08 April, 2011

Freewheel Testing and Last Mixte

We get a lot of  requests for freewheels. Many of you are unhappy with the current offering. So I asked around in Taiwan about the best freewheels made there. We just received some samples for testing. They come from a company you've probably not heard of and they look OK, not great, but OK. The real test will be in how long they last. We'll try to put a few thousand miles on them in the coming months, then report back.

You can give us a little help by telling us how long various freewheels you've used have lasted. And do you have thoughts about how/why they failed.

Also, we find that we have one 54cm VO Mixte frame left. It was used as a display and has a headset and BB installed, but is unridden. Update: it's sold.

61 comments:

Scott Loveless said...

There are some ancient Suntour freewheels around here that just keep going and going, though I did break one this last year. About every third or fourth revolution of the crank, depending on gear selection, the freewheel would "hiccup".

Something that's sorely missing from freewheel offerings is a 7-speed with the same cogs as a Shimano K cassette - 13/15/17/20/24/29/34. I'll buy at least two as soon as they're available.

Justine Valinotti said...

Scott: SunTour definitely made the sturdies freewheels I ever rode, save perhaps for a Normandy I had on my first mountain bike. In particular, the bodies of the SunTour Winner and New Winner freewheels were all but indestructible. The less-expensive Pro Compes held up well too.

I also liked the Maillard 700. All of the freewheels I've mentioned were much better than any Regina I rode.

Dustin said...

Freewheels are great, but how about a nice 7-speed cassette, XT/Ultegra level, built for a modern hub without the 4.5mm spacer? Yes, you can get 7-speed cassettes, but they are boat anchors. These would be a great option for friction shifting fans and those who want a durable but not excessively cheap and heavy drivetrain for touring, commuting, etc.

Velouria said...

What is the price on that last mixte?

camp6ell said...

it's always the smallest cog that goes (and sometimes the second smallest too) - I find it worse on 5-speeds than 7-speeds, but maybe that's just because I accumulate more 5-speeds. i assume it happens because too much torque is applied over time to the highest gear and eventually the pawls wear out.

Anonymous said...

I had two new current generation IRD freewheels bust in less than a month. After that I started buying NOS Suntour Winner Pro and they are great.

Anonymous said...

Current Shimano options are very poor. They last only 6-8 months before they get rough, regardless the amount of cleaning and lubricating.

Garth said...

I would second Dustin's comment. Something with a wide range--SunRace has an 11-34 out there but it's poor quality and jumps from 24 to 34. I'd love something less mountain biking, more riding around my hilly city.

I'd been wondering where the Mixtes had gone! Sad day--I hope it gets some love. They're purty.

Chris Collins said...

A agree with the Shimano-K commentor.

I ran a beautiful custom 12-14-17-20-24-28-32. It is geometric perfection on my Waterford touring bike for half-step.


The K is 13-15-17-20-24-29-34, not bad.

I bought an IRD 6speed which is just like my custom but without the top "12" 14-17-20-24-28-32

The K is good, the IRD-6 14-17-20-24-28-32, is better, the IRD-6 with a "12" tacked on to be the VO-7 12-14-17-20-24-28-32 is the best. IMHO.

To the original commenter. Would you find a

VO7: 12-14-17-20-24-28-32

equally as useful to you as a

Shimano-K - 13-15-17-20-24-29-34

Anonymous said...

I second the copying of the shimano k 13-34 ratio spacing.

Anonymous said...

The worst performance of any freewheel was a couple hundred miles with a Regina CX. The replacement didn't fare any better. This from light tandem use on flat land.

I liked the SunTour freewheels, but not the remover. Too easy to slip out and round the indentations where the tool is supposed to engage.

The current cheap Shimano freewheels made in Singapore are not the same quality of the old Japanese made freewheels. But they are cheap enough to consider disposable.

Tom said...

Shimano hasn't made freewheels in Japan in almost 25 years. The current tourney 5 speed freewheels are made in china. The tourney 7sp are made in Singapore. Been that way since the 80s.

The average lifespan of a cheapo bike with a freewheel is around 122 miles of usage. Shimano produces their freewheels and other low end components to last 10 times that distance. The low end tourney freewheels are not dura ace level by any stretch and should not be compared to such.

Anonymous said...

I rode a Shimano 600 6-speed for many thousands of miles (10K at least) over 5 years without doing anything at all except cleaning. Rain, dust, dirt, no grease at all, ever. (That was before I knew any better, I would never ignore bearings like that now but back then it was a black box to me). When I sold that bike it worked as good as new. From everything I've read, nothing out there nowadays comes close so I have gone to the dark side and ride 8-speed cassettes. Just bought a 1985 Specialized Expedition frame and considered getting your new hubs for it but then after looking at the freewheel options decided to have the rear triangle spread to 132.5 so I can run my "modern" wheels.

