Spin Bike Drive & How to Pick The Best One

Spin bikes are one of the best modern inventions for home fitness use. They allow for working out at home, which can especially be useful in the current times of pandemic that we happen to be going through. Because these machines are so varied and so numerous these days, there are a ton of different design choices that one can make while looking for one of these spin bikes. This could include elements such as the gear ratio, resistance system, or electronic abilities that come with. One of these decisions is what sort of drive system is used in the bike.

We’re going to look at these drive systems and compare them. There are two main categories of spin bike drives; belt drives and chain drives. In belt drives, a tough, rubber belt is used to transfer power from the pedals to the flywheel. Meanwhile, the chain drive is more akin to what you would see on a traditional, outdoor bike. A roller chain turns the flywheel by a sprocket that is powered by the pedals. We’re going to look at the comparisons between the two and (spoiler) see why belt drive spin bikes are commonly regarded as better.

1. Chain Drive

spin bike chain drive

Up first, we’re going to look at chain drives. As mentioned above, these drives are the types you see on outdoor bikes. This outdoor feeling is one of the primary attributes that draws people to them. After all, who doesn’t like the feeling of being on an outdoor bike with the comforts of being inside? They only have a single gear with them. The pedals on bikes with chain drives spin bikes keep turning while the flywheel continues. This is due to the momentum generated from the pedals and will slow down as that momentum dies out or brakes are used.

One of the nice parts about chain drives is how they are typically used with bikes that cost less than those with belt drives. While it’s not always the case, the fact that the chain drives are so common in outdoor bikes means that they just simply don’t cost as much as those with other belt drives.

Of course, one of the reasons that these chain drives are cheaper is because they require more regular maintenance. Since it is made of metal chains, you will regularly need to lubricate and tighten it to make sure that it works as intended. As the chain dries out over time, more and more lubricant will be needed to make sure that it actually keeps working. You know how on outdoor bikes the chains will stretch and need tightening? Same concept applies here.

A benefit of this chain system is that it allows for the system to deliver maximum power. While the chain might stretch out over time, in the immediate workout, it will not stretch, jerk or slip even on the highest resistance settings or you are riding the bike while standing up.

Another part of the chain drive system is how it is louder than those that have belt drive systems. It isn’t exactly mind numbingly loud, won’t make the windows shatter, ears bleed and neighbours break down your door, though it is louder than the other drive systems. Some people won’t mind this, as it is often the sort of system that is used at the local gyms. However, for those who simply want a nice, quiet ride at home or have particularly noise sensitive neighbours, it might start to be an issue.

The Pros:

  • Bikes with chain drives tend to be cheaper than those with other belt drives, which is good for people who are looking to get one of these machines on a limited budget.
  • It is also good for those who want to mimic the “feel” of the outdoor bikes.
  • Finally, chain drives allow for maximum power to be put into the workout in just about any stance without the pedals breaking or jerking.

The Cons:

  • The maintenance of the chain drive system is most definitely the biggest issue that comes with it.
  • It simply takes a lot of effort to make sure that it still runs as it should.
  • Chain drives are also louder than their belt drive opposites, though not mind-bendingly so.

2. Poly-V Belt Drive

spin bike poly-v belt drive

Belt driven bike mechanisms were first used over a decade ago, having increased in popularity ever since. Now it is almost hard to find an indoor cycling bike that doesn’t come with one of these types of drive systems.

Here we get to our first example of a belt drive system. The Poly-V belt drive is one of the most commonly used belt drives for spin bikes and there is a good reason for it. This belt drive fixes many of the issues that the chain drive system has and offers solutions to problems you otherwise might not have thought were there.

The biggest fix to a problem that was inherent in the chain drive system is the maintenance. Belt drive systems take significantly less effort to maintain than those of the chain drives. These belts lack the weak links (Ha!) that the chain drives do. Instead of needing to be constantly checked on, lubricated and tightened, the belt drives will last for a long while before needing to be looked at. Once they do start to eventually stretch and wear down, the downside is that these sorts of belt drives will need to be replaced with an entire new belt system.

Another aspect of the Poly-V belt drive (and belt drives in general) is their ability to provide a smooth ride. While it might not be as natural in terms of the “feel” as chain drives, it most certainly is as smooth if not more so. Do not mistake smooth for being weak. Belt drives generally have an ability to match up with any chain drive in terms of delivering high quality, intense workouts. The Poly-V belt drive has a slight problem in that it doesn’t deliver 100% power efficiency because with high resistance it jerks and slips on the pulleys.

