The spin bike has always been a hotly contested piece of exercise equipment for athletes, gym enthusiasts, and even people who prefer to work out in their homes. All this demand is justified with the spin bike boasting to provide the best low-impact aerobic workout sessions among all stationary bikes, even treadmills or ellipticals.
Spin bike, like a traditional cycle, has its heart and soul on its drive system. This system can make or break your exercise experience.
What is the Drive System of a Spin Bike?
As the name suggests, the drive of a spin bike is the part that connects the pedals and the flywheel. This enables the flywheel to rotate forward when you push down on the pedals.
The drive of the spin bike is the same as that of a bicycle. But for the spin bike, they are of two categories: Chain Drive and Belt Drive systems.
Their differences at a glance:
|Property||Chain Drive||Belt Drive|
|Maintenance||Low to moderate||None|
|Noise||Slight rattling noise of the chain||No noise is produced|
|Cost||Cheap||Moderate to premium|
*The differences are broken down in detail later on in the article.
➥ Choosing a spin bike for you can be tricky sometimes. Here is a guide for you: things to consider while buying a spin bike.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of both drive systems.
This drive system is the most similar to that of a regular bicycle, and many avid gym-goers prefer this drive system due to its natural feel of cycling outdoors.
In this system, a chain is used to connect the pedals to the flywheel of the spin bike. As the pedals are pushed down, the sprocket attached to the pedals will shove the chain forward and drive the flywheel in the front to start spinning.
The belt drive system is a fairly new concept that builds upon the chain drive system. Here, the chain is replaced with a durable belt usually made of rubber. More recent and premium models are testing out Kevlar as a material for the belt.
The belt uses its high tension to keep itself in place all the while having enough friction to spin the flywheel up front easily, contributing to a very smooth ride.
Since the parts are not constantly hitting each other, unlike the chain and sprocket, you can expect a very silent exercising experience with the belt drive system.
➥ We also recommend you have a look at our selection of some of the magnetic resistance-based spin bikes.
Chain Drive vs. Belt Drive: How do they perform compared to one another?
As we have come to understand, the chain drive model is the same as the drive system as an outdoor bike. And like the outdoor bike, the chain drive has the same maintenance needs.
Wear and tear are a given with the chain constantly coming into contact with the sprocket and regularly applying pressure to the flywheel in this system. You may have to change the chain after a few years of use if you are performing high-intensity exercises on your machine.
You will have to routinely tighten and lubricate the chain to keep it in working order.
All of these tasks are simple and easy to perform. The only thing the chain drive system will require of you is awareness.
On the other hand, the belt drive system requires little to no maintenance. The belt itself is very tough and it rolling over the soft curved edges produces a very low impact on the system.
The damage done to the belt is negligible, no matter how intensely you work out.
The drive can however snap (in very, very rare cases and with a cheaper machine), in which case you may have to take your bike to the mechanic which can be costly.
Due to the friction and impact of the chain with the sprocket and the flywheel, you might experience some rattling noise as you work on the machine. It is fairly low and might be noticeable when you are pushing the machine to its limits
The belt system is just a belt that rolls over the relay system of the drive. There is literally is no noise produced. The difference between the either is negligible when you put them side by side. They will not interfere with the sound of the TV or music if you plan on exercising with some entertainment onboard. You’d have to be really focused on the sound the chain drive makes to actually hear it.
3. Feel and Performance
The chain drive system will give you the best 1-to-1 impression of riding an outdoor bike. The only thing that will feel different is the wind against your body as you ride down the road. Maybe someday we might be able to mimic that as well!
This is because the chain drive is the same as what you would find in an outdoor bike.
The feeling of natural roughness of riding a bike will be much subdued with a belt drive system, but in place, you will experience a much smoother ride with low effort.
Both drive systems promote excellent performance on par, if not better, to that of an actual road bike.
The nature of the chain drive in itself is very simple. It does not require sophisticated measurements and the chain is, more often than not, “one size fits all”.
And since the manufacturers know that the chain has to be maintained regularly by the customer, they can focus on cutting costs and make them just good enough to work.
All of these reasons drive the price of a chain drive system pretty low.
The price of the belt drive system on the other hand depends on a few factors.
Precise measurements of the belt and wheels are required during the manufacturing process to prevent the belt from wearing down or weaken too quickly. A belt that is not nice and taut is useless. These manufacturing hurdles have a cost that raises this system’s price.
The fact that people also demand a quieter system also contributes to a price hike.
And ironically, the fact that the belt drive system is a newer concept puts an extra price on its head due to its “modern” take on the drive system.
The difference between either drive systems is rather inconsequential. The belt drive is just a modern take on the traditional drive system that you will see in most stationary bikes.
Some value the sense or feeling of riding outdoors and thus choose the chain drive system for their spin bikes. While others are attracted to innovation and modernism or just a plain quiet machine and make a choice on the belt drive.
But in terms of performance, one is not necessarily better than the other. It all boils down to preference and what would rather fit in your environment to push you a step further towards your fitness goals.
Here is a useful summary of whatever we have discussed:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Is it better to have a heavier flywheel on a spin bike?
Ans.: Yes. The flywheel weight contributes to two different aspects that may make or break your experience on a spin bike.
First, the heavier the flywheel the more it contributes to the feeling of realism as you would experience when riding a real bicycle. The hard push that you have to give when you get started and the continued momentum of the wheels when you stop pedaling can all be achieved with a heavier flywheel.
Second, a heavy flywheel contributes to a smoother cycling motion. A lighter flywheel will feel jerky and will constantly have you adjust your pedaling.
Q2. What is the best budget spin bike that I can get for my home?
Ans.: We have tried out and put together some of the budget choices but quality spin bikes for your considerations.
Q3. How long does the chain on a spin bike last?
Ans.: It all depends on how well you are maintaining the chain and what type of exercise you are doing on the machine.
With proper maintenance, lubrication, and check-ups, your chain can last years.
The intensity of your exercise will also wear down on the chain. If you are serious enough to keep track, you can change the chain after 4000 kilometers of use to get the best out of your spin bike.