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Freewheels vs. Winter Conditions

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Freewheels vs. Winter Conditions

Old 03-20-19, 09:22 PM
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Freewheels vs. Winter Conditions

I debated whether to put this thread here or in the winter cycling forum, but figure this is a better place since it's more likely to get answers and opinions...

I commute by bike year-round, including through the relatively mild southern Colorado winter (in a typical year there are only a handful of days where studded tires are necessary or temperatures go below 0įf), and for this purpose I've ridden a number of different bikes, with a variety of different setups, but the past few years my primary winter conditions bike has been an old mountain bike with a seven speed freewheel. But the past four years I've had three modern freewheels of the same design (two Sunrace, one Shimano) fail in essentially the same way: after exposure to a couple months of winter use and perhaps 500-1000 miles in the cold, the freewheel develops a large amount of play within the freewheel body that allows the cogs to rock noticeably relative to the wheel, which is noticeable when riding as the freewheels 'knock' once per revolution both when coasting and under load, and if I continue to ride on them they eventually develop severe drag (presumably because the bearings and races have been damaged and are now packed full of steel shavings). And for the record, yes in each case I have carefully tested to verify that it's the freewheel causing the symptoms experienced, not anything to do with spokes, hubs, drivetrain, or frame - and I have no such issues with any my bikes with freehubs, and nothing like this with the same model freewheels I use on vintage road bikes in fair weather conditions, even after several thousands of miles of use.

What I want to know is this: have other people experienced this same problem, or is it just bad luck?

I wonder if there's something in the design or metallurgy of the freewheels I've been using that makes the cog body and freewheel body expand at different rates, causing binding/looseness that accelerates wear? One thing I noticed is that after leaving home in the morning (bikes kept in an unheated garage that stays in the 20-40 degree range most of the year as it tends to absorb some heat from the house) the freewheels didn't 'knock' as much until I'd been out in the colder air for a few minutes, and that the problem was much more pronounced with the most recent (Shimano) freewheel on relatively colder days.
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Last edited by lasauge; 03-20-19 at 09:35 PM.
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Old 03-20-19, 09:33 PM
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Not an answer to your question, but my experience many years ago commuting into Boston and Ann Arbor as a non-driver; salt being the biggest issue: I canned FWs (cassettes hadn't been invented yet) and rode fix gear all winter. End of problem. (Had other benefits also. Better control on ice and snow for one. Right hand spills NEVER trashed derailleurs. Chain maintenance became far less critical. Frozen link? Ease the hub forward a little to get the chain slack back.)

Something to consider., But - don't do it now. Start next summer so when snow and ice hit, riding fixed is in your blood. And caution, you could get hooked. Since my first fix gear ride in 1976, I've done more miles fixed than geared.


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Old 03-21-19, 03:45 AM
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Two theories:
- When freewheels ruled the roost most freewheels were of a decent quality.
Now when F/Ws are mostly found on cheaper bikes, I suspect the average quality has gone down.
- Pretty much all F/Ws Iíve seen have cruder seals than cassettes, perhaps making them more prone to contamination.

Donít think temperature expansion is the main culprit. One steel vs another steel is generally very little difference.
Also, a F/W bearing only spin when coasting, when it only sees the residual chain tension. It has a fairly easy job. Assembly has to be way off is the tiny changes of thermal expansion would the the thing that makes it fail.
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Old 03-21-19, 12:51 PM
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take it off soak out thicker oil. in solvent drip in lighter oil , apply more at regular intervals , since it's thinner ..

then, in the spring, repeat, flush, and drip in the longer lasting heavier oil,

White industries makes a premium freewheel but only in 1 or 2 cog with a sealed cartridge bearing ..

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Old 03-21-19, 12:54 PM
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Back in the 80's I experienced this same problem using Shimano 600 and Suntour Perfect freewheels. Fixed the problem by adding Phil Wood Tenacious Oil to the inners by dripping through the back side of the FW. I now use SunRace freewheels with Phil Wood Tenacious Oil dripped into them. No longer have these issues in the winter since discovering this fix many years ago.
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Old 03-21-19, 01:12 PM
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IRD has quality 7 speed freewheels. I used a grease injector to flush out and replace the lubrication in freewheels when I lived in Utah and the bicycle was my transportation.
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Old 03-21-19, 04:27 PM
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The problem is low quality and not enough bearings in the races. If the races were completely full they would bind. These are fairly large races with tiny 1/8" bearings. Best way to fill the races - which no one does, and would be entirely impractical on a production line - would be to fill them completely, then remove 2, 3, or 4 bearings, testing to see which worked best. I actually did this many years ago on better quality freewheels that deserved it. Always, even on best FWs, there was room for half a dozen more balls in each race. Would not want to experiment on modern cheapo FWs.

If you can find a grease injector that works on your FW that would be great. Otherwise remove and pour oil into it frequently. My first choice would be NFS chain lube but anything is going to be a lot better than nothing. And the more often the better. Same as your chain needs far more oil in winter.
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