Stuff We Like: Gates Carbon Drive Systems

Recently I’ve been riding the new Raleigh Alley Way outfitted with a Gates Carbon Drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub. I’ve never experienced such a smooth, quiet drivetrain. It feels like an over-oiled fixed-gear drivetrain, but with 8 speeds and no grease stains; completely clean, smooth, crisp, and quiet. From all reports the bugs are pretty much worked out of this system and it’s ready for prime time. My experience so far bears this out. If you have an opportunity to ride a bike with this drivetrain, definitely give it a try; you’ll be amazed by the performance.

Following are a few benefits of the Carbon Drive System:

  • Durable (CDS technology has been used with motorcycles and dragsters for years)
  • Special sprockets shed all types of debris including mud and snow
  • 100% maintenance free and clean
  • Twice the life of a bike chain
  • Lighter than conventional chain drives

Gates Carbon Drive Systems

27 Responses to “Stuff We Like: Gates Carbon Drive Systems”

  • Cosmo says:

    I am so excited about trying this out since seeing it at Interbike. I am trying to figure out how to put this on one of my bikes. I am glad to hear that you really like it.

  • Dan says:

    Looks great, would be interested in trying it

    Any numbers on efficiency? I’m assuming chains are still a more efficient way to transfer power

  • shane says:

    I’ve been riding a Trek SOHO with carbon drive in rain, wind and sun. It’s flawless, smooth and never has any issues. You get so used to hearing the clickity, clackity that it’s an eery silence. Everyone is shocked at how quiet it is. My commute goes up 5% grades and you can stand on the pedals without any hesitation or give. I *heart* carbon drives.

  • Rob Mackenzie says:

    Alan… I am fascinated with this Gates system. I reminds me of a progression we experienced in pens (of all things). Quill pens gave way to fountain pens which were replaced by gold and titanium tipped works of beauty, precision and individual personality. They could cost as much or more than some of the chain/gear/dérailleur drives we have now. Then came ball-points and felt-tipped pens and quickly they became predominant (even though fine liquid ink pens are still treasured and many wouldn’t part with them for anything).

    Now we have a new potential for a changing of the guard in bike drives. Maybe it will be the Gates Carbon Drive, or one of the new shaft-drive systems emerging using new space-age materials, maybe neither.

    Whichever way it goes, it is sort of fun to be here at the crossroads…

  • eddie f says:

    sort of related. i was at my lbs today and they had the new 2010 Raleigh Clubman. 1000 dollars and a really really fine looking, nicely appointed, nicely welded, brooks saddled, fendered dorp bar commuter. who the heck is the product manager at Raleigh? the Clubman was not quite outfitted my preferred way — 50/34 compact, road rear, etc…but otherwise so fine…looking.

    hey Alan, how about an interview with that Raleigh product guru?

  • Alan says:


    I hear you. Raleigh has some super looking bikes coming for 2010. I’ll see about that interview.

  • Alan says:


    I don’t have the numbers handy, but I wouldn’t be quick to assume there are significant losses, if any; the drive feels completely rigid. Of course, if you want multiple gears, it’ll only be through the use of an IGH, which introduces its own losses.

  • eddie f says:

    co-motion is building an expensive tandem with the gates carbon drive. bet they’d have an opinion.

  • Alan says:


    I think we’re looking at a perfect storm with internal gear hubs maturing and coming down in price, carbon drives maturing and coming down in price, and manufacturers stepping up with frame designs to accommodate both; all of this at a time when we’re seeing substantial interest in transportational bicycling. My guess is that we’ll see a much larger number of bikes outfitted this way in the coming years.

  • eddie f says:

    i’m thinking maybe a major scramble is going on as we speak. in the back rooms of every large and small bicycle manufacturer people are thinking about the applications of the belt drive. could be wrong, but my gut says and agrees with Alan. the time is here for getting away from the grease ball.

  • Apertome says:

    Intriguing and exciting. I hope it lives up to the hype.

  • Brad Eschler says:

    The Soho is very smooth and quiet. I agree with Alan, there is no “give” in the drive system. I don’t have any numbers but it seems very efficient and responsive. IGH/Gates is the new frontier for cycling. I have some concerns about changing a tire at the side of the road, with a bolted rear wheel and the need to either disconnect or be careful with, the cable to the IGH.

  • Alan says:


    From what I understand, the Shimano cable is the fussiest. I’ve had the rear wheel off my Civia a bunch of times, and I’ve found that with a little practice, disconnecting the Alfine cable is not a big deal. There’s a definite trick to it, but once you figure it out, it’s a breeze. The cable mech on the new SRAM 9-speed is easier to work with and is no more difficult than unhooking the straddle cable on a cantilever. Regardless of which IGH you’re running, for someone new to internal gear hubs I’d suggest practicing disconnecting and reconnecting the cable a few times before heading out.


  • Brendan says:

    What do the replacement belts and sprokets go for? I can’t seem to find pricing on the internet.

  • Bob says:

    I’m intrigued by the claims for better winter-weather resistance for the Gates system. How much plow-mixed sand/salt/snow and sub-15F cold the drivetrain can handle with little adjustment is crucial for my commuting needs. Is anyone planning to ride a similar set-up all winter?

    What about the Alfine itself? Scattered claims around the Web suggest it doesn’t take heavy winter use all that well. Scattered claims suggest SRAM i-Motion 9 does better.

  • Perry says:

    i rode Trek’s equivalent of this earlier this year and it made for a surprisingly nimble ride. I ended up missing the sound of a clicking freewheel and couldnt quite get over it. Definitely a neat concept, but the proprietary nature of such things makes me automatically shy away.

