Belt Drive The Pros & Cons.

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by MATTY, Oct 22, 2021.

  1. MATTY

    MATTY BORDER RAIDER

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    I have only ever had one Belt drive bike in a career on road from the mid 70s, And to be fair on it (5 years of ownership/ Kawasaki EN500A3) i can only see good in it to date.
    Bike had 13K on it when i purchased it, and i have put 17K on it and the belt is still looking fine, not sure how long they are meant to last or indeed how old it was when i got the bike.
    I Am surprised its not looking in a much worse state with possibly 27k on the belt, i dont use bike off road as such but think nothing or going up tracks on gravel or river banks on it, and so far have picked up no holes/ stones or tooth damage. I might just have been lucky, i genuinely dont know and this is exactly why i started this thread. So that the Pros and cons of belt drive can be debated and shared.
    This is not so much a comparison contest between belt vs chain vs Shaft etc. just about belts your findings and experiences good or bad.
    #1
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  2. baka1969

    baka1969 Veteran Bubblehead

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    My 2007 Sportster is a belt drive. IMHO, the biggest advantage is that the belt doesn't need to be oiled. It also requires very little maintenance. In almost 30 years, 5 Sportsters and a couple hundred thousand miles combined, I've only had one break on my bike when it caught a stone. They're good for a minimum of 50,000 miles. Likely over 75,000.

    I've been told a belt can't handle the same amount of power than a chain can. That's not an issue for me. Even if I almost double the power of my bike it should be able to take it.
    #2
  3. Geschift

    Geschift Long timer

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    I bought a brandnew BMW F650CS back in 2002, also a beltdrive.
    First “brake” was at approximately 20.000km.

    Bought a fine used belt, which also lasted 20.000 … till the day I totalled the bike (haha!).
    Didn’t have anything to do with the belt though.
    #3
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  4. Geschift

    Geschift Long timer

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    Here it was, luckily it happened when leaving a standstill.

    IMG_1957.jpg
    #4
  5. OnTheNaughtyStep

    OnTheNaughtyStep Been here awhile

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    I find most manufacturers specify to little slack in the belt - I run them slightly loose so small stones can be thrown out.

    My Thunderbird has over 170bhp at the back wheel. loads of drag starts and 20K on the belt so far - still looks like new.
    #5
  6. RedShark

    RedShark Long timer

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    Upside: No chain lube gets flung off, less noise

    Downside: Need a system to keep tensioned, can't adjust final drive ratios with gearing very easily
    #6
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  7. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Long timer

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    Only had one belt drive bike, my 04 Harley Road King. It has about 60k miles on the original belt.

    Do I like it? Hesitantly, yes. It’s given me no troubles. A little tuning work with regards to tension.

    It spooks me that on gravel roads I could pick up a rock and badly damage it. But that hasn’t happened yet. The guard really is good.

    I do not do burnouts or wheelies, so I’m not particularly concerned with breaking it from overloading it.

    A roadside repair would be nearly impossible, but that’s a design issue with my bike, and broadly Harleys in general. It gives me great hesitation to try the likes of the Dalton Highway with it.
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  8. DesmoDog

    DesmoDog Desmo was my dog. RIP big guy.

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    A few weeks ago I was at an event and a guy was rolling down the street on his Harley with something dragging behind him. About the time I figured out it was the drive belt I heard him bitching about losing his transmission... so a broken belt was good news!

    I like the idea of belt drive. I've never owned a bike with one but on the types of bikes I ride now, I wouldn't mind having one. I'm not a big fan of chains. I wish Ducati would build a Monster with gear driven springer heads and belt drive to be honest... Changing gearing can be problematic but that's not insurmountable.

    My only first hand experience with belts is on cam drives. Not a fan there but I discovered a new to me 851 had run a 6mm nut between the cam belt and pulley. Messed up a few things but the belt didn't break and the previous owner didn't realize it had even happened. So they aren't particularly fragile.

    My Guzzi V85 has shaft drive. For the type of bike it is, seems like a great solution.
    #8
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  9. OnTheNaughtyStep

    OnTheNaughtyStep Been here awhile

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    Never noticed a tensioning system on my Thunderbird - just adjust like a chain.
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  10. dirty_t

    dirty_t Been here awhile

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    Harleys tension the belt via a cam welded onto one side of the axle with a fixed hexhead on the end to turn it. The shop manual specifies how much free play there should be. Works fine- I’ve got a couple hundred thousand miles on Harley belt-drive bikes, only dropped a belt once - and that was on during a roadtrip on pavement - not on any of the gravel tracks, two tracks, or fields that I’d ridden through over the years. I think maybe I picked up a stick. Never did find out, but did have to leave my bike behind an old store for the night. Dealer came out the next day and picked it up, took it in, and got me turned around within a couple hours.

