Chainless Bikes

1910PierceChainlessCl1

Besides the wheel the invention of the chain is probably what made the modern bicycle possible but ironically it’s also the bike’s biggest downside. The chain usually needs a lot of maintenance and care to keep it functioning properly and of course there’s always the risk of pant legs or loose shoelaces getting caught. If the Dekra D-Drive (Direct-Drive) system works as well as they claim it does we could be seeing the end of the bike chain as we know it.


Power from the pedals is transferred to the back wheel of the bike via an enclosed shaft that works alongside a bevel gear system. The shaft itself is made of a lightweight yet durable aluminum alloy and should survive even the roughest of rides. The setup even allows for a three-speed Shimano gear system for ‘optimized pedaling efficiency.’ The biggest advantage of having all the gears and drive shaft enclosed is that the D-Drive system never requires cleaning, lubrication or maintenance.

1910PierceChainlessCl5

Link: Chainless bikes available on Amazon.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I purchased a chainless bike from a now-defunct company called Amis International that had a very similar frame design. It worked okay but had limited gearing from a 7-speed rear internal hub shifter. I bought it to ride in the winter so I wouldn’t have to worry about rust and not worry about having to wash it. Despite their claims of better efficiency, I found that a standard roller-chain worked at least as well if not better unless it was very very poorly maintained.

    In the end, the frame bent a quarter inch or so and the gears failed to mesh accurately. They began grinding and there was eventually no hope for it. Also, the design had a pair of ball bearings adjacent to one another in the bottom bracket. Once one got a bit of grit in it, it would fight the other until both were destroyed. I had to replace the pair with a single bearing set which helped considerably.

  2. says

    interesting concept, its like the differential for cars shrunk for a bike. this must work in tropical countries too but i see the problem being the choice of material rather than the general concept.

  3. CD says

    The shaft drive bike has been around as long as the safety bicycle (modern two-wheeled machine with separate crank driven drivetrain.)

    Most people see chain “maintenance” (loose term) as the downside to a bicycle. Unfortunately, a shaft drive system is almost a 20% loss of efficiency, versus less than 2% for a chain drive. That is the equivalent of two gears on a ten-speed, or 4+mph at average pace.

    If a chain is lubricated even yearly with a heavy lube, it will not rust. It can be replaced for $15, and the greasy pant leg syndrome is overcome with a chainguard or a Euro-style chaincase.

  4. john says

    I have ridden and worked on these
    later versions of the shaft drive system..

    in theory it would seem to be great!

    in use however it is not PRACTICLE-
    an employee of mine with infinite knowledge
    of internal gear bikes decided to ride the bike each day to and from work a total of 40 miles…….

    flat tires on these things are a nightmare-
    imagine a lay person trying to remove the wheel from this machine and reinstall correctly–
    I was called by stranded folks on these a few time in that much more than what is available in a tool sack is needed…

    point two is that the sysytem needed a tremendous amount of GREASE for it to work smooth…Xtra attention is needed in this area as the sysatem will not perform if not greased properly and not perfectly in line…

    I would NOT recommend this to Joe Public…
    if you have a collection, time on your hands and want something to talk about

    go buy one — if not KEEP your money$

  5. Richard says

    I love reading comments about chainless bikes from people who have never even ridden one. Take it from someone who has a chainless bike and loves it.

    I have been commuting on my chainless bike from Dynamic Bicycles for nearly a year without any issues. Its an easy bike to ride, and fun to show off. Tire changes are no problem. One tool is all you need – and much cleaner than changing a tire on my old Fuji chain bike. Plus I switched to kevlar belted tires from Michelin and flats are a thing of the past for me.

    For the money, my chainless bike has been a great investment. I recommend them to people all the time.

  6. Nick says

    I can’t say I have a problem with maintaining a chain, I used my bike for 2 years to get to work and only put oil on it every so often.

    I never really wash my bike either. . . no problems, still going strong.

