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The bevel gear at the rear wheel is obviously required regardless of crankshaft orientation. Shaft jacking was a real issue in the past. Most shafties these days have compensations that minimizes the shaft effect. Every mfr has their own methods and acronyms. Kawi calls theirs the Tetra Lever, which is similar to BMW's paralever and Guzzi's CARC.

Chains are open air these days for a single reason - cooling. Chain drive might be more efficient than shafties, but it still has driveline loss, and that loss manifest itself as heat, which must be dissipated. Enclose that chain and you'll need to find a mechanism for rejecting that heat.
 

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Volfy, your right. There really isn't much of a hindrance to make the inline 4 into shaft drive. It does require the 1 extra transition. That's factors out to about a 5% loss. Not horrible, but its not a direct comparison. It was something that did not have to be given up with proper design.

Honda flipped several of their engines sideways to avoid this with the cx500, st1300. Moto Guzzi was always like that, too.

The Japanese did it, back in the early 80's with the smaller bikes because it was consumer driven. Back then, there was this attitude, or thought...Kenors will remember it. That thought said the bike HAD to be shaft driven to be smooth. If you dig through those old Cycle World magazines you'll see it in the advertisements. If they mention "shaft drive" that same sentance will include "smooth". Kawasaki even jumped in with their kz1000 shaft. Also, Kenors mentioned the shaft jacking. At times, this was dangerous. If you were under heavy throttle, the back end locked up. It jumped and extended the rear shocks. I have the scars from my lung re-inflation to prove that.

The Yamaha 920 had the enclosed chain. I dont remember seeing it anywhere else. It was ugly, but not really for the chain. It had a euro look to it and everyone wanted shaft drive cruisers. It's not that bad as compared to an fz10.
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I don't remember it being shaft drive for smoothness. I thought it was shaft drive for maintenance free transportation. Back in the day, motorcycles were actually considered cheap transportation, as in, you didn't need a car. My first new bike was ~$350 in '69 and the cheapest cars were $3500 or so. It's chain, with constant cleaning and oiling and soaking in boiling oil/STP, lasted maybe 5-6k miles. Then it was chain/sprocket time again.
I remember seeing pictures of Brit bikes with enclosed chains. They might have been from the '50s. One of the rags of the day had an article about how weatherproof Brit bikes running gear was with gaiters on the forks and enclosed chains.
Given the state of my memory, everything I remember is suspect...
All my years with VFRs I would not have liked to give up n% power for a shaft. With the N1k, maybe but not at the expense of weight, even if it is at axle level.
 

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Can it be done? That was the question here. Answer to that is an absolute YES. Are there pro and cons to each drive system? Absolutely YES.

Would there be enough buyers who prefer a 500-550 lbs curb weight sporty tourer with a shaft? That's a different questions. That's for the mfrs to decide. Different mfrs came to different conclusions. There are apparently buyers who like either system, enough for mfrs to offer both.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if a mfr decides to go with a SSSA, the weight penalty becomes much much less between shaft and chain. A lot of the mechanical structure required to impart enough torsional rigidity can go into the shaft housing. All things being equal, I'd take a SSSA over a DSSA, especially for a sport touring bike. 5 bolts/nuts, and the rear wheel is off. Again, not a deal breaker, which is why I now ride a N1k. It happens to have the best set of compromises right now. 6 months/ 1 yr/ 2 yr/ 3yr from now... we'll see.
 

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Of course you would prefer the single sided arm, that went without saying. People like you is why they still sell that single sided design. Not because it's a good design. It was made for endurance racing where quick tire changes were a priority. In real life, it's a curse for Ducati. It has to be several pounds than necessary to do the same job a 2 sided arm would. For shaft drive, who cares? The weight and performance question was answered when the shaft drive was chosen.

In your fine examples, what's been equal? Nothing BMW sells, with shaft drive, is priced within 7k of what a Ninja 1000 sells for.

Could be done? I know that would impress Bob, without a doubt. Anyone with any long term experience owned those old shaft drive bikes and we knew it could be done. You should probably educate more from your strong areas , like cement mixers. You gave some great info regarding those.
 

