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Most motorized two-wheelers (whether it’s a motorcycle, moped, or scooter) use chain drive or belt drive. But what are the differences between the two?

And if you’ve got a chain, you have to think of how much “chain slack” you have. But what is it?

Tune in to discover:

  • The differences between chain drive and belt drive
  • What “chain slack” is – and a general guideline for what your bike’s chain slack should be 


Hello and welcome to 30-minute motorcycling – a podcast for new aspiring and returning riders where you’ll learn about motorcycles and other two-wheelers in 30 Minutes or less. 


Most modern motorcycles are either chain or belt-driven. But what are the differences between the two?

That’s what this episode is all about.


In addition to learning about what the differences are between chain and belt drive, you’ll also learn about what “chain slack” is and why you need to clean and lube your chain.


So without further ado, let’s begin by talking about chain drive.


Chain drive is a common form of drivetrain for dirt bikes, sportbikes, and cruiser motorcycles. And just for the record, “drivetrain” is a word that describes all components that deliver power from the engine to the rear wheel – such as the chain.


Anyway, if you’ve ever ridden a bicycle, a chain-driven motorcycle, moped, or scooter works the same way – a chain is connected from the engine to the rear wheel via a sprocket, which is a type of “toothed wheel.”


As the engine runs, the power is transferred from the engine to the rear wheel which makes the chain move.


One advantage of chain drive is that it’s relatively light, compact, and efficient. Of course, that’s assuming that you maintain it well.


Since this chain is out in the open, it’s subjected to everything from rainwater to road dirt. 


Because of this, a motorcycle chain needs to be cleaned and lubricated regularly. If you don’t clean your chain, the built-up dirt will find its way onto the sprockets and wear out its teeth – which can begin to resemble a shark fin.


But lubing and cleaning your chain still isn’t enough – you also need to make sure that you have enough chain slack.


But what is chain slack?


To put it very simply, your chain needs to have a certain amount of tension to function properly – this is what “chain slack” refers to. 


If the chain is too tight, it might snap. If it’s too loose, it might skip a tooth and even come off, which causes an uneven power transfer. 


The correct amount of chain slack is usually listed in the owner’s manual, but as a general guide, an ideal chain slack falls somewhere in between 20-35 mm or 0.8-1.4 inches.


So that’s chain drive in a nutshell. But what about belt drive?


Compared to chain drive, a belt-drive motorcycle is much less maintenance-heavy and that’s because the drive belt is hidden away, which means that it’s not exposed to as much dirt and mud as a chain. 


These belts tend to last a lot longer than a chain for a chain-driven motorcycle and require very little maintenance.


But little maintenance doesn’t mean ANY maintenance – even a belt drive needs the odd going over every now and then. 


The most important thing to consider is tension, which is just as important for a belt drive as it is for a chain drive. 


It’s also a good idea to inspect the belt for any tears or cracks. Check your owner’s manual for more information. 


And those are the differences between chain drive and belt drive. If you’d like to know more about the difference between chain and belt drive, in addition to a third option known as “shaft drive,” and how you can adjust your chain lack, I’ve put a few links in the show notes to some videos about the subject:


Until next time, keep your helmet on and your eyes on the road. Bye!