Friday, May 20, 2011

Spot Belt-Drive Single Speed Test

Sea Otter 2011 held a wealth of new experiences for me, including my first-ever single speed ride! But I didn't just ride any single speed--I rode a steel frame Spot 29er equipped with a Gates Carbon Drive system.

The simplicity of this bike is incredible: no gears to worry about, no drivetrain to destroy... there isn't even a chain to lube!

At first I was having difficulty as I flicked my thumbs around in thin air searching for my shifter, but eventually I acclimated to it. Before my ride, I thought the most difficult part of riding a single speed would be the climbs. Yeah, some of the climbs were pretty tough, but the part I disliked the most were the downhills.

I'm serious.

On a SS, once you get headed downhill, gravity quickly overtakes the amount of power you can put out, and then you just have to hang on and coast and conserve as much momentum as possible. I don't like that. I ride with an AFAP policy when going downhill (As Fast As Possible), so I love being able to shift up and hammer, flying through the curves and the nast as fast as humanly possible! On a single speed, you just can't do that.

Belt Drive
I really need to spend some time on a traditional chain single speed to make a true evaluation of the belt drive technology, but even from my short experience with it, I fell in love! The belt was eerily quiet out on the trail. I am so used to the spinning of guide wheels and the sound of the chain whirring through the gears, but with this belt there was absolutely nothing.

No sound from the drivetrain, or the bottom bracket or frame for that matter. Nothing.

The only sounds that marked my presents were my heavy panting from the steep hills, and the crunch of the tires on the sandy gravel.

I chatted with the guys at the Spot tent for a while about the belt and its benefits. Apparently it performs admirably in really grimy, wet conditions, such as commuting in a snowy climate. The belt doesn't need to be lubed or maintained like a chain, it just needs to be sprayed off quickly when you wash your bike.

When I asked about the longevity of the belt, he responded that it obviously depends on what conditions you use it in, but that a single belt could go for 10,000 pretty easily without needing to be replaced. I'm lucky if I can get 1,000 miles out of a chain! While the belt is definitely more expensive, the long life is an ample trade off!

Your Turn: Do you ride a single speed? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section below!

PSPlease be sure to vote for Greg Rides Trails in the Crank World Cycling Blog Honors! If you voted yesterday, don't worry: you can vote again today!


rich May 20, 2011 at 11:01 AM  

I was having a discussion about belts with a buddy of mine. My concern was lifespan and he pointed out that Harley Davidson has been using belts for years with no ill effects.
I saw that Raleigh also has a belt offering now so I guess it's going mainstream.
I'll be sticking with my chain on the SS for a while though.

dgaddis May 20, 2011 at 3:07 PM  

Here in the southeast the inability to pedal while going downhill on a SS really isn't an issue, as your speed is generally limited more by how quickly you can make the curves without whacking a tree. Where it sucks is on road connectors between trails. But for singletrack, I love it!

I'm skeptical of a belt. I see their advantage for commuters - paired with an internally geared hub you've got a bomb proof bike! But for SS It's too expensive to change your gear ratio.

Head over to and read some of their thoughts on belt drive, they've had a good bit of experience with them, and there are issues that make them not ideal for MTBing.

Greg Heil May 20, 2011 at 5:27 PM  

@oldnslo, good points.

@dgaddis, good info as well, thanks for weighing in. I'll have to look up some of those reviews...

Greg Heil May 20, 2011 at 5:28 PM  

One of my fellow Flight Crew Members, Wendy, left me a comment on Facebook in response to this article. She is a hardcore single speed endurance writer and had some good input to add:

"Great article Greg. I think you will notice a difference between chain and belt driven. And, while it sucks you cant hammer the downhills, most singlespeeders use some downhills as recovery to be able to hammer up the hills and pass those in their granny gears. Just my opinion as a singlespeeder tho."

Greg Heil May 20, 2011 at 5:28 PM  

Here was my response:

"Hey Wendy, thanks for the comments and the insight! As for the uphill VS downhill, I'm sure it's just a style of riding thing. I grew up addicted to downhill skiing and for years before I ever rode a mtb on singletrack, so that full-speed DH style has really bled through for me. I could see how other people wouldn't be that way though, especially on a SS.

Of course on the really steep stuff, you're not pedaling anyways!"

Greg Heil May 30, 2011 at 7:25 AM  

Clayton also left a comment on the Facebook Page:

"I definitely agree with you on the downhill part of the single speeds.. It sucks when you get topped out and can't keep up with your buddies because your bike won't go any faster"

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