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Guide To Belt-Drive Commuter Bikes

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One of the biggest pains about keeping a commuter bike serviceable is the drivetrain.

The steel chain gets dirty, wears down, and destroys the cassette and chainring in the process. It’s the enemy within.

And the above says nothing of those grease marks on your prize commuting pants. There must be a better way, surely?

A belt-drive commuter bike may be the answer. In this article, you’ll find out all about them, and we’ll show you some examples.

Top Belt Drive Bike Picks:

What Is A Belt-Drive Bike And Are They Suited To Commuting?

A belt-drive bike does not differ greatly to any other bike until you get to its drivetrain. Gone is the steel roller chain with 114 pinned links. There’s no derailleur system.

Bicycles have been driven by chains since 1885. Traditionally, the front chainring drives the geared sprockets at the rear, which in turn drive the rear wheel.

Belt drives have existed as a concept in bikes and motorbikes for a long time, too, but it’s only recently that their scope has broadened.

Belt-drive bikes are eminently suitable for commuting. At least, they’re attractive to many commuters because belt drives are low-maintenance and cleaner in use. That’s why you’ll find them mostly on everyday urban bikes where practicality is key.

How Do Belt-Drive Bikes Work?

Instead of using a breakable chain, a belt-drive bike is driven by a toothed polyurethane or carbon-fiber belt. This belt is continuous, unbroken, so you can’t open it even for installation. It has to go through a break in the rear triangle of the bike.

The driving of this belt doesn’t differ greatly from a chain. In other words, there’s a front “chainring” (seemingly a misnomer) with cogs that mesh into corresponding teeth on the belt. Similarly, the cogged belt attaches to a single sprocket at the rear.

Unlike a roller chain, a belt cannot move laterally or rest diagonally. Hence the reason it cannot be used in a derailleur system. On a belt-drive bike, the line between the front and rear of the belt is always straight.

Do Belt-Drive Bikes Have Gears?

Despite their incompatibility with the ubiquitous derailleur system, most belt-drive bikes have gears. There are nominally fewer than in a derailleur bike, but derailleur systems often include overlapped gears in their range.

Because belts are incompatible with derailleur systems, geared belt-drive bikes use an internal gear hub or a Pinion gearbox. The other option is a single-speed bike.

Video: How A Simple 3-Speed Hub Works (no sound)

The number of gears a belt-drive bike has is a determining factor in its price. If your commute is mostly flat, you’ll save money by looking for a single-speed or 3-gear model.

Can You Turn A Normal Bike Into A Belt-Drive Commuter?

The short answer is yes, you can turn a regular commuting bike into a belt drive. But it’s complicated, and you can’t do it with any bike.

The best, most durable belt drive on the market is the Gates Carbon Drive, but you need to cut open the rear triangle of your bike to install one. Then you need a way to secure the severed frame once the belt is in place.

Not all bike frames are suitable for this conversion, particularly those with oval or tapered seat stays. You also need a wheel with a compatible internal hub. Or, keep things simple by going single-speed.

A Workaround Conversion

There is a product on the market that allow this conversion without cutting your bike, though it’s not cheap. Namely, it’s the Veer Split Belt Pro Bicycle Belt Drive Kit.

Video: Split Belt Pro Installation

Chain Vs Belt: Is Belt-Drive Better Than Chain?

When debating whether a belt drive is better than a chain, you need to decide what’s important to you.

Let’s make a few comparisons.

  • Maintenance – belts last three to five times longer than chains, except in cases where chains are maintained to a near-absurd degree. Belts are low-maintenance and chains aren’t.
  • Cost – replacement belts are far more expensive than chains, which makes a difference to commuters on low incomes. Over the long haul, the cost gap reduces. Hub gears are vastly more expensive than derailleur gears.
  • Efficiency – when a chain is new, there’s not a lot in it as far as efficiency goes. But a belt drive would probably beat a dirty chain for drive efficiency. As well, the belt’s drive-line is always straight, whereas a derailleur chainline isn’t.
  • Gear Range – traditional derailleur systems offer endless possibilities in terms of their gear ratios, and they have a wider range than most gear hubs.
  • Peace – a belt drive beats a chain for quietness.
  • Spares – belt-drive parts are harder to find than chainset components. You won’t be able to pop into any bike shop for them.
  • Hassle – the hassle-free nature of running a belt-drive bike is a major benefit for commuters. Belt drives are ideal for the reluctant mechanic.

A commuter may decide that a belt drive is better than a chain. This is a conclusion anyone could reach from the army of cyclists who don’t enjoy chain maintenance.

Top 7 Best Belt-Drive Commuter Bikes

Having gone over some belt-drive basics, we’ll now look at a few machines that are ready and waiting to be bought.