  7. Louis says

    I just bought a brand new Amis from Salvation Army here in San Fran for less than $100.
    I thought it would be fun to own one as I have just about every other type of bike. Maybe its because I’ve ridden BMWs for 30 plus years. Anyway, it is smooth and is kind of a novelty. Fun to ride like my old 3 speed Raleighs from the 50s and 60s.

  8. Mike in 94803 says

    For your enjoyment, my review of my ’05 Dynamic Outback bicycle:

    Summary
    After over 1500 miles commuting on an ’05 Dynamic Outback I deem it a quality bicycle. I had some initial problems that were mostly user caused and resolved satisfactorily. Concerns about weight and drivetrain inefficiency appear to be non-issues. The model has been upgraded by Dynamic since ’05. I would buy another Dynamic bicycle.

    About me – I’m relatively fit but am not a “biker”. I currently average 30 miles a week, mostly on the weekend, mostly road with a few percent on the dirt. I have enjoyed a couple of years when my riding was 100 miles per week and have at least 10K miles of sporadic riding experience over 30 years and six bikes. I rode in Massachusetts (including one winter in college), and the San Francisco Bay areas. I’m relatively well educated and like to tinker and repair as a hobby. I have put 1600 miles on my ’05 Dynamic Outback at the time of this writing, almost 1K in the past 6 months and I have kept a log since buying the bike.

    General, non-Dynamic comments about the bike – This is my first full-suspension bike, and first with a disk brake (front only). For my kind of riding, I don’t think I’m going back. The degree of comfort and control offered by the full suspension gives me more pleasure than the weight it suffers. As for the brake, it is a simple cable-operated unit and yet it is superior to any of the V-, cantilever or side pull brakes on any other bike I have ridden. I occasionally enjoy a thousand-foot descent, two thousand if I go pleasure riding, and I’d rather watch the disk glow at night than worry about popping a tire from the heat.

    Cost/value – Dynamic is not any more expensive than bike-store bikes and not much more than Internet bikes. If you get on the ‘Net and price bikes with similar components, the Dynamic bikes seem about 10% more expensive. I guess that is what you are paying for not having to hassle with a chain anymore, and note that if the drivetrain lasts as long as they say, you’ll more than make up the price difference by 10K miles from not having to buy a couple sets of chains and sprockets during that time. Sometimes Dynamic has bikes on sale, and then they look equivalently priced with the competition. As for shaft-drive competition, there are but few other shaft-drive bike manufacturers out there. I found a low-end looking brand from the East, a more expensive and apparently small volume, made-to-order one from Canada, a post-moderne design from Holland that must be targeting the cafe’ market, and Dynamic. Dynamic seems to be targeting the all-weather commuter, the weekend rider that wants a dependable, low-maintenance bike, and maybe the techie-type who wants something different, like the guy I bought my bike from. My impression of the company, after interacting with them and riding their bike, is that they are enthusiasts who want to promote bicycling, by bringing a quality product to market that offers some advantages to people, and make a fair buck while they are at it. The information they provide on their website has of course a positive spin (it’s advertisement after all), but honest and so far complete.

    Weight – Yes, the shaft drive is heavier than a chain drive; they say by a pound and that seems about right. Dynamic says 34# and mine weighs in at 35# with my tool kit. So is it too heavy? It feels as heavy as the other full-suspension bikes in the bike store. Since it doesn’t have filthy chain grease all over one side, I’m encouraged to hold it close and use my body to lift it, not out at arms length, and it thus feels lighter to lift than my old hardtail Fisher (but not my old Cannondale VX900 – now _that_ was a light bike, made of beercans or something!). At this price range, <$1K, none of the competition is particularly lightweight.

