When motorcycles were new technology more than a hundred years ago, the power was routed to the wheels via a chain, just like bicycles. Over time, though, and until just a few years ago, nearly all bikes were driven by a belt. In recent years, the chain final drive has become popular on motorcycles again. Another final drive system that has found some favour is the shaft drive. Each has its own benefits and shortcomings, making one or another better for certain applications.
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The final drive on a motorcycle transfers power from the transmission to the rear wheel. It's what makes the motorcycle go forward.
Most motorcycles built today are driven by a chain that turns a sprocket. You can also find bikes driven by belt in much the same manner as the chain. A radically different type of final drive is shaft drive, which uses a similar technology to a car's drive system. The transmission spins a shaft that leads back to the rear wheel, where it makes a 90-degree bend and spins the wheel.
Chain drive and belt drive deliver power to the rear wheel much more efficiently than shaft drive. A shaft drive requires very little maintenance.
A motorcycle with chain drive, while efficient, is noisy, requires a moderate amount of attention, and stretches more than a belt. A belt, however, can break under extreme torque. Shaft drive, though nearly maintenance free, is heavy and, under heavy acceleration, can cause the handling characteristics of the motorcycle to change.
When deciding what kind of drive system you want on your bike, keep in mind that you often don't have a choice. A great majority of sport bikes are chain driven, and almost nothing other than cruisers uses shaft drive. If a motocross bike is what you want, you'll most likely be cleaning a chain.
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