Gears vs chains...lets be honest

salutations riders,

i started out with a belt drive like the majority of us. it was the standard but it seems that more and more people are moving away from traditional belt drives.

now hubs seemingly are becoming the standard and while belt drives are still valid, i noticed gear drives appearing here and there.

how did we get here? what made people switch from belt to hub?

aesthetics played a big role of course. esk8s looked cleaner…it was quiet too…we all saw beautiful stealth builds :slight_smile:


now we see gear drives appearing. why? is there an unsaid truth about belt drives and hubs? we all know the pros and cons and lets leave it at that…live and let live right?

with the known issues in both belt and hubs many seem to have interest in a drive train that will solve some of the problems we know but why do many people shy away from a chain drive? because its noisy, and messy,heavy…maintenance is a pain? they say. but why are so many interested in a gear drive then?

its still true that belts and hubs are the main drives people choose to use with their respective strengths and weakness. so lets focus on gears vs chains.

gears are getting a lot of attention lately but is it getting it for the right reasons? lets ask questions.

why gears? obviously because theres a huge advantage in being able to choose gear ratio vs hub motors fix kv rating.

gears vs belts - obviously gears have a more direct power transfer and the reliability and durabilty of such a gear drive is also a factor that plays a big role.

both points can also be found in a chain drive. so why on earth should people be using gears instead ?

one of the turn-offs a chain drive have is noise. yeah what about it? both chain and gears will be noisier than hubs or belts i dare say. but which one is louder? chain or belt? who knows? ive yet to hear the difference…but i imagine it sounding similar to a 1/5 scale RC car…which is far from quiet.

maintenance? well both chains and gears need lube. from my experience with dry lube my chains only got messy once…and that was after my first ride when the chains pressed out excess lube. a quick wipe and it was spotless once more. no cleaning since. a gear drive on the other hand will need grease. that will get messy quick. “yeah, put it in a gearbox then”…sheesh… well…its still messier than chains with dry lube.

…which leads me to weight. sure, it doesnt matter much while your cells are delivering power…but wait till you have to carry that weight lol. i bet a gearbox will weigh similar if not more compared to a “traditional” chaindrive.

“yeah, but i dont carry…i push” how much drag will a gear drive have vs. chain drive? i have less drag on chains than belt…but gears?dunno…do you know?

flexibility. how fast and how easy can you change gear ratios on chains vs gears? whats easier to repair? how bout the availability of the parts? aaand if you ever want to do this on a gear box its probably safe to say that youll get your fingers greasy…again its gonna be messy. replacing a chain is similar to replacing a belt. easy. if i want to change the motor sprocket i just loosen one grub screw vs opening a greasy gear box.

alignment on a chain drive is also more forgiving compared to a gear drive. gears will require a more precise alignment and the proper distance to the individual gears. only the more experienced DIYers may be able to make such drives sucessfully.

So where are the advantages of a gear drive that justify choosing it over a basic chain drive ? are we over complicating things here ? what i see happening is that there is a desire to solve the problems found in belts and hub motors. BUT have’nt we adressed and solved those problems with a chain drive yet? sure its a bit noisy but its a small price to pay given the advantages it brings. what disadvantages are there in a chain drive that a gear drive seeks to solve ? (if any at all).

gears try to solve the same problems that has already been adressed by chain drives but gears also bring along their own issues…noise, weight, drag (depending on design obviously), maintenance,parts availability,flexibilty…just to name a few.

so, what do you say? gear drives are coming…but will they stay? what are your thoughts on this?


Gear Drives appear to be more efficient from what some companies are reporting? How efficient has remained to be seen but efficient none the less. Plus a Gearbox looks cleaner than a chain drive / belt drive with covers Everything points back to looking like a skateboard again


In my opinion gear drives are only worth it once you start using helical or herringbone gears.

Another possible point would be on atb’s where the security of a gearbox blocking out any wild track debris getting into the system could offer some extra peace of mind.

The main disadvantage a gear system has is just the pricing imo, chains are easier to maintain, swap out or fine tune to your precise liking like you already said, but if you have the cash I don’t see any real disadvantages either from gear to chain.

