Seven years ago, Denver-based Gates Corp. invented a rubber-like belt to replace the bike chain. And now style is following function, with one local bike manufacturer already designing a model with the belt in mind.
Gates Carbon Drive, a subsidiary of Gates Corp., unveiled its first colored bicycle belts last month.
The splash of color, Gates spokesperson Paul Tolme said, can serve as a rolling advertisement for Gates’ chainless, belt-driven bike system.
“I’ve been on streets in cities and I’ll see a bike go and say, ‘I think that had a Gates belt on it,’ but I couldn’t be sure because it went by too fast,” Tolme said. “It becomes much more evident in every red belt that is out there — it becomes an advertisement for Gates Carbon Drive.”
Gates Corp. is best known for making belts for cars, heavy machinery and Harley-Davidsons.
The belt serves the same purpose as the old steady chain. But instead of chain links falling into teeth on a gear, Gates’s polyurethane belt has teeth that fit into metal sprockets.
The Gates belts, Tolme said, require less maintenance than a bike chain. For example, the rubber-like belts don’t rust. Nor do riders have to grease the belts like a chain. And a biker can clean dirt and mud off a Gates belt by spraying it down with a hose, Tolme said.
Gates Carbon Drive launched in 2007 and sells belts to bike brands including REI’s house label Novara Raleigh Bicycles and Scott Bikes.
Golden-based Spot Brand is the first company to design a bicycle with a red Gates belt.
Spot incorporated the red belt into a commuter model, President Andrew Lumpkin said.
“We’ve been asking for colors for a while,” Lumpkin said. “With bike folks, you’ve got gearheads and you’ve got fashion folks, but generally speaking, they want their bikes to look cool.”
Lumpkin said he’s also incorporating the red belt into a mountain bike that will ship this month.
Gates Carbon Drive belts are made at a factory in Kentucky, near a major Harley-Davidson factory that Gates Corp. also supplies with motorcycle belts. Most of the bike products are sold overseas, Tolme said.
The red belts come in fewer sizes and are more expensive than the regular black belts. Gates is making them in limited quantities, Tolme said, and the red belts need to be manufactured on separate machinery from the black belts.
It took seven years for the company to add the red brand, Tolme said, because Gates was more concerned with engineering and manufacturing enough belts to sell than adding to its color wheel.
“When you’re growing a product line, you don’t want to get off into aesthetics until you can supply all the product that you need and make sure it’s perfect for the end consumer and the manufacturer,” he said.