    Did a lot of big roadtrips, and never once worried about the belt. Now on BMW GS with shaft drive. Love it. No more chains for me.
    #10
  11. LuciferMutt

    LuciferMutt Rides slow bike slow

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    Pros: quiet, smooth, very little power loss, low driveline lash, clean, mostly maintenance free, and they usually last a very long time

    Cons: require some extra guards compared to a chain to keep them protected from road debris/small stones, bikes using them may require careful engineering to be able to install and remove the belt without taking large portions of the rear end of the motorcycle apart, and they need about twice the width space a chain needs, all other things equal, and maybe more if they are on a reasonably powerful bike. Those last two cons are probably the reason you don't see them more.

    Frankly, I wish way more moderately powered street bikes used belts. I think the pros far outweigh the cons. I've only had one bike with a belt (Buell) and never had to mess with it once, other than an initial adjustment after a tire change.
    #11
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  12. LuciferMutt

    LuciferMutt Rides slow bike slow

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    Are you aware that you can buy emergency splice-together belt kits for roadside repairs? They aren't cheap, but are easily installed with simple tools on the side of the road and will save your ass from a broken belt.
    #12
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  13. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Long timer

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    Yes. Though feedback on both types is pretty abysmal.

    Seems the hard-core sojourners either completely ignore the worry, or carry a replacement belt, and the tools to remove the primary.
    #13
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  14. Malamute

    Malamute Low speed adventurer

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    Im interested to hear what problems the repair belts have had?

    A friend with a shop said hed seen many belts with a lot of miles on them. One guy had a hole from a rock, he ignored it and finally replaced it 20K later. I was hesitant regarding the belt, as I plan to do more dirt roading in the SW again, but he said they have little trouble that hes seen.

    I bought one of the emergency repair belt setups (NOS, H-D factory part) for my 84 FXSB. I dont figure its a long term solution, but should alleviate getting stranded somewhere. I stuck it in the sidecar trunk when I got it. It can live there. If i were journeying in the west id have a spare belt and tools, but for short closer to home stuff Im stuck with for now, the repair belt will probably do.
    #14
  15. PeterW

    PeterW Long timer

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    Really liked the F650CS I rode. Wonderful in town bike with the belt drive, much nicer to ride than the chain drive equivalent on the F650 Funduro I had at the time.

    If you aren't in a situation where the downsides will be an issue , great.
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  16. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Long timer

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    @Malamute , recollections of hearsay I’ve read on the web. Keep that in mind.

    The oem Harley is weak, lasting but a hundred miles or so, at best.

    The metal “buckle” type destroys pulleys, and may not clear the case going around the transmission pulley.

    How much of the short life of the oem emergency belt is because riders don’t understand the limitations of an emergency belt, I cannot say.

    The buckle type I haven’t seen in years.

    Like you, I rather like the oem emergency belt. Though I haven’t bought one yet. I suspect it can last longer, if ridden gently. Alas, it is not a repair or replacement.
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  17. steingar

    steingar higher life form

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    Another advantage of the belt is it's cheaper technology than a shaft. Belt breaks, you replace it. Shaft breaks, well, it's a bit more complicated. Granted, shafts don't break often, but neither do belts. I bet the belts are way way cheaper too.
    #17
  18. Malamute

    Malamute Low speed adventurer

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    Even 100 miles could be a huge help. I keep thinking what a retrieval would cost in some of the remote parts of the west, compared to a temp belt, besides potentially being stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Even if carrying a spare regular belt, out under a pinyon juniper tree in the hills isnt a good place to replace one. It generally requires an impact to break the compensator nut loose, and an impact helps get the clutch hub off also. At least if I could get back to my primary camp rig, or in a tiny town, Id have access to more resources as needed.

    I was looking around on ebay for an emergency belt when a friend said he got one in a large lot of parts. $50 seemed like a good investment. :)
    #18
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  19. mattoid1

    mattoid1 Been here awhile

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    IMG_5325.jpg IMG_5324.jpg
    This belt came off my 2011 ElectraGlide at 75,000 miles, preventative maintenance. A bit nicked up, but still in serviceable condition.
    #19
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  20. anotherguy

    anotherguy Long timer

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    I've seen more mentions of the stone damage in this thread than in several decades of working on them for a living. The most belt issues I've seen were Buells abused by riders. Solid technology. Biggest con is cost of belt/pulley replacement.
    #20