a spare belt everywhere you go. Although the belt weighs practically nothing at less than 100 grams, still, with its extremely fragile handling requirements, you can’t just stuff it into a jersey pocket. And since I avoid hydration packs like the plague, finding a place to put the spare belt is kind of a PITA. But as the old saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

The Gates system accentuates the smoothness of trails like the Flume Trail above Lake Tahoe.

The Gates system accentuates the smoothness of trails like the Flume Trail above Lake Tahoe.

Who should buy it?

The Gates Carbon Drive system is a viable singlespeed option for those who want the absolute lightest and quietest drivetrain setup possible, those who travel a lot and don’t want to deal with greasy griminess, those who want flex-free performance for the absolute best power transfer and those who don’t mind spending more than double the amount of money over a traditional drivetrain.

But for those who have already invested a bunch of money into different color anodized chainrings and cogs, have a frame that is non-belt compatible, occasionally like to run a dinglespeed setup and have a rather tight budget, the traditional chain setup is always a viable choice.

In the end, would I buy a Gates Carbon Drive system for another bike? Absolutely. I like running the highest performance equipment on my bikes, and in my experience, the Gates system outperforms the traditional chain and cog when it comes to power transfer, stiffness and weight. As a bonus, it’s quite a conversation piece to those who’ve never seen a belt drive bicycle before. Provided you have the budget, the Gates Carbon Drive is well worth the added expense.

MSRP: $220-280 depending on configuration


For more information visit gatescarbondrive.com.


About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • CrashTheDOG says:

    Thanks for the thorough review. I’m currently spec’ing out an Ibis Tranny and you’ve convinced me to go with the Gates system. Also, I’d love to see a photo or two of your Ritchey Breakaway setup with the Tranny.

  • twain says:

    Great article & review.

  • Dan says:

    Great stuff. I’ve personally ran both old and new Gates Carbon Drive technology and the latest is a huge improvement and so sweet. Also knowing the importance of belt tension made me wonder how well the Ibis Tranny tension design would work for belts. I use the Gates “cricket” fingure tool to check tension.

  • Woody Woodpecker says:

    Absolutely brilliant. IMO, the chain has always been the weakest link in the bicycle. It’s messy and needs constant cleaning and maintenance. I want to have this installed on my steel single speed frame.

  • Padrote says:

    Standard chains when used on a single speed mountain bike are already quiet, almost never break, and take two minutes to clean. Not to mention if you’re traveling you’ll want the ability to change ratios easily and frequently. Pass.

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    To Padrote’s point….yes, if you are a constant gear ratio tinkerer (which I am not), the Gates Belt Drive system is probably not for you. Over the past five years on my singlespeed, I have maybe run three different gear ratios, so having limited gearing options is not a problem for me. I pretty much stick with one gear for most conditions. A 46:28 on the Tranny 29 works awesome here in Tahoe, where there are some mega climbs at altitudes above 8,000 feet. So take that for what it’s worth.

    – ASS

  • Ken says:

    I am considering the Gates belt drive. I have read a study where the belt system was determined to require additional rider wattage output over a comparable chain system. Have any of you belt riders noticed an increase in drivetrain drag or reduction in power output?

    • Allan says:

      I too have read this article, I haven’t noticed any difference, perhaps it’s offset by the weight reduction ,
      I think if we were to look at the actual % in power reduction loss of wattage , to the greater percentage of riders out there , negligible difference.
      I also read that having a clutched RD decreases the performance in a full suspension bike by increasing drag on the rear movement .
      My greatest increase in performance comes from a few less beers and a good nights sleep

      • Ken says:

        I also note that the article pertaining to the friction and wattage loss of the belt system is based on a prior iteration of the Gates System and is directly related to the amount of belt tension. As I understand it, the newer center track system requires less belt tension? Anybody know how much less tension? I also see where people have been able to run the new system with less tension than that specifically recommended by Gates since the new system eliminates most of the belt tracking issues?

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Too many drawbacks? Not really. Silicone spray…you *might* need to spray it once every month (big hassle I know). And carrying an extra belt…it’s not required. People who’ve been running the belt system have been getting years of life out of their belts, so unless you’re on multiple years of use on the same belt, you probably don’t need to carry one. But really, a belt weighs 80 grams – another big hassle I know.

    -ASS

  • Allan says:

    I have a spot honey badger with belt drive , LOVE IT , the belt drive is whisper quiet near as no maintaince required , I ride a lot in coastal sand dunes and love that my drive train isn’t being devoured by salt and sand , I fully reccomended this drive system , I weigh 103 kg (227 lbs ) and when standing giving the pedals everything I have to climb this system has been faultless . oh and it looks cool

  • PinkFloydLandis says:

    The Gates app does not “listen to the tensioned amplitude”. It is “listening” to the tensioned frequency.

  • Ashley says:

    I cycled from Key West to Canada and then back to Mexico along the great divide with a Gates / Rohloff 29er: I used two belts, carrying the used one as a spare rather then walking out: never needed it.
    I carried an eye-dropper of lube which I used in the desert (much less lube than a chain drive needs). The bike made less noise and was more reliable, lower maintenance than any chain drive, especially thru mud and snow.
    The rear sprocket was completely consumed by the 7,000 miles, I would recommend changing both belt and sprocket and changing the oil at 3,000 mile intervals for harsh conditions. Or maybe better maintenance en route rather than riding thru puddles to wash the mud off!
    A couple of times the belt came off. Mud glued gravel to the chainwheel and prised the belt off: Of course I should have stopped when I felt the resistance, and anyway the wheels were glued to the frame by then and I had to carry the bike after scraping it to make it portable.

  • dave says:

    Anyone know of any more aggressive mountain bikes that are compatible with a carbon drive? Something along the lines of the Stanton Slackline or Chromag Stylus? (Something that can ride occasionally at the local dirt jumps and flowy bike park trails?)

  • SinglespeedMTBer says:

    I have been running the belt drive for three years Spot rocker now Ibis Trany. I climbed a million feet last year around 600,000 feet this year so far. I love the belt drive. I am 200lbs and the first belt broke after 2 years and thousands of miles of hard riding and only because it had a ding from a rock in it. I would have gone through about 5 chains and a couple cogs and probably a ring in the same amount of time. I will never go back to standard chain system. If you break a belt it means you did something wrong. I love never having to lube it or tension it. It has never slipped on me ever, if your ride a SS and ride a lot and your not using a belt drive your missing out big time

  • Eric says:

    I have an Ibis Tranny and tried to use a 46 but DS chain stay clearance and cog placement (absolute end of the hub) turned me off. I replaced with a 39.23 but suffer from popping. I suspect I will have better luck going back to the 46? In any regard did you do anything special in fitting your 46? I am using an 770 XT. Thanks for the great article and thanks in advance for your reply.

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