Sunday, February 12, 2012

Belt Drive I do it

This year Carbon Drive/Gates is the major sponsor of the Nahbs.  I'm glad to see them step up and take a risk laying down the dollars to generate more exposure for their product, as the small handbuilt industry has been a progressive force in getting these systems in the media, on the show floors, and out on the trail.

I've had the opportunity to do a number of belt drive bikes, both single speed and IGH, and have been quite pleased with the results.  What frustrates the dickins out of me is the bad wrap the product gets on many of the forums.  I've found this to be mostly because of uneducated users or new builders who have not designed the bike for the system, instead attempting to retrofit an unacceptable frame or utilize standard frame stays/tubing for the build.  Their frustration, directed at the belt drive parts, should be refocused on understanding mechanical forces and how to design to control them.

Minor rant aside, one of the few choices a builder has in the system design is to determine the best application for passing the belt through the frame.  There have been many approaches, all successful in achieving the goal of breaking the frame so the belt may pass through; the split dropout, the lap joint, the coupler, machined male cone and receiver, bolt on stay/dropout interface, and the gate joint.  I've used a few, some to experiment, some by customer request, but the best system that I've found is the removable gate.

I feel that the gate is the most efficient system as it allows the user to pass the belt without spreading or stressing the frame members, resists torsional forces through the rear end, adds strength to the stay, is easy to use, and visually blends with the lines of the frame. 

So lets take a look at how you make one of these little guys...

We are going to start with some solid round stock that sits just above the od of the largest section of the seat stay.  This stock will make it's way into the lathe and be turned down to match the stays od.  After we have the od where we want it, it's off to the mill.  I laid this gate out to utilize .375 overlaps, sufficient surface area to accommodate a proportional overlap as well as room for the connecting bolt.  Here's our .600" stock milled .300" deep and wide enough to allow our .375 overlap plus the thickness of our slitting saw, used in the next step.

Now that our stock is milled, we'll reposition on the mill, center a slitting saw and part the piece.

Parted, it's back to the lathe to face the cut end to exactly .375" from the inside face. 

Next, we'll take another section of .600" lathe turned round stock and mill it to create our .300" deep, .375" long overlaps of the center gate.  Notice the left milled section is over sized to allow for the slitting saw and lathe facing.

We'll then begin to place the female bolt holes in.  The mill is re centered on the piece using an edge finder, centered and then brought in .1875" (center of our overlapping sections).  The hole is created with a center drill, then a first pass drill bit, a drill bit sized for our M5 threads, and then machine tapped.

Once the center piece is drilled and tapped on both sides, it is parted off, faced on the lathe and then set aside.  The previous pieces are then put back in the mill and recessed pass through holes are made for the M5 bolts.  When it's all put together, this is what you have...

Laid out on the frame, you can see the section that the gate is intended to replace.  We've laid it out about 020" heavy, so that the edges can be filed true once cut.  I've also used a piece of Al channel to protect the other sense in making a stupid mistake and nicking the opposite side at this point.

And with the piece removed...

It's time for a soapbox again.  I've had a number of builders that I've spoke to ask what to do when the frame members "spring" apart out of alignment once the tube is cut.  Regardless if this was to place a belt pass or putting in couplers, if the frame is being held in alignment due to cold setting, once the tube is cut the torsional forces will return the member back to it's natural position.  I see this all the time with frames that are welded/brazed outside of a fixture and then cold set on a table to achieve alignment.  Notice how this frame is in the same position once the section is cut and removed?  Nothing beats sequential welding with a rigid fixture to create a straight, non loaded frame.  Nothing.  Ok, back to the topic at hand.

With the center section removed, it's time to measure the id, turn the plugs down in the lathe and fit it all together.  Precision is important...

Repeat for the other side and check the fit of all the pieces.  If all looks good, back to the lathe and bore out the inserts to relieve a bit of weight and allow the piece to heat easily to draw in the silver.

Drill a couple of bullet holes to insure silver feeds the entire length down the inserts, then braze it all together.

Check for function...

Once painted, the piece will blend right into the aesthetic of the stays or can be masked off and left in it's stailess form.  And that's it...creating a belt gate that is efficient, easy to use, doesn't require you to stress/spread the existing frame members, and is a part you can make yourself.




Walt said...

You know, I have no problem building bikes for belts, and I've done it with no problems - but at the end of the day, you have to ask - why bother? They're not lighter once you add everything up, they're way touchier to set up than a roller chain, and they cost a fortune. So I do them, but 90% of the time, once the customer hears all the details, they don't want the belt anymore anyway.

FatBoyFat said...

Wow, that looks super tidy

Rody said...


As you know, so much comes down to the customer's desires. In the case of belt drive bikes, I've found that initial curiosity drives many customers to work with the system, knowing full well that designing the frame for a belt does not mandate it's use, but allows them the flexibility to return to a chain if all is not rosy in the belt drive world. I'd have to say that of my current customer base, 50% have stuck with the belt full time, and those tend to be the endurance athletes in dry climates, who appreciate the maintenance simplicity.

joel said...

Is that a Groovy frame with Black Cat drops?

Rody said...


Yep, I've done a few with Todd's dropouts at customer's request. They do add a nice line to the rear of the bike.


Thanks, that's what I was shooting for :)

Walt said...

Interesting. Around here, the only folks with belts are the obvious Freds - all the "serious" riders I know (and that's probably a dozen) gave up in disgust long ago.

I would love one on a townie, though.

Jared said...

Man Walt....I have a belt drive road bike in colorado and I am not a Fred (I think?). I had a chain driven VD Country Road Bob...the frame cracked and VD replaced it with a belt drive compatable WTF model. I had to try belt drive because my frame was ready for it. Set up was a pain...but after I set it up it has been 1000's of trouble free miles. I love how clean and quiet it is....but I do have to admit I think a chain feels more efficient to me...especially when climbing anything over 8% grade. I even did a century on it last did draw lots of attention...but I hope people were not calling me Fred under their breath!