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The Chainless Bike: Is the Shaft Drive Bike The Future?

Believe it or not, the chainless bike is not a new invention. As early as the 1880s bike manufacturers were experimenting with shaft-driven bicycles. However, despite the promise of an alternative to messy chains and greasy gears, shaft-drivetrains never quite caught on in the cycling industry. Chains and derailleurs have been the standard drivetrain option for over a century at this point. They are pretty much universal.

Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves once again asking whether shaft-drive bikes will shape the future of cycling. A number of companies offer shaft drive bikes. There are also a couple of new and interesting shaft drive designs currently in development.

In this guide, we take a deep dive into the world of chainless bicycles. We’ll compare shaft drive vs chain drive and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. We’ll cover efficiency, weight, parts, performance, cost, and more.

In addition, we’ll take a look at some chainless bicycle options including belt drive, digital drive, and hydraulic drive. Hopefully, this guide helps you whether or not a chainless bicycle is the right choice for you.

bicycle with shaft drive
Image: “This is an enclosed shaft drive for a bicycle. The shaft casing also acts as a frame member of the cycle” by vjdeep, licensed under CC BY 3.0

What is a Chainless Bike?

A chainless bike is any bicycle that doesn’t use a chain to transmit power. There are a number of different types of chainless bikes including shaft drive bikes, belt drive bikes, digital drive bikes, hydraulic drive bikes, and even string drive bikes. Each of these systems has its own benefits and drawbacks. This guide focuses on shaft drive bikes.

What is a Shaft Drive Bike?

A shaft-drive bike is a type of bicycle that uses a driveshaft instead of a traditional bike chain to transmit power from the pedals to the rear wheel. When you pedal a shaft driven bike, the cranks turn a bevel gear. This gear has teeth that mesh with a gear on the driveshaft. This causes the driveshaft to rotate. The driveshaft turns another bevel gear at the other end. This gear turns the rear wheel to propel the bike forward.

The front bevel gear is located where the chainring would be on a chain drive bike. The rear bevel gear is located where the cassette would be located on a chain drive bike. Both gears are connected by the driveshaft. The drive shaft runs from the cranks to the rear hub.

Traditionally, the driveshaft and bevel gears are housed in an aluminum case on the right side of the rear wheel. This case doubles as the right chainstay. In other words, the case that the driveshaft is housed in forms part of the frame. The driveshaft system is built into the frame of the bike.

This means there are no exposed moving parts on a shaft drive bicycle. All of the gears are sealed in a housing. You don’t have to deal with a greasy chain or skipping gears. The system looks clean and minimalist.

A shaft drive bicycle can be single speed. They can also use an internal gear hub for multiple speeds. Shaft drive bikes can also be made so you can backpedal to brake, like you can on a fixed gear bike. Some models have a freewheel mechanism.

Shaft drive systems are used in the automotive industry. Many cars, trucks, motorcycles, and ships use shaft drive systems. Shaft drive systems also have many industrial applications. Shaft drive systems are popular for these applications because they are very durable and long-lasting. Bicycles with shaft drives have also existed for over 130 years.

A man riding a bicycle on a street downtown in a big city

Shaft Drive Vs Chain

Both shaft drive and chain drive bikes have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. In this section, we compare these two types of drivetrains in-depth.

Drivetrain Efficiency

Shaft drive bikes are less efficient than chain drive or belt drive bikes. The loss of energy comes from the change in the direction of the rotational force.

There are two places where a shaft drive systems change rotational direction. One is at the cranks and the other is at the rear hub. You lose energy when the direction of rotation changes. This reduces efficiency.

Chain drives are more efficient because they don’t change the direction of rotation. You pedal in the same direction that the rear tire rotates. This is more efficient.

There isn’t much data on the efficiency of shaft drive vs chain drive bicycles but studies have been done on motorcycles. According to this article, “The power loss in shaft drive is really high, about 25%” to compare “…the percentage of power loss in a chain drive mechanism is as little as almost 3%”.

I recognize that bicycles and motorcycles are different machines but this shows that shaft drives are less efficient than chain drive systems. Shaft drives work great on motorcycles because the efficiency loss can be made up for with a larger motor. You can’t make up for the efficiency loss on a bicycle. You’ll have to work harder to ride.

