10 June, 2010

A Nice Freewheel System

Since we'll be getting our VO Freewheel hubs in a month or two, I've been thinking about multi-speed freewheels. I still don't think VO will make freewheels, but I'm at least exploring remote possibilities. So I dug around in the bins of unusual old parts that we keep for inspiration and found this new-old-stock Maillard 700 "Professional Team Issue" freewheel system.

It consists of a BSA-sized freewheel body and a range of cogs (from 13t-22t plus replacements) that can be built up as a 5 or 6 speed freewheel. There is even a removal tool and spare spacer included. I'd forgotten I had this and looking at it again I'm impressed by the idea. You could set up your cogs for each race or route, a straight block for a flat criterium or 13-22 for a hilly road race.

This is the only example of a kit like this that I've seen, but apparently there were five versions available. Note that three were Dural,  which is one of the earliest types of age-hardenable aluminium alloys. Those might have been pretty expensive when new. My kit is "acier" or steel alloy.

If we do manage to find a factory that can make freewheels to our quality standards, we may attempt a kit like this one. But making really good freewheels is hard. I remember the problems when we sold Soma's IRD freewheels. So we might all be better off sticking to Shimano freewheels or looking for the better versions of the old Suntour and European units. Frankly, there is no good reason to use freewheels over cassettes on new bikes, other than a certain retro-cool factor. But they are needed to keep all those great older frames original and on the road.

By the way, if any of you collectors want this kit, shoot me an offer. I don't think I'll ever use it.


Anonymous said...

I like freewheels and thread on hubs, but use cassettes on about two thirds of my bikes these days, and frankly can't see an upside to assemble a freewheel that I wouldn't have from assembling a cassette . . . maybe the old-time style of the hubshell?


Justine Valinotti said...

For years, I those Maillard 700 freewheels. I had, if I recall correctly, three of those kits. I even rode them on the otherwise Campagnolo-equipped Colnago on which I raced: The Maillards, I thought, were much better freewheels than the Reginas. (And I much preferred the Sedis chains and Mavic rims to their Italian counterparts.)

These days, the only freewheels I ride are singles. For anything more than seven speeds, the cassette system is much better, in my opinion. But if you want to do five, six or seven speed freewheels, there might be a market. Also, there might still be a market for French-threaded freewheels. The only new ones seem to be Sun Race, which aren't bad, but I'm sure you could improve them. (Plus, they're only available in English thread.) Otherwise, you have to find NOS freewheels, which are limited in the sizes and other options (e.g., threading) available.

Anonymous said...

I have an old Mercian frame with 126mm dropout spacing. Are there cassette hubs in that width? I think I'm stuck with freewheels on that bike. It's already been spread from 120 to 126 and I'm not sure it can or should be spread further.


mattcook said...

a phil wood freewheel hub is $160 while the cassette version is $420. i know which one i went for when it was time to put together a new rear wheel. also, the axle offset on the freewheel hubs is such that on a bike with 135mm rear spacing you can build a practically dishless 6 speed wheel.

so, if there were high quality, wide range freewheels available, i'd take a serious look.

Geoff said...

At the risk of ranting, I think there is definitely a place for 5 or 6 speed freewheels. By pure chance, I bought an early 70's Mercier for $10 and it has been a revelation in simplicity and comfort. The 52 tooth chainring is ridiculous (in the archaic sense of the word) and should at some point be changed but this is not the fault of the freewheel, nor is the sensible rememdy to add 4, 5 or six increasingly large cogs. I simply have no need for, or ability to use, a 100 inch gear. The gears I can and will use can be achieved with a 5 cog freewheel and the correct chainrings.

The point is (yes, there is point...where was I?) that this is an opportunity to, in a small way, help make cycling more focused on what works and less makret driven. 120 OLD dropout spacing works for both 5 speed and single speed. You could even be really cheeky and market them as compact freewheels: lighter for climbing and narrower for better aerodynamics.

I'm probably sounding like the old Italians in Bill Buford's book Heat: "the old ways are the best ways because they're the old ways!" Maybe there's something to that. And yes, I realize that the 52 tooth chainring was market driven.

fmackay said...

See also: Cyclo Pans.