    Efficiency – Some on the Net have opined that the shaft drive is not as efficient as a chain, but guesstimates vary. I don’t notice any particular inefficiencies with the drive. My impression is that it is the same as the clean and lubricated chains that I had on my previous bikes. Any loss in efficiency must be less than what I feel from low tire pressure, the compressing suspension or mountain versus road bikes in general. (My bike doesn’t have a lock-out shock or forks, but I notice the new model from Dynamic does). Compared with other riders and bikes that I have passed or passed me, my mountain bike is as fast as the road bikes when coasting downhill (which I attribute to my road tires and a suspension that reduces unsprung weight relative to their bikes), and I climb as well as the other mountain bikers at my fitness level. Yes, the fit road bikers leave me behind on the climbs, but they do no matter what mountain bike I’m riding; road bikes in general climb roads faster than mountain bikes. Again, for me so far it’s the rider, not the drive train.

    Durability – The frame seems rock-solid and shows no sign of creaks or cracks so far. The components are mid-grade or commuter level, not useless junk but not high end either, and typical for a bike in this price range. Dynamic has made improvements to the front and rear shocks, brakes and shifter since my vintage bike, keeping up with the market. At 1500 miles the bike seems tough enough for my on and off road commuting and the rare extremes of my riding: urban assault (hopping curbs, hitting potholes, riding down inconsiderately placed steps), and trail, single track or technical mountain biking (but nothing extreme (no trials, jumps, tossing bike off cliffs, etc.). Typical for bikes in its price range.

    Internal gear 8-speed hub versus 20-something gears – The gearing with the Shimano-8 is purported to span most of the range of the average 24 speed bike, since there is a lot of overlap in the standard mix-and-match front and rear chainwheel and sprocket sets. The eight gears are certainly sufficient for my needs: my bike has the “sport” or low-ratio shaft and it goes just about as fast in 8th as I care to go (~30 mph with my quickest cadence), and still lets me climb the steepest hills I can find around Berkeley, which has some hella-steep, “Yikes, my house slid down the hill” hills. Yes, the lowest gear is not as low as the lowest gear on my old bike, but I stopped using that gear anyway once I got into shape. If you need to use that lunch plate sized rear granny cog they put on the beginner mountain bikes, then you’ll just have to get off and walk on a Dynamic until you get into better shape. Typically when faced with a really steep hill I UPshift and get off the seat to pump with a slower cadence, and then I’m in at least second or third gear. If I have to get off the seat in first gear, then it’s time to get off and walk. Off-road, the lowest gear takes me to the limit of of my traction skills. In short, I’m not limited by the gearing but by the rider. If I had one of their road bike models with the bigger wheels, I would still get the “sport” or low-ratio shaft. If you’re a real biker in good condition, or likeyou’ll probably prefer to ride with the higher ratio street shaft. Of note, the feel of the Inter-8 is different than a deraileur system. It reminds me of the transmission in my motorcycle: preload the shifter a little while backing off on the power and snick, it snaps into the next gear. Upshifts are quicker than my old rear XT deraileur (downshifts are similar), and up and down shifts are quicker than a front deraileur. Sometimes I get a mis-shift but less and less as the system wears in, and all together less mis-shifts than with a deraileur system.

    It has been said that, “All of the benefits of a shaft drive can be realized with an enclosing chain guard and an internal gear hub” – If I could find such a bike, I might get one, but all such that I can find are big, heavy cruisers. Certainly no mountain bikes have enclosed chain guards, mounting for such a guard or internal gear hubs. One could custom make such a bike, but probably not for what Dynamic charges.

    It has also been said that, “The rear wheel is a pain to remove if you have to repair a flat”. If one only needs to pull the tube out to patch a leak then there is no need to remove the wheel. But yes, removing the rear wheel requires one to remove 2 screws and unbolt the axle — about 30 seconds more than removing a quick-release wheel, so count up how often you’ll have to pull the rear wheel to swap inner tubes or compact the bike to fit in the trunk of your Miata (with the quick-release front wheel off it fits fine in my old Z-car, my wife’s Eclipse and a friend’s Prius). Commuters will likely ride with puncture-resistant tires, tubes or liners, or stay away from the curb.