A single speed chain drivetrain can be up to 99% efficient. Belt drivetrains are up to 98% efficient. To compare, a shaft drivetrain would be around 92% efficient. This is under optimal conditions.

A chain drive bike
A single speed chain drivetrain is the most efficient drivetrain option.

This difference in efficiency may seem minimal. For a short ride, it is. For a longer ride, every bit of energy loss is important.

Assume a bike and rider weighing 190 lbs rode up a hill with a 5% grade for one hour with a shaft driven bike. The same rider made the same ride with a chain drive bike. They would be around 4 minutes slower on the shaft drive bicycle. This is assuming the riders output around 150 watts of power during both rides and both bikes weighted the same.

It’s also important to note that chain drives lose efficiency when they get contaminated with dirt, sand, mud, and water. Chains also lose efficiency when they go out of adjustment and when they begin to wear. While riding in wet and muddy conditions, a chain drive may drop to 93% efficiency.

Because shaft drives are completely sealed, they don’t lose efficiency in rugged conditions. Mud, sand, and water can’t enter the drivetrain. This means, a shaft drive system could be just as efficient as a chain drive in dirty and wet conditions. A shaft drive system could also be more efficient than a poorly maintained chain drive.

Winner: Chain drives are more efficient than shaft drives.

Chain vs Chainless Bike Weight

Shaft drive bikes are heavier than chain drive bikes. This is because a shaft drive requires extremely heavy duty components. On average a shaft drive bike will weigh 1-2 kg (2.2-4.4 pounds) more than a comparable chain drive bike.

Heavy duty components are required for shaft drive bikes because the components must be able to handle the extreme torque generated by the rider while starting from a stop or while climbing hills.

The force on the gears is a challenge for shaft drive bikes because they use small-diameter bevel gears. The small gear size results in increased torque on the gear teeth. Heavy-duty components must be used to handle this torque without stripping the gears or wearing them down prematurely. Chain drives use larger gears which disperse the torque over a larger area resulting in less stress on the gears.

To delve deeper into the technical details, it’s worth noting that the moment arm in a shaft drivetrain is typically around 4-8 times shorter than that of a chain or belt cog. A moment arm is the distance between a rotating axis, like a wheel, and a force being applied to that axis, like when you’re pedaling your bike.

The longer the moment arm, the more leverage you have to create that twisting effect with less force. In a shaft-based drivetrain, the moment arm is far shorter than in a chain or belt-based system, so it needs to be designed to handle more force to compensate.

As a result, engineers must design the shaft drive to withstand a significant increase in force. These increased forces can cause excessive wear and tear on the bearings and bevel gears, leading to rapid deterioration if not engineered with careful attention to detail and specific requirements.

Winner: Chain drives are far lighter than shaft drives.

Proprietary Parts

One of the biggest drawbacks to chainless bikes, in my opinion, is that they have lots of proprietary parts. The shaft drive system and the entire frame that the system is built around are proprietary. There are very few standard parts in the drivetrain, if any.

If you have a problem with your shaft drive system or if you need to buy a replacement part, you’ll have to go to the manufacturer to buy the parts that you need. This can be a problem if the manufacturer goes out of business or stops producing a particular part. You might be out of luck. Finding a replacement bevel gear could be a real challenge.

If you can’t get the parts that you need, you can’t simply convert a shaft driven bike to a chain drive. This is because the frame is specifically designed for a shaft drive. Your frame is only compatible with a shaft drivetrain.

With a chain drive bike, most parts are universal. If a chain, cassette, chainring, derailleur, or shifter breaks or wears out, you can just go to the nearest bike shop and buy a replacement. You can’t do this if you ride a shaft driven bike.

A bike being worked on in a bike shop
Chain drive parts are all standard. Any decent bike shop can sell you parts or fix your bike if something wears out or breaks.

It is also possible to convert most chain drive bikes to belt drive. This involves buying a whole new drivetrain but it is doable.

Winner: Chain drive bikes have fewer proprietary parts than shaft drive

Gear Alignment

One major issue for shaft drivetrains is gear alignment. In order for the drivetrain to operate smoothly and efficiently, the gears need to be aligned perfectly.

