Last updated: July 21st, 2023
This is my guide to 2023’s top belt-drive bicycles for commuting & urban riding, touring, mountain biking, and more.
Belt-drive bikes have long been the domain of high-end custom builds, but that’s quickly changing.
In fact, we’re seeing more great options at great prices than ever before.
We’re going to look at some outstanding options that are not only good deals (at their price point) but also fun, useful, and well thought out.
Belt drive systems are optimal for practical daily use, so this list is heavy on commuter-oriented models that fall into the hybrid or city bike categories. Still, there are plenty of folding, touring, mountain, and other models worth knowing about.
Consider this the shortlist of belt-drive bicycles that I’d drop my own money on this year!
- Best for commuters: Priority Continuum Onyx
- Best single-speed belt drive: Priority Ace
- The ultimate upgrade: Creme Ristretto Lightning
- Best folding belt drive: Bike Friday pakiT
- Best budget option: Brilliant Cooper / Carmen
What’s special about belt drive bikes?
Belt drives reduce daily maintenance and are extremely easy to clean. They also use an internally-geared hub instead of a derailleur, which reduces daily care even further.
If you don’t like drivetrain upkeep or grease on your pants—and who does?—then a belt-drive system kills two birds with one stone.
With set-it-and-forget-it maintenance and zero grease, it just doesn’t get any more convenient. That’s especially true if you ride in harsh weather or grimy conditions that practically eat chains and gears for breakfast.
There are disadvantages, though. You’ll pay a bit of a premium up front, and gears are limited to whatever hub gears the bike includes. There’s also a slight resistance while pedaling–nothing problematic, but I’d be remiss not to mention it.
Check out this write-up for a much closer look at the ins and outs of belt drives.
If their unbeatable ease and durability seem worth it, then read on for the models I’d actually get for myself.
The best belt-drive bikes around
With a belt drive, hub gears, and even dynamo lighting, the Contiuum Onyx is the ultimate commuter for daily, year-round use.
I mention direct-to-consumer bike brands a lot around this site, because they’re changing the bicycle market in a great way.
Now, there are exceptions. Some just offer Wal-Mart-grade fixies in garish colors.
But others—like Priority Bicycles—offer killer value on bikes that meet real needs but fall a little too far outside the mainstream for the big brands to take a gamble on.
Belt drives have been Priority’s “thing” ever since their 2014 Kickstarter campaign blew up (in the best possible way). And almost any of their 15-plus models (as of writing) could have been on this list, since they’re all terrific values.
But more than any, the Continuum Onyx jumps out as a remarkable value for commuters, and also holds a well-deserved place on my best value commuter bikes list. I’ll circle back to why in a moment, but first, some important details.
Although I’m partial to steel, the aluminum frame is a perfectly sensible choice. The sliding, horizontal dropouts are a good choice for belt tensioning, since eccentric bottom brackets (the main alternative) can be a little prone to squeaking. And for a sporty, modern-looking hybrid, the blacked-out color scheme looks sharp.
It uses the Gates Carbon Drive belt, like almost everything on this list. It ships with either Tektro or Promax hydraulic disc brakes, both of which I’ve used without issue, so you can expect predictable all-weather braking.
The included fenders are a good choice for the commuter market. While a rack is not included, there are well-placed mounts on the seatstays and an extra pair of eyelets on the rear dropout, so their own rack and most generic ones will mount easily.
A neat touch is the enviolo CVT (continuously variable transmission) hub. It gives you about the same overall gear range as the common Shimano 8-speed hubs, but instead of shifting between discrete gears, you get completely smooth adjustment to “slide” up and down the overall gear range.
If you’re familiar with CVTs on cars, it’s basically the same thing on a very tiny scale. I test-rode an older version of the enviolo CVT, back when it was branded NuVinci, and came away impressed. It felt a little more resistant than a typical geared hub, but I suspect getting the perfect gear ratio offsets the lost efficiency.