    Problems:

    I had some early problems but note that my bike is an older-generation Outback and appears to have been re-designed since. The first problem was that despite torquing to what seemed a proper amount (around 50 ft-lb), the rear axle nuts would loosen up, the axle would shift and then the bevel gear would pop past the retaining circlip and grind away at the gear-change mechanism. Surprisingly, the drive still works when this happens, and I would only notice trouble shifting and later a wobble out back. I replaced the circlip with a stiffer one from the hardware store, and strung lock-washers on the axle bolts. Problem solved, but note to secure the axle Tightly on this bike. In hindsight, the loosening might also have been caused by the Shimano hub loosening up on the inside and thus allowing the axle some freedom to loosen up, so make sure you service and re-assemble that hub properly.

    Second problem was that my shaft broke at around 800 miles, but was immediately replaced by Dynamic for free, even though it was by then past the 2 year warranty. They said there was a bad batch of shafts in some of the ’05 models. Fair enough, and certainly kudos to Dynamic for standing behind their product no matter what. Swapping drives was easy, especially if one has pulled cranks before, and of note, they even sent me a crank-puller tool with the new shaft!

    The third problem was with my Shimano Inter-8 hub, specifically the innards (ball bearings, retainer cage, coaster-clickers and springs), came loose and jammed the gears, but I traced this to my (and the previous owner or his bike shop), ignorance in reassembling the hub properly. This hub must be bolted together tightly (to the point where it just starts to show resistance to turning), and lock-nutted tightly or it will unravel. Despite all this abuse, the gears look fine and run great now that I’ve cleaned the shrapnel out. I could whine a little about the twist-grip shifter and how it detracts from positive indexing of the gears, but I notice that the new Outbacks come with Shimano’s newer rapid-fire trigger shifter. Of note, there exists the mythical Rolhoff Speedhub, with 14 internally-indexed gears spanning over a 500% range, supposedly the most fantastic internal-gear hub on the planet. Well, next time I have an extra $1400, I’ll ask Dynamic to build me a bike with one! (Send contributions to…)

    Maintenance – MY particular bike was rather high-maintenance in the beginning, but mostly due to my own cat-killing-curiosity and/or incompetence. If one just leaves the darned thing alone, it is a low-maintenance bike after the initial break-in. That said, even with remote help from Dynamic, for service new owners should either have access to a good bike mechanic or plan on becoming one themselves. Since Dynamic bikes are bought on the Net and not from a bike shop, that service will not be free.

    Suggestions to Dynamic:

    Keep up the integrity and customer satisfaction. That makes me a repeat customer.

    Offer a little “tool kit” as an Option, you know, with a stubby screwdriver, allen set and a wrench for the rear axle.

    I suspect with your relatively low volume that you can and sometimes do a little customization of bike orders (seats, bars, pedals, lights, panniers, helmets, whatever), so mention this or make it more obvious on your website. Last time I bought a bike at a bike shop they offered to swap out or add on anything in the store that could be made to fit (adjusting the price of course). Since your customers are buying online they have more limited options. Maybe you can get a link with an online bike accessory supplier.

    As a wacky idea, somebody should ponder the Scion business model and offer totally customizable bikes, from fork spring rate to Bling clipless shoe light LED color, for sale online and delivered right to your door.

  9. vaccinefiend says

    I owned a Dynamic Bicycles shaft drive bicycle. The Sussex shaft drive was not built to specifications that could handle the torque generated when pedaling uphill, or pedaling hard on level ground. The result was that the shaft drive was not maintenance free–in fact, it broke. I replaced it with a new shaft drive sent by Dynamic Bicycles. The new one began to break and I was told by their Production Manager that I was exceeding the specifications of the shaft drive. I received a verbal agreement from him to refund the purchase price of the bicycle. Dynamic Bicycles even took care of the return shipping for the bicycle.