This is much more difficult when using a shaft drive than with a chain or belt drive because a shaft can’t flex like a chain or belt can. If the gears aren’t aligned correctly, they will wear quickly. The drivetrain also won’t operate efficiently.

The main issue is frame flex. Under load, bike frames flex. You can cause frame flex when you pedal hard, corner hard, or overload the bike. This can push the bevel gears out of alignment. With a chain drive, the flexibility of the chain allows the drivetrain to absorb some of this frame flex without pushing the gears too far out of alignment.

With a shaft drive, the frame needs to be extra stiff to reduce flex. If the frame isn’t stiff enough, the gears won’t mesh correctly when the frame is under load. Even a small amount of flex can cause issues.

One potential solution to frame flex to this issue is to use CV joints (constant velocity joints), like those used in car wheels. This would allow for frame flex. The problem is that adding CV joints to a bike’s drivetrain adds more friction. This further reduces efficiency. It also increases the weight and complexity of the drivetrain.

Another issue is that shaft drivetrains must be manufactured very precisely to optimize the gear meshing. Tolerances must be extremely tight. If the gears are misaligned, you’ll lose efficiency and the gears will wear out quickly. In addition, it must be possible for the rider to re-align the rear bevel gear after removing and installing the rear wheel after repairing a flat. This makes shaft drive frames harder to engineer and manufacture.

It is possible to design a shaft driven bike that maintains proper gear alignment. The problem is that it requires a stiff frame and tight manufacturing tolerances in order to achieve the proper distance between the bevel gears. This substantially increases costs. Chains are far easier to work with. They don’t require nearly as much precision.

Winner: It’s easier to maintain proper gear alignment with a chain drive bike.

Performance

Chain drive bikes offer better performance than shaft drive bikes. All professional cyclists still use chain drivetrains. They do this for a reason. If shaft drivtrains offered better performance, they would use hem.

Chain drive bikes offer faster acceleration, higher speeds, and greater efficiency because the chain does not absorb as much energy when you pedal. You can deliver more power to the rear wheel with a chain driven bike than with a shaft driven bike. This results in better overall performance. You can maintain a higher average speed with a chain drive.

A bicycle race
Chain drive bikes perform better than shaft drive. It’s why they’re used in professional cycling.

There is one area where a shaft drive systems may offer better performance. That is riding in extremely muddy and wet conditions. Because shaft drivetrains are sealed, contaminants can’t get into the drivetrain and create extra friction. A shaft drive may be a bit more efficient when it’s caked in mud or snow.

With a chain drive, you have to worry about dirt or mud clogging up the system and making it difficult to pedal and shift. In extreme cases, a shaft drive system may be more efficient than a chain drive.

Still, all mountain bikers use chain drive bikes. The conditions where a shaft drive would perform better are extremely uncommon. For most riders, the performance advantages of a chain drive far outweigh any potential benefits of riding a shaft drive.

Winner: Chain drive bikes offer better performance than shaft drive bikes.

Maintenance

One of the benefits of a shaft drive bike is that it requires less maintenance than a traditional chain drive bike. This is because shaft-drive systems are fully enclosed and sealed. They are protected from dirt, mud, rain, sand, mud, snow, and other environmental factors. There are no exposed parts.

As a result, the drivetrain last longer and requires less maintenance. You don’t have to clean and lubricate it as often. This makes shaft drive bikes a good choice for commuters, urban cyclists, and people who want a low-maintenance, easy-to-use bike.

After a shaft drive bicycle is set up, there is really no day-to-day maintenance. The drivetrain will run for thousands of miles without needing to be cleaned, lubed, or adjusted. If you have an internal gear hub, you may need to change the oil in it once every 5000km or 3100 miles.

One of the biggest drawbacks of chain drivetrains is the maintenance they require. Maintaining a bicycle’s chain drivetrain is crucial to ensure a smooth and efficient ride.

The most important maintenance task is cleaning and lubricating the chain regularly. Dirt and grime accumulate on the chain. This creates additional friction and causes abrasion, which causes the chain to wear out faster.

You’ll need to use a rag and brush and a degreaser to remove dirt and debris. It’s a messy job. Once clean, you’ll need to apply a bicycle-specific lubricant to keep the chain running smoothly.

