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Why is the driveline in a motorcycle good?

Oh, this debate:

– Cardan or chain?

– Chain or belt?

– Belt or gimbal?

It’s like arguing: Honda or Yamaha? The answer will be simple: all markers are different for taste and color. Namely, everyone chooses what he likes best and suits the lifestyle better than others. Some people like cardan transmissions, others like chain drives, someone, to stand out, is looking exclusively for a belt. By the way, we have already talked about chains (“Tensioning the chain – learning to do it right” and “Secrets of chain lubrication”).

Cardan is a privilege on heavy and high-volume motorcycles, found on road builders, choppers and tourists. Sporty and light urban models will use chain drives, since the cardan is too heavy in structure to enjoy. And as you know, the mass of a motorcycle plays an important role, especially on sportbikes, so the modern world eliminates even the theoretical installation of the universal joint on racing models.

So what is the gimbal good for then? Why is he so popular?

Structural rigidity

One of the main differences between the cardan shaft and other types of power transmission is the rigidity of the structure. The belt and chain are too movable against the background of the static fixation of the universal joint. In addition, do not be afraid that the cardan, like a chain, will suddenly break and fly out behind the driving pilot or wind up on the wheel, hit on the legs. Due to its robust design, the driveshaft is much more durable and wear less. In addition, the small number of components does not require as much attention and maintenance as the chain. This gives rise to the following two undoubted advantages.

Ease of use

The disadvantages of the chains are always the need for maintenance, lubrication, tightening / adjusting, replacing with a new one … The cardan principle is much simpler, as they say, if it breaks, it is very expensive once. This is due to the fact that the cardan is not a single piece at all, but an integral system. Timely oil change will prolong the life of the universal joint.


The long service life of the gimbal comes from the strength and generality of the system. A chain or belt, due to its mobility, is weaker than a powerful propeller shaft. And here’s another thing, the gimbal is sufficiently protected from moisture ingress, even fording with it is real, except that when moisture is sucked into the gearbox, you need to have time to change the oil as soon as possible after water procedures.

There are legends that the cardan dies abruptly and silently, but it does so only with very unattentive motorcyclists. Cardan wear can always be predicted by extraneous sounds, by metal crumbs / shavings when changing the oil, by the crunch and condition of the clutch. It is enough to pay attention to the behavior of the motorcycle components to notice the wear of the part.

Cons of a gimbal

Someone in the first line indicates its expensive repair, yes, the cardan itself is quite an expensive motorcycle unit. Therefore, by the time it is completely worn out or broken, the repair price will be frantic.

The massiveness of the driveshaft – we have already talked about this.

In addition to the total mass of the system, the difficulty is that the cardan shaft cannot be installed on any engine. The horizontal structure of the power unit, especially the boxer engines (hence the success of BMW in this area), facilitates the installation of the cardan shaft. But not every chain drive can be replaced with a universal joint and vice versa. There are originals that replace the chain with a universal joint, but this requires no small effort.

Loss of power. Controversial point in some respects. Although many argue that the cardan, due to its structure and weight, is much inferior to the transmission of power to the same chain or belt. I think that if you evaluate motorcycle models as a whole, and not just one unit, then this point can be revised. Will a chain transfer power from the same engine on a heavy motorcycle more efficiently than a cardan shaft? Many people consider the chain to be better than the cardan, forgetting that they have an advantage in weight or aerodynamics.

Conclusion: there is no point in arguing, because the type of power transmission is good for each specific motorcycle within the framework of the model developed by the engineers. But the gimbal will always be beneficial for heavy motorcycles, as the enormous weight will wear out the chain too quickly. On touring motorcycles, the cardan is more comfortable due to its increased strength. Evaluate the model as a whole, the way power is transmitted will be just one of the many characteristics that make up an ideal motorcycle.

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