    Once they received it, however, the president of Dynamic Bicycles told me that I had owned the bicycle longer than 30 days, so the satisfaction guarantee no longer applied. I was given the option of having my bicycle returned to me with a tightened bolt and new grease, which would supposedly fix the problem, or receiving a refund minus the cost of shipping and a 15% restocking fee. Despite phone conversations, emails and then a complaint process with the Better Business Bureau In Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont (http://boston.bbb.org/WWWRoot/SitePage.aspx?site=27&id=b9531757-8bff-425c-83ce-ef5cf233e6a5), the president of the company would not uphold a verbal agreement stated twice and acknowledged by email. Because I do not live in Massachusetts, the state where Dynamic Bicycles is located, it made no sense for me to pursue a mediation or claim in small claims court, which would have required my presence. I will never do business with Dynamic Bicycles again, nor would I recommend doing business with Dynamic Bicycles. I am also weary of bicycles sold with shaft drives built by Sussex.

  10. says

    I am offended at Vaccinefiend’s misleading posting above. So let’s set the record straight. This customer owned his Dynamic Bicycle for nearly a year. He called us and claimed that his shaft drive was broken and asked for a refund. Even though his bicycle was 9 months beyond the normal return period, we offered a refund in good faith that it was actually broken. When the bicycle was returned to us, it did not have the problem he claimed — the shaft drive was perfectly fine. His bike only need some adjustments and it was as good as new. When we called him to tell him his bike did not have the problem he thought and that it was running great, we thought he would be pleased. He wasn’t. We did the service at no charge and even offered to ship the bicycle back to him at our expense. He refused. At Dynamic Bicycles, we have a great reputation for our excellent customer service. But even we have to draw the line when we think we are being taken advantage of. This customer clearly was trying to take advantage of us. He thought he could claim to have a problem and send a bike back after riding it extensively for nearly a year and get a full refund. This is incredulous. Yet despite his attitude, we still gave him a generous refund – his entire initial purchase price less 15% plus shipping – quite a deal for using the bike for nearly an entire year. Then he goes onto blogs and posts his drama for the world to see. We regret that this customer had difficulty with his bike, but we stand behind our bikes and our efforts to serve him. He clearly had no interest in resolving the problem with his bike – all he wanted was his money back.

  11. Mack says

    I own a shaft-driven bicycle and the machine works wonderfully. There is very little apparent loss of power versus a chain drive, and it is nearly silent in operation. I take it on the train and don’t have to worry about getting oil on my clothes–or anybody else’s.

  12. Sean says

    Been very happy with my Tempo I purchased last year from Dynamic Bicycles. I went with a hybrid/chainless combo for hopefully reduced maintenance, and it has exceeded my expectations.
    Only one thing I would have done different at ordering time, gone with the next smaller frame. The accessories I’ve added since are Power Grips pedals,Ergon bar ends, and Mr Tuffy liners(too much cactus in southern california!).
    I’ve been happy enough, that I’m considering also getting a folding Sidekick 8 from Dynamic to use at work on the days I drive in.

  13. Eric says

    I own a Dynamic Bike. I loved it,,,still do in spite of a minor annoyance: “creaking, metalic sounding grinding”

    Does anyone else have this annoyance?

    What I loved about this bike is the absolute smoothness and quietness of operation. It is still the smoothest bike I’ve ridden, but I am disappointed with the creaking. It creaks when mounting the bike. I can make it creak by pedaling hard anytime.

    I have been unable to resolve this annoyance, nor even isolate where the creaking comes from. I suspect it comes from the mounting bolts in the rear portion of the drive unit. I was going to have someone listen closely as I pedaled hard to isolate the noise with the bike on a stationary trainer. But this style of trainer holds the back wheel up by tightening a holder cup on each side of the axle nuts; thereby compressing the entire drive unit more securely and was unable to elicit any noise with this configuration. This being said, I’ve deduced that it is probably the mounting design of the drive unit to the frame that causes this annoying sound.

