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I heard an interesting opinion yesterday that said all freewheels made back in the day (we were discussing this over a wheel with a Maillard hub and a Maeda (?) freewheel). The shop mechanic said that because it was made in the hey-day of freewheels, it was automatically better than anything made today, in which everything freewheel is being slowly phased out. Now I've tried out mountain/hybrid bike freewheels on a road bike, and I liked the ramps and such, but do the older freewheels (especially entry-mid level ones) really hold that much over modern freewheels?

This may sound a little opinion based, but I'm know there's a factual answer out there comparing weight, usability, durability, features, and other technical attributes which make a difference to general, everyday performance.

Also, I'm strictly comparing members of the thread-on class, not discussing the merits of cassettes and free-hubs and other modern technology. I tend to run a lot of older technology by virtue of it being cheaper to pick up and cheaper to replace when my daily is stolen and cheaper to maintain myself.

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Freewheels fail so rarely that it's impossible to have any sort of an accurate "feel" for the reliability of old vs new. And I very seriously doubt whether there's any consolidated info comparing old vs new. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 5 at 2:27
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@DanielRHicks Yea, I'm about ready to throw in the towel on this question. At least in terms of entry level freewheels, there's no reason why older hubs would beat modern materials, ramps, cut outs, and rust proofing. I think he's just a mechanic entitled to his opinion. –  JFA Jun 5 at 22:43
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I don't think old freewheels are "better" by default. While it's true that most of today's thread-on freewheels are junk, that doesn't promote the junk of yesteryear to "desirable" status. However, perhaps the median quality level was higher back in the day.

In the days before freehubs, freewheels, like most things, ranged from the downright awful to the excellent. Regina made brilliant freewheels, as did TDC and several others, but they command stupid prices on Ebay these days. And even if you can find a nice NOS example, it will probably need a rebuild to run optimally.

Obviously there was a much bigger market for freewheels 30 years ago, with a higher profit margin, so manufacturers could afford to construct them well. These days it's less economically viable even to invest in quality tooling, let alone top-notch materials. In addition, today's manufacturing trends have shifted further towards light weight, at the expense of durability. Our disposable culture doesn't consider this a great loss, I suppose.

Perhaps it's fair to say that the old freewheels were built to last, but the vast majority of them, even in great condition, would be considered "a bit rough" by today's standards, especially when compared to modern freehub technology. Sadly there aren't any really high-end freewheels on the market today for a fair comparison...

1970s Regina = Ferrari

1950s TDC = Jaguar

1950s Atom = Peugeot

2010s IRO = Peugeot

2010s noname = junker

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I'd think it would be the opposite. Raleigh Grand Prix's and other "department store" quality bikes that have been sitting in garages for 30 or so years are being bought up and used as someone's daily, and so there seems to be so much low end stuff from the 70s and 80s on the market. –  JFA Jun 4 at 22:45
    
You may be right there. But many such bikes are rescued from the garage and ridden, but never maintained or serviced. When the wheels start throwing spokes or the tyres are completely cracked and the rider realises they can't get hold of Schwinn 26 x 1 3/8" tyres or whatever, those wheels go in the bin, along with the old freewheel. On goes a 700c wheelset and the bike goes on... –  headeronly Jun 4 at 22:58
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