Shaft Drive, a Classic Way To Ride a Bike
Posted on 13 April 2016
The turn of the century was a promising time for the bicycle. Roads and technology were improving, and the "safety" bicycle (the typical diamond frame bike in your garage) had supplanted the penny farthing. This was the time when what would ultimately be the basis for just about every bicycle thereon was being figured out. For the most part, the form of the modern bicycle was there, but there were a few competing drive mechanisms. By far, most bikes were sold with roller or block chains, basically what we have now, but a few industrious inventors felt they could build a better mouse trap. There were complicated and convoluted chain mechanisms made by some, and bicycles utilizing only two huge chain rings made by others.
Perhaps the one really serious competitor to the chain drive bike was the shaft drive. Shaft drive bikes were usually constructed by running a drive shaft through one of the chain stays with tapered gears at each end. The system was fully sealed, which apparently resulted in less of a need for regular maintenance. It also wore out at a slower pace than a traditional chain drive bike.
That said, maintenance was a bit more fiddly, the drive mechanisms were somewhat heavy, and there was a significant loss of efficiency in the shaft drive as opposed to typical chain drive. Ultimately, the largest manufacturer of the shaft drive bicycle, Pope Bicycle Manufacturing Co., pulled the plug on shaft driven bicycles in the early 1920s. Even after introducing higher precision in the parts manufacturing and adding multiple speeds, the shaft drives were just too expensive to compete with the standard chain drive.