Freewheel Removal

Ever wondered  how to remove a freewheel from a bicycle wheel? If so, you have come to the right place. Learn the correct steps involved in freewheel removal with Cycle Maintenance Academy. 

A) What is a freewheel?

B) A freewheel is the name for the cluster of cogs on the back wheel.

A) Hang on, I thought that was the cassette?

B) Well, it might be.

A) Do you mean I can call it a cassette or a freewheel?

B) No, definitely not. A freewheel has the freewheeling mechanism built into it and a cassette is a cluster of sprockets that slide onto the freewheeling mechanism that is built onto the hub. The end result is that they do the same job and essentially look the same.

A) “Essentially”? 

B) Yes, the way that it tightens into place is different so the cassette has a lock ring that stands proud of the cluster and the freewheel has sunken splines that accept a tool to remove it.

A) So if they do the same job why are there different systems?

B) The freewheel came first, allowing cyclists to coast. When the rider pedals, the back wheel is driven forward, but when they stop pedalling the bike keeps moving but the pedals stay still.  It’s because of the mechanism built into the freewheel.  All well and good for 40 or 50 years, and then mountain biking developed and back axles kept breaking so Shimano™ developed a system where the back axle couldn’t bend or break as easily. That’s the cassette system.

A) If the Shimano™ system stops back axles failing, why aren’t all bikes like that?

B) Because a good idea rarely completely takes over.  The cassette system is more expensive. Hydraulic disc brakes are easily the best, but are they on every bike now?

A) No.

B) Why not?  

A) Hang on, I’m asking the questions! So I’ve got a freewheel. How do I remove it?

B) Ah, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Freewheel removal Tutorial 

Tools required:

  • Freewheel removal tool– There are few different types for different fittings.
freewheel removal
  • Spanner- This needs to be big enough to fit onto the freewheel removal tool.
freewheel removal
  • Lever/jolly bar– This goes over the wrench to add leverage.
freewheel removal
  • Vice- This is an optional tool. It allows you to use the wheel as a lever.

Freewheel removal without a vice

  • Remove the wheel.
  • Remove the wheel fasteners.
  • Stand behind the wheel and support it with your feet.
  • Place the freewheel removal tool into the slots. If you have a freewheel with the slots on the outside such as Suntour™, you may want to refit the right hand wheel nut or the quick release skewer to keep it in place.
  • Grasp the wrench in your right hand and attach to the removal tool so that the lever is pointing up towards your arm.
  • Holding the top of the wheel in your left hand, use your body weight and push down on the wrench. The freewheel may be very tight and you may need to use maximum force but it should eventually loosen, if it doesn’t then use a bar to add extra leverage.
  • Once it is loose, take off the wrench, grasp the removal tool and unscrew the freewheel until it is removed.

If there is a plastic spoke protector leave it in place unless it is damaged.

Freewheel removal with a vice

  • Place the removal tool in the vice jaws and tighten them.  
  • Fit the wheel so that the tool slots in the freewheel. If you have external slots, either make sure that you push down on the wheel to keep the tool in place or refit the right hand wheel nut or quick release skewer to keep the tool in place.
  • Grasp the wheel with both hands and turn the wheel anticlockwise. 
  • Keep going until you can lift the wheel.
  • Lift the freewheel from the tool.
What is a freewheel on a bicycle?

The freewheel is a block of cogs that screws directly onto threads on the rear wheel.

What is the purpose of a bicycle freewheel?

A freewheel mechanism on a bicycle allows the rear wheel to turn faster than the pedals. If you didn’t have a freewheel on your bicycle, a simple ride could be exhausting, because you could never stop pumping the pedals.

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