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What are the Differences in Walking Belts?

We commonly get questions from customers about what is the difference between a walking belt or a running belt? The answer is there is no difference but there are different ways to make a belt for a treadmill.

Over the years, belt technology has advanced like many other materials have advanced. In the 80’s the most common material used for belts was a poly-blend for the wear surface called the backing. Some factories used a cotton backed belt. With the advance in materials carbon fiber is now included as a weave, urethane is used as a backing material, and monofilament has become much more common as a backing. There are variants all over the board but let’s focus on these materials because very rarely does a top surface of a belt wear out…what wears out is the backing.

Residential Belts – Almost all belts are made with a PVC top coating and almost all residential units now use either a monofilament or a poly-blend for a backing. In the past, many factories used cotton because you can get an ultra quiet belt from the use of cotton. The problem is that lubricants are quickly absorbed and the friction level is quite high so you have to overbuild much of the drive system to compensate.

With the advent of poly-blends, you were able to get much of the noise benefits of cotton with the lower friction levels of monofilament belts. Monofilament belts are noisier but they also have a longer life. There is always a trade-off when you choose materials and belts are no different.

Some high end belts either use a tougher backing material which makes them a bit noisier or even use a urethane hybrid belt that is very durable but also noisier. Just remember that a bit of noise is actually better if you want the belt to last longer. Noise is abated if the belt makes more contact with the deck. The smoother the deck surface and more contact with the belt, the lower the noise level. The issue is the more contact surface, all things being equal, the more power is required and more strain is put on the drive system and electronics.

The top layer of belts can be in a number of patterns but when you have a PVC topcoat, there is no difference in its ability to wear whether you use a egg carton pattern or a sandpaper topcoat. Interestingly, we have noted that thinner belts last longer because they trap less heat and put less strain on the system because one of the killers of treadmills is heat.

Commercial Belts – Almost universal now is a urethane top coat on the belt. The reason is they don’t get the wear marks. I’m sure you remember walking into a gym and seeing the two wear patterns where people’s feet hit the belt uniformly. That is a thing of the past when you use a urethane belt. The material is much tougher to it simply doesn’t experience the same wear. The problem with this is that most use a blend backing so you get lulled into a false sense of security. The backing of the belt can be completely worn out and the top can look perfect.