Building a better bike - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Building a better bike

From a distance, it might look like a chain, but this 2009 Trek model actually has a carbon composite belt. From a distance, it might look like a chain, but this 2009 Trek model actually has a carbon composite belt.

MADISON (WKOW) -- It's the sound of life on two wheels.  Bicycle experts call it 'chain clatter.'  Over the past year of high gas prices and environmental awareness, more people got to know it.

"You had this perfect storm that I think is great for bicycling," said Trek lifestyle brand manager Eric Bjoruling, describing the increase in bike commuting over this past spring and summer.

Inevitably, however, the bike commuting led to complaints and chances for feedback.  Waterloo-based bicycle giant Trek was listening.  Its target over the past year the common bike chain, a staple on two-wheelers for more than a century.

"So we looked at it and said 'How could we improve that for people?' and the belt was really a viable solution."

On Sunday, Bjoruling showed us one of two new models that will feature a belt to replace the chain. The models, a one-speed and an eight-speed, go on sale in January.

The concept is similar to what you find on snowmobiles.  "Instead of a chain that may rust or needs lubrication, needs maintenance, we've replaced it with a carbon composite belt," he said.

The sound of the belt is much quieter than a traditional chain, and the improvements don't stop there.

Belts are also supposed to be a big improvement over old school chains, which actually can be a little on the greasy side. Chains are also notorious for tearing pants on the way into work.  "This is really for all the frayed jeans out there," he said.  "The belt is contructed so it has a smooth top, as opposed to the chain, so you can get something caught in it."

The belts are also stronger than chains, and Bjoruling insists they last three times as long.

The fact that the carbon composite material of the belt won't rust would also help out the wintertime bicycle commuters, considering we're about to see road salt everywhere for the next six months or so.

The belts are not perfected on models with more than eight gears, at least not yet at least.  Bjoruling added that considering the chains has been part of the bicycle for 100 years, it's likely we won't see an end to its run anytime soon.

"I think it's one of those things that when technology hasn't changed for 100 years, you make a modification, you make a viable solution, or a better mousetrap in a way, I think ther'es a lot of interest in that."

Trek isn't the first bike company to think about belts.  A small mountain bike company called Spot also uses them.

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