Dan

Noah said...

What's the price of the last mixte? I might be interested. Is it one of the blue ones?

enzo said...

I volunteer at a bike coop so see the bikes that are generally too old and beat up to see an actual shop.The most common problem I see with old FWs is chain ware from not replacing old chains or that they had to be destroyed because they wouldn't come off when a spoke needed replacing.

Nomen said...

Sachs-Maillard ARIS 7s & 8s

JC said...

Since I only can afford the old 1970 5spd road bikes on craigslist/street corners, I would say that the Suntour freewheels I've had/use is not only the most common, but also most likely to be in good useable shape. I have two Regina freewheels still attached to their orginal wheels right now and they both look to be in non-usable conditions. Btw, can anyone link me to where I can buy a Regina freewheel remover?

Jan said...

Chris: I only use freewheels and have for years and years.

Suntour are by far the best and not hard to get on eBay, how about simply offering cogs for those?

Just a thought.

Jan

dliu said...

I had heard good things about the IRD freewheels years ago, are they really so bad now? I've met very few freewheels whose freewheeling mechanisms would just *break*, including the ones shimano still make. It's not like pawl mechanisms are a difficult or finicky technology.

The times I have seen damaged or icky freewheels were mostly due to user error (initially my own), i.e. flushing the freewheel with a dry, solvent-based lubricant, and then riding out in the rain after the 'lube' had eaten away all of the actual oil and grease. That technique also led to solvent getting into the hub! Soaking the thing in canola oil would probably do less damage, come to think of it...

Count me as someone who thinks multi-speed freewheels belong on maybe 1% bikes when cost and wealth aren't an issue: bikes with 120mm rear spacing, and restoration jobs on antique bikes. In almost every other case, I think it's better for the bike and the bicyclist to get even the cheapest freehub & cassette, especially if they're using friction shifting.

Parisian said...

Chriss,
There is definitely a market for a mixte out there. I vote for a 650b mixte. There are now more users of the size, and with fender clearance it could probably still handle a 700c tire, as most of the old ones used to.
what do ya think???
I see tones of them in France but that's France.

Carlos

Justin said...

Are the inexpensive SunRace freewheels all that bad? They're ramped with Hyperglide teeth and shift well. They also look better than what Shimano offers. I just consider them consumables.

Anonymous said...

A 2nd vote for a 650b Mixte. It seems it would only make sense given that the slightly smaller wheel will allow a less-compromised geometry in the smaller frame sizes.

The Soma Buena Vista seems to have the 700c/high trail realm covered, and the Riv 650b Mixte-ish bikes are much more expensive.

dwainedibbly said...

Mrs Dibbly would absolutely love a 650b Mixte, in Purple, but only if the mixte tubes had a nice graceful curve.

doug said...

I'm surprised so many people are so into freewheels. There are no disadvantages to cassette gearing and many advantages, and not much more expensive!

But then I consider my love of friction and 1980s Japanese road bikes and understand a bit better.

Velomann said...

I've got quite a few Suntour freewheels - probably more than a lifetime supply considering my age & their durability. But if you're lucky enough to latch on to a Dura-Ace freewheel, oh boy, those are sweet - the ones where the smallest cog totally covers and seals the mechanism, and the freewheel body has 2 oil ports when you remove the cogs. Close second would be the Shimano 600 freewheels, which also have the lube ports in the body.

Justine Valinotti said...

Nomen: You're right about the Sachs-Maillard Aris. It was the last freewheel I rode. I wouldn't be surprised if the person who bought the bike it was on, or whoever bought it from him, is still riding that freewheel.

With a Regina CX, I ended up with, at least temporarily, something I hadn't thought possible: a bike with twelve fixed gears. I was at about mile 80 of a century when the ratchet mechanism blew up. So I ended up riding twenty miles without coasting.

That was the first time I ever rode a fixed gear. And I've been riding them ever since. So I guess that Regina CX was good for something.

Rick @ Bicycle Fixation said...

Sachs & Suntour freewheels are great; I never broke one. I have destroyed a couple of freehubs, including a very expensive Hugi.

No problems anymore, as I ride fixed now. But freewheels are good, they are simple and perfectly worthy products if you make them conscientiously. Seven speed are plenty for the 99% of riders who don't need ultimate performance and the complexity (psychological as well as mechanical) that comes with it.

If your new source's freehweels can last under heavy use and neglect, they wont' need to be beautiful.

charlie said...

