While most people are familiar with the classic chain gears in bicycles, there are a number of other, less greasy alternatives now which are seeing more widespread use.

One of these alternatives – the chainless shaft drive – hasn’t quite found a foothold in the bicycle world. But why is that?

YouTube video

In a video by cycling enthusiast Alee Denham, he tries to uncover whether or not chainless drive shafts are a boon or a burden for cyclists worldwide.

What is Chainless Drive Shaft?

chainless drive shaft

Instead of using a gear-and-sprocket mechanism, a chainless drive shaft consists of two sets of gears. These gears (which are usually housed in a casing) transfer the kinetic energy from your pedals to the rear wheel using a drive shaft.

With this in mind, Denham tries to analyze how the chainless drive shaft compares to the classic chain and gear mechanism in 5 categories:

  1. Cost and Availabilitychainless drive shaft

Compared to derailleur drive trains (AKA classic chain mechanism), the chainless drive shafts are more expensive, harder to manufacture, and can only be placed on compatible bikes.

Derailleur drive trains, which have been around longer, are much more cost-friendly. You can easily clean the various parts, plus it isn’t that hard to find replacement components at your local bike shop.

That said, well-made chainless drive shafts require less maintenance than derailleurs since their high-quality components are encased and protected from the elements.

  1. Efficiencychainless drive shaft

The reason derailleurs are used so much by cyclists is that they can easily adapt to the terrain. Say you’re going down a hill or want to go faster – use the high gear. Going up the hill? Switch to the low gear.

Chainless drive shafts don’t have that kind of versatility. They move at a steady pace – which is good sometimes – but don’t excel on any surface.

On the other side of the coin, biking over mud or in the rain isn’t a problem for chainless drive shafts. The reason? Its only saving grace: the protective casing. With this, it can chug along in a storm with no problem. However, the opposite happens to the derailleur. Without a protective chain case, dirt can gunk up its gears and chain.

  1. Weightchainless drive shaft

Since the gears and other components in a chainless drive shaft are much smaller than a derailleur’s, the material used to make them has to be of a higher, sturdier quality.

To this end, most chainless drive shafts are made using heavy metals like aluminum. Compared to the derailleur’s gears and chain made of stainless steel, this results in heavier components that weigh your bicycle (and you) down.

  1. Gear Alignmentchainless drive shaft

In order for a chainless drive shaft to reduce wear and increase its effectiveness, the gears have to be spaced just right so that they mesh properly. Since all parts of a bike bend when sat on, the bike frame has to be sturdy enough to withstand very high loads. On top of the load capacity, the chainless drive shaft has to be able to mesh its gears effectively.

The rear bevel gears also have to be easy to align, so as not to cause problems when installing the rear bike wheel.

  1. Proprietary Partschainless drive shaft

Tying in with cost and availability, having a bicycle with a chainless drive shaft means you’ll be stuck with the mechanism for as long as you own the said bike. A bike with a chainless drive shaft cannot be converted into a derailleur or vice versa since the bike’s frame does not support it.

So you better make sure you can find replacement parts at your nearby shop before choosing a bicycle beforehand!

Despite the hurdles the mechanism has to overcome, chainless drive shafts have a promising start in the bicycle world. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, and provide a good, all-around bike ride no matter where you are.

If you want to learn more about different bicycles, their parts, and the lifestyle of a cyclist, you can check out Alee Denham’s webpage, Cycling About.


Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.