But the best part for your average commuter is the dynamo-powered headlight and taillights. It converts the front wheel’s rotation into electricity, so no more charging or swapping lights when you’re unexpectedly running low on battery. This is a tragically rare feature even on commuter bikes in North America, so I’m thrilled that Priority made it available.
It looks like the Priority-branded headlight has a beam pattern and coverage similar to good clip-on lights. And that’s just fine; it’s the basically circular beam that most cyclists are used to. However, I’d like to have seen a known, name-brand headlight like the Busch & Mueller IQ-XS. Those have a better beam pattern that is sort of square, which makes it cover the ground more evenly and it reduces glare for oncoming riders. That’s a minor quibble, though, and you could most likely make that upgrade later if you were so inclined.
Personally, I prefer more upright and swept-back handlebars for city riding. The Continuum Onyx has a very MTB-like riding position, which will suit some of you fine. But those who prefer a more stately, upright ride are out of luck. (Well, sort of. Priority’s Turi is another belt-drive bike with a more classic, upright design for just $899. The Turi sports the same enviolo hub but lacks dynamo lighting.)
Beyond thought, you may find yourself wishing for wider tires on rough roads. The stock 32mm tires aren’t unreasonably narrow, but the 35mm-40mm range is (in my experience) a better balance of agility and smoothness.
Still, when it comes to commuting, no belt-drive bicycle is better equipped off the rack. More importantly, the few others that come close in specs are nowhere near the value of the Continuum Onyx.
Availability & alternatives
Find it here, directly from Priority.
Also consider: The Cube Travel EXC is a slightly more upright equivalent, with a comparable price, better headlight, and rack included. But it’s not normally sold in North America, sold check with Chain Reaction Cycles for shipping from the UK.
And as for North American brands? A handful of belt-drive hybrids more or less match the Continuum Onyx’s riding experience. To my knowledge, nothing at a comparable price includes the dynamo lighting that makes it this one such a great deal. But if you can do without a dynamo, and are OK with a more conventional Nexus 8-speed IGH, then the Marin Presidio 3 is a great alternative that you might even find locally.
There’s also the BMC Alpenchallenge 02 One if you prefer something on the athletic, aggressive side. I’m not convinced the parts justify the premium price, but it’s a decent option if available locally.
This stripped-down single-speed is the most minimal belt drive on the market. Its typical road bike geometry rewards spirited riding in a way its hybrid brethren don't.
I know, another Priority bike. No surprise!
This time, we’ll skip the brand intro and dive right into one of the more unique models out there: the Priority Ace.
No internally-geared hub or dynamo, no disc brakes, not even fenders; just a minimalist, one-speed belt drive and nothing more.
Commuting on a single-speed can be a great experience (here’s why), which I’ve done frequently for years. It’s worth considering for anyone who lives in a flat area or just wants to keep things as mechanically simple as possible.
Thing is, single-speed belt drives are almost non-existent off the rack. Besides a Breezer model waaay back in the archives, I’m not aware of a single one besides the Priority Ace.
And although the Ace is very much on the road bike side of things–meaning aggressive angles and a short wheelbase–it’s too perfect for the single-speed commuter niche to omit.
The Ace has both fixed and free rear hubs. It can be either a fixed-gear or freewheeling single-speed depending on which side you use. (It seems there’s only one cog, though, so you’ll need a few tools and a little time to make the switch. It’s not something you’d do in the middle of a ride.)
As with the rest of the Priority line, the Ace uses horizontal sliding dropouts for belt tension adjustment. They’re fairly quick to adjust, which will come in handy if you ever do switch between fixed and free gears.
The dual-pivot rim brakes are a generic but time-tested design that feels and works great after proper set-up.
The low and flat handlebars are the polar opposite of my preferred upright posture, but if you’re a bit of a hard charger, then the forward lean will feel about right.
The Ace actually comes in two variants: the entry-level and highly affordable Ace of Clubs ($499), and the costlier but fancier Ace of Spades ($799) that shaves two pounds thanks to a carbon fiber fork and seatpost. Commuter bikes tend to take some knocks, however, so I’d actually stick with the Clubs version for the sake of impact resistance.
