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Home > Tech Tips > Drive Train

Motorcycle Chain versus Belt: What's Best For My Custom Chopper?

By Jason Van Wyhe

Should I run a rear chain or belt on my chopper? Wish I had a dime for every time I was asked that question while working on bikes. And the answer is simple for many of you building a chopper: Run A Damn Chain!

First of all, if you're building a stripped-down "minimalist" bobber, you shouldn't even be asking the question. The answer is obvious. Chains are as old school as it gets. Period. You can change a chain on the side of the road with a pair of pliers - can you do that with a belt? Didn't think so. End of that discussion.

Second, if you are building some big tire, big horsepower monster, I have a question for you. Every time you do a burnout, or give it too much throttle while running it through the gears, do you want to pull it back into your shop to pull off a belt drive or primary to change a belt? Notice they don't put rear belts on crotch rockets? You know why? They don't hold up to big horsepower. Belts are time consuming to change (except on a sporty). Chains are easy to change. You will be doing either regularly, so make it easier on yourself, and stick with a chain.

Third, you can carry a spare chain master link in your tool pouch or pocket. Try fitting a new belt, socket set, ratchet, screw drivers, torque wrench, clutch puller, and shop manual in your pocket.

But why does Harley put belts on their bikes? That's easy, they make most of their money on service work. Also, belts "theoretically" last longer than chains, but as I discussed earlier, you can throw that out the window on a hopped up bike. Finally, belts do run cleaner, with a little less noise. But if you're like me, keeping my bike quiet is pretty low on the agenda.

But I don't want to want to get my $8000 rear rim oily and dirty. Then wash it more often, use chain wax, and quit being such a pansy.

Listen, there's nothing wrong with running a belt on most bikes. If it's what you have on your stock 80" evo softail, there's really no reason to change it. But that's not what we're into on this site. So do yourself a favor, and run some links to that rear tire. You'll thank me along side the road some day.


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