The 2 types of drive used in spin bikes, both have advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other. Importantly both can be used in bikes that are reliable, durable and give you as tough a workout as you want.
I talked briefly about the differences between the belt drives and chain drives in my buying guide. (You can see it here for a quick overview).
In this post I’m going into some more depth. I line them up against each other to see how they perform in the criteria I think is most important to a user. If you don’t want to do all that reading you can go to the summary at the bottom but you do miss out on all my detailed analysis 🙂
First off here is a brief description of each.
A tough rubber belt is used to transfer the power from the pedals to the flywheel. There is a high tension kept on the belt to prevent it from slipping as it turns to give a smooth ride. Some bikes now use a kevlar belt (a new tough material) which is harder wearing and last longer than the traditional belt drive material. See SB700 review for a bike that uses a kevlar belt.
This is like you see on outdoor bikes. The flywheel is turned by a roller chain passing over a sprocket that is powered by turning the pedals. It does only have single gear.
Most bikes have a fixed gear whether it is a chain drive or belt drive. The pedals keep turning while the flywheel continues to turn due to the momentum and will slow down as resistance slows the momentum or a brake is used.
There is no doubt a chain drive requires more ongoing maintenance than a belt drive. With a chain drive you need to lubricate and tighten to get the best performance from it. Over time lubricant is needed to keep it working smoothly as the chain dries out. Also the chain will stretch and need tightening in the same way you do on outdoor bikes.
With belt drives they last for years before they require any maintenance. Eventually the belt will stretch and become loose. At this time it needs replacing with a new belt or you will have a bumpy ride. This is a bit more involved and may require a bike mechanic to do it for you depending on how mechanically minded you are.
Interestingly many gym bikes are chain driven. One of the reasons for this is that with the high usage of the bikes a belt drive does loosen up in a relatively short period and users end up with the bumpy ride. The maintenance on a chain drive works out a more efficient way to go for them.
Both these drives are quiet. You can hear the TV easily and hold conversations without upping the volume. The chain drive makes the same amount of noise you get from a bike chain – as the chain goes over the sprockets you get the same clinking noise. The noise is often quietened by the chain guard that the spin bikes have. If it isn’t properly adjusted you are going to hear the chain banging against the guard which can be loud but with a little tightening it will be then taken back to the soft clinking sound.
Belt drives are almost silent and there is no need to adjust to keep it this way. This is another big plus for these drives.
Normally belt drives are a little more expensive than chain drive bikes. It’s not always the case with Sunny Health & Fitness Belt Drive Indoor Cycle currently on Amazon at $30 less than the chain drive version of the bike.
Belt drives are priced higher because of their perceived value and because they can cost a bit more to manufacture.
There needs to be a higher tension used for the belt drive so the crankshaft and flywheel shaft need to stronger to withstand this so they don’t become loose or wear out. A chain drive is more forgiving when not properly aligned whereas if the belt drive is not properly aligned it will wear out quickly and give a rough ride.
Performance And Feel
A chain drive will give you a smooth quality ride that is similar in feel to that of an outdoors bike due to the chain moving over the sprocket. You can get a top quality workout from these drives.
The belt drive also gives a smooth ride. In fact it is a smoother ride as you don’t have the effect of the chain going over the sprockets. The difference is not major but it is there. If you want the smoothest ride then a belt drive is the way to go but it doesn’t give you the feeling you get from riding a bike .
Both drives can give you a very good workout and can stand up to the toughest tests.
The belt drive beats a chain drive in a number of areas. It is quieter, there is less maintenance required and it gives a smoother ride. The chain drive bikes are cheaper, feel more like an outdoor bike and have the reassuring bike chain sound to keep you company as you ride. The chain can also be adjusted and tightened as required whereas when the belt drive becomes loose it needs to be replaced – however that is likely to be after a number of years of trouble free cycling.
If you are not interested in the bike feeling , don’t want to do the relatively minor maintenance and are prepared to pay a little extra (but not always) the belt drive is the way to go.
If you want to save some money and get a similar spec bike in all other areas other than the belt drive then the chain drive is the way to go or if you want it to feel more like an outdoors bike while you are pedaling.