Bike Freewheel

Freewheel Fixes, Reviews & Guides

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Check Fixed Gear or Single Speed Chainline

When getting a new freewheel or changing some aspect of the drivetrain on your single speed or fixed gear, it is important to check the chain line on the bike to ensure straightness.

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Type: Repair Tutorial
Embedded thumbnail for How to Remove a Bicycle Freewheel, Even a Stuck One

How to Remove a Bicycle Freewheel, Even a Stuck One

Tutorial on how to remove a freewheel from a bicycle wheel. 

First remove the skewer from the wheel.  Then identify the correct tool to remove the freewheel.  Once you have the correct...

Company: Park
Type: Repair Tutorial

In engineering, a freewheel is defined as: a device in the transmission (or bicycle hub) that disengages the drive shaft from the driven shaft when the driven shaft rotates faster than the drive shaft. 

freewheel rachet  Freewheel

For all of us average Joes, let's say it's a cyndrilical device placed in the hub of the wheel that uses angled teeth so that when the wheel goes faster than the drive train, a ratchet effect occurs to let the wheel spin freely. This is what lets us rest our lazy feet and coast down the hill, enjoying the sunset and feeling our hair wave in that ocean breeze.

hot chick on a bike

There are generally two styles of freewheel:

Freewheel hub

  • Freewheel hub - The original game plan, the freewheel is a standardized set of threads upon which a cluster of cogs could be screwed on. Freewheels like this are compatible with all hubs from their time, and cog clusters could be customized to fit the gear ratios you desire. Removing standard freewheels is a real pain, because the rider is always tightening them as they ride.

Freehub

NOTE: the bulge in the hub indicates it is a freehub at a first glance.

  • Freehub - Starting in the late 1980s, Shimano came out with the freehub design. It consists of a cartridge-like profile easily installed and removed. The design moves the bearings more towards the ends of the axle versus in the middle. This leads more durable and longer-lasting hubs and freewheels.

As you might have guessed, freehub bodies can be more expensive than standard freewheels. Most manufacturers have converted to the freehub design, and these days there is much diversity. Interchangeability can be an issue with the freehub, which raises prices by giving some manufacturers a more specific niche to extort higher prices. The old-school thread-on freewheel remains low price.

Freehubs can range from less than $20 to top notch ceramic bodies at over $200 on Amazon.com:

Scifi ceramic body

Traditional thread-on freewheels are usually $20, and no more than $50 for a sprocket cluster:

Original freewheel thread-on

A freewheel threads onto the axle, the cog cluster is threaded over top of that, and finally the chain is attached. As the rider pedals, it constantly tightens the freewheel down on the threads. Removing the free wheel isn't as easy as spinning the cassette counter-clockwise (opposite to installation), because the ratchet mechanism will just allow the cassette to spin freely.

Freewheel removal tool

To remove the freewheel, a special "freewheel tool" is applied. It looks like a socket with splines on the exterior. When the socket is put over the freewheel, the splines engage the non-rotational part of the freewheel, and it can be threaded from the axle. There are a four spline styles of freewheel tools, so it's important to match the splines on the tool to the correct freewheel.

removing a freewheel  Removing the freewheel

Removal can sometimes be difficult because the current freewheel has been tightened and tightened and tightened to no end by the constant pedaling of the rider. This is a main reason for the switch over to freehubs. More distance away from the rotational center gives you more torque on the socket. It will come off princess, roll up your sleeves.

 Super torque

To remove and install a freehub body is very simple. Remove the locknut holding on the cassette on with a socket. Grip the cassette with a chain whip or something of that nature.

With the cassette removed, the freehub body can be unscrewed with just a 10mm hex key. 

Freehub removal  10mm removal

To install, just thread on the new freehub body, replace the cassette and cinch it down with the locknut.

Freehub lock nut

The freewheel hub norm has largely shifted to the freehub in modern cycles, mostly for purposes of simplicity. Main brands such as SRAM, Campagnolo, and Sturmey-Archer have lately adopted the Shimano design (with a few minor sizing differences), so now there is a lot more compatibility than when the freehub first hit the market. Cassette sizing varies widely from around 11 teeth to 28 teeth, but freewheel threading is standardized by the ISO (International Standardization Organization) at 1.375" x 24TPI, or metric 34.92 x 1.058mm.

Freewheel hub sizing

NOTE: These are the same ISO dimensions as the bottom bracket.  

The initial freehub dimensions were standardized by the manufacturer, Shimano. Cassettes of 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 speeds have different widths, therefore different sized freehubs are needed to accommodate the extra cogs. 

Generally these are the lengths of freehub splines (with a few differences between manufacturers):

  • 7 speed - 31mm
  • 8/9/10 speed - 35mm
  • 11 speed - 37mm

freehub shell dimensions