FLASHBACK FRIDAY: WE TEST THE GATES CARBON BELT-DRIVE SYSTEM

Here's a bike review from 2013 where we tested a Gates belt-drive system

We have a long-running love affair with the Redline MonoCogs, and why not? When we first tested one over 12 years ago, the 26-inch-wheeled, chromoly-framed, rigid single-speed sold for $415 (it has jumped all the way to $650 today), and it delivered five times that amount in fun. 

Fast-forward to 2013. The MonoCog is still alive and
 well (although now with 29er wheels), and it has been joined by an aluminum-framed version with a suspension fork, the $1000 MonoCog Flight. Rounding out the MonoCog line is our test bike, the $1700 MonoBelt; its name is derived from the bike’s Gates CenterTrack carbon belt drivetrain.


WHO IT IS MADE FOR?

While we have met riders who call a Mono their one and only, the nature of the MonoBelt makes it an ideal second bike for trail riders who want to experience something new and be challenged on familiar trails. It is also a good option for riders in harsh conditions where conventional drivetrains take a constant beating.


WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

In light of the recent parade of carbon fiber and aluminum-framed bikes that have joined our test fleet, the MonoBelt’s chromoly frame tubes look downright microscopic. Redline puts a sizable open-end gusset below the downtube/head tube junction. The frame uses slider-style dropouts for properly tightening the belt. And, if you look closely, the right-side seatstay is split and lugged. Why? Belts don’t have master links. One of the stays needs to separate to get that black beauty in and out of the rear triangle. 

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The Gates CenterTrack carbon belt drivetrain is something you don’t see every day. The belt and, technically, the pulley, not cog, have a feature called CenterTrack. The pulleys have a center ridge that seats into a hollowed-out channel in the center of the belt. Think of it as a chainguide for belts. The belt sells for around $70, the same price as a high-quality chain, and the pulleys average around $75.  



HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
The setup: The key to the Gates belt’s performance is a fairly snug fit. Gates offers a free iPhone app for checking the belt tension. The app uses the phone’s microphone to record the frequency of the belt’s vibration when you pluck it (like a guitar string). They have a frequency range depending on rider size and riding style. Our belt worked trouble-free between 63 and 65 hertz for riders up to 180 pounds. Gates also offers a $52 Belt Tension Meter, but we did not have the opportunity to evaluate one.

The fork offers RockShox Motion Control, plus a negative air-spring adjustment. Some crewers preferred setting the fork for optimum small-bump compliance and using the external compression adjustment to firm the fork for climbing. Others set up the fork so it was super stiff. The point is, the RockShox Reba RL lets you have it your way.

On the trail: The MonoBelt springs forward 13.5 feet for every crank revolution (and does it quietly). You never realize how much noise a chain makes until you don’t have one. The 13.5-foot gearing means it is easy to get moving on flat ground but requires commitment on a grade. It also means you will spin out quickly when gravity takes over.

Cornering: The MonoBelt is lively and quick for a 29er. Its shortish wheelbase (for a 29er) makes it a switchback conqueror. The bike has a great counter-steering feel to it when dropping into fast sweeps. The tires bite nicely, even under hard braking, though you should avoid hard braking on any single-speed.

Descending: The MonoBelt’s steel frame has more give in the rear triangle than most aluminum frames. The rider needs to stay out of the saddle, keep his arms and legs bent, and choose his lines carefully. You will be surprised how fast you can attack a downhill with minimal front suspension and no rear suspension. You will also be surprised how quiet this bike is while bumping down the trail. This bike will sneak up on your friends.

Climbing: The stock gearing reduced us to hike-a-biking the steepest climbs on our test loops. Longer, gentler climbs required us to alternate between seated and out-of-the-saddle positions. The key to climbing on any single-speed is to pick your battles. Break the climb into sections and ride or hike to the top. Remember, your legs have a limited number of hard efforts in them for a given ride. Use your energy wisely.

Braking: The plain Jane Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with 6-inch rotors are more than up to the job, but you want to use them sparingly. Momentum is the key to single-speed success.

Efficiency: On the trail, there is no noticeable drag generated from the belt. It feels smooth and is quiet when spinning along. Is it more efficient than a roller bearing chain? All things being equal, both drivetrains are clean and the rider is pushing the same gear, a conventional chain is tough to beat. Still, we are not talking about a night-and-day difference.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The gearing needs to be tailored to your riding conditions. We would have liked a slightly lower gear for the amount of climbing in our neck of the woods, but riders of fast, flowing trails will need to head the other direction. You will find yourself spun out pretty quickly with the stock gearing.

Let’s face it, there is going to be some hoofing it on the MonoBelt, so choose a shoe that is comfortable for hiking. We found ourselves riding platform pedals more often than clipless just for the ease of dismounts and then hiking.

Wider bars and a shorter stem wouldn’t be a bad upgrade for those times when you need all the leverage available to clear that last 20 feet of a climb.

BUYING ADVICE
Single-speeders are generally thought of as a small group of wackos, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are a big group of wackos. Single-speed bike sales exceed those of downhill bikes. The Redline MonoCogs are affordable ways to test the single-speed water when you want to work on your skills, are looking for a shorter-but-harder workout, or are bored with the same old trail.

The MonoBelt, with its RockShox fork and belt drivetrain, almost doubles the price of admission over the MonoCog Flight, and that’s a big jump if this will be the second or third bike in your collection. So, who can justify that? Single-speed riders who frequent trails with excessive dust, mud or muddy dust (think valve-grinding compound) will get the most out of the MonoBelt’s Gates CenterTrack belt drivetrain. The bike will also appeal to a rider who simply wants to ride something different. For those, the MonoBelt is the quiet choice. 



 

 

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