You’ll need to clean your chain every 100-150 miles. For the average cyclist, that will mean every week or two. If you ride in wet conditions, you may have to clean your chain after every ride to keep your bike running efficiently. It’s an annoying and messy job that needs to be done frequently.

Another key aspect of maintaining a chain drivetrain is keeping the derailleurs adjusted. The derailleurs are responsible for shifting the chain from gear to gear. If they’re not properly adjusted, they can cause the chain to skip or fall off the cassette or chainring. The chain could also rub on the front derailleur if it’s not adjusted properly.

To adjust the derailleurs, you’ll use the barrel adjusters to fine-tune the shifting. Alternatively, you can take the bike to a professional if you’re unsure of how to do it yourself. You’ll probably only have to adjust your derailleurs once per year. Maybe less.

Over time, the chain and cassette will wear out and need to be replaced. A chain wear gauge can be used to determine when the chain has stretched too much and needs to be replaced. A chain usually lasts 1500-2500 miles if it’s properly maintained. A cassette will last for 2-3 chains.

Chains and cassette
Chains and cassettes need to be replaced periodically.

One drawback of chainless bikes is that it is harder to find someone who can work on the bike if something breaks. You can’t just take a shaft driven bike into any bike shop for maintenance. You’ll need to find one that is capable of working on your specific bike.

It’s far easier to find someone to maintain your chain drive bike. Any bike shop can adjust your derailleurs or replace your chain or cassette. This makes chain drive bikes the better choice for riding in remote areas If something breaks, you can always find someone who knows how to work on a chain drivetrain.

Of course, with both types of bikes you’ll have to do other routine maintenance such as replacing the brake pads, cables, tires, tubes, etc. as they wear out and keeping all bearings greased.

Winner: Shaft drive bikes require much less maintenance than chain drive bikes. The drivetrain is basically maintenance free.

Cost

Chain drive bikes are cheaper than shaft drive bikes. There are a few reasons for this. First, chain drivetrains are much more common. Millions of chain drivetrains are produced. Manufacturers can use economies of scale to bring the cost down.

Chain drivetrains are also simpler. Chain drivetrains can also be bought off the shelf. They don’t require proprietary parts. They can also be manufactured with less precision. This all brings costs down.

You can buy an entry level chain drivetrain for less than $300. A mid range drivetrain might cost $600-$800. High end models might cost $1500-$3000. This includes the chain, cassette, chainring, derailleurs, shifters, and cranks.

Replacement parts are also affordable. You can buy decent chains, derailleurs, and cassettes for $20-$30 each. Chainrings start at around $50. Premium models are more expensive. This lower cost makes chain drive the better choice if you’re on a budget.

Shaft drivetrains require bespoke components that aren’t available off the shelf. Manufacturers need to make all of the drivetrain components for their shaft-drive bikes, including the frame. As a result, they’re more expensive to produce and purchase.

Winner: Chain drive bikes are cheaper than shaft drive bikes.

Compatibility and Parts Availability

Parts compatibility on chain drive bikes is excellent. A wide range of companies offer chain drive components. Many components are cross compatible. For example, if you have a Shimano groupset, you can use a Sram cassette in most cases. When your chain wears out, you can replace it with a chain from pretty much any brand, as long as it’s the correct size.

If a part wears out, you can almost always find a replacement. You can even find replacement parts for chain drive bikes that are decades old. Parts availability is great.

A chain drive on a fat bike
Drivetrain components for chain drive bikes are common

It is also possible to convert a chain drive bike to belt drive if you choose. You can also install an internal gear hub on a chain drive bike. There are lots of component options available to you.

Compatibility on belt drive bikes is poor. If you want gears, your only option is to use an geared hub. You can’t use derailleurs or a Pinion gearbox.

When a shaft drive component wears out, you have to replace it with the same part from the manufacturer. There are no third party parts available. You’ll usually have to order parts online. Parts availability isn’t great.

If you have a frame that is designed for shaft drive, it will always be shaft drive. You can’t convert it to a chain drive or belt drive.

Winner: Chain drive bikes offer better compatibility. Parts availability is also better.