I agree with Vellomann.

The Shimano Dura-Ace is #1 with the 600 a very close second.The greaseable feature keeps them going forever.
I have used the cogs of the new chinese Shimano (that locked up) on these. A small filing on the indexing lug to fit.

I compared the IRC with a Dura-Ace and the cogs interchange for the most part.

mike r said...

I've never had a freewheel fail on me. I have a few shimano or suntour from the 80s or earlier. One is six speed, the rest are five.

I have two IRD five speeds one has a couple of thousand miles, the other has a few hundred. Now I'm mostly using the IRDs and keeping the older models as what I use when I can't get anything else.

I would love to see a freewheel that doesn't try to give racer top end gear ratios. 14 or even 16 for the smallest cog would be cool with me.

-dg said...

Shimano K for the win. Perfect steps 50/46/30 half step.

To avoid respacing my 84 Specialzed Sequoia I built a new rear with an older cassette hub and a new 7 speed Shimano RCX cassette rachet mech to use with the K cassette.

Latron said...

I have never had a freewheel (all Suntour) fail on me despite abuse sometimes stretching into the decades (literally). I eventually had one where the teeth started to come off -- probably a few too many miles on that one.

That said, I've since switched completely to freehubs. Got tired of replacing bent/broken axles, and I'm happy to have given away my last freewheel.

Anonymous said...

I used freewheels for a few years after most folks abandoned them, but use cassettes on most bikes now. it helps with dishing issues, they almost always shift better (because the ramps are lined up very precisely, rather than just screwed on till wherever they wind up), and you have a wide variety of inexpensive choices, from 5 to 9 cogs or so with the same freehub. And there's never the issue of having the freewheel stuck on the hub, trying to get it off with bench vise, etc. The only time I've had cassettes stuck is with an expensive DT alloy cassette body, but even that is not a real problem. It doesn't happen with any normal steel body. There are other advantages too, like wider bearing placement which strengthens axles and so forth. I don't like breaking axles, which I have done a couple of times. Now I admit I still use a freewheel on two bikes, just because of the old stuff on those bikes. But in my view, there's not much of an argument for freewheels as far as function goes. If function is not the priority, then that's another matter, which is fine I guess.

best,
mw

enzomatic said...

I'd like to mention that replaceable cogs and custom gear options would be appreciated but wouldn't be preferred if it brought the price up too much.

Since everyone is mentioning theirs, my favorite FWs have been the dura ace and the suntour perfect. I've had to destructively remove too many of the 2 pronged 600s to like them at all.

Anonymous said...

The IRD freewheels are still questionable. I am on my fourth one to fail. Each one failed after a few months of use. I have never had the pawl mechanism fail on my suntour and shimano freewheels of past eras, only broken cog teeth.

The IRD's really need improvement (they've left me stranded 3 times!), but IF Grand Crue would make one. I would have to try it out.

Peter said...

"I would love to see a freewheel that doesn't try to give racer top end gear ratios. 14 or even 16 for the smallest cog would be cool with me."

Particularly since a lot of older rear derailleurs aren't supposed to take anything smaller than 14T. I have an early '60s Follis I'm building up with an age-appropriate Campagnolo Gran Sport; it's got 14-26 stamped right on the back.

Although I accept the idea that freehubs/wider cassettes/compact cranks have important technical advantages over freewheels, such as reduced risk of brokan axles...many of us have older framesets, and we feel a certain duty not to modify them in irreversible ways. 130/135mm rear hubs are not an option for us; we're just trying to get the best gearing spread we can within the 5/6/7-speed environment.

In case anyone's missing the hint, I'm making another plea for 50.4 chainrings and triple mounting bolts. Half-step + granny works for a lot of us, and probably for a lot of people who don't know it yet.

mike said...

I'd love to see a freewheel with nice tall teeth. I know ramps and hyperglide and all that make for nice shifting, But I love tall durable teeth.

I also second using a Suntour based design. I can't recall ever wearing out a Suntour freewheel. Though I suppose adding a oil port feature like on the dura-ace models might not be so bad...

My last thought is practical gear ratios. I'd rather sacrifice high end speed in favor of a series of close ratios and a bailout gear.
Maybe something like 14,15,16,18,21,24,28 or 30?

S Molnar said...

To answer jc: It depends on the model of Regina freewheel. They eventually went to a splined freewheel (in the 1980s?), but as I recall, there were two different patterns of two-pronged removers before that (or maybe I'm thinking of Regina and something else).

Anyway, I have never had a freewheel fail, I vote for Regina America, but Sachs is good, and I'm about to find out how bad IRD freewheels are. Judging from their customer-hostile returns policy, I'm expecting the worst.

