|"What's The Ratio, Kenneth?"|
Let's face it, the Sawyer is steel, and we all know that frame is twisting and flexing some. Not a lot, but the previous Carbon Drive belt I used, on an arguably much stouter steel frame, was not quiet, and did pop and squeal some times. It never ratcheted, but it wasn't dead quiet, and I had to have that belt "banjo string tight" to keep it tracking. Not so with the Center Track.
Had the Sawyer been equipped with the older belt, I don't think I would have given it a passing grade at all. Not with that frame, at any rate. That was a silly thing to my mind anyway. Why run a belt if it meant you had to have a very stiff, rough riding, over built frame so it wouldn't ratchet or derail? It just seemed stupid, really. Now Center Track seems to have relaxed those requirements to the point that if the frame did flex enough to give you issues, it probably would mean the frame is a poor choice for single speeding.
That little fin in the middle is the magic to these. It keeps the belt from derailing, and allows for slight out of alignment conditions like when the frame twists slightly as you torque the pedals hard going up a climb. The belt itself is pretty amazing. Wider at 12mm, it is the widest belt Gates has offered for a bicycle, and it just works. I had a bit of tooth interfacing noise right out of the box, but it literally went away within the span of a couple of rides. Since then, I just periodically check the tension by pushing down on the belt, (admittedly, a no-tech way to do that!), but theoretically, the belt should never stretch, or need much of anything beyond a washing with water and a visual inspection from time to time.
|Not A Lot Of Choice|
So, it works. Then it is good to go, right? Not quite. There are a few things which are stumbling blocks that Gates may or may not get squared away with the Center Track. If they do, it could be the premier single speed drive train choice. It could, but.......
Cog Selection Is Too Narrow: Gates says they will offer a wide array of ratio choices at some point, but as of now, only the ratio I have is available. It was too tall to get me up some of the steeper inclines we have here, and it is way too stout of a gear for extended mountain climbing. At least on a 29"er it is. Admittedly, given time, this should get better. Just don't expect much for choice yet.
The system is very expensive. Even the previous incarnation of belt drive was/is expensive, and you can get two complete chain driven drive trains for the price of one Gates set up. Add in the fact that you will likely need a different belt and cog for different ratios, and it could get ugly on the pocketbook. Of course, the components are said to out last chains and traditional cogs/chain rings by a huge amount, but the upfront costs of getting into a Gates set up with multiple ratios would be staggering.
Tensioning is still a problem. Not everyone carries their iPhone on rides, or wants to. Then again, not all cyclists have iPhones. So that ap for "tuning" the belt tension, while clever, will not be of much use to many people. Folks that have bikes requiring re-tensioning every time they remove the rear wheel, or change ratios are going to have a hard time. Gates needs to come up with a repeatable, easy, mechanically measured means to tension their belts properly that can be carried easily on the bike. Engineers at Gates, "Go!" Let's see this get done and soon.
And You Still Need A Special Frame. After all, not all frames can be, or should be Gates compatible. So your favorite geometry, or brand may not be compatible. Chains can be fitted to any bicycle, Gates equipped or no.
Then you have to also consider the myriad ways that a chain can accommodate making almost any ratio work on any given bicycle, and even can make bicycles not meant to be single speeds into single speeds. Derailleurs? Yeah. One choice there!
With that said, I am still excited about a Gates Center Track set up. Why? Because of winter, more than anything. I would love to see a snow bike in my stable with an internally geared hub driven by a Gates Center Track belt. To me, that would be the ultimate winter set up for around here.