For years, I thought a belt drive was the only way to have a bike that was easy to maintain and stayed clean. I researched the best belt drive bicycles obsessively, but didn’t find any that seemed like a good value and had the features I was looking for. And the doubts in the back of my mind became harder to ignore as I noticed some significant downsides with belts:
- The best drivetrain options are the Rohloff internally-geared hub or Pinion gearbox. The Rohloff can only run on a solid axle and the Pinion requires a custom frame design with space in the bottom bracket. Pinions also freewheel at the cranks, so the belt is always moving at the speeds of the wheel, which can’t be good for longevity compared to a hub gear.
- They can easily double the cost of a bike of similar quality as these drivetrain options are expensive and are usually specced with needlessly high-end components.
- It’s harder to get the rear wheel off with a belt.
- Belt tension needs to be adjusted either with horizontal dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket.
- The Shimano Alfine 11 Di2 is the only electronic shifting option for IGHs (Rohloff and Pinion electronic shifting is limited to e-bikes). Wireless electronic shifting is really nice.
- Bike brands like Rivendell or Fairlight aren’t going to release bikes that have a way to thread the belt drive into the rear triangle. Chains can be split to fit there, but a Gates belt needs the frame to have a split. The Veer belts that can split don’t seem very popular.
But despite these drawbacks, I was still convinced that a belt drive bike would be the best bike I could own. Given the high cost, I dragged my feet on buying a good bike for much longer than I should have.
In 2022, as I was researching the best way to lube a chain, I stumbled across people melting wax onto their chain instead of using a drip lube. Companies like Silca and Zero Friction Cycling put out videos extolling the friction-defeating benefits of wax, but only mentioned the cleanliness aspect as a side-effect. I have a strong aversion to messy things, so this feels like the biggest benefit for me. I don’t really care about extracting the last few Watts from a drivetrain when I’m already running fenders and sitting upright. So, I bought a pre-waxed chain for an exorbitant sum of money and tried it out on a newly installed cassette and chainring on my Kona Rove.
Since then, I’ve been using waxed chains with Silca Super Secret Molten Wax whenever possible. To maintain a waxed chain, I brush off any loose dirt with a dry cloth and then dip it in melted wax. To melt the wax, I use an Instant Pot 3qt. and a bent spoke to hold the chain. I swish the chain in the pot and then turn off the heater so the wax can start to set. Over the next few minutes, I try taking the chain out until it barely drips wax. This keeps as much wax in the rollers as possible. I’ve written about my method for Waxing a bicycle chain.