Shaft Drive vs Chain

​My recent acquistion of the 2017 Honda CB 1100 EX has returned me to the land of chain drive motorcycles.  I have not owned a chain drive bike since 1978, when I replaced my 1974 Kawasaki Z1 with a new Gold Wing.

​Let me say from the outset, if you plan to ride cross country, and I'm talking about 9,000 mile, 3 week tours, I suggest shaft drive.  They are truly maintenance free, dependable, and unless something freakish happens, never need replacing.
​On a long tour they are one less thing you have to think about.

​But you pay a price for that.  You pay it in the showroom, all things being equal but the final drive, the shaft will cost more on inital purchase.  You pay for it in terms of efficiency.  A shaft robs a bike of HP.  It is not the mosts efficient method to propel a bike.  No, that would be chain drive.  And you pay for it in the twisties.  Shaft drive bikes do not handle as well as their chain drive cousins.  They some time cause the rear to buck if you encounter a less than smooth surface.   All of the above reasons why you don't find shaft drive on true sport bikes.

​Shafts are quiet and clean, and on sport touring bikes work remarkably well, and have their place.

​But that is not to say a chain won't work on a ST bike.  If you're ok with the adjusting and replacement,  it will give you the most out of whatever you're riding.

​Back in the day the chain and sprockets on my Z1 needed replacing about  every 20k miles, sometimes a little less, sometimes more depending how I rode it that segment.  Long, interstate droning at high speeds, were particulary hard on the chain and I oftened had to adjust it twice on such days.  The adjustment only took a few minutes, but you still had to do it.  I'd lube the chain at the end of each day, while it was still hot.  On my sport touring bikes I go in the motel room and turn the tv on at the end of the day.

​Modern chain technology has come a long way since then.  The 2003 ZRx in my brothers garage shows only 12k miles or so, and he advised he's adjusted the chain 3 times.  I'm guessing the chain and sprockets on my new CB1100 will go for 40k miles or so.  I'll never put that many miles on that bike.  Right now my CB shows about 900 miles, and the chain does not need adjusting.

​Riding the CB the first thing I didn't miss, is drive shaft lash.  The lurch you feel when you shift a shaft driven bike. It does it so much you don't notice it after a while.  But it is always there.  I don't have any lurch or pogo effect on the chain drive CB.  It shifts unlike any bike I've ever owned with its power assisted clutch, and Honda transmission.  It is super smooth due to chain drive.

​If you ever do have to replace a shaft it will be big bucks,  Depending on the age and condition of the bike, might not be worth it.  Chains and sprockets are relatively cheap, and easy to replace.

​Latest generation of shaft drive sport tourers have seen a few upgrades to help with drive lash.  The Concours comes to mind in that department.  My brother has one, and after riding it a few times it does help (they have a name for that system I just can't recall it).

​For what I do, I'll stick with a shaft drive bike, but I have no problem with the chain drive CB 1100 because what I bought it for, doesn't need one.

​June 2017