Belt drive bikes
Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a Canadian outlet for high quality, outdoor gear including products they market under their own label. (I believe Hilary's Mountain Equipment sleeping bag is a MEC product.) Last year they introduced a line of bicycles, which caused some consternation among local bike shops. As a cooperative MEC is subject to less tax than privately-owned businesses and will supposedly have a price advantage.
Whether MEC is a cooperative in spirit, or whether they use the corporate structure to their tax advantage is debateable and of no relevance to this article. I mention it only because my father worked all his life for the co-op movement and had very specific views on matters of governance. (As a matter of similar, irrelevant interest, Ikea is legally a charity.)
Back to bikes. When my son-in-law Andrew was here I could see he was getting antsy, so I suggested a bike ride. Trouble was, he hadn't brought any gear. So off we went on a fast tour of Ottawa bike shops. Walking into MEC, I was struck by their display of bikes, and in particular their single speed bike.
As you can see in the photo, they have used a belt drive system rather than a chain drive. The belt drive system is made by Gates. What are its advantages? I asked the MEC bike mechanic. Supposedly the belts are quieter and last longer than normal chains. On the other hand, you don't just buy the belt and install it – you need to replace the entire drive train; the bike frame requires a special break (secured by a bolt) to change belts; on a single speed a new belt is needed to alter the gear ratio (since links cannot be removed); there have been problems with drift – if the drive system is not in perfect alignment the belt can fall off (Gates has come up with some sort of guidance system to prevent this).
The belt system is a bit of a novelty, I guess, but I don't think I'll be lining up for one in the near future. If it ain't broke, as they say, don't fix it.