1. Trek District 4 Equipped 2021 Commuter Bike (best overall)

CHECK PRICE AT TREK

  • Frame Material: Alpha Smooth Aluminum
  • Gearing: 8-speed Shimano Alfine S7000
  • Weight: 34.1 lb. (15.46 kg)

A stylish hybrid equipped with a Gates CDX S250 belt drive is the Trek District 4 Equipped 2021 Commuter Bike. This bike sports an 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub with a 306% gear range, which refers to the difference between lowest and highest gears.

The District 4 Equipped also includes a 3W Shimano dynamo hub. This powers a 180-lumen Herrmans MR8 front light and an H-Trace rear light. The latter is visible from 350 meters away.

Other useful features of this good-looking Trek include an MIK rear cargo rack, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, and robust 40c Bontrager H2 Comp tires with reflective sidewalls. Fenders and a kickstand add further to the strong list of specs.

What We Like

  • Gates CDX – top-tier durable Gates belt-drive.
  • Extras – comes with dynamo lights, a rack, fenders, and a kickstand.
  • Gears – high-quality Shimano Alfine internal hub.

What We Don’t Like

  • Narrow – rack not wide enough for everyone.

2. Marin Presidio 3 700C Commuter Bike 2022 (best value)

CHECK PRICE AT JENSON USA

  • Frame Material: 6061 Aluminum
  • Gearing: 8-speed Shimano Nexus

A bike that is designed with your daily commute in mind is the Marin Presidio 3 700C Commuter Bike. This handsome machine is equipped with a Gates CDN belt drive and an 8-speed Shimano Nexus 8D gear hub with a 302% range.

Stopping power in the Marin Presidio 3 comes from Shimano U300 hydraulic disc brakes. While you don’t get the rack and fenders with this bike, it does include the requisite eyelets so you can install your own.

This Marin commuter is comfortable to ride, not least because of its relaxed geometry and 32c Vee Tire Baldy tires. The tires include built-in puncture protection and a reflective sidewall.

What We Like

  • Gears – useful commuting selection of 8 gears.
  • Brakes – responsive hydraulic disc brakes for fast stopping.
  • Adaptable – you get to choose the components you want or need.
  • Value – high quality, low-maintenance bike for a fair price.

What We Don’t Like

3. Shand Leveret Commuter Bike (best for long commutes)

CHECK PRICE AT SHAND

  • Frame Material: Cro-moly Steel
  • Gearing: 8-speed Shimano Alfine
  • Weight: 26.45 lb. (12 kg) Large

A belt-driven bicycle that gobbles up miles is the Shand Leveret Commuter Bike. This machine is beautifully constructed with a tig-welded, custom drawn, triple-butted main frame.

You can buy the Leveret with either a drop or flat handlebar. The drop bars will appeal to roadie commuters. They have a compact design that lets you switch easily between tops, hoods and drops. Gear changes are made with Microshift bar-end shifters.

This bike doesn’t skimp on components. It has the Gates Carbon CDX belt drive, and the CDX:EXP 50t front cogs are designed with high mileage in mind. The smooth-rolling wheels are fitted with quality tan-wall Schwalbe G-One Allround 700 x 35c tires.

What We Like

  • Construction – beautifully made bike with triple-butted steel frame.
  • Comfort – relaxed geometry and 35c tires.
  • Drive – high-quality Gates CDX belt drive.
  • Brakes – hydraulic disc brakes with dedicated levers.

What We Don’t Like

  • Saddle – firm and potentially uncomfortable on a long ride.

4. Priority Apollo Gravel Bike (best for hills)

CHECK PRICE AT PRIORITY BICYCLES

  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Gearing: 11-speed Shimano Alfine
  • Weight: 24 lb. (10.88 kg)

For a belt-drive bike that excels at commuting, gravel, adventure, and touring, check out the Priority Apollo Gravel Bike. Its Shimano 11-speed hub has a 409% gear ratio range, so it’s pretty good for getting up hills and riding down them.

This striking bike comes in Deep Space Blue or Ground Control Green. Made-up colors though they are, they look good. The bike has a Gates Carbon Drive belt to uphold Priority’s reputation for low-maintenance bikes.

Stopping power in the Apollo comes from a TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes.

It’s unsurprising to find a flared handlebar on the Priority Apollo. There’s 12° of flare for extra comfort and control on rougher surfaces. Also addressing those surfaces are wide 40mm tires.

What We Like

  • Gears – wider gear range than many belt-drive bikes.
  • Easy – another winner from the low-maintenance specialist.
  • Comfort – flared handlebar and comfy wide tires.
  • Brakes – TRP Spyre are among the best mechanical disc brakes.

What We Don’t Like

  • Cost – worth the money, but those 11 gears help drive the price up.

