Belt vs. Chain Drive on an Electric Bike

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Updated March 4, 2023

The question of belt vs chain drive on electric bikes is something may be pondering if you’re trying to determine the best electric bike based on your needs. While belt drives are often considered an upgrade from the older chain belt style, they’re not always the best choice, and since they’re increasingly common, you should get to know the pros and cons of each kind. Chain drives have generally been the most common variety on e-bikes since they first appeared on the market and go back at least 100 years on traditional bicycles. If you’re new to discovering electric bikes, you’ll want to read up on them. They’re so ubiquitous that many people have only ever seen a traditional bike chain used on a regular bike, e-bike, or motorcycle, and the fact that they’ve remained the primary technology for over a century speaks to the effectiveness of the system.

More recently, belt drives- which are made of a single piece usually made of an ultra-strong synthetic fiber attached to pulleys on the gearbox and rear wheel have begun to emerge on e-bikes as an alternative, and they’re generally marketed as an improvement on the chain drive. While this is often true, several factors- like value and compatibility- should be considered before either purchasing an e-bike or changing from one drive type to the other.


  • Chain drives are inexpensive, easy to find, and compatible with most motor and frame types.
  • Belt drives offer superior durability with little to no maintenance, but their considerably higher cost makes them less practical for casual riders.
  • Chain drives require regular maintenance and are susceptible to rusting, which may mitigate their appeal to casual riders in comparison to maintenance-free belt drives.

Differences between Belt Drive and Chain Drive Systems

You should also consider what bike you need and the drive type that may be better for a certain function than others. For instance, if you want one of the top electric cargo bikes, you may consider a belt drive as it is stronger and requires less maintenance than a chain. Continue reading to learn more about these differences.

Like the debate over brake pads vs disc brakes, the choice comes down to the kind of rider you are. These are also important factors to consider if you are going to convert a regular bike into an ebike. If that is your goal, you may want to learn how to wire a battery for an electric bike as well.

And while you are at it, you can check out the differences between electric bikes vs conversion kits.

Insider Tip

Chain belts are easy to replace and repair and will fit most e-bikes regardless of motor or frame type.


The most immediate difference between chain drives and the less common belt drive is that chain drives are considerably less expensive. Belt drives are a newer technology compared to chain drives, and they’ve only recently started to be more common on e-bikes- though as they become more and more common, those prices are likely to drop considerably.


When it comes to upgrading or switching drives on an e-bike you already own, compatibility is going to be a key factor when deciding between drive types. Here, chain drive bikes have the advantage- most chain drives will be compatible with most e-bikes regardless of motor, wheel, or bike frame types. Conversely, belt drives are a newer option and are often more proprietary- there are also far fewer options and even fewer belt-drive bikes.


A chain drivetrain is made of multiple metal links (the chain itself) that can be removed or replaced, making repairs possible in many cases. Belt drives, being one piece, can’t be dismantled in order to do repairs and thus will generally require a replacement depending on the damage- and being more expensive and less common than chain drives, this can be an issue.


While chain belts are far less expensive and not difficult to find, they require regular maintenance that belt drives do not.


Here’s where belt drives definitely have major advantages over chain systems. Chain drives can be quite noisy due to their metal construction and multiple pieces, especially at higher speeds. Belt drives aren’t metal and are comprised of one single strip of material, making them far quieter in any situation.


Chain drives require far more maintenance than belt drives- they need to be cleaned and dry lube treated regularly to keep them running smoothly. They’re also more susceptible to the elements, can limit top speeds, and can rust if not properly cared for. You can get a chain guard to help with this, but it will only help so much. Bicycles with belt drives, on the other hand, are extremely tough, don’t rust or wear down like chain drives, can support more weight, and don’t require any special maintenance requirements. Additionally, to ensure your bike always runs smooth, you can follow these guidelines on ebike maintenaince.

STAT: A worn-out chain drive is around 4% less efficient than a worn-out belt drive in terms of battery drain. (source)

STAT: Conversely, research suggests that chain drives in good condition are about 20% more energy-efficient than belt drives in good condition. (source)

STAT: A well-maintained belt drive can last 3-5 times longer than a typical chain drive. (source)


What are the most common drive types for e-bikes?

The traditional chain drive is by far the most common drive type found on an e-bike drivetrain, followed by belt drives. Other very uncommon drive types that some e-bikes come installed with are shaft drives, string drives, treadle drives, and direct drives.

Will belt drives get any cheaper?

Belt drives are often considered upgrades to chain drives and have only recently started to come built-in on more e-bikes. If they start to become the standard, there should be a significant but gradual lowering of prices on belt drives, though this could take several years yet.

Are belt drives worth it?

If you ride on a regular basis, especially in a range of rough weather and terrain, a belt drive will provide far superior performance and durability with none of the maintenance required by chain drives, but for a very casual rider who mostly sticks to roads and doesn’t ride more than a couple of times a week, it may not be worth the price.

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