I know I repeated a lot of things but well, @slick your wrote a pretty specced out case here :+1:


@Bokard right, so MTB’s definitely profit from a closed frar box. but what about durability? how many teeth mesh in a gear drive together vs in a chain drive? the way I see it is that the loads on a gear drive is concentrated in the teeth that are momentarily meshing together…we’re talking about putting all the load on a few teeth. compare it with a chain drive where the stress is more spread through out the whole drive train…motor sprocket, chain and finally to the wheel sprocket. this will certainly have an impact on the durability of gear drive. so gear drives may consequently be dimensioned bigger to ensure durability and safety = more weight. wouldnt it be easier to make some sort of chain guard or enclosure?

@Jc06505n i can imagine gears being more efficient than belts (less drag - given it’s aligned perfectly). a gear box on the other hand will still be another thing that needs to be mounted on the hanger. if its only about the appearance of an open drive then its easily solved with an enclosure to be more easy on the eyes. beauty is in the eye of the beholder though and is not arguable. i personally enjoy the raw look of an open drive train and its practical properties.

i get the part about aesthetics and looking like a skateboard. but i think that aesthetics is not the main reason for a gear drive. honestly, i think one of the biggest reason is…well…science. i understand that very well and its important that ideas materialise.

I have not much experience yet with the gearboxes. I think that if designed right, a gearbox should be just as durable if not more than chains. They have proven to be in every other aplication where high torque is needed. I don’t think the gears or sprockets will wear as much, but the chain can be a source of malfunction as I’ve had a snap on my friends board as on my bikes. It doesn’t happen often, but to my experience a proper steal gear takes a lot more constant abuse than a chain. (thinking about an uphill start for example)


Helical and derivatives will likely not come to esk8 on scale simply because the precision required to run them efficiently will be ruined by the astounding vibrations our drivetrains kick out. Obviously there’s super smart people out there that might solve this issue but there in lies the second issue: Cost. Honestly straight gears bashing the crap out of each other to get a job done is actually pretty cheap to achieve, as soon as you start adding the complexity of fancy gears things become expensive and complicated.

They would be quieter I suppose, but warmer?

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I definitely agree with you, but If I had the money to spend I’m pretty sure I’d go with A well designed Herringbone gearbox. My next box will have one that I am designing but I’ll also be making another motor mount with a chain drive. I should probably mention that It will probably be a power hungry MTB build and not a clean street carver or anything like that. It will be more of an experiment board anyway, since I’m already going to be building a custom (mybe build in?) lipo pack


I think people are choosing hub over belt because they want freewheeling without resistance. Maybe you could make a belt/chain drive freewheel like a bicycle, but then braking wouldn’t work! :frowning: My idea was to use some sort of clutch to engage/disengage the motor from the rest of the drive system, but I couldn’t find any in the right size. Hopefully someone more capable will manufacture it! :smile:


sounds like you’re on a mission. i recently stepped up and switched to a chain drive . besides the noise (sounds like a turbine @ higher rpm - i actually enjoy it now) there are no disadvantages compared to my old belt drive.

@brenternet looking back at my RC hobby days where I dealt with the most basic gears (basic straight gears) i remember those to be rather noisy. i cant imagine gears being quiet unless they’re non metal gears. but even then…its still going to be noisy. so i imagine gear drives sounding like 1/5 scale rc cars.

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I own Belt Drives and Hub motor (raptor 2). I don’t think Hubs are the future imo it’s a passing fad it has so many dissadvantages. The best thing about hub is the looks (subjective) and Free roll. I got my first idler belt set up and then free roll is just as good as a hub motor.

I don’t like gear drive for multiple reasons, much heavier, super loud, helical cut gears bring down noise but not completly, it’s not easy to change gear ratios and they are usually designed to work with one size wheel unless it’s jedboard but i don’t consider them relavent cause they use tiny toy motors (4020) and it’s not available yet, also gear drives can be quite choppy at low throttle, FOC helps alot but still not as smooth as a belt drive.

Imo belt has always been king and it never lost that title and I don’t see it happening anytime soon.


Idk , there’s still Hummies to try out and if they don’t work then I’ll say that hubs have a very little chance of being the future

BTW I think chain drive works well too but I dont have much experience with chain drive set ups. All I know is that motorcycles generally use Chain or belts and few have propeller shafts but what I’m saying is if chain or belt is good enough for a powerful bike then it should be fine on a esk8

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I’ve used chain drive, it’s frikkin loud and has a tendency to grab debris. I’ve heard people say the like it slot, I’m just not one of them.

The major benefits if gear drive the low WH usage, it’s much less than belts, and the torque increase.

