Wednesday, December 15, 2010

freewheelin in a fixed world

The sublime White Industries freewheel

To be honest with you,I've never really understood the whole fixie sub culture.I've always loved the freedom of  coasting down a hill or just being blown along by a tailwind.Riding a fixie,slowed down by your legs,you can't do this .On a single speed bike you can,and the freewheel is the component that makes it happen .It's the small cog attached to the rear wheel, allowing you to pedal forward and 'freewheel'backwards.There's a number of good examples on the market with the Indian made ACS  'clawheel' being just about the cheapest. They all do the same job, and at $15 this is a good, budget option. I used one on my everyday schlepper and it lasted for about 18 months until this winter's really wet weather,  washed the oil out . Next up,at$35, is the Shimano. This is the quality goods and will last for an age.If you are really going the whole hog, then the American made White Industries freewheel is the one for you.(confession,I'm obsessed about American made stuff,particularly American engineered stuff) It will set you back about the same as 2 tanks of petrol for the family hatchback,plus or minus a latte or two and functionally you probably won't notice much difference.Aesthetically though, you will feel a world of difference. The WI freewheel has an extra set of pawls.These are the things that make the clicking sound as you roll down a hill;hence you will be getting a lot more clicks for your dollar.Although there is little noticeable difference in the take up as you pedal away from a standstill,you will notice the reassuringly solid clunks  of the clicks.Additionally, this is one of the few freewheels on the market that can be taken apart and serviced.The rest you just throw out.

Team up a White Industries freewheel with some Phil Wood hubs and bottom bracket and you are approaching perfection.Worth the mullah? Absolutely.


bikelovejones said...

Once upon a time, MOST freewheels on the market could be taken apart and serviced: Suntour, Regina, Campy... and I am one of the last bike mechanics on planet earth who was taught how.

Problem is that, with the acceleration of time in the marketplace (as in "I need my bike fixed RIGHT NOW"), it has become less cost-effective for mechanics to actually overhaul a freewheel, when it has become far cheaper to simply replace it. This transition (to automatic replacement instead of repair) is the bike industry's wet dream.

Happily, I still own a freewheel vise and this winter I am teaching a friend how to overhaul freewheels (in exchange for him teaching me about disc brakes).

Can a bike component be sexy?
The White Industries Freewheel is just about the sexiest thing out there. The tolerances are so fine, the machining is SO finished and beautiful, that thing should come in a velveteen box with gold imprinting on the satin-lining inside. (And if you really have some money to burn, try the Dingle, their two-cog freewheel.)

slow rpm said...

Thanks for such a detailed and comprehensive comment,BLJ.I know what you mean about displaying it in a velveteen lined box. I kept mine for six months before reluctantly wrapping a greasy chain around it! WI publish a very detailed information sheet on servicing their freewheels so when the time comes I'll give it a whirl.