Chain, Belt Or Shaft Drive For A Trike

Best Final Drive System For A Trike – Chain, Belt Or Shaft Drive?

This is an ongoing question with Trikes.  Which of the three main Final Drive Systems do we use to get all that power onto the ground?  Do we use a chain drive, a Belt Drive or a Shaft Drive? In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of each and why each has its own place in the Trike World.

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Chain Drive For A Trike

The biggest advantage of a chain is its ability to deliver almost all your engines power to your rear wheel.   On a trike, the chain drive has the lowest drop off of power. It only drops around 1% to 3% from the engine to the rear wheel.  Whereas a Drive Belt drops between 11% to 14% and a Drive Shaft a massive 25% to 31%. Thirty-One percent of power being lost in the transfer is a LOT of power to throw away.  So chains definitely win when it comes to power drop.

Chain Drive On A Trike

      Chain Drive On A Trike

Trike Chain Drive Drawing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Trike Chain Drive Drawing

Chain Drive

     Chain Drive

The second thing about chains is that they are cheap.  Since they are made for the majority of motorcycles around the world, the mass production of chains and sprockets has brought the price way down.  There are also multiple manufactures of chains and sprockets so there is a healthy competition to keep that price reasonable.

Chains work very well on trikes if saving weight is important to you.  The chain is the lightest of the three drives and still very strong. But it is also the noisiest and not always totally smooth.

The biggest downside with a chain drive on a trike is that you will have to clean, lubricate and adjust the chain regularly. And by regularly I mean every 400 km or so.

A modern chain will need to be adjusted every 400 to 600 km.  But if you look after it and keep it adjusted and well lubed you can see 10,000 km to 15,000 km lifespan out of a chain.  Remember they are cheap and easy to replace.


Belt Drive For A Trike

The earliest motorcycles all used the belt drive as their power transfer mechanism.  I find it funny how some technologies start the whole thing off but then fall into second or even third place as the dust settles.

Belts have several very good features.  The first of these is the fact that they last a long time.  Looked after, a belt will last between 70,000 km and 100,000 km.

Belt Drive Schematic

     Belt Drive Schematic

Belt Drive On Trike

      Belt Drive On Trike

The good news is that belts will rarely need an adjustment and they are much quieter than a chain although not as quiet as a shaft drive.

Power loss at the rear wheel is around 11% to 14% depending on the type of belt drive.

Belts don't require lubrication and so are cleaner and cheaper to maintain.  

Modern drive belts are strengthened with steel wires inside and Kevlar coating outside – such belt systems can last a really long time. You can expect a well-maintained belt drive on a motorcycle to last in excess of 100,000 km or even more.  On a trike it may be a little less as we are moving more mass.

One thing to keep in mind though is the belt is not as durable as a chain if subjected to very high horsepower engines. Make sure you check it out for safety and check your power to the belts ability to transfer it.


Shaft Drive For A Trike

In 1901, FN made its first single-cylinder 133 cc bike and the following year launched the world’s first shaft driven motorcycle with its FN-300. But it was in 1905 that FN made its mark on the motorcycle world when it launched the FN Four that had an in-line four-cylinder engine with shaft drive.

FN Four Motorcycle with Shaft Drive

      FN Four Motorcycle with Shaft Drive

A lot of the early Drive Shafts were pioneered by BMW but we have seen them on Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki as well.  They are basically like a car driveshaft. They have a large rod going from the engine to the rear differential gear and then out to the wheel.

Shaft drive systems are the most expensive of the three systems we have here, and by some margin. They are, however, the sturdiest of the three, very smooth, and hardly ever need any maintenance. 

If designed and engineered well, Shaft Drives often last the life of a motorcycle without requiring any servicing or maintenance whatsoever.

BMW R-32 Their First Shaft Drive

      BMW R-32 Their First Shaft Drive

Honda CX 500 Their First Shaft Drive

       Honda CX 500 Their First Shaft Drive

The biggest downfall of the Shaft Drive is it is the most expensive of the three.  However, when you look at the types of motorcycles they normally go on, expense is not something that really matters.  And when it comes to a trike, getting the drive right will make a lot of difference to the overall enjoyment of the vehicle.

The next problem is that they drop up to 31% of the engines power output from the engine to the back wheel.  The shaft drive needs complex gearing to turn power from the engine 90 degrees from the shaft to the rear wheel and in the process you lose some engine power compared to a conventional chain driven motorcycle.

On the plus side, the Shaft Drive offers the least amount of maintenance requiring almost no adjustments at all and it is very quiet.  It is also the longest lasting of the three and will normally last the whole life of the motorcycle.

The final point is there is no wheel alignment needed.


Conclusions

So if your goal is to make your trike the most like a car - quiet, clean and low maintenance, then the Shaft Drive is your baby.

If you want to get every bit of power to the ground and keep the overall weight of your trike down, then the Chain Drive is the best for you.

If you want something in between, then the Belt Drive is the best choice.  

All Drives

All Drives

After doing the research and thinking about it, I think I will make up my mind when I get the final designs for my trike made up.  I love power but I hate maintenance. So the chain is my first choice but has that major drawback of constant cleaning and adjustments.

So, in reality, I am leaning towards the Belt Drive or Shaft Drive.  Tell me what you think? Is the power worth the adjustment?

Cheers.

About the Author Jonathan

Hello, I am Jonathan, a lover of vehicles that spark the imagination, make your blood boil and take you to a place where time stops and the moment is everything. Hence my love of trikes.

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