Mark - I've got a Tiagra cassette hub that's been respaced to 120mm OLN (not by me, so I can't offer practical tips on how to do this). It's built into a 349 rim for a Moulton so less problem with extreme dishing, but reducing a 130mm hub to 126 with eg. thinner locknuts shouldn't be a problem.

Guidon said...

There must be a market for FW's, because I see IRD's and Shimano's sold at LBS's around town. NOS Suntours, Reginas, and Atoms seem to command a surprising price on Ebay, too.
I have amassed quite a collection of used FW's in all size ranges obtained by dumpster diving at local second hand shops and swap meets. I've done this because I assumed that good quality new ones would disappear from the market soon.
FW's seem to be complex (what goes on in there, anyway?), and prone to water/dirt contamination, so it seems like a difficult task to offer them at a competitive price. Perhaps you can "upmarket" a VO version in some way by making them more durable (titanium?), better sealed, smoother, or somehow better than the marginal Sun Race I see offered as replacements.

garth said...

I second what mattcook says and think such a kit would be neat. though the 14-28 seven speed looks fine by me. i didn't know there were problems with the ird freewheels.

doug in seattle. said...


Seven speed, 126mm cassette hubs are pretty easy to find at used bike shops, at least in Seattle, where I live.

They're dirt cheap (think $10 a lot of the time) and often are in perfect condition and need only a re-pack. I see a ton Shimano 600 hubs everywhere...

Nick Cecchi said...

geoff makes a really good point.
I would really love to be able to have one nice frame for track racing and road racing like in the old style clubs. You could have a fixed track wheel on there for races and switch out to a 5 speed wide-spread freewheel with 120mm spacing and brakes when you wanted to do some road racing or touring. Alot of people only have money for 1 nice bike (as are bike standards these days) so having a modern 'path racer" would be cool.

Karma said...

I definitely agree that there is a market for good freewheels. As Geoff stated, a nicely balanced 5 (or at most 6) speed freewheel paired with the correct chainrings is all you need for most applications. I dont think that VO necessarily needs to manufacture such a product but it would be nice if they were offered (though im sure a VO model would be exemplary). The fact that freewheel hubs are so much less expensive and you definitely have a winning combination.

On that note is their any chance we will see chainrings available from VO again anytime soon, proprietary or otherwise?

robatsu said...

My reason for freewheels is that, aside from the now more or less moot different hub threading standards, freewheels/freewheel hubs are universally compatible.

This compatibility makes mixing/matching a pretty easy task. It also creates an unsegmented market that gives vendors economic incentive to maintain backwards compatibility.

Notice that, despite rather thin freewheel offerings these days, there are still lots more choices for freewheels than, say, the much newer technology of 7 speed shimano cassettes.

Whenever I build a cassette wheel, I always end up in Hamlet-like multi-dimensional indecision matrix about what choices/paths I'm getting locked into based upon the whims of manufacturer support.

However, with freewheel hubs, it is simple - will I be able to buy a quality freewheel in the future with an appropriate range? As long as that answer is yes, I have no reason for a cassette hub.

Being a non-competitive cyclist these days, a 7 speed cluster on a 126mm freewheel hub gives me all the gears and axle strength I need without adding complexity and getting locked into a treadmill of upgrades, compatibility issues, etc.

IRD's quality performance has a wide standard deviation. The good ones are great, but there is a relatively high incidence of lemons. I just received one of them and had to send it back. I had another that worked fine, but had enough of a wobble that it made rear derailleur trimming a precision task.

But I've also had others that have been terrific. Really, they just need to nail down their QA because the product is basically quite nice in design/materials/appearance. They've been getting better slowly, but IRD doesn't seem to excel at short design and improvement cycles in the way VO does.

Me, I'd buy a case of VO freewheels to put on the Maxi freewheel hub for which I'm eagerly waiting.

Anonymous said...

Far and away, hands down, the best set-up is the custom made casettes by Harris Cyclery. I have gone to a version, in one form or another, on almost all of my bikes.

Well worth looking into.

GhostRider said...

Theoretically, one could swap individual cogs for ANY freewheel body, provided you had a stock of loose cogs to choose from. I've done this on several Regina freewheels.

Shame that Maillard used the two-notch freewheel remover rather than something more robust.