I personally think helical gears are not a good idea as the tortion stress is increased econetially from a standard spur gear. The best performance would be herringbone gears but the manufacturing cost is about x10 of spur gears.

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I’ll keep it simple and to the point.

They all work well enclosed from debris. They all have maintenance to a certain extent when enclosed. So what gives?

  • chains are loud
  • chains might not need as good of alignment as belts and gears, but still have a necessary tension or you get the same delayed throttle as belts just not as much
  • belts skip can skip and shred
  • belts switch side of tension like chains when going from acceleration to deceleration, making throttle feel delayed, can cause a bucking feeling.
  • gears have the smallest back lash when switching tension sides, torque feels direct
  • gears have the lowest rolling resistance
  • gears - pom with steel gears do not need lube, but can benefit from noise reduction with lube
  • gears are higher pitched than belts but about the same decibel, so they seem louder, because we hear higher frequencies better then low

As I said. They all have their benefits and they all work well, when enclosed. But the moment you expose any of them without a case, debris wears on all of them differently, and can cause different levels of failure or street face-ability

So the real question is, why don’t more people enclose the drive systems, to remove the debris from the equation and pick the drive system that suites you?


Cause Labor

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Think you are missing the point. Debris is what will make gears stay around. Because no one is going to enclose belts or chains…

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How exactly does debris affect the chain? So many proven platforms use chain, like dirtbikes, mountain bikes, motorcycles…all which are exposed to equal or greater amounts of debris. I’ll admit I haven’t used chain on my MB, but I’m considering it as a middle ground between belt and gear.

My gear drive was loud as hell. Belt was a super quiet (but skips too much on my 80mm motors). So I’m thinking of going chain, which will be louder than belt, but quieter than gear, but hopefully won’t skip as much.


I’m Chains lovers ^^ but maybe not for a long time ! Anyway, I’m 99% agree with you Deckoz :wink:

Just an exemple of a French brand EMTB :

Welded mount and integrated esc since the start (around 2014)

I guess it’s a good upgrade for the next DarthVapor I will make, even if I never get any issues or anything in my chain way :blush:


We do.

Free of noise, clean, 100% sealed off, high torque transfer with big idler pulley, no backlash (very short belt), support bearing for both pulleys, very efficient, small and little complex + the board can reverse against a wall without hitting the drive or motors, 1:5 gearing is possible.

A reason for gears would be higher gearing ratio, something like 1:6, 1:7. This would make the motor run a bit more efficient at the same torque output. Most of the spur gear drives we see don’t improve on gearing, we don’t see that really.

Hubs: To many downsides ranging from negative gearing (0,8:1) to ride comfort, skinny wheels, low efficiency, therefore to much excess heat in a PU insulated motor, strain on motor bearings, vibrations inside the motor, Impacts on the motor… To many technical issues and downsides IMHO. The “better free coasting argument”: This is only true if the motor lacks torque. If it is designed to output high torque, coasting is not a single bit better compared to a geared drive outputting the same amount of torque. You can’t have the best of both worlds! Either you have low torque and excellent coasting, or high torque and less free coasting. This fact is independent from the system you use. Coasting manly relates to possible torque output of the system.

Chain: expensive bicycles have belt drives, Harley Davidson and BMW use belts on their motorbikes, heavy machinery uses belts, car engines use belts to drive pumps and the cam shaft. Belts have proven to be very efficient (98%), free of maintenance and run almost noiseless without any need of lubrication. They exist since ages in various industries and that is a perfect proof of concept. I think some people had bad experiences with belts because they used cheap and thin/narrow belts. A belt of high quality, being wide enough to transfer the torque is pretty much bullet proof and will last for ages while cheap belts can be very shocking quality wise!


my colleagues car use belts that need to be replaced every 5 years or after x-thousand km. and it can be a pain in the wallet. my car engine use a chain…no worries…no pain in the wallet.

similar with my board. chain…with all its advantages. i keep my chain short. there is no lag or jerks. i dont see any advantages a gear drive would have over a chain other than the better gearing options as @trampa already mentioned. i just recently installed an odometer to document the lifespan of a chain drive (04b) under norma street use. we’ll see what breaks first and when.

i understand that a drive train on a mtb build must be kept clean and safe. now that would be an environment where i see gear drives and it definitely would be an interesting study gears vs chains…same motor, same gear ratio, both enclosed yadayada.

note to myself: look for a video where franks claim are demonstrated (regarding trampas quiet chain drive)

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