The noise aspect of these belt drives is also a key highlight. While the chain drives won’t break any eardrums, they do tend to be noisier than their belt drive opposites. Especially when these drives are combined with a magnetic resistance system, the ride can suddenly go from being “Quiet” to “Holy cow, I can’t hear anything!” levels of noise. This is particularly nice for those who do not like any sort of excessive noise while they exercise.

An issue that does tend to pop up on these sorts of drive systems is that they are more expensive than chain drive systems. They cost more to manufacture and are generally perceived as being of higher value. For those looking to get the cheapest indoor bikes, you might be better off going for one of the chain drive bikes. Of course, this is only a general suggestion and not a rule.

The Pros:

  • The Poly-V belt drive fixes many of the issues that are present with the chain drives systems.
  • It is significantly easier to maintain than chain drive systems thanks to the fact that it can last for much longer without needing to be fixed or lubricated.
  • It is much quieter than the chain drive systems and can combine with magnetic resistance systems to basically become silent.
  • It also provides a smooth ride to the user just like all belt drives tend to deliver.

The Cons:

  • These belt drives do tend to push the price up on the bikes that they come with. This is a definite con for those who are looking to snag one of these handy pieces of exercise equipment for cheap.
  • A problem that is specific to the Poly-V is that it does not deliver 100% power efficiency and delivers a jerky and somewhat unpleasant experience on extremely high resistance levels.

3. Toothed Belt Drive

spin bike carbon/toothed belt drive

The toothed belt drive shares many of the benefits as its Poly-V companion. A slightly amusing fact about the toothed belt drive is how it is commonly nicknamed the “timing belt”. It is commonly considered the best sort of drive for spin bikes thanks to the fact that it takes many of the factors of these drives and does them better than all the rest.

It shares the quiet nature of the other belt drives, especially when combined with a magnetic resistance system. In fact, this combination of a belt drive and magnetic resistance system can make for a nearly silent workout experience on just about any spin bike imaginable. For those who are particularly sensitive to noise or simply like to hear the TV/phone while they exercise, this is most definitely something to keep in mind.

Similar to other belt drives, there is extremely limited maintenance required with this drive. It will last for years before requiring any sort of maintenance. The stretching process that takes very little time with chain drives is extended by quite a bit with these sorts of belt drives. It really does make a solid difference for those who do not like to regularly make sure that everything is fit and well on their bike. Instead, they can just hop on and start their workouts without needing to give a second thought to whether or not the drive system will actually be working. After those couple of years, the belt drive will need to be replaced, which can be somewhat of a technical process. You could either attempt it yourself (if you are mechanically inclined) or you could have a bike mechanic do it for you.

Related to that maintenance care is the long term stability that the timing belt offers. Even on the highest resistance settings of indoor cycling bikes, this is one of the most stable and solid drives that is out there. It won’t stretch, jerk, pull or slip underneath anyone. There is a reason that this is the type of drive that is commonly used on the higher tier of spin bikes. Stages Bikes, Schwinn and NordicTrack are just a few of these premium manufacturers that realise the quality of this belt drive and make full use of it in their spin bikes.

The Pros:

  • The toothed belt drive takes all of the benefits that are offered from the standard belt drive and turns it up to 11.
  • It has extremely low levels of maintenance, is a stable system that will hold up under the most intense of workouts, can be combined with magnetic resistance systems to be nearly silent and is used by some of the biggest names in the spinning business. We’re not really sure what else there is to actually want from one of these drives.

The Cons:

  • Since this drive is used by the best in the business, it does mean that the bikes that come with these sorts of drives are more expensive than those without. A downside? Yes. Unjustified? No. The quality is simply too high to be extremely cheap.

Conclusion

That wraps up our list of the different types of indoor cycling bike drives. Hopefully, you now see the benefits and drawbacks of each type that is available. One of the parts we feel we should mention is the different types of belt adjustment systems. It doesn’t necessarily fit with any particular drive, but is important to the overall design of the systems. There are two different belt adjustment systems: “press down rollers” and “fixed axis”. Press down rollers are the best type of belt tensioning system, as it’s similar to how car engine belts are adjusted. “Fixed axes” are common for outdoor bikes which is not an issue because they have lightweight wheels.

So next time you are looking to invest in one of these excellent pieces of at-home exercise equipment, make sure you investigate what sort of drive system the spin bike comes with. It could make all the difference between having a long-lasting belt drive or having a chain drive that feels natural, but needs frequent spin bike maintenance checks to make sure that it works properly.

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