Looks

Chainless bikes offer a clean and minimalist look. The drive shaft is housed inside the frame. The gears are housed inside the hub. This makes the bike look sleek and streamlined. There are no exposed drivetrain components. It’s a beautiful design.

Chain drive bikes don’t look quite as clean. The chain, derailleurs, and gears are all exposed on the outside of the frame. This makes the bike look more complex. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as a chainless bicycle.

Winner: Chainless bikes have a cleaner look than chain-drive bikes.

Versatility

Chain drive bikes are more versatile. One reason is that there are more component options available. You can upgrade to a belt drive and internal gear hub if you choose. There are endless drivetrain options available for all different types of cycling. You can also use a chain drive bike for all types of cycling including touring, competitive cycling, mountain biking, commuting, road riding, etc. If you can only own one bike, a chain drive bike is the best option.

A gravel bike
Chain drive bikes can be used for commuting, exercise, road riding, touring, and more.

Shaft drive bikes are a bit less versatile. They are really only useful for urban riding and commuting. They aren’t efficient enough for competition or long distance riding. There also aren’t any upgrades you can make to the drivetrain.

Winner: Chain drive bikes are more versatile than shaft drive.

Safety

Shaft drive systems can be safer than chain drive. This is because the system is fully enclosed. You don’t have to worry about clothing or straps getting caught in the drivetrain.

On chain drive bikes, loose clothing, such as pant legs or shoelaces, as well as loose luggage straps, can become snagged in the exposed, rotating chain. This can lead to falls, injuries, or damage to the bike’s drivetrain. This is particularly dangerous on fixed gear bikes.

Winner: Shaft drive bikes are safer.

Consistency

Shaft drive bikes offer more consistent performance than chain drive bikes. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the drivetrain is sealed from contaminants. Next, the drivetrain doesn’t need to be adjusted. It also doesn’t wear as quickly. It always performs the same.

Chain drivetrains can be a bit less consistent. The drivetrain gets dirty or the lube can wear off. This creates more friction. Over time, the chain can stretch and the cogs can wear. The derailleurs can also go out of adjustment. When this happens, the drivetrain won’t operate as smoothly or efficiently. Performance can be less consistent.

Winner: Shaft drives offer more consistent performance.

Longevity

Most shaft drive systems are designed to last for the life of the bike. You could get 30,000-50,000 km out of a shaft drive system. The gears, bearings, seals, and driveshaft itself are usually high quality. They don’t suffer from the same wear as chain drive systems.

Chains stretch over time, so they need to be replaced regularly. You’ll also need to replace the cassette and chainring eventually. Derailleurs and shifters can last decades if they’re cared for. All chain drive components can be replaced.

Winner: Shaft drivetrains last longer than chain drivetrains.

Ground Clearance

The rear derailleur on chain drive bikes hangs down from the dropout near the ground. It is a vulnerable component. It’s easy to knock the derailleur against a rock or another obstacle while riding.

Shaft drive bikes don’t have any exposed parts. They have more ground clearance. You don’t have to worry as much about causing damage to the drivetrain.

Winner: Shaft drives offer more ground clearance.

A woman riding a hybrid bike

Shaft Drive Pros

  • Low maintenance- Shaft drive bikes require little maintenance because the drivetrain is completely enclosed. You don’t have to clean or lube anything. You can just ride the bike.

  • Cleaner look- A shaft drivetrain makes the bike look very minimalistic. The drive shaft is enclosed in the right hand side chainstay.

  • Can be more efficient in specific situations- A shaft drive system may be more efficient than a chain drive in wet, muddy, or sandy conditions. This is because the shaft drive systems are completely enclosed. It can’t get contaminated.

  • Safer- You don’t have to worry about your pant leg getting stuck in the drivetrain because the system is enclosed.

  • Long lasting- Shaft drivetrains last for the life of the bike in most cases. You can get tens of thousands of miles out of a shaft drive.

  • Consistent performance- The bike always rides the same. No adjustments are required. With a chain drive, the drivetrain can get dirty, get worn out, or go out of adjustment and cause the performance to decline.

  • Better ground clearance- There is no rear derailleur hanging down near the ground.