    I have taken the bolts off and observed visible evidence of wear under bolts on the metal of the drive unit. Pretty sure this is where the noise comes from.

    But I have tightened them, retightened them,,,took the bolts out, cleaned with alcohol and then applied fresh blue LockTite and still get the creaking noise.

    If I ride this bike like an old man – which I do now- I can ride with no noise. I still get a creak when mounting the bike tho.

    Just wondered if anyone else has come up against this challenge and found a resolution to it?

    I certainly welcome any suggestions from anyone.

    Dynamic Bikes have no answer other than: “Oh, I’m sorry you are not satisfied with our product.” and “No we have heard no other complaints about such.” I don’t believe I am the only one with this challenge. And I believe there has to be a satisfactory resolution.

    This creaking is THE ONLY thing I am unhappy about. Otherwise I give Dynamic Bikes a superior rating on everything else. I love this bike even with its creak.

    Any feed back is welcomed. Thanks

    • Anonymous says

      Eric,

      I was a bike mechanic and service manager for years and have worked on lots of “creaking” sounds. It is often something quite simple. I have never worked on a Dynamic bike but just looked at a picture of it. I suspect that the creacking comes from the bottom bracket assembly or the crank bolts (it should have these). Start by taking out the crank bolts and regreasing them and then thread them back it. Be careful not to over torque them. If this doen’t work then go to a good independent bike store and have a mechanic ride it. They look for these sounds all the time and find them in the strangest places even when the sound seems to come from eleswhere. I have isolated the sounds from bottom brackets, handlebars, seatposts and even front quick release skewers.

      SDince the bike is new the liklihood of this being structural in anyway is next to zero. You are likely to find it coming from an area where two parts meet and are not seated fully.

      Good luck

    • Paul says

      I bought a Dynamic Runabout last fall and also had metallic creaking noise whenever I pedaled hard. I also had a hard time figuring out where the noise was coming from. I called the company and the first thing they asked me to try was to grease the bike (requires a grease gun which can be had for under 20 dollars at Walmart with grease). After I pumped pumped 4 or 5 shots of grease into the fitting, the problem was 100 percent solved and all has worked wonderfully since then. Although the bikes are supposed to come from the company already fully lubed internally, my guess is that sometimes one slips through without sufficient grease. I am currently riding my bike 150 plus miles per week on the local rail trail between York, PA and Hunt Valley, MD and it works like a charm.

  14. marc says

    @Eric,
    I do not own a Dynamic bike, but have experienced the creaking noise you describe in another bike (a Bianchi). I thought I might tell you about it just in the unlikely case the same problem might be occurring in your bike.

    My problem was a crack in the frame, more precisely, the fork. At the point where the fork comes together under the head tube, the two tines of the fork are welded together using a third piece that receives the two members. During this process, the metal was heated to the point where it had become brittle. For two years I heard this creaking noise, until one day I saw that the fork was actually cracked right across the brazed joint. This was definitely a manufacturing defect.

    I was about 15 or 16 years old at the time, and didn’t know much about bikes, let alone metal fatigue. I took it back to the shop (with proof of purchase) and the sales person told me that he would look into having Bianchi replacing the frame for free (he understood that it was something that should not happen). Unfortunately, when I returned another person told me that it was due to my abusive riding or an accident and charged me for the repair (even though I had not authorized it). Since I had no bike I just paid and left the store.

    I recommend you check your frame at the joints and elsewhere and see if you have small stress fractures. These could be the source of the creaking. The other areas to check is the bottom bracket (very common source of creaking) and the head tube bearing, as these take up quite a bit of stress when you ride over a bumpy road or climb a steep hill.

    Baggio Cycles in Montreal is the store that charged me for the repair. I think they’ve since gone out of business.

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