23 November 2016
This can be considered my long-term Gates Carbon Drive review :-
A little history – living in the UK, followed by Oregon, I have long been used to trying to keep a bicycle drivetrain running through the winter. Probably typical of bike-industry folk, I don’t have much time to work on my own machines, so with a chain and derailleur system, by the spring it would be a black mess and if I was lucky I’d still have half the gears working.
When Gates introduced the belt drive for bicycles, I was excited, but it wasn’t until Versa released a dropbar shifter for Shimano’s Alfine hub in 2009 that I could finally build the ‘winter bike’ I had always wanted. I ran the original Carbon Drive system on this bike for the first year or so, then swapped it out for the Centertrack system when that was available – a big improvement, as it can be run with a little less tension and never slips.
So here is the bike 7 years, and at a conservative estimate, 25,000 miles later. That means about 20,000 miles on the Centertrack system. At the recent Portland bike show, Gates took pity on the drivetrain and very kindly sent me a new set of sprockets and belt. I used this as an opportunity to give the bike a bit of a service – being I think only the third time in 7 years that I have cleaned it!
Basically all I have done to the bike in this time is swap out the tires a few times, change the gear cable 3 or 4 times, and replace the front disc pads once. I did service the Alfine once, but it was actually in very good shape inside, apart from the close-to-the-outside freewheel bearing.
Although the Gates sprockets are very worn – as can be seen with the comparison photos – the belt is visually still in pretty good shape. Pretty incredible for having been ridden in all weathers for six years with no maintenance whatsoever! Even a very well cared for chaindrive doesn’t last this long. I can’t recommend this setup highly enough for a year round commuting/training bike. And there are many more choices for gearing and shifting now – Di2 shifting for the Alfine hubs, dropbar shifting for the Rolhoff hub, and the Pinion gearbox.
I have built several variations of my winter bike – these and other belt drive bikes can be viewed here.
Whilst I was replacing the drive, I also installed new tubeless tires, a new front rotor and pads. And new fenders.
The fenders are another little story – back in my England days I got tired of replacing plastic ‘mudguards’ every couple of years, and so started using the French Salmon fenders. These are a narrow aluminium extrusion – they look flat but have lips on the inside to catch and direct water so that it doesn’t fling out the sides as would happen with a purely flat fender. I got a set of these for the winter bike – they are made for racing bikes so are very narrow at 22mm. The 25mm Schwalbe tires I use on a wide DT rim end up at 27.5mm wide. Even so, with the fender set close to the tire they are pretty effective, with just a little spray getting to my legs/feet.
For Tim’s bike that I built last year, I made my own version of this fender design for 38mm tires – this prompted me to make a new set for my bike, starting with 1″ (25.4mm) stock, to get a bit more coverage than the original Salmons. A 7/8″ (22.2mm) channel was machined on the underside, then I rolled them to the correct radius to fit.
Now the bike should be all ready for the next 7 years or so!