Well, this is one of the most common topics of discussion among bikers, but majority of them always prefer a chain drive as it’s the most common system as well as the best compromise among the all three. In this article, we are going to explain in brief the pros and cons of all the three drive systems and why chain drive is preferred over the belt and shaft drive systems.
A chain drive system is used in almost all the bikes that you see on a daily basis, because it’s reliable and cheap to maintain. But yes, it needs maintenance, and that too time and again. A chain drive system needs to be cleaned and lubricated after a gap of every 500 to 800 kilometres to protect the chain from getting dirty, rusted and dysfunctional. If the chain is clogged and dirty, it will reduce its life time, which means that it won’t last more than 20,000 kilometres but with proper care, a single chain set will take you to 40,000 to 45,000 kilometres, depending on the motorcycle you ride.
A chain drive system is preferred in almost all the super sports bikes because of the fact that the percentage of power loss in a chain drive mechanism is as little as almost 3%. Also, a chain drive system is capable enough to deal with high level torque produced in these machines, and almost all the dirt bikes and drag-focussed motorcycles feature a chain dive mechanism.
The wheels on the chain drive mechanism need alignment, unlike a shaft-driven system, and if the chain chews up sprocket teeth or breaks by chance, it may result in the rear wheel lock-up and that will set you up for a real screwed-up day.
Cost of Maintenance – Medium
Cost of Replacement - Low
Maintenance Efforts – Very High
Now let us talk about the less common belt drive system. This mechanism is basically used in the cruisers, because the power delivery to the rear wheel using a belt drive system is more liner and smooth as compared to that with a chain drive system, and that’s the main reason why cruisers are seen wearing belts. This system doesn’t require regular degreasing and cleaning like the chain drive, and hence is easier to maintain. But in case a belt breaks, the cost of the setup is more than that in the chain drive.
The power loss in this system when compared to the chain system is almost 6% higher and stands at 9%. That means that out of the total power generated, only 91% is delivered to the rear wheel and the rest is lost during the transmission.
The service intervals are at almost 25,000 to 35,000 kilometres, unlike the chain drive, which needs cleaning and greasing every 700 kilometres. Also, a Kevlar reinforced belt can last up to 60,000 to 90,000 kilometres or more.
Last but not the least, a belt system is comparatively safer than the chain-driven system, as in case a belt breaks, the rear section will just freewheel and won’t get locked. So the bike won’t toss you around.
Cost of Maintenance – Low
Cost of Replacement – High
Maintenance Efforts – Nil
Well, this system can be seen on bikes like Honda VFR 1200 and BMW K 1300S. This technology is the same as seen on cars. The power loss in shaft drive is really high, about 25%, and we know that’s a lot of power loss. All this power loss is because of the extra gears and shafts. As compared to the other two systems, there is no maintenance required in a shaft drive. Only the shaft reservoir fluid needs to be changed at the bike’s regular service intervals.
It runs real quiet and clean, and if taken care properly a shaft drive can last almost forever. But on the contrary, a shaft drive is really heavy and the rear suspension quality suffers because of the unsprung weight at the rear. Also, the rear tyre may lock up in case anything goes wrong in the system, but as compared to a chain drive, that’s rare.
Cost of Maintenance – Very Low
Cost of Replacement – Very High
Maintenance Efforts - Nil
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