Anonymous said...

I ran Sachs freewheels up until the late 1990's. They were good, but the last few years of production, the quality went down and I started to have problems like the cogs unscrewing from the body, etc. They are date-coded so I would avoid any built after say 1996/1997. They also lack the tooth profiles that make Hyper-glide & Exa-drive shift so well. I currently run modern 9 speed cassettes (both Shimano & Campagnolo) with my friction shift set-ups and my bikes have never shifted better. (and no more bent and broken axles!) Eventually, the availablity of these older good quality freewheels will disappear. -Tony

Phil Miller said...

Although the freehub/cassette combination is technically better, it's mostly better for heavier riders. I'm light (130), and I even though I do right mountains, I really don't NEED so many gears. I don't race my friction festooned, vintage bikes, so I like freewheels. I've never broken ANY freewheel, and I have quite a collection, but I'm gentle on my equipment to make it last. In my collection, I have the highest mileage on SunTour Winners. They also have the tall teeth another was asking for. eBay still has some up for sale occasionally, but they command quite a premium over all others.

Anonymous said...

My ideal would be a SunTour ultra six, for durability and excellent weatherproofing, along with 120mm frame spacing compatibility, but with a hyperglide tooth profile for smoother shifting performance.

The ideal ranges would be 13-24T for bikes with short deraillleurs, 14 - 28T six speed or 14 - 32 for seven speed.

And on the seventh cog there shalt not be a black finish, for it doth look most cheap.

Mikey G said...

About 10 years ago I picked up a few custom 5sp Sach's freewheels from a shop in England (St. John Street Cycles). They have served me excellently over the years.

I also troll eBay for 5sp suntour new winner's in a desirable (to me) configuration. These also seem to last a really long time.

I yearly oil my "stock" of freewheels.

john said...

it would be great if you produce a 7spd freewheel. i would hope you also produce a 13-24 freewheel for all of us still using vintage road bikes from the 70's and 80's.

Reynolds 531 said...

I recently sold two wheelsets built around Phil Freewheel hubs after 2 out of 3 IRD freewheels developed a terrible sound and feel while coasting. I'll cry if Velo Orange supplies a nice 7 speed freewheel.

Anonymous said...

Oh-oh, My regina America 12,4,6,8,1,5,31 that I pulled used off eBay 10yrs. ago and put 17,000mi. on is going to blow up?! With a SRAM chain Sachs Quartz derailleur and Campy C-record retrofriction shifters it still spins silently and shifts like a bank vault tumbler. 45,42,26 chainrings. I did replace the 16 18 cogs after 5000mi. It gets regular cleanings & lube.

The rest of the stable is all freehub. But a freewheel for an older narrow frame OR to build a dishless rear makes lots of sense.

IMO though it's not the effort unless it's a hyperglide compatible 7sp with 9sp spacing and is a good close ratio half step plus granny. With a proper rando chainstay this nearly eliminates chainline issues. An 11,3,5,7,0,4,29 with 44, 41, 28 rings also serves me well.vadexci

Now lets see. Is that new gran cru hub easily adjustable for spacing and lock nut dimensions?

opusthepoet said...

I had a low-end 7-sp Shimano FW that actually out-lasted the hub on my BSO which turned to crap after about 1K miles. The last FW I put a lot of miles on lasted between 200 and 300 miles on my recumbent before crumbling under my mighty thighs with 2 broken pawls and no bearings on the inside.

Uncle Ankle said...

Among the - admittedly generally dilapidated - road bikes with 120 freewheel hubs I've owned or ridden, not ONE hasn't had at least a slightly bent rear axle.

Never had any problems with beat up old MTB wheels with cassette hubs, axle-wise.

What I'm trying to say is: I avoid multi speed freewheels.

lee kenney said...

back in the day ,yeah i,m getting on ,lbs used to have replacement cogs[suntour ,shimano.I,ve still got a a collection
of assorted removers and a stein f.w.lube device,chainwhips etc.My fave freewheels,sachs,7 spd have a few for backup.A new source of 5,6,7's would keep us oldies rolling

Anonymous said...

One more vote for a quality 6spd FW. I just had a set of wheels built up on VO hubs for my new randonneuring bike and the IRD FW crapped out on me on the ride home! Still, from the brief noodle around town yesterday I could tell I loved the combo of VO cranks (46/30) and 6spd FW 13-28. Today I replaced thee 6spd with a 7spd IRD which is fine. I'll get the 6spd warrantied and see what happens. I'd prefer to stick with 6spd.

