Freewheelin’ (or how to set your freewheel free)

Grease Filled Sprocket
Grease Filled Freewheel

The story I’m about to tell you involves a friend of mine who I’d rather keep anonymous.  So, for the sake of this blog post I will call him Grimey. Anyway, Grimey and I are good friends and we happen to work at the same company. Every now and then we take a couple of minutes off work to walk outside, get some fresh air and admire (as in: criticize) the bikes at the bike rack that our employer kindly provides. On this particular day I was “admiring” the freewheel on, Grimey’s blue Raleigh Citation (hint, hint…) and I was not surprised to see what I saw: the typical gooey, dirty, greasy piece of machinery that long time ago used to be a clean and shiny freewheel.

Grimey and I proceeded to look at the rest of the bikes that were at the rack only to find that all of them had dirty, greasy freewheels. Right after he demanded to see the freewheel on my bike. This is what he saw:

Clean bicycle sprocket image
This bicycle freewheel could be used to serve the Queen her dinner

Now, before you start thinking that I am a bike clean freak let me tell you the reason why I keep my freewheel and the rest of the drivetrain clean. In a word: friction. Dirt combined with grease forms some kind of sticky paste that increases the friction in all the parts of the drivetrain: chain, sprocket, derailleur, freewheel, etc. which in turn reduces performance. In the long term this can have nasty effects on the chain and gears.

Cleaning a freewheel is more simple than it seems and takes close to no time to do it. There are a couple of ways to get your freewheel clean.

  1. The consumerist: Go out and spend $10 on a brand new pro freewheel cleaner and scrubber set and $16 on a bottle of drivetrain cleaner. Then go back home and kick your self for not reading about my method.
  2. The DIY: Get a dirty old rag and hold it between your hands nice and tight. The idea here is to “floss” between the gears of the freewheel. The flossing movement will accomplish two things: the forward movement will clean between the gears and the return movement will turn the freewheel so you can clean all around it.
Sprocket Floss using a Rag
Cut down friction by flossing regularly

Keep flossing until the freewheel turns a few times before moving on to the next gear. Make sure to clean the chain and sprockets too and to apply lubricant once you’ve finished cleaning. Oh yes, and be careful not to cut yourself with the gears!

Happy freewheelin’

3 thoughts on “Freewheelin’ (or how to set your freewheel free)

  1. Ok questions for follow up posts!
    Do you have a free way to clean the chain and rear derailleur?

  2. I cleaned mine this morning. It looks good (and feels good too).

    It might not be obvious, but dirty freewheel was the before picture in this story.

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