It’s usually not wise to change the gearing on a single-speed belt drive, which I’ll come back to below. Fortunately, most riders won’t need to. The Ace of Clubs and Ace of Spades both use a 50-tooth chainring. But the Clubs uses a 22-tooth rear cog whereas the Spades uses a slightly tougher 20-tooth cog. According to this handy calculator, that yields gearing of about 67″ on the Clubs and 73″ on the Spades.
Priority must assume more athletic and speed-oriented riders will prefer the lighter Spades version, so they gave it a slightly tougher gear. That said, go for the Clubs if you’re in a hiller area–or better yet, use the gear-inches calculator linked above to compare to a bike you’re already familiar with.
I see just one caveat and one minor design issue worth noting.
The design issue is that you have to upgrade to the Spades model to get sealed bearings in the hubs. The loose ball bearings in the Clubs’s hubs are less resistant to moisture and grit. Any bike shop can service them if or when they start feeling a little crunchy, but it’s too bad Priority didn’t opt for sealed bearings all the way around.
The caveat is that changing the gear ratio on the Ace would be an expensive task. As discussed in my belt drive deep-dive article, the chainrings and cogs are much more expensive than for chain drives. You may also need a new belt to accommodate the different gear size, since you can’t simply splice a Gates Carbon Drive belt like you can a chain. That’s by no means a shortcoming of the Ace, just a general limitation with all single-speed belt drive bikes.
To reiterate, the Priority Ace is very much a flat-bar road bike. It’s far from the relaxed, upright city bikes and all-around hybrids this site focuses on. But as a good value–and the only stock single-speed belt drive around–it deserves a very niche spot on the list.
Availability & alternatives
Find it here, directly from Priority.
Also consider: There are more flat-bar single-speed road bikes than I can count. But among all of them, the Ace is the only belt-drive option besides a couple of folding bikes that we’ll look at below.
If you want or need a single-speed alternative, your best bet is to start with a frame like the Soma Wolverine and build it to your liking. The frame and fork alone cost more than the complete Ace of Clubs, but you’ll have a more versatile (and disc-compatible) frame to adapt over time.
Creme Cycles is unfamiliar in North America, but with eye-catching style and the specs to back it up, their Ristretto Lightning is a terrific high-end choice.
Hailing clear from Poland, Creme Cycles is a slightly obscure brand (at least in North America) that seems to make nothing but extremely stylish bikes. More importantly, they have the parts lists to back it up. And while Creme bikes don’t come cheap, the prices are entirely reasonable for the mid- to upper-end market.
All the models in their Ristretto line look so good I might hesitate to ride them. That would be a shame, though, since the belt drive + IGH set-up with fenders and included lighting is tailor-made for year-round urban riding.
The three Ristretto models are equally stylish (to my eyes), but if you have the budget for every upgrade out of the box, then their top-tier Ristretto Lightning can’t be beat.
The butted chromoly steel frame with color-matched fenders is ideal for urban use. CroMo has a better strength-to-weight ratio than other types of steel used in frames, and butting refers to optimizing the thickness and contour of the tubes to trim weight a little further.
It uses simple track ends to position the rear axle for belt tension. Tensioning screws would have been nice, but aren’t a big deal since belts rarely need tensioning more than once.
Its 8-speed Shimano Alfine IGH gives enough range for any reasonable urban use. After owning a different Alfine 8-speed bike myself, I can attest that it shifts smoothly and has less internal drag than most IGHs out there.
Creme’s attention to detail comes through in their choice of a Shutter Precision dynamo hub. Having had a Shutter Precision dynamo on both my Rivendell and my Brompton, I’ve put them through thousands of soggy miles without a complaint. As of writing, they’re also one of the lowest-drags hubs around.
Powered by the hub are a Supernova headlight and Spanninga taillight, two more high-end choices that are among the best available. The Supernova light in particular has a fantastically bright and broad beam–meaning ample coverage–but its squared-off profile, which is mandatory in parts of Europe, minimizes glare for folks coming your way.