@Guidon -- titanium does NOT make cassette or freewheel cogs more durable (look at how quickly high-end Campy and Dura Ace cassettes wear out). If you want durability in your cogs, steel is the only way to go.

Anonymous said...


that's fine, but a Shimano cassette hub will accept a wider range of cogs than any other system. The 7800 freehub was a mistake, it was ten speed only, but the vast majority of other Shimano compatible freehubs will accept such a vast array of combinations of any size cassette, any no. of cogs, including offroad sizes, that it boggles the mind. I still use thread on freewheels on a couple of bikes, but it's more a matter of chance than anything else. I don't want to argue this because there's not much of an argument. I do remember a time feeling that the hub/freewheel combination gave me more freedom, especially with friction shifting. That was a very long time ago for me.

Anonymous said...

would also add that the versatility of the cassette system can't be overstressed. Got a friction shifter that can only handle 5 to 9 cogs? no problem, a modern cassette will do that and shift smoother too. Want to mount bar ends or, god forbid, sti on that bike? no problem. everything works with a cassette. A retro freewheel will likely only work with retro parts, and if you want to run index bar ends, the default system for most tourists, forget it with a freewheel, it basically can't be done with current offerings.




Anonymous said...

I find all this dumping on IRD freewheels confusing. I sell them, have sold them since Mark 2 ones were created (yes, they had some significant issues prior to that, apparently - Sheldon Brown (RIP) counseled me not to stock them until Mark 2 units were available), and I have received precisely zero returns. One customer used his (a 13-32 seven-speed) to ride the TdF route last Summer....

yankee_dollar said...

All I picture in my head right now is stripped suntour notch removers. Also trying to remove 13-32 freewheels torqued on mountain bike wheels-yech. I don't use freewheels larger than 13-26 to avoid the increase in leverage and resulting tightness caused by the largest cogs. I used to have boxes and boxes of old freewheels, the large cogs are great patterns for making screen prints and such.

Dave said...

Have you removed a freewheel lately? I built up a wheelset for 130mm spacing with a Phil freewheel hub a few years back when there was some promotion of that idea, and have since gone from a dishless 5 speed to my current 13-32 IRD 7 speed freewheel, with 3 or 4 others along the way. Each change of freewheel required finding a strong vice and some serious exertion.

john said...

The Maillard 700 system was not too bad, it assembled in a very similar manner to the Suntour Maeda Pro Compe (aka Perfect) freewheel. Which is why we did not sell many, the Suntour cogs were very available and cheap. I liked the Suntour until one came apart on a warm up ride to the Nationals at Northbrook, yes, Chicago streets were bad. It was a trick to make it go back together so I could ride "fixed" to the track.

The current IRD's as a design are not bad, but the tolerances are way too variable. As current freewheels are not a racing level component now, the trick is to get the quality back into the machining and assembly.

Anonymous said...

Another post for freewheels. I still prefer them, for the many reasons listed. I use mostly Sachs 7 speed 13-32's. IRD's cog choice is odd. 13-15-18-21-24..... Sachs is 13-15-17-20-24..... A 15-18 jump is too big. The Maillard system shown here is the predecessor of the last Sachs/Maiilard design. I suspect the cogs would fit on both bodies. The Sachs bodies though, used the superior splined type removal tool though.

Mostly though ,the biggest reason I use freewheels..... 7 speeds. I've used more, but don't want them . I friction shift. Using a spacer on a 8 speed CS hub is a inefficient solution.

The second reason is independence. Cassettes lock one into a a whole brand system. FW's do not.

If you want to copy a FW desigm , copy the Sachs versions of the 90's.

Cycles J Bryant said...

I for one would welcome another high end freewheel. I would prefer twist tooth to ramps/hyperglide type systems. And as long as I'm dreaming, a French thread 15-25 5 speed would be awesome to use on my Maxi-Car Hubs.

Todd V said...

Name a reasonably priced, sealed bearing cassette hub that is sold brand new (rather than NOS on eBay) and I'll agree that there is no reason not to use cassette hubs on a new bike.

For now, a $160 Phil touring hub is a great deal.

Anonymous said...

In case:
Have seven bikes for the family. All have freewheels.Sold the car ten years ago.

This post helps me understand who Velo Orange is.

Race on. C'est un peloton d'un?

Justine Valinotti said...