If VO is going to go to the trouble of making FW hubs you might as well make some quality FWs to go on them.

Anonymous said...

Sun Tour freewheels were easy to diassemble.The trick was to open them up, fill the bearing race with loose balls, subtract three balls, lube with Phil grease, watch them last forever. This game was even more fun when you could go to your LBS and buy only the cogs you needed when they wore down.
Sample variation was large, but I remember stock freewheel bodies that had 12 fewer 1/8" bearings than optimum and no lubrication past some packing oil so they wouldn't rust in shipping. Those stock bodies lasted a long time. A filled and greased Sun Tour body was good for at least 100,000k. And they got quiet. After greasing, no difference between 8.8.8 Pro Compe New Winner.

Anonymous said...

A few months ago, I had an IRD freewheel fail after only a few months of commuting use. The body of the freewheel spontaneously cracked where the smallest cog threads on, leaving me stranded miles from home.

Anonymous said...

I think you should make the best freewheel ever. Hands down. Good enough is a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

A close ratio 6 or seven speed would be great.

dep said...

My favorite for friction shifting is a Dura-Ace 13-26 6-speed with the uniglide twisted teeth. I went through 2 IRDs very quickly, and I didn't like the loud, slow shifting of the Suntours. I really don't think we need more cheap freewheels.

Anonymous said...

I had a thought today on this subject. I have freewheels that are still going strong, but wearing out in the teeth. I can rebuild a body if it needs it, but not cog teeth. What if you looked into the most common, reliable and available freewheel bodys, and had cogs made for them? you have people calling for corncobs and some for 34 tooth touring gears. Tooling would be a lot less than trying to manufacture a body.

erik said...

ird freewheel #1 : 10k miles, started freewheeling both ways

ird freewheel #2 : 400 miles, turned into a fixed cog

ird freewheel #3 : just got it, we'll see.

suntour freewheels of all types, no problems.

need better freewheels. would pay shimano xt prices for a lightweight functional one.

David og Francisca said...

About all of the of comments on IRD freehweels. Are they concerning the mark IV or the earlier versions?
On Harris they seem to really recommend the new mark IV versions, but...
The main interest is to find a reference, which is agreed upon as a good freewheel. Many seem to like the suntor. I have a little experience with the maillard 700, which is very nice and quiet.
Hope to see a real quality freewheel at some point from you guys.

OldZephyr said...

Bought a 13-32 IRD 7 speed freewheel last year. It wasn't good, had dead spots when I would start up after coasting. I switched back to the cheap-o Shimano freewheels and there have been no problems with them.

I love the close ratio aspect of the Shimano 14-28 (14-16-18-20-22-24-28) and the 13-28 (13-15-17-19-21-24-28), but would like a lower gear than the 28. High end isn't important to me. I'd suggest a 14-32 like the Shimano "F" cassette -- 14-16-18-21-24-28-32. Nice range and still fairly close ratios. I would buy one for sure if it were of good quality.

Garth said...

A 7 speed FW would be great. 12 or 13-28. 12/13/15/17/20/24/28 or 13/15/17/19/21/24/28.
I use 13-32 7 speed Sachs still with 135mm Phil hubs, and have more 5 NOS ones just waiting for me to use :) Sachs were/are better than the Suntours. The spacing is even and they use a proper remover, not that two pronged one.

Freewheels are still viable today because many of us only need 6 or 7 speed clusters. Using a spacer on a cassette hub is kind of waste... and the choice of 7 speed CS is poor. I like FW's .. and I like being able to put ANY FW on my hubs, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

currently using a suntour 13-23 7 speed freewheel with a 24/36/46 crankset. hard to part with my mavic 501 sealed hubs. on my trainer is an older frame with suntour cyclone sealed hubs. still have to replace a bearing.

Anonymous said...

The cheep $#% modern shimano 7 speed ones work just fine though on every one I've had there has been one funky cog. One I had replaced after a month.

Never actually worn one out at $15 a piece just replace with the chain. I have worn out 3 freehubs and many cassettes.

If you are going to make one. 13-28 7sp is a classic. But to be different try 13-34 (k) or 13-32 with 24/28/32 sitting on the end.

Anonymous said...

VO,
I used Sachs ARIS freewheels in the 90's. I would get about 4500 miles out of them before they began to stick and slap the chain against the chainstay. Back then I raced and included intervals and slow roll start sprints into my training. Needless to say this reduced the life of the freewheel. I knew guys who didn't do this kind of training and got about 10,000 miles out of a freewheel. I hope this helps. I kept good records on my training back then and I'm confident these numbers are correct. My weight was about 155 - 160 lbs back in the day.