If you have ever jumped on your new bike and you feel something is not right, you might have an issue with the gearing of the bike. Many people compare the bike cassette to the freewheel, which could be frustrating. You will need to understand both basics if you want to get the best results from cycling.
Bike cassette vs. freewheel; how do they differ? The freewheel and bike cassettes look very similar and operate similarly. The freewheel is the older of the two, and the bike cassette is what is used in modern bikes. Both of these work similarly, but the ratcheting mechanism on the freewheel is more pronounced. Due to the additional versatility of the bike cassette, it offers the rider more flexibility.
While this is just a brief description of both, we should consider how they are different and which is better. This article aims to help you better understand some of these differences and allow you to see which one you should choose.
We will also dip a toe into the history of these bike mechanisms you can use.
If you are wondering which bicycle chain size is right for you, I wrote a whole article about Bicycle Chain Size Chart that I encourage you to check out.
The Main Difference Between The Freewheel and Cassette
More commonly known as a block, the freewheel is the first version created before the Second World War and commonly features a single sprocket or a group of sprockets that are mounted on the body. These contain an internal ratcheting mechanism that shifts through gears and will mount directly on the threaded hub.
The freewheel would screw directly onto the rear wheel of your bike, and it would lock your pedal as you are pedaling forward with the bike. Once the wheel is locked, it will force the bike to use the chain to propel the bike forward, which means you are at the mercy of the selected gear.
The cassette is slightly different, but it is still the modern option for your bike. Nowadays, the cassette is the most popular of the two and features a range of straight splines, which would form a mechanical connection with the sprockets and hub. The hub is often called the freehub, where you would find the ratcheting mechanism on the cassette.
A threaded lockring would hold the cassette in place, but some of the earlier versions of the cassette also feature the smaller sprocket, which would hold the splined sprockets in place.
You will notice that when mounted, the freewheel and cassette would be very similar in look and design. However, they look and act differently when removed, meaning you might need different skills to mount a cassette on your bike.
Should I Choose The Freewheel Or Cassette?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the freewheel and cassette, we should look at the differences that both would offer you when you choose them.
It is important that when you choose one, you make the right decision to ensure you know what works best for you and your bike:
One of the benefits of the freewheel is that it would screw directly onto the threads of the rear wheel, reducing the need for a freehub to be in place. The freewheel would hold between 1 and 7 cogs, which often reduces the versatility and is why you rarely find them mounted on some of the modern bikes.
Since they can have only one cog, you might find a freewheel mounted on some of the modern single-speed bikes, which is fixed.
Unfortunately, the downside to this is that a constant pedaling motion would be needed to keep the bike going forward, or you will remain stationary until you pedal the bike.
The cassette is the newer version we find on many bikes and is often the one many people desire. The first cassettes for bikes were released in the 1970s and originally started on high-end bikes. However, their prices have dropped, and we see them on most modern bikes.
The cassette would force the cogs to slot on one by one when connecting to the cassette body. A locking nut often holds these in place, which keeps them steady. Cassettes can have between 7 and 12 cogs depending on the bike and the price of the cassette.
Most people choose the cassette for modern bikes due to the additional cogs, which promote even more versatility and ensure that the bike operates at a much higher level. The flexibility would allow you to choose between different speeds and ensure that you have even more functionality.
Which Bike Cassette Should I Choose?
Whenever you buy a new cassette, you will need to ensure that you buy the right one for your bike. Nowadays, we have two different cassettes that we can choose from, ranging from mountain bike cassettes to road bike cassettes.
Here is the difference between these two bike cassettes:
Mountain Bike Cassette
The mountain bike cassette is one of the most versatile on the market today, and this is because a mountain bike needs to overcome numerous terrains and obstacles. For this to be possible, you will need a variety of sprocket sizes to utilize when you are riding your bike.
While the first cassettes were rather small, some modern alternatives feature an 11, 12, and 13-speed design, adding additional sprockets to the cassette and allowing the rider to have bigger gears with more teeth.
This would reduce the gap between each of the gears and make shifting much easier to a bigger gear. The bigger gears and faster shifting would ensure that the rider has a much easier time on some of the steeper climbs.
Additionally, you can also leave the triple chainset, which often adds weight and clutter to the bike.
Road Bike Cassette
The road bike cassette is slightly smaller, and this is because the bike does not need to make such large jumps between gears.
For a road bike, consistency is key, and you want to focus on keeping the cadence at a sustainable level. Excessive jumps in gears would put plenty of strain on your body when you do longer rides.
Most road bike cassettes come with 12 – 25 speeds, which is often enough for a road cyclist to get the desired speed and performance they would need when cycling.
The ratio of gears on these sprockets can often be adjusted with the help of the chainset, and you would find a much higher ratio for flat terrains. The gear ratio tends to be much lower when tackling some of the inclines.
The important thing when choosing a road bike cassette would be that you understand the derailleur of your bike. You would need larger sprockets for a large derailleur, which is also true when you have a smaller derailleur. Mixing these up can lead to overstretching of the chain, which could lead to slackness in the longer term.
Which Is Better?
If you are looking to choose between these two, it can be daunting. However, most bikes in the modern era will have some form of a cassette. It might not be the best cassette on the market today, but it would significantly improve overall performance and your bike’s operation.
- The freewheel is the best option for beginners and those just out for a casual ride. You don’t need the extra performance and faster shifting that the cassette would provide. However, the cassette makes life a little easier when riding your bike.
- Most professional bikes would often stick to the cassette, which offers far more versatility and performance that could ensure the bike operates at a more versatile level. However, the choice would ultimately be up to you to make.
Can I Swop The Cog System On My Bike?
If you have identified that you have a freewheel on your bike and you want a cassette, you might be in for a world of financial hurt.
To replace your freewheel with a cassette, you will not only need some specialized tools to aid you, but you might need a few new components. Some of these components can include the wheel and gear shifters, which are some expensive components, especially when you need to replace the front and rear versions.
We would recommend visiting a bike shop and having them look at your bike to give you the best advice on which way you need to go if you need to change the freewheel for a cassette.
What to read next:
- What Should You Look For When Buying a Used Mountain Bike?
- Mountain Bike Brakes: Disc Brakes vs. V-brakes vs. Caliper Brakes
- SRAM Vs. Shimano: Which one is best for you?
Both the freewheel and cassettes are two of the most important aspect of your cycling journey, and these would need to be in perfect working order if you are to use your bike to the best possible extent.
We would love to know in the comment section if you would prefer the bike cassette or the freewheel for your bike.