Even the saddle, a Selle San Marco Regal Evo, is a worthy upgrade if you like a somewhat racier shape.
Finally, if we take the claimed weight of 12.5 kg/27.5 lbs for granted, then it’s almost certainly the lightest belt + IGH + dynamo + rack-equipped bicycle on the market.
So, are the high price and limited availability worth it?
I’ll put it this way: besides the objectively better headlight, I expect little practical difference from the Priority Continuum Onyx. Both are sporty hybrids with commuters in mind, and they include the all the same conveniences. The Continuum Onyx, however, is readily available for much less than half the price and about three additional pounds.
But if you want the best belt-drive bicycle as far as style and no-expense-spared upgrades are concerned, then I don’t know of a better option than this absolutely beautiful bike. In fact, if they often a more upright and longer-wheelbase alternative, then it’d be at my house right now. (Well, Creme’s Eve 8 is just that, but its decidedly feminine color scheme is a non-starter.)
Some will consider this a pro, but the carbon fork isn’t my first choice for an everyday bike. While it’s light and presumably goes a long way to dampen vibrations, it’s not as tough or durable as the frame’s high-quality steel. Unfortunately, carbon fiber is a brittle material that doesn’t do well with impacts from bike racks and whatnot.
Otherwise, I’d personally prefer a rear rack to a front one for commuting purposes. A front rack is useful, and I’m thrilled that Creme included a rack in the first place, but a rear one would better accommodate a pannier and prevent weird effects on handling.
Availability & alternatives
Also consider: You’ll most likely need a custom build to match the aesthetic of the Creme Ristretto line. That said, the Achielle Oscar is comparably priced and equipped, and will also suit those who want a more traditional city bike feel. (In fact, I may have just found my next bike…)
The pakiT exemplifies Bike Friday's celebrated build quality, and its grease-free belt drive makes it the ultimate travel companion.
When space permits, it’s worth owning a full-size bike for ride quality. But in reality, space doesn’t always permit. Whether it’s busy transit, a small home, or even airplane travel, there are cases where a folding bike makes sense.
While I’m a huge fan of Brompton’s compactness and ride quality, one thing they unfortunately don’t offer is a belt drive. It’s a shame since the grease inherent to chain drives calls for caution when carrying the folded bike by your side.
Luckily, Eugene, Oregon’s Bike Friday has filled what must be a very small niche with their equally small pakiT model.
The pakiT has 16″ wheels in common with a Brompton, and with a couple extra steps, packs down to an even smaller size. (You probably won’t fully pack it each day though; more on that later.)
It’s also on the lighter side, at a hair under 20 lbs for the base spec. The horizontal track ends with chain tensioners aren’t as fancy as the sliding dropouts Priority uses, but they’re a simple, lightweight, and time-tested design.
And speaking of specs, Bike Friday assembles nearly everything to order, so it’s entirely up to you. If you’re not yet well-versed in bike components, then simply call up their famously knowledgeable and helpful customer service department.
Keep in mind that the default configuration is a single speed. You’ll need to fork out a few hundred bucks for the 8-speed belt drive.
The pakiT is unbelievably small when fully packed. Getting it to that state requires a little bit of work and a special backpack to hold it. Its merely folded state is more reasonable for everyday use, but about 16″ longer than a folded Brompton. That’s still compact, to be sure, but harder to stow under a train seat or behind a door.
This is a high-end bike through and through. It’s the sort of thing that requires serious thought on parts and is worth waiting a while for. And that’s good, because the built-to-order system means waiting is inevitable. That’s nothing in the big picture, but if you’re in urgent need (perhaps for upcoming travel) then you may need to pick an alternative.
Availability & alternatives
Find it here, directly from Bike Friday.
Also consider: belt-drive folding bikes are becoming common, since the clean belt and portable frame are a natural pairing.