Read more: Riding road bikes for commuting

5. Canyon Commuter 8 Hybrid Commuting Bike (best for comfort)

Canyon Commuter 8 Hybrid Commuting Bike in Gray colorPin

CHECK PRICE AT CANYON

  • Frame Material: Aluminum
  • Gearing: 11-speed Shimano Alfine S700
  • Weight: 26.45 lb. (12.20 kg)

Look no further than the Canyon Commuter 8 if an award-winning bike takes your fancy. This superbly constructed machine is made from high-quality materials and offers several handy commuting features.

This is a comfortable bike to ride, not least because of the shock-absorbing VCLS seatpost. The proprietary leaf-spring design used in the post smooths out any rough surfaces on your daily commute.

Perched atop the seat post is a Selle San Marco Regal Woven saddle, which has a reputation in its own right as a comfortable seat.

Other standout features of the Commuter 8 include a Gates CDN belt drive, CDX rear sprocket, a SON 28 SL dynamo hub that powers two integrated lights, a rack, and a Wingee fender set.

What We Like

  • Seating – shock-absorbing seatpost and plush saddle.
  • Lighting – dynamo lights for hassle-free visibility.
  • Gears – wide-ranging gears to tackle most commuting terrain.
  • Stability – long wheelbase for stability.

What We Don’t Like

  • Looks – truncated cockpit might not appeal to everyone.

6. Priority Classic Plus Commuter Bike (best budget)

CHECK PRICE AT PRIORITY BICYCLES

  • Frame: Aluminum
  • Gearing: 3-speed Shimano Nexus
  • Weight: 25 lb. (11.33 kg)

If your commute is fairly flat and you’re looking for a stylish, low-maintenance bike, Priority have the answer. The Classic Plus Commuter Bike saves you money by using a simple 3-speed Shimano gear hub and the cheaper Gates CDN belt drive.

Despite its appealing price, this is not a bike you’ll be disappointed in. It’s lightweight at only 25 pounds, which counteracts that lower gear range. And it’s super-comfortable to ride with its wide tires, swept-back handlebar and relaxed geometry.

Brakes on this bike come in the form of coaster brakes (pedal backwards to stop) and a dual-pivot front handbrake.

What We Like

• Price – a stylish, low-maintenance commuter for a modest sum.
• Comfort – geometry and handlebar is easy on your back and wrists.
• Extras – includes bottle cage, kickstand, reflectors and pump.
• Colors – multiple color choices with tan tires.

What We Don’t Like

• Brakes – you’ll need to acquaint yourself with coaster brakes.

7. Tern HSD S+ Folding Electric Bike

CHECK PRICE AT REI

  • Frame: 6061 aluminum
  • Gearing: 9-speed Enviolo Sport 380
  • Weight: 58.7 lb. (26.62 kg)

Belt drives aren’t only used on manual bikes, as you can see with the Tern HSD S+ Folding Electric Bike. This e-bike commuter has some impressive spec, not least the 380% gear ratio range from its Enviolo Sport 380 9-speed internal gear hub.

The Enviolo hub allows manual or “Automatiq” gear shifting. The latter adjusts the gear on the fly to maintain your required cadence.

This Class 1 e-bike has a mid-drive Bosch Performance Line motor, offering pedal assist at speeds up to 20 mph. The included Bosch 500Wh battery promises a long range of up to 74 miles.

Other handy features include a large rear cargo rack, fenders, ABUS keyed-alike frame lock, hydraulic disc brakes, suspension forks and suspension seat post.

What We Like

  • Quality – a formidable, well-made commuting machine.
  • Range – excellent 74-mile max range.
  • Extras – includes ABUS frame lock, fenders and a rack.
  • Auto – Enviolo hub controls gears in auto mode.

What We Don’t Like

  • Weight – a heavy bike even by e-bike standards.

Read more: The pros and cons of folding bikes

In Summary

Among our guide to belt drive commuter bikes, there are undoubtedly some impressive machines. We hope we’ve given you plenty to ponder.

The Trek District 4 Equipped 2021 Commuter Bike took top spot in our reviews for its comprehensive feature set. It leaves you wanting for little and saves you from having to buy vital accessories.

Our second-placed bike is more of a blank canvas. The good-looking Marin Presidio 3 700C Commuter Bike gives you scope to add whatever commuting items you need. It has a solid, lightweight frame and efficient hydraulic disc brakes.

Third place goes to the lovely Shand Leveret Commuter Bike, which is almost worth owning for its workmanship alone. It offers much more besides, including CDX:EXP sprockets with extra surface area for high-mileage durability. It’s easy to imagine belt drives becoming ever more popular on many types of bike. They let you focus on enjoying the ride.

Guide To Belt Drive Commuter Bikes - Pinterest Pin Small ImagePin
Bike Push - Mark W
Mark W
I’m a cycling enthusiast, and the founder and chief editor of Bike Push. If I’m not working on this website, then I’m out on the bike clocking up the miles. I want to help others get the most out of cycling.

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