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Volfy is insane, but I do love him. Hes always entertaining, and hes a good guy. The shaft on the concours 14 is awesome. It feels just like a chain. To do that....well, look at the pieces they had to include to make that happen, and the added weight.

 

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I like the Concours 14 a lot. No plans to get one at this time though.

I saw one recently, the guy had no hard bags on it and was riding it like a sport bike. It looked really nice and sleek. I wish I could have gotten a closer look at him but he was moving rather quickly and I was on my truck.
 

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It is a good bike, but I dont know if the shaft is a plus, or a minus. It depends on what day if the week it is. If I had my choice, I think I would rather have the chain. It might be different if a person didnt have to change tires every 4000 miles, or so. If the shaft was part of this drivetrain that went 20,000 miles with no maintenance, then ok....I get that. I serviced all of those pivot points. Not sure how necessary that was, but it felt like a good idea to do so.

Speaking g of "good ideas" I also purchased a $22.00 liter of Yamaha gear lube. Sure, the correct, fully certified gear lube is 3.99 at any store you go to, but this stuff is supposed to be better. The liter will fill this 10 times, if not more, so why not?
It was about the only thing my local dealer had for sale that I was interested in.
 

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I've owned shaft, belt, and chain drives. There's no such thing as "maintenance free". Sure, the frequency of maintenance on the shaft is low, but you still have to change the shaft oil and keep an eye on the seals. And belts are great because they don't need lubing and have less hp-loss than shafts, but I've had two belts fail suddenly.

A well lubed & adjusted chain is by far the most efficient from a horsepower-loss and from a MPG-efficiency perspective. I've ridden a shaft-driven bicycle (which was like pedaling underwater), and I own a belt-driven bicycle (which isn't as sluggish as the shaft, but still nowhere near as light-feeling and efficient as a chain.)

BMW does have a few bikes that are as fast as the N1K, but none of them are shaft driven.

The plus side to a heavier, slower, shaft-driven bike is you can simply change the shaft drive oil every other motor oil & filter change.
The downsides, however is that if anything goes wrong, it usually goes catastrophically so. If one of the seals starts leaking, there's a decent chance you won't notice anything wrong until the backend of your bike sounds like a laundry dryer tumbling a cinderblock. AND there are precious few technicians out there who can rebuild a bevel gear assembly as precisely as the factory does and the rebuild will mostly like fail prematurely. And you can forget about ever changing the gearing.

Chains OTOH are simple. And if you're paying any attention at all, they'll give you plenty of warning before anything goes wrong. Chains have more advantages IMO, but of course YMMV, (though it will usually be worse
 

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Maybe I'm missing something and like Cudabob am afraid to be ridiculed on this but I have 2 chain bikes and the chain is a PITA for sure. I also feel that eventually chains will be a thing of the past like drum brakes or halogen bulbs.

The solution may not be a clumsy expensive shaft drive either. In my career as an engineer in logistics and airports I saw the transition from V belt drives to chain drives to today timing belt drives. HD uses these with good results powering half ton beasts with lots of torque so we are not trail blazing either. These drives are economical long life, maintenance free and light weight compared to the shaft drives. What is the reason we don't try these? Please don't go telling me about your buddy that has a HD and his suddenly snapped in the middle of nowhere, plenty of examples of chain failure too I'm sure.
 

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I think you're a prime candidate for a no maintenance bike with a good old electric motor.
There was a great technical article in Cycle several years ago explaining exactly why belts were not appropriate for Japanese motors. The front sprocket on a typical 600 sporty bike would have to be something like a foot in diameter and 2" wide to withstand the stress. I'm sure they're getting stronger/better and maybe someday...
If you've designed anything as an engineer then you'd know if manufacturers could save $$$ or save weight or increase reliability or require less maintenance and sell the manufacturers would be all over it in a heartbeat.
We all have our little peccadilloes but I spend way more time putting gas in the bike than I do on chain maintenance. I don't see the big deal in the little maintenance they require.
If you think today's chain maintenance is a PITA you're just a young whipper-snapper! Why back in the day...old fart rambles on...🤬
 

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For the soft, whippersnappers out there...