  • Brad Eschler says:

    The belt and IGH hub is new territory. Just don’t know how it will fare in the Michigan Winter; since it is not dependent on a chain, my assumption is that corrosion will not be a factor. But, what about salt buildup on the belt? Dunno, may be a problem, maybe not. I do like the fact that the brakes are drum brakes on the Soho–i have replaced linear pull brakes about yearly on my winter ride. I hope to do better.

    Alan: Your suggestion to do several “dry runs” on cable disconnect is good; I will take it to heart. I may need to change a tire on the side of the road on the way to work in the cold and dark.

    Being an early adopter is fun, but a bumpy ride sometimes…they don’t call is the “bleeding” edge for nothing!

  • Charlie says:

    The Gates web site for industrial applications of these belts says not to store them in direct sunlight, e.g. near a window. I worry that daily parking outside would lead to too much sun and rapid degradation. I’d love to hear Gates address that question. It would be a shame to have a bike that’s great for foul weather but not OK to leave parked outside!

  • Ints says:

    With the somewhat altered perspective of sitting in bed with the flu and longingly looking at all of the endless summer pics, and recurring shots of the Raleigh Alley Way, the question came up about this belt drive: How does it get replaced?
    Looks like the Alley Way has a removable rear dropout which tells me this belt is not like a chain that can be opened and closed as needed. Is it the same with the Trek Soho?
    I only ask because, like many others I would like to be able to use this system on my bike which does not have removeable dropouts. Seems like a understandable yet significant limitation for this drive system.

  • Alan says:


    Carbon belt drives are one piece and can only be installed on frames that can be opened.


    PS – Get well!

  • MaryAnn GatesCorp says:

    Thanks for the great conversation around the Gates Carbon Drive System. To answer some of your questions: sunlight, no problem for this system. Yes, sunlight can be a problem for industrial belts. Typically industrial belts are made of rubber and direct sunlight can pretty much cook ‘em. Salt, mud, sand, cold temperature? No problem. Remember, this is the same technology that has been running motorcycles for over 20 years. Specifically, the temperature range for this belt is -65F to +185F. As we say on our site – if you’re riding somewhere colder or hotter, we’d love to hear your story.

  • Charlie says:


    Thanks for the follow-up–it’s great to hear from the manufacturer.

    The warning I read about sunlight was not for generic rubber industrial belts. It was for Gates Carbon Polychain GT. Specifically, on p. 101 of the design manual, “POLY C H A I N ® G T ® CARBON ® B e l t D r i v e S y s t ems, #17595, DRIVE DESIGN MANUAL”, dated 4/09 . I thought those were the same material as the belts for bikes. Can you clarify?

    Also, the wide temperature range is great, but what about efficiency? Is the high efficiency maintained over that temperature range, or is it just that it won’t fail catastrophically over that range?

    Thanks again.

  • Cyclerock says:

    I’m just reading posts here, getting annoyed. The belts are interesting, so I wanted to see what people had to say.

    You guys with these questions… if a motorcycle can handle the belt, you should have faith that its reliable for a bicycle. Similar systems are used where metal timing chains used to be for car engines.

    I’m not affiliated with the belt maker or bike manufacturer, but I do think some people have nothing better to do then just write dumb questions and create every possible scenario for a failure.

    Get lives.

  • Alan says:


    As the site owner, I’d like to say I believe these are legitimate questions to ask about a technology that is new to bicyclists. I’m also extremely pleased MaryAnn from Gates took the time to address some of the questions that were raised. This kind of openness and responsiveness will hasten the process of wider acceptance of this incredible new technology. To be clear, there’s absolutely no reason to criticize anyone asking legitimate technical questions about a new (to us) technology, and I encourage anyone who’s curious (or even skeptical) to keep the dialog flowing.


  • Charlie says:

    @Cyclerock, sorry you found my comments annoying. I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to put the technology down and find any faults I can. In fact, I’m really excited about it and might get one on my next bike…but before I do I want to understand the issues.

    I’m not ready to dismiss UV/sunlight as a non-issue. If it weren’t an issue at all, why would Gates’ have raised the issue in their technical literature? It’s not a fatal flaw even if it doesn’t last well in sunlight. It just factors in to how often the belt needs replacement, depending on where you park.

    On the question of low temperature efficiency, the use on cars and motorcycles doesn’t impress me. If my bike’s drivetrain gets 20% less efficient when it’s cold, I’m going to feel it. If a timing belt in a car is 20% less efficient, that’s going to be such a tiny factor in the overall vehicle efficiency that it would be hard to measure on a dynamometer, much less notice it in daily use.

  • MaryAnn GatesCorp says:

    Thanks again for the conversation and thanks for reading the Gates Poly Chain GT Carbon Drive Design Manual! You are correct that we state all industrial belts should be kept out of direct sunlight. This is best practice for the storage of belts, however, we have placed this technology in many harsh direct sunlight industrial applications and we are confident your Gates Carbon Drive System bicycle will be fine outdoors.

    The other question posed was regarding efficiency in the rated temperature range. Yes, the Gates Carbon Drive system will remain extremely efficient whether in cold or hot temperatures. The motorcycle comparison is a fair one. These motorcycles are running in cities with extreme temperatures worldwide. Yes, it’s a larger belt, but it’s also a significantly higher horsepower requirement.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Belt Drives says:

    […] L.A. Times Article → EcoVelo on the Gates Carbon Drive System → EcoVelo on Five Drivetrains → Civia Bryant Road Test → Raleigh Alley Way Road Test […]

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