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Last year I took my first test ride on a Spot bike equipped with the Gates Carbon Drive and even though I’m no single speeder, I loved how smooth and quiet the belt felt. Since that time Gates belts have been showing up on all kinds of bikes: from the Black Sheep 36er (pictured above) to the Ellsworth Enlightenment, it seems like a lot of people are seeing the benefits of a belt-driven bike.

Not content to rest on their laurels, the Gates company is set to release a new version of the Carbon Drive for bikes called the CenterTrack. The original Carbon Drive was already super strong and did a great job at shedding mud but CenterTrack claims to offer 20% greater tensile strength and even better debris clearing. But the most visible change is the center groove running through the belt teeth. When mated with the track running along the crank the rider gets perfect alignment every time and virtually zero chance of the belt slipping to either side. We’re told this also make installation even easier.

The new CenterTrack belts will be offered as a premium option in addition to the original belt drive. Pricing hasn’t been set yet so keep checking the Gates website for the latest.

The Gates tent at Outdoor demo was full of belt-driven bikes set up with the original Carbon Drive and since I couldn’t ride the 36er (display only) I decided to take out a Raleigh XXIX. I rode an XXIX at last year’s demo but that bike was tricked out with SRAM XX components so I figured this would be a much different experience. And it was.

Believe it or not, when I hopped on the XXIX I didn’t realize it was fitted with a rigid fork – that is, until I started hitting rocky terrain. Fortunately this is a steel frame bike which took some of the sting out of the trail but honestly not a whole lot. I hadn’t ridden a rigid mountain bike off road in at least 10 years so it was a bit of a shock until I got into the groove. Still, this bike was a lot more fun on the smooth stuff than on the rocks.

The Gates Carbon Drive performed flawlessly and seemed to engage almost instantly to accelerate the bike on the flats and up hill. And while the Carbon Drive is a high tech product, the overall simplicity of the system really makes sense on a rigid bike like the XXIX. The whole package seemed to distill the mountain bike experience down to the basics where man meets trail.

For single speed riders and commuters, the Gates belt system really seems like the way to go. If you get a chance, definitely try riding a belt-driven bike to see the difference!

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