Shaft Drive Cons

  • Inefficient- Shaft drives are less efficient than chain drives. A chain drive can achieve an efficiency of 99%. A shaft drive can achieve an efficiency of around 92%.

  • Compatibility- Shaft drives are not compatible with derailleurs. The only type of gearing you can use with a shaft drive is a geared hub. Many have a single gear.

  • Weight- Shaft drives are heavier than chain or belt drives. Expect a weight penalty of 1-2 kg (2.2-2.4 pounds) if you use a shaft drive.

  • Proprietary parts- The frame and shaft drivetrain are both proprietary. You can’t switch from a shaft drive to a chain drive or belt drive. If you buy a shaft driven bike, you’re stuck with a shaft drivetrain for the life of the bike.

  • Difficult to find replacement parts- Because most of the drivetrain parts are proprietary, they can be difficult to find. If your bevel gears wear out, you can’t just go to a bike shop to buy replacements. You have to order replacements from the manufacturer. If the manufacturer goes out of business, you may have a very hard time finding the parts that you need. Parts availability is poor.

  • More expensive- Shaft drive bikes require a stiff frame. The drivetrain components also need to be manufactured to extremely high tolerances. The gears also need to be designed in a way that allows the rider to easily align them when removing and replacing the rear wheel. This makes the bike harder to engineer, which adds to the cost. In addition, fewer shaft drive bikes are built. Manufacturers can’t use economies of scale. This also adds to the cost.

The Best Shaft Drive Bikes

There aren’t that many shaft drive bikes on the market these days. A few companies make them, though. In this section, I’ll outline some of the best shaft drive bikes that you can buy.

Honbike HF01 Commuter E-bike

This shaft drive electric folding bike is designed specifically for commuters. It offers incredibly low maintenance. Honbike claims that its shaft drive system can last for 50,000 km without needing maintenance. The shaft drive system is 100% enclosed. The bike also comes with some useful commuter features such as built in lights and mudguards. The bike weighs 20.8 kg and offers a range of around 40km.

Beixo Compact

This shaft drive folding bike is available in both electric and standard options. This Dutch company has a lot of experience with shaft drivetrains. They have been building shaft drive bikes since 2005.

The Beixo features a comfortable geometry and 7 speed geared hub drivetrain. It is available in a low frame step through model or a standard folding bike frame model. The company claims that the bike is durable and comfortable enough for long distance rides.

What About Belt Drive?

A bike with a belt drive
Image: “Spot Brand singlespeeds and Gates belt drive”, by Richard Masoner, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Belt drive bikes are another type of chainless bicycle. A belt drive uses a nylon toothed synchronous belt that is reinforced with carbon fiber cords to drive the rear wheel. The belt is used instead of the traditional bike chain.

Belts are paired with durable stainless steel cogs and alloy chainrings. This results in a durable, clean, long-lasting, and low-maintenance drive system that requires very little maintenance.

Belt driven bicycles are popular among commuters for their low maintenance requirements and cleanliness. They do not need to be cleaned as frequently as chains. They also don’t need lube. Many bicycle tourists and bikepackers also use belt drives due to the long maintenance intervals.

Like shaft drives, belt drives can’t use traditional derailleurs. They are only compatible with internal gear hubs and Pinion gear boxes. Of course, single gear is also an option.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide to belt drive vs chain drive bikes.

The Driven Shaft Drivetrain

The shaft drivetrain from Driven Technologies is a geared drivetrain. It uses a series of cartridge bearings to transfer power to an array of pinion gears. This drivetrain was originally developed to reduce drivetrain friction. It achieves this by reducing the number of points of articulation in the drivetrain. It is also designed to be aerodynamically efficient.

The impressive feature of the Driven drivetrain is its ability to function efficiently without the need for an internal gear hub. This results in an incredibly high drive efficiency in every gear, theoretically at least. Driven claims an efficiency rate of 99% or more. This is as efficient as a chain drive and more efficient than an internal gear hub. Even the most efficient geared hub operates at an efficiency rate ranging from 92 to 97% depending on the gear you’re using.

This drivetrain is not yet available to consumers. The company is still trying to work out some issues. A significant challenge lies in managing the low-RPM force. This will necessitate the use of strong and durable materials to ensure sufficient strength. The bearings or gears could fail if too much force is applied.

