The freewheel vs cassette controversy rages on, and it’s easy to understand why. Most bike dealers use the two names interchangeably, and so instead of creating clarity among riders, they end up confusing them more.
Since you are here, I don’t want you to waste time or money like I did when I knew nothing about the bike’s gear system.
Generally, modern bikes come with a cassette system, which is an updated version of the freewheel.
We will look at what these two systems are, their differences, and pro and cons. I’ll also help you decide between them and identify if you have a cassette or freewheel.
Furthermore, we’ll answer the top most frequently asked questions about the two systems.
Let’s get started:
Freewheel Vs Cassette: What They Are
A freewheel refers to a single set of gears screwed onto the bike’s rear wheel. This mechanism locks when you pedal the bike frontward, forcing the drivetrain to drive the wheel.
Though the gear set is screwed onto the bike’s rear wheel, it usually spins at will when you do not pedal or move backward, thus the name freewheel.
In contrast, a cassette is a set of sprockets found on the bike’s rear hub, firmly held in place by a lockring. A typical bicycle cassette can have 5-13 sprockets, albeit modern bike drivetrains use 9-11.
As I mentioned earlier, a cassette is an updated freewheel. So, expect the modern bikes to come with the cassette as opposed to a freewheel.
Freewheel Vs Cassette: The Differences
In a cassette, the sprockets are bolted together, featuring three small bolts. The small bolts keep the sprockets in position when detached from the ratchet.
In a freewheel, in contrast, the sprockets are slid into the splines and held into position with a lockring.
Consequently, by looking at how the sprockets are attached, you can tell if you have a freewheel or cassette.
b) Installation and Removal
A standard freewheel is screwed into the hub. And when you pedal, the freewheel tightens down. As a result, you don’t need any unique tool to install it.
However, it would help if you had a unique tool, a freewheel extractor, to remove it. That’s because it tightens a lot when you pedal during the installation.
As for standard cassettes, they need a spline tool for installation and removal.
Generally, if you opt for a freewheel, you’ll have to stick with it. In the same way, if you opt for a cassette, you’ll have to stick with it.
That means you cannot swap one for another. What you can do is update the whole thing, the hub.
Not only is swapping difficult, but you’ll have to match your new freewheel or cassette with the speed of the original, which is not easy.
As a result, you have to carefully consider this aspect when shopping for a newer bike to avoid losing money.
Given that freewheels are tricky to change and have fewer gears, they are best for casual riding on a cruiser bike. They suit riders who prefer to take up a slow speed, especially when riding on the streets.
On the contrary, cassettes are best for road biking or mountain biking. That’s because they are lighter and easier to change.
That also means they are great for riders who want high speed and are more likely to take on different challenging terrains.
However, you should note that you are more likely to replace a cassette because of this flexibility.
e) Gear Speed
The freewheel commonly comes with 5-speed, 6-speed, or 7-speed capability. So, don’t expect to have a higher speed on this system.
If you want a higher speed, consider cassettes. They are commonly available in 7-speed, 8-speed, and 9-speed options. There are a few bikes, however, that use 10-speed cassettes.
Bike Freewheel Vs Cassette: Pros And Cons
- Great for casual cycling due to fewer gears
- Allows reversal threaded-locking
- A suitable fast-speed maker
- Hard to change
- Less available, given that it’s an old version
- Lighter, thus convenient for speedy riding
- Higher gears, thus suitable for adventurous cycling
- Readily available because modern bikes feature it
- Slightly costlier than a freewheel
Cassette Vs Freewheel: Which Is Better For You?
There is no straight answer to this, and like most people would answer, it depends. It depends on the bike type and cycling behavior.
Essentially, freewheels are common on older bike models. Remember, we are not talking about the vintage-style models, but bikes dating a few years ago.
But what’s more important is the fact that freewheels are ideal for casual riders.
- Single Freewheel Sprocket.
- Hardened steel for longevity and durability.
- For standard threaded hubs.
- Original Shimano parts guarantees that all components work perfectly for optimum performance and maximum safety and longevity.
Speaking of casual riders, I’m talking about those cyclists who ride gently and slower, especially in the streets and around the neighborhood. That’s because these bikes have fewer gears.
Concerning cassettes, they have more gear speed, making them the best choice for the adventurous cyclist, like one mountain biking in bear country.
But given that modern bikes come with the cassette, you don’t have much choice if you are buying a bike today. So, you’ll have to concede to settling for a cassette bike.
Freewheel Cassette FAQs
The freewheel is threaded onto the hub’s rear end, whereas the cassette is not. Instead, the cassette is just a group of gears flawlessly bolted together.
While the freewheel moves when you are not pedaling, a cassette lack such mobility.
- Cog Sizes: 11 x 25t, 11 x 28t, 11 x 30t, 11 x 32t, 12 x 25t, 14 x 28t
- Cog Material: nickle-plated steel
- Hub Type: HyperGlide (HG)
- Carrier Material: aluminum
- Claimed Weight: [11x25] 8.2oz (232g), [11x28] 8.9oz (251g), [11x30] 9.5oz...
Do I Have a Cassette or Freewheel?
You can tell if you have a cassette or freewheel in these simple steps:
- Remove the bike’s rear-wheel
- Locate the tool fitting on the sprockets
- Backward-spin the sprockets
If the tool fittings comfortably spin with the gears on the rear wheel (the cogs), then the system is a cassette.
Nevertheless, if they fail to spin, then the system is a freewheel. That’s how you differentiate the bike cassette vs freewheel.
Remember also that cassettes are the newer versions of freewheels. So, if you recently bought your bike, the chances are that the system is a cassette and not a freewheel.
Can I Convert a Freewheel System Into a Cassette?
Of course not. You cannot convert a freewheel system into a cassette and neither verse versa. These two systems are different in design and installation. So you cannot swap one for another.
What you can do is update one with a similar version. Of course, this has to come with additional costs.
Is a Cassette Better Than a Freewheel?
It depends on the bike that you have and what kind of rider you are. If you have an older bike design, the chances are that it has a freewheel and the system is essentially an excellent choice for casual cyclists.
However, if you have a newer bike model or plan to get one, consider a cassette. It’s best for the adventurous cyclist.
I hope the difference between the freewheel vs cassette is clear. As a recap, freewheels are identified with older bikes and are best for casual cycling.
Cassettes, in contrast, are identified with the modern bikes and are best for adventurous cycling.
Alex Mwangi is the creator of Outdoor Right and an outdoor enthusiast. During his free time he enjoys riding his road bike or traveling the world looking for his next adventure.