The Tern Verge S8i offers an 8-speed belt drive and dynamo-powered lights for $2099. Its 20″ wheels with 55mm tires will be much smoother and more capable than the pakiT, but the Verge’s larger folded size and additional 10 lbs kept it out of my top spot.
Montague, best known for folding bikes with full-size wheels, offers the $1895 Allston with an impressive 11-speed Shimano Alfine hub. That’s the second-largest IGH gear range on the market, right behind ultra-expensive Rohloff with 14 speeds.
On a budget, you could do worse than Citizen Bike’s $439 Rome (16″ wheels, single speed) or $499 Gotham 3 (20″ wheels, 3 speeds). They do not use a Gates Carbon Drive belt, but an unbranded alternative, so it’s hard to speculate on belt quality and durability. In any case, you’ll depend on Citizen directly for replacements. I’d personally spend more for a daily ride, but these may be good deals for occasional use.
Priority Bicycles already dominates the great-value belt-drive bikes niche, which you might have figured from their strong showing here.
Less known but just as deserving is Priority’s other brand, Brilliant Bicycle Co.
With a focus on simpler tech and classic steel frames, Brilliant brings prices to the very bottom of what’s genuinely worth owning.
With 1020 steel tubing, you can expect the Cooper/Carmen to take the knocks of public bike racks and transit with relative grace. It’s neither as light nor as smooth as higher-grade chromoly steel, but it’s sturdy tubing at a price that’s hard to argue with.
And speaking of price, it’s a pleasant surprise to see the industry-standard Gates Carbon Drive belt rather than a budget, no-name alternative like Citizen (see above) opted for.
You’ll get just 3 speeds, but they’re from a trustworthy Shimano Nexus internally-geared hub that I’ve always found to work well.
Horizontal, track-end opening make belt tensioning and wheel removal uncomplicated–no eccentric bottom to adjust.
As with other Priority/Brilliant models, you’ll get seatstay rack mounts and two pairs of rear eyelets (plus fork eyelets, of course) for easy mounting of a rack and fenders. Unfortunately neither is included, so account for them in your budget, but Priority sells both at reasonable prices.
Finally, I’m glad Brilliant chose v-brakes for both models, since they offer the most power of any type of rim brake while maximizing fender clearance.
My only potential concerns with the Cooper/Carmen would be the hub, bottom bracket, and headset bearings. I hope they have sealed bearings, but inexpensive models often use loose bearings to reduce prices…at the cost of weather and dirt resistance. Keep in mind I’m only speculating, since they’re not specified (as of writing). Loose ball bearings aren’t a deal-breaker, but if you plan to ride in frequent rain or on salted/sanded roads, then a different model could save you some annual maintenance.
Otherwise, it’s unfortunate that riding posture differs between these otherwise identical bikes. The Carmen seats you fairly upright posture with comfortably swept-back handlebars, whereas the Cooper uses straight riser bars that are significantly lower relative to the saddle.
With sizes for up to a 32″ inseam (for riders 6′ tall or a bit less) and more feminine colors, the Carmen is a women’s bike in all but name. That’s a shame, because many men prefer the Carmen’s more upright geometry for commuting and city riding.
If you like the Carmen but not its sizing or color, then your best alternative is a Cooper with a taller stem and the fantastic Velo Orange Tourist handlebars.
Availability & alternatives
Also consider: There is essentially no way to offer a cheaper belt-drive bike that’s actually worth having. If you prefer an aluminum frame, then the Priority Classic Plus (upright) and Gotham Edition (hybrid) are good option from the same parent brand.
From a killer commuter to a featherweight folding bike, I hope these top picks give a sense of what today’s best belt-drive bicycles bring to the table.
There are plenty more out there, but the above all stand out in terms of value, utility, specs, and even aesthetics. And at the bottom of each section, the “also consider” notes will give you even more options to consider.
And if you want to leave no stone unturned on your quest for a belt-drive bike, then check out the Gates Carbon Drive bike listings. Gates is the largest manufacturer by a mile, so that list includes almost every belt-drive model on the planet. Some listings are outdated, but it’s a fantastic starting point nonetheless.