Freewheel vs Cassette – What’s the Difference & How to Choose

bicycle freewheel vs cassette part

Many factors influence your bike’s speed, but perhaps one of the more important ones is the rear hubs. Our analysis of the freewheel vs cassette debate will help you choose the best fit for your bike. Even though these hubs are not very similar, they are often confused with one other, furthering the confusion about bicycle rear hubs.

The best way to distinguish between cassette and freewheel hubs is to look at the year the bike was manufactured. While most bikes made before 1990 have freewheel hubs, almost all contemporary models have cassette rear hubs.

In this article, we will examine how we can differentiate between these two different rear hubs and in which scenarios one is better than the other.

Freewheel Hubs

Freewheel or ‘threaded’ hubs are the more traditional bike hubs, even though most contemporary road bikes have cassette rear hubs. If you have the right parts and tools, you should be able to place the hub on your bike’s back wheel, even if it is a more contemporary model. However, you may need to make sure the chain you have can be replaced to match the new freewheel hub.

About 40 years ago, two Japanese brands named Shimano and SunTour changed the conventional freewheel hub and used splines to attach bigger sprockets to the freewheel instead of threads.

The shape of the sprockets made by this company created further mobility with the bike chain. As a result, most freewheel hubs found on the market still use the designs made in the 1970s by these two Japanese manufacturers.

How Do Freewheel Hubs Function?

A freewheel has many components that are often distributed individually. Therefore, you can specifically purchase one part of the mechanism if you feel one part needs to be replaced. Most freewheels are placed onto the body and are held in place by threads that hold the hub together.

The mechanisms then use pawls that kickstart a ratchet to move the outer component of the Freewheel hub in one direction. However, if the sprockets move backward, the extractor splines fail to turn.

When you pedal, the mechanism’s body turns clockwise to allow the pawls to engage the ratchet, turning the sprocket cluster. Derailleurs then move the chain from one sprocket to the next, strengthening the paddling force and subsequently allowing you to shift gears. Even when you stop pedaling, the bike will not stop moving until the freewheel stops rotating.

How Do I Install a Freewheel?

It can be a little difficult to replace a freewheel by yourself since removing an old mechanism from the bike requires a certain set of tools and physical prowess.

Freewheels are meant to screw in the hub as the rider pedals the bike. As such, if you have used the same mechanism over a long period of time, the freewheels might be tightly connected to the hub. As such, you may need to use a tool designed specifically to reach the free wheel’s core.

Then, you would use a suitable wrench to turn this tool to loosen the freewheel mechanism. You must find out if your freewheel removal tool is the right one for your bike’s spline pattern since they can differ depending on your bike’s manufacturer. Included below are some links to a couple of options for great freewheel removal tools.

Park Tool Shimano/Sachs Aris/Sunrace/DNP Epoch Freewheel Remover

Park Tool Shimano

Ventura Shimano Freewheel Remover

Ventura Shimano Freewheel Remover

Thankfully, installing a freewheel takes a lot less effort than removing one. All you must do is grease each thread and then screw the freewheel into the hub.

Cassettes

Although cassette hub systems only came onto the market a little over 30 years ago, they have largely replaced freewheel mechanisms in most new bike models. Unless you have an old-fashioned bike, your bike likely has a cassette hub.

In some cyclist circles, cassette hubs are sometimes called cassette freehubs, so many people confuse them with freewheel mechanisms. The body of the cassette hub, sometimes called the ‘freehub,’ also has a replaceable ratchet mechanism that allows the bike owner to switch between different variants of sprocket sets or cassettes. In essence, though, cassettes are a bunch of gears perfectly connected by a series of bolts.

The most common cassette designs are uniglide and hyperglide, which both have different makeups. These systems also have different bodies and a varying number of sprockets. These two design systems also have two different installation processes, and you may require different tools to install unglide and hyperglide systems.

How Do Cassettes Function?

Essentially cassettes are groups of sprockets that fit onto the body that the manufacturer often buys elsewhere. The sprockets are kept in check by a threaded lockring screwed into the cassette’s body.

Cassettes have around 8-12 sprockets, and you can replace any of them if you feel they have worn out. All cassettes also have bolts that hold the sprockets together, and you cannot remove any of these bolts once you attach your mechanism’s body to the cassette.

The amount of sprockets in your cassette is often a good indicator of how fast your bike can go. As such, a bike that has sprockets with more teeth has more versatility in terms of speed; even shifting gears can feel a bit rough or clunky. Models whose sprockets have fewer teeth may have less versatility in terms of speed but offer a smoother gear transition.

How to Install a Cassette

Depending on the model, the way you install a cassette will differ depending on the model. However, in most cases, you will have to replace your bike chain if you want to revamp an 8-sprocket cassette for a 12-sprocket cassette since the chain will be too thin for the new cassette.

Unlike the freewheel hubs, it is more difficult to remove cassette mechanisms than install them. Since the system is not tightened whenever you pedal, removing a cassette hub is not that complex. The Cassette removal tool will let you loosen the lock ring so you can unfasten the cassette from the body. Included below are some links to some great Cassette removal tools.

Bike Cassette Removal Tool with Chain Whip and Auxiliary Wrench Bicycle Sprocket Removal Tools Sprocket Remove

Bike Cassette Removal Tool with Chain Whip and Auxiliary Wrench Bicycle Sprocket Removal Tools Sprocket Remove

Bike Cassette Removal Tool with Chain Whip and Auxiliary Wrench Bicycle Sprocket Removal Tools

Bike Cassette Removal Tool

Cassette removal tools generally come with chain whips that help you stabilize the cassette as you loosen the lockring. Once that is done, all you need to do is unscrew the bolt that keeps the body attached to the hub.

This process is relatively straightforward and, with access to the right tools, can even be addressed if a problem arises during a ride. Therefore, some cyclists switch cassettes during long-distance rides.

Which One Is More Reliable?

If you plan to purchase a more advanced cycling model such as a mountain bike, you can be assured that it will have a cassette mechanism on the back wheel. They offer more speed versatility as well as low maintenance over a long period of time.

On the other hand, freewheel mechanisms do not offer the same number of gears and may require more care and attention if something is wrong with one of the sprockets.

However, the issue with cassette mechanisms is that they are often much costlier. Freewheel mechanisms generally are quite reliable for leisurely biking on paved surfaces and are good enough for most amateur cyclists.

Alternatives to Freewheel and Cassette hubs

There are not many other options at your disposal when it comes to bike hubs except Flip Flop Hubs and Track Hubs.

Flip flops are double-sided hubs that have track-like threads on one side and a single-speed freewheel on the other side. The track-like threading and its sprocket are held stable by a lockring to make sure there is one fixed gear. These are generally used for BMX bikes but have been used by some cyclists.

Track Hubs are another great alternative option for those who want a fixed gear system. Track hubs have stepped threads that let you quickly secure the lockring. Track hubs are predominantly used by cyclists who want to ensure that their sprockets are held in place.

However, Track hubs are often expensive, and their fixed gear shift systems are rarely worth the investment for the average cyclist.

Which One Should I Install for My Bike?

So, knowing all this about both freewheel and cassette mechanisms, which one should I buy for my bike. If you have an older bike model or plan to simply ride for pleasure, freewheels are generally believed to be the best option. However, if you plan on entering a race or biking off-road, cassettes are likely your best bet.

Last Updated on July 19, 2021 by Matthew Carpenter

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