Over the past several years the fixed wheel has risen to some sort of cult status in urban cycling circles, but I would argue that it’s the freewheel that has the mystical mechanical properties. I mean, the fixed gear is easily understood from a mechanical viewpoint, having no moving parts – the appeal comes from the immediacy of transmission, its simplicity, and the anticipation needed to survive the many hazards of riding fixed in the ‘real world’ of obstacles, without coming a cropper !
The freewheel was thus invented a long time ago to overcome the disadvantages of fixed and allowed the magic of “coasting” to enhance cycling’s appeal and safety. ( I defy any cyclist to convince me that coasting isn’t enjoyable and fun ).
Mechanically, the fixed wheel is a “sundial” to the freewheel’s “swiss watch” and, I confess, I had always been a little wary of those two small holes on the freewheel cover cone race. I was content to remove and swap freewheels complete from time to time but had no wish to delve any further within.
Now I have discovered that the most intimidating thing about them is the initial doubt about controlling the huge number of tiny ball bearings contained within and the ease with which said bearings fly in all directions when anything is loosened or reassembled … all the rest is straightforward.
My golden rule is : ” Don’t touch anything unless there’s a container to catch all the bearings, and even then, make sure there is absolutely nowhere else they can roll away to and hide “. This will probably still happen anyway !
Freewheels spin off anti-clockwise so that the motion of pedalling naturally tightens them, and it’s essential when refitting that the threads be well greased or anti-seize compound applied. They need a fair amount of force “down the track” to release this pedalling tightness. There are so many different removal tools for them that it’s not funny, so you may need the help of a friendly bike shop here. A vice is the next most helpful tool as you can then use the wheel’s inherent leverage to your advantage to spin them off on the vice-held tool.
To disassemble the freewheel itself there are generally two pin holes on the cover cone race that turn it clockwise to loosen, using a pin spanner or strong needle-nosed pliers to assist.
I think the rule is that the cone race will tighten in the direction of freewheeling though, as this one’s cover is on the hub side and it is right hand thread ( anti-clockwise to loosen ) – just to trick me again !
Freewheels can sometimes be flood cleaned in situ with light oil down the gap, spinning to make them work again, but often will make unpleasant gritty noises afterward as the dirt crunches through them, which is what happened with this 16T BMX single-speed.
Amazing to think that all your pedal power goes through those two tiny pawls …
The screw on freewheel clusters of older ten-speeders are much the same internal arrangement … btw, they probably should be oiled rather than greased, but I had to use some grease to make the balls stick in place for re-assembly. I will gladly take note of any sticky suggestions here !
I’ll try to soften it with light oil, but the freewheel is at least engaging and running quietly so far ( see pic top ).
The above view is from the “outside” though on most older derailleur bikes it is the pin holes for disassembly that are facing out with a left-hand thread.
Now I’m off around the lake, freewheeling with the wind…