My freewheel tarted slipping this week. It slips most from a stop with no pressure snapping to significant pressure on the pedals. Slipping may be the wrong term as it really isn't engaging. Once it "hooks up" and pressure is continuously applied there is no slippage.

Bike is a 3 years old, kona humu-humu, and used for daily commutes in Montana. Stored in an unheated shed at night, left out in the elements during work M-F 9-6, a couple times a month year round while out on the town.

Past couple months I've been hearing a banging sound out of the rear cog which I assumed was the chain slipping on the cog, but now I'm wondering if it the ratcheting mechanism in the freewheel.

Recent weather included a large snow storm which caked the bike in snow/ice followed by a week of sub 0F weather, so the snow stayed caked on. Two days ago riding it home after dark in like roughly -20F temps the issue first occurred. Thinking it was a chain slippage and being very intermittent I brought it inside got the bike warmed up/dry tighted the chain and did some other routine maintenance.

Next day, same issue occurs but easier to recreate while off the bike and I can see the chain is fine and the freewheel just isn't hooking up.

I have a couple theories but not how likely each is. I'm also not sure how serviceable the freewheel is.

Theories: - Water worked it's way into the freewheel and is now frozen inside the freewheel. This is changing how the moving parts operate. - The banging sound was the freewheel and is a sign of or the cause of major wear. The mechanism providing traction now has a loose fit and the extreme low temperatures are enough to further loosen the connection to unusable. - It's too cold for the springs/oil in the mechanism to perform adequately for normal usage - Something else?

I need to swing by the local shop anyways as I'm swapping out some parts shortly, but if there are some simple fix ideas I'd love to hear them.

EDIT: Freehub not freewheel + Single speed cog.

  • Personally, I would try spraying some silicone were the freehub body meets the wheel hub. It probably needs to be replaced or overhauled. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 18:05
  • Freewheels and "freehubs" contain a "ratchet" mechanism, consisting of small spring-loaded lever-like "pawls" that engage grooves in the inside of the hub housing. The area necessarily contains some lubricant, and it's fairly common for the glue .. oops .. I mean lubricant to become too gooey and cause the pawls to stick. Unfortunately, depending on the particular style of the unit it's difficult to impossible to get into there, clean and relube things, and put it all back together correctly. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:59

4 Answers 4


Since this was mentioned in a comment, freewheels are not the same as freehubs+cassettes (see http://sheldonbrown.com/free-k7.html) for details. The rest of the discussion should hold if freewheel is replaced with cassette+freehub though with minor modifications - I don't know if this bike has a freewheel or a cassette+freehub since I can't load the product page. Freewheels and chains (which needs to be measured with a ruler, due to some issues with most chain checking tools according to Sheldon Brown), (and less frequently, the chain rings) are wear items - they don't last forever (and the ratcheting mechanism can go and make a lot of noise). In 3 years, you may have exceeded it in commuting depending on weather and mileage - Last freewheel I had lasted about 3500-5000 miles (some cheap sunrace freewheel) since I ran a while with a worn chain. You don't fix a freewheel unless you have to - theres a lot of bearings and what not which makes the complexity high. Buy a replacement freewheel and have it installed, and throw the old one away (and usually, thats a good time to replace your chain as well, though you should get at least 2-3 chains / freewheel).

I wouldn't call it a banging noise (I haven't thought of what a good description of what the noise would be), but hubs which need repacking or axle damage also do make noise, so you may want to check that too. You can also get a banging-clunking noise from a failing bottom bracket as well (which can lead to a slipping sensation), so checking the bottom bracket area is another thing to do (in doing this, you'll also have to check the cranks and pedals, so this is a bit of work).

  • Bike gets relatively low miles as my commute is about 1 mi. each direction but the abuse of the weather is significant. I have the opportunity to bring it inside for periodic repairs, but moving it in/outside daily isn't a real option. Many times the bike won't dry out for weeks on end. The bike has a freehub not a freewheel, thanks for highlighting this article. It's a single speed so a single cog rather than a cassette. Seat tube usually has stagnant water so the frame/bb connection is usally suspect but I just replaced the BB within the last 6 months so I don't think it's failing.
    – Glenn
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 19:14
  • If you have stagnant water in the seat tube, a 6 month BB could easily be suspect. Can you reproduce it by putting the bike on a stand (or hanging it from some rafters) and pedaling?
    – Batman
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 21:31
  • Nope, needs to be loaded up with resistance from the road. Even then it's very intermittent. Mainly occurs during mash from a standstill. Maybe one bang/clunk every 20-30 starts from a stop. Only occurs after a coast/backspin. Bike spins fine at a cadence >60 rpm.
    – Glenn
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:59
  • I guess then start with the rear assuming the rear cog is still good and get your LBS to look over freehub and repack it and stuff if it doesn't need replacement. Spoke tension is more of a clink that requires weight on the bike to hear (and depending on your hearing, goes away at sufficiently high cadence). Another weird idea is maybe a chain link is stuck a bit, though that should be a bit more regular as well, but i coudl see the conditions doing something weird with that.
    – Batman
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 16:24
  • 1
    @Glenn What did the LBS end up saying the problem was? Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 13:23

Freewheel skipping is a very common occurrence when the temperature drops below -25c.

Just bring it inside for a few minutes and you will be able to catch a cog on the freewheel or whatever it needs to catch inside.

Once pedaling never let up on the pressure of each stroke. Never coast. Pedal as you brake to a stop. Then it will stay engaged.

I found pouring baby oil into the middle of the freewheel with the bike on its side worked very well but that may not have been ideal. It then did not skip up to about -35c. Not too many people ride when its that cold. One accident and you can freeze to death very fast if incapacitated. Ride around a few people ... take care.


Yes water might got in the freewheel and partially removed the grease, therefore causing the sprawls to wore out and weaken the spring inside.

The source of the noise might be the worn out bearings going out of place jamming the sprawls.

Relubing it after a year or if you want it to be silent, you can clean and relube it using Grade 3 lithium grease.

  • 1
    I think you forgot to actually link to the video. ;)
    – jimchristie
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 15:36
  • @jimirings he hasn't got a video, he was offering to make one. The email address has been removed because that's just a good way to attract spam.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 8:22

I had this chain slipping problem mainly on the smallest cog so assumed it was a worn chain but the worn chain had totally damaged the sprocket teeth so was still slipping even with a new chain & ended up having to replace the whole freewheel which resolved the problem

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.