We’ve been confronted with this question and have decided to answer it publicly. The question was, “Really, who needs a belt when there’s a full metal chaincase” on my shiny, expensive new bike?
Translation: why would I want belt drive when I can enclose my steel chain in an assembly of several metal pieces that are bolted together and that must be at least partially removed to do most drivetrain maintenance or just to fix a flat?
We laughed, we sighed, we wanted to cry but the tears just wouldn’t come out.
Here’s what to consider.
First: ever try changing a rear flat tire for a bike that has a full chaincase? If yes, then you understand how much longer it takes to complete the task, and what a pain in the ass it is. What should normally take no more than 10 or 15 minutes will take maybe 45. Even (or especially) mechanics gripe about this. In fact, we added a $30 surcharge, on top of our usual $8 flat repair, for bikes with full chaincases.
It’s true, the chaincase will keep the chain cleaner for longer, seeing as how it’s protected inside a suit of armor, but nonetheless moisture will collect there, oiling is still necessary, and maintenance remains key.
With a belt, you don’t need a suit of armor because the belt can’t rust, doesn’t get greasy, and won’t eat your pants*. Lighter, cleaner, quieter than a chain, with basically no maintenance and at least twice the life of a chain. In modest city riding (as opposed to racing), that belt will last tens of thousands of miles. Flat changes are gunk-free, quick, and clean. With most belt-drive bikes now, there’s no need to retension the belt when reinstalling the wheel.
*Some manufacturers do include a minimal, one-piece guard for the belt ring, which is more psychological than functional.
The downside? The belt costs more, as does a belt-specific drivetrain in general. But in the long run you earn your money back in time and maintenance costs. The only other downside is that bike frames need to be designed to accept a belt. This adds a whopping $30 or so to the cost of a frame, and a belt-specific drivetrain will add typically about $200 to the cost of the complete bike. The fact is, most manufacturers haven’t taken that step. Yet.
So. That steel chaincase? Recycling bin. Belt drive is a smarter choice.