I agree that if you're going to do a freewheel, the Sachs-Maillard design of the early 90's is the best place to start. It's the last and best freewheel I rode. The 700 was nice, but the Sachs-Maillard had better bearings and seals, and a superior removal system. And they were pretty.

Anonymous said...

MW writ:

would also add that the versatility of the cassette system can't be overstressed. Got a friction shifter that can only handle 5 to 9 cogs? no problem, a modern cassette will do that and shift smoother too. Want to mount bar ends or, god forbid, sti on that bike? no problem. everything works with a cassette. A retro freewheel will likely only work with retro parts, and if you want to run index bar ends, the default system for most tourists, forget it with a freewheel, it basically can't be done with current offerings.




6/11/10 11:30 AM

Why do you think that your last sentence is true?

Please provide details.

zoovegroover said...

what happened to heliomatic? that seemed like a good idea that never became standard. One of my bikes is a 29er singlespeed. It is not ideal for some trails. Some guys are installing the 'spider' only portion of a cassette onto single speed freehubs. This requires some machining of the spider to take off a few mm to allow it to be secured with the cassette lockring. The result is a dishless rear wheel with 5 usable low gears. Usually only paired with a single chainring. It would be nice to have a 135mm disk hub threaded for a 5 speed freewheel to produce a dishless rear ATB, cross or commuter wheel...

Reynolds 531 said...

I use a 126 mm Phil freewheel hub and have been delighted with the 7 speed IRD freewheel I bought for it lst year. However, I recently bought a 6 speed IRD freewheel and it made an odd thkk thkk thkk sound each revolution when freewheeling instead of a nice smooth zzzzz. I could feel it in the pedals. I sent the freewheel back and got a replacement that did the exact same thing. Sent the second one back and am now waiting (and waiting)on a refund.

I'd pay $60 for a nice freewheel. I'd settle for a kit to rebuild a new $20 Shimano freewheel with a nice set of cogs. IRD has lost me.

bikelovejones said...

I LOVE freewheels and would just about kill for a decent 5-speed freewheel in the 14-32 range (that doesn't say "IRD"). It solves a LOT of problems without having to add a third chainring up front.

Anonymous said...

I'm not that impressed with the quality of IRD. I'd happily pay double or tripple for something better. Look at the price of a mid or upper level cassette.

If you pick up 5 chains when you buy a new freewheel or cassette and rotate them every 4 weeks you'll prolong the life of your drivetrain.


Anonymous said...

"I'm not that impressed with the quality of IRD. I'd happily pay double or tripple for something better. Look at the price of a mid or upper level cassette.

If you pick up 5 chains when you buy a new freewheel or cassette and rotate them every 4 weeks you'll prolong the life of your drivetrain.


6/22/10 10:41 AM"

So you'd pay $100-150 for a good freewheel? Some very, very good NOS ones don't even cost that much....

Anonymous said...

Multiple freewheels are dead in the water, and a good thing too IMHO. If enough people want less dish, it would be better just to get someone to make a cassette hub with a shorter body.

Since ~1981 I've had exactly zero Shimano cassette hub failures. Before this I and friends had many Q/R axles fail, and Phil Wood bearings fail/disintegrate.

Then there are the issues of it being almost impossible to remove freewheels from touring bikes, tandems, bikes ridden by strong and/or heavy riders, etc. Try removing a 32T Suntour freewheel from a Phil tandem hub ridden by two racing cyclists...

BTW, if VO does decide to have freewheels made, please DO NOT copy the Maillard 700 tooth shape; these shift fairly abominably, but maybe that's what all the retro types want.

bobfairlane said...

Niagara Cycle is full of new freewheels, in 5,6, 7, 8, and yes, 9 speed, Shimano compatible ones. Maybe you guys can source some basic fWs from them, to sell with your nice new threaded hub wheel sets. I got a 7 speed freewheel for $11.

bobfairlane said...

I still like freewheels. They are cheap and effective, and satisfying to use. For the people complaining about removing them, put some GREASE on those threads before you install the FW. A thin spacer over the hub before the freewheel, also helps aide removal later. Next time you go to pull a FW, drop some clean transmission fluid in the threads (fw facing down), and wait 5min, then turn it over and use the vise and fw remover. I bet it will dang near spin off.