... and another thing, when I started riding in the late '60's, I did not have the luxury of

  • O-Ring chains, that don't require much cleaning, and last a long time
  • spray-on / wipe-off chain cleaner
  • chain cleaning brush that scrubs 3 sides of the chain at a time
  • decent chain lube that doen't fling off (much) and doesn't attract dirt and grit (much)
Ahhh! The world is growing SOFT!
 

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Even if there was a solution to what Kenors mentioned.....Another huge drawback to belt's if if a rock lands on one. This tiny rock will often times waste the belt as well as the front and rear pulleys. Also, the damn belt is endless. When you swap belts, you have to remove the swingarm. The one I switched was many years back and the parts were close to 800.00. That's if you find someone dumb enough to do the work free.

I have seen one chain and sprocket set ruined due to the perfect rock finding the perfect spot, and that was offroad.
 

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In my career as an engineer in logistics and airports I saw the transition from V belt drives to chain drives to today timing belt drives. HD uses these with good results powering half ton beasts with lots of torque so we are not trail blazing either. These drives are economical long life, maintenance free and light weight compared to the shaft drives. What is the reason we don't try these? Please don't go telling me about your buddy that has a HD and his suddenly snapped in the middle of nowhere, plenty of examples of chain failure too I'm sure.
I owned two Buells with these Belt Drives. You do NOT want belt drive for several reasons.

Belts need to be wide, which requires wide Cogs in the primary and wheel cogs. They also require constant tension, which means it needs to have a tensioner pulley. Belts also require "walls" along the sides of each cogs to keep them from creeping off the cog, all of which add significant weight to the drive system compared to a chain final drive.

Belts absolutely cannot handle sharp or hard objects stuck in between the Cogs and the belt. Debris like pebbles, Asphalt chips, or gravel, etc., will tear a belt apart in short order. So they require a lot of protection. Again this adds to my first point above...bulk and weight.

Belts absorb more energy than chains. Normal power loss on a chain is about 7-10 rwhp. On a belt it's more like 10-14 rwhp.

Belts can stretch or get damanged much sooner than chains. The combination of the belt being out in the open, its compounds and structure getting beat up by UV rays, dust, debris, torque from the engine, can easily weaken them. They're made of rubber and other fibers so it happens. Despite what H-D says they last a long time....my experience in my Buells is that they require replacement every 25k-30k miles, just like chains. That's on a well maintained bike that rarely sees rough service. Get something stuck in the cogs and Buell suggests replacing the belt. A chain final drive will crush and spit out sand, pebbles, small branches, etc. This is why most bikes that sees off road work still use chains.

Below is a picture of the belt final drive on my Buell 1125R. This picture has the belt shrouds and covers that is fitted over the routing of the belt: That wheel cog alone weighs almost as much as the chain and sprockets of the N1k combined.
 

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That one is interesting. The belts are used more often on bikes with short rear suspension travel. Like you said the tension has to be perfect, at all times.

I wish Buell had been about 30% less goofy. Look at the swingarm. It's a work of art. So simple and well designed.

That pic also showed what Kenors talked about. Look how large the front pulley is. When it's that large, you cant locate it near the swingarm pivot. As you move away from the pivot, chain or belt tension becomes harder to control. That also changes the ...dammit, I dont have the word. Chain torque, or its action on the rear suspension is what I'm trying to say.

Did you guys
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ever notice this bike. It was BMW's offroad bike. I believe it had the best rear suspension I ever used. Not at a race pace, but just riding around. They went all in on this idea of eliminating chain torque. Notice how the countershaft sprocket is dead center on the swingarm pivot. Full throttle and the rear suspension was plush and soft amazing. With that said, the bike handled like a bag of ****. You had to change your riding style to adapt to the no torque design of the rear drive system.
 
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