Achieving precise gear meshing also requires a stiff rear frame triangle, which presents another significant obstacle. If the gears don’t line up perfectly, the bike won’t perform well.

For more info on the Driven shaft drivetrain, check out the Ceramicspeed website here.

Are Shaft Drive Bikes Any Good? Who Should Ride a Shaft Drive Bike?

There is a reason that shaft drive bikes aren’t more popular. They are inefficient, heavy, costly, and more difficult to repair than traditional chain drives. They are also much more difficult to engineer and manufacture.

That said, shaft drive bikes do have a place in the market. They’re great for people who want a bike that requires very little maintenance. You can just hop on and ride without having to worry about cleaning or lubricating your drivetrain. A shaft drive would be a great commuter bike or city bike. Some bike sharing programs use shaft drive bikes due to the low maintenance requirements. They could also work well for those who ride in extremely muddy conditions.

In most cases, the drawbacks of shaft drive bikes outweigh the benefits. Most riders are better off with a chain drive bike, even though they require more maintenance. If you want a low maintenance drivetrain, you’re better off with a belt drive instead of a shaft drive.

A cyclist riding on the shoulder of a road

FAQ About Chainless Shaft Drive Bicycles

In this section, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about shaft drive bikes.

What are the Benefits of a Chainless Bicycle?

The main benefit of a chainless bicycle is the lack of maintenance required. The drivetrain of chainless bikes does not require regular cleaning, lubrication, or adjustment. In addition, chainless bikes are less likely to experience issues such as rust, contamination, and premature wear and tear. This means that riders can spend less time and money on maintenance. This low maintenance is particularly useful for those who use their bikes regularly for commuting or exercise.

Which is Better, Chain or Shaft Drive?

When it comes to choosing between a chain or shaft driven bike, both have their benefits and drawbacks. Chain-drive bikes are generally considered the better choice for most riders due to their efficiency, affordability, and ease of maintenance and repair. Chains are highly efficient at transferring power from the pedals to the rear wheel. You only lose 1-4% of your pedaling power. Chains are also easy to replace when necessary. In addition, chain-drive bikes tend to be less expensive than shaft drive bikes, making them accessible to a wider range of riders.

On the other hand, shaft drive bikes are known for being easy to maintain. They don’t require cleaning, lubrication, or adjustments like chains do. They are also less likely to get jammed or damaged while riding in dirty conditions because they are sealed. This can be especially beneficial for riders who frequently commute or use their bikes for daily transport. Shaft drive bikes are far less efficient.

Overall, the choice between a chain or shaft drive bicycle ultimately depends on individual preferences and needs. In most cases, chain drive is better than shaft drive but shaft drive certainly has its place.

Are Shaft Drive Bikes Any Good or Are They a Terrible Idea?

Yes. Shaft drive bikes can be good for certain riders. One of the biggest advantages of shaft drive bikes is that they are nearly maintenance-free. The driveshaft is designed to last for the life of the bike, meaning that you’ll never need to replace a worn-out, stretched chain. You never have to clean or lube the drivetrain.

However, shaft drive bikes do have some drawbacks to consider. One is weight. The components of a shaft drive system can be quite heavy. Another drawback is that the shaft drive system is less efficient than a chain drive system. This can decrease performance. Finally, shaft drive systems tend to be more expensive.

Final Thoughts About Chainless Bikes

While shaft drives bikes may offer some benefits such as reduced maintenance, they do come with several notable drawbacks to consider. These include the higher cost, limited parts availability, and the fact that they’re less efficient than chain-driven bikes. Furthermore, the proprietary parts make maintenance and repair more difficult and costly.

All things considered, it’s unlikely at this time that the shaft drive bicycle will become the future of cycling. Most likely it will remain a niche option for cyclists looking for something different. There are just too many challenges with these drivetrains. The technology isn’t there yet.

For most cyclists, the traditional chain drive is still the best option. Chains can be used with affordable, lightweight, and efficient derailleurs and gears.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance and long-lasting drivetrain, a belt drive is also a good alternative to consider. They require very little maintenance and offer good efficiency.

Do you ride a bike with a shaft drive? Share your experience in the comments below.

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