Chain, Belt or Drive Shaft?

We receive many questions from customers about the best final drive system. Should you choose a chain, drive shaft, or belt system? Each one of these systems offers both pros and cons, and each one excels in different uses and environments. Let’s look at the different options.

Chains2013 Kawasaki KX450

  • Pros
    • Least power loss between the engine and the rear wheel of all the drive systems (less inherent friction)
    • Easy to adjust final drive ratios (front and rear sprockets can easily be changed)
    • Individual components can be changed
    • Chains can be threaded through braced swing-arms
  • Cons
    • High level of maintenance (chain must be lubed frequently)
    • Chains and sprockets suffer from wear and must be replaced at varying intervals
    • Chain lube prone to making a mess on the rear rim and countershaft area


Belts2013 Kawasaki Vulcan 900

  • Pros
    • Low maintenance once properly adjusted
    • Lightweight
    • Quiet operation
    • Minimal frictional losses between the engine and the rear wheel (more than a chain, less than a drive shaft)
    • No lubricants means no mess
  • Cons
    • Can be expensive to replace
    • Prone to damage from road debris
    • Cannot make as tight a turn around the countershaft as a chain can
    • Final drive ratio adjustments are limited to drive sprocket availability
    • Typically do not work well in racing and extremely high horsepower applications


Drive Shafts2013 Kawasaki Concours ZG1400

  • Pros
    • Extremely low maintenance levels
    • Quiet operation
    • Sealed lubricants means no mess
  • Cons
    • When not properly engineered, drive shafts can cause a jacking or squatting effect under acceleration or braking
    • Final drive seals can leak
    • Can be expensive to repair failures
    • The most frictional losses between the engine and the rear wheel of any drive system
    • Can add significant additional weight to the motorcycle
    • With few exceptions, final drive ratios cannot be adjusted

The pros and cons of each drive system should be weighed in when purchasing your new motorcycle.