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Motorcycle Final Drives: Chain, Belt, Shaft


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The final drive of your motorcycle’s transmission is what connects the engine to the rear wheel.

This system is responsible for translating torque and power into speed and acceleration.

Check out the main types of final drive systems below.

What are the different types of final drive systems on a motorcycle?

There are 3 main types of final drives found on a motorcycle, they include:

  • Chain.
  • Belt.
  • Shaft drive.

Chain Drive Transmission

A motorcycle with a chain final drive features a drive chain and a front and rear sprocket.

Chains have the benefit of being strong and can handle lots of torque, high power, and speed.

Chains and sprockets also give you greater flexibility in changing the gearing ratio.

The main downside about chain drives is that they require more frequent maintenance and replacement.

Since the chain and sprocket system is metal on metal it requires regular cleaning and lubrication. Once the chain and sprockets become worn, you’ll need to replace the set.

A broken chain can have some pretty serious consequence, which is regular chain cleaning, maintenance, and inspection is an important part of your normal routine.

Chains and sprockets are the most common type of motorcycle drivetrain.

Belt Drive Transmission

Belt drives feature a Kevlar and carbon fiber toothed belt that runs on a front and real belt drive.

Belt drives have the benefit of lasting longer than chains and require less maintenance and adjustment. They also run quieter than chains and reduce weight.

If a belt breaks, it usually won’t cause any serious issues, but it may be a little more time consuming to replace than a chain.

Belt drives are not capable of high torque and quick acceleration.

You’ll find belt drives on many cruiser motorcycles like Harley Davidsons, many BMWs, and many electric motorcycles. Some models include:

  • BMW F models
  • Buell Blast
  • Harley Davidson Sportster
  • Kawasaki 454 LTD
  • Suzuki Boulevard

Shaft Drive Transmission

A shaft drive motorcycles forgoes both chains and belts and features are shaft and rear gearbox connecting from the engine’s transmission to the rear hub.

Shaft drives will require service, but will typically last longer than both chains and belts.

Drive shafts are common on many touring motorcycles.

This design will add more weight to the motorcycle and is typically much more expensive if something does go wrong.

Many BMWs feature a shaft drive.

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