In august of '77 Phil rode his stroker test bike
to Sturgis with the world's first working dual belt drive.
In '78-'79 representatives from Gates took Phil along with them to pitch Harley-
Davidson on producing belt drives for their production bikes. Harley needed to
get rid of the noise from chains and soon realized that Gates Poly-Chain belts
were the wave of the future - not just for motorcycles; many industries need a
strong reliable belt. Now, Gates Poly-Chain is the Gates Rubber Company's
But all was not so rosy. In 1980 Harley put the Sturgis model into production
before it was really ready to go. The primary covers were not adjustable, and
there were lots of problems. The belt drive had been installed into bikes
designed for a chain drive. The engineers found that what they were actually
installing was more akin to a gear drive. Chains can take a great deal of
misalignment, but belts will tolerate neither over-tensioning nor misalignment.
Phil rode his dual belt shovel down from California to Elizabethtown, Kentucky,
and met with Gates and Harley reps about their problems. Phil and Gates were
aware of the misalignment between the engines and transmissions with the Harleys,
but the H-D people had no understanding of what these problems were. He met
the whole gang at the front door. They were pleasantly surprised that he had
ridden all the way from California to meet with them, and with dual belts on his
bike. Phil was presented a table covered with broken belts. Eighty percent of
them had side wear, and the rest appeared to have been kinked due to
mishandling. Phil said to the Harley rep that they would have to align these
bikes if they expected to have a trouble free drive. "His answer to me was, and
I quote, 'This is a production motorcycle and we don't have any time to line them
up'". To the horror of the Gates reps, Phil's reply them was, "If you don't
want to line 'em up then you should put a chain on them." And that is exactly
what they did. Truth be told, they have very few problems with the chains,
besides the noise and the vibration. For Harley the rear chain drive was the answer.
The center distance is much greater when you're not dealing with a clutch.
Phil Ross doesn't have to deal with these issues nowadays. He is content to produce his belt drives, polyurethane pulleys and parts made to order out of a small facility in Cottonwood, Arizona. He offers complete belt drive units in several designs, using his poly pulleys and also offers offset pulleys which allow late transmissions to be used with early engines. He is also able to offer his pulleys and baskets in a rainbow of colors. One advantage of the SuperMax poly pulleys is that they weigh a fraction of what a stock steel or aluminum pulley does. In a performance-oriented motorcycle, a reciprocating weight counts. For years Phil pondered how to provide his superior poly pulleys for all of the OEM pulleys and aftermarket rear pulleys that were being manufactured by hundreds of companies to match their expensive custom wheels. They were all made of aluminum and wore out at an alarming rate. Some squealed at birth, and some as early as 5,000 miles. When pulleys are squealing, they're not happy. After a lot of experimentation with methods and materials, he came up with a novel solution by providing a service: over-laying pulleys. Phil machines the teeth off of the worn pulleys, knurls the carrier and replaces the teeth with his indestructible poly tooth overlays. Customers ask, "How far will your pulleys go?" and Phil has to answer, "We still don't really know." Gates Poly Chain Carbon Fiber belts are the latest addition to SuperMax. SuperMax offers these belts for their primary drives only. Harley started using 1 3/16-inch wide Carbon Fiber rear belts when they went to wider tire sizes and needed to use a narrower drive belt. Carbon Fiber is extremely tough and truly the next generation of the Gates Poly Chain. If you have a narrow drive and a wide belt, SuperMax can narrow your final drive belt to the desired size to order. SuperMax also makes many specialty drives, including final drive kits for chain drive FXRs and FLTs, final drives for Sportsters and big twins, as well as super light tranny pulleys. Phil is always ready to discuss your belt drive needs, and he knows what he is talking about. - Kit MairaArticle provided courtesy of Paisano Publications, LLC, of Agoura Hills, California, publisher of VQ (Annual), Easyriders, V-Twin and In the Wind Magazines, www.easyriders.com