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Drivers and freewheels translate your pedaling into motion. They turn the rear hub and wheel, and are turned by the chain. Choosing the right driver or freewheel can have a huge impact on the feel of your bike when pedaling. This article will outline some of the different variations of drivers and freewheels.
Freewheels – Freewheel hubs use an external “freewheel,” that threads on to the outside of the hub shell. Because freewheels have to attach to the hub shell externally, the circumference of the bearings and freewheel must be larger. Because of this, the smallest gear size available with a freewheel is 13 teeth. If you want to run a smaller sprocket, a cassette or freecoaster hub is required.
Cassette Drivers – Cassette hubs use an internal, independent driver that presses into the hub shell. Because of the self-contained function of a cassette driver, smaller gear ratios can be achieved through the use of smaller sealed bearings. It is possible to run a driver as small as 8 teeth with a cassette hub.
Freecoaster Drivers – Freecoaster hubs allow a bike to roll backwards (fakie) without the need to back pedal at the same time. This is achieved by a special internal driver/clutch engagement system that allows the wheel to spin freely until the rider pedals forward a certain amount, pushing the driver into the hub’s clutch system.
For durability reasons, the majority of freewheels and drivers are constructed out of chromoly steel. There are a few aluminum and titanium drivers available for hubs, but they are less common, and are not as durable as their chromoly counterparts.
The majority of drivers available use multiple sealed bearings. This is done to distribute weight throughout the driver and across the axle. Drivers with multiple bearings will often have a longer lifespan.
Freewheels are usually constructed with unsealed bearings to make the component more cost effective.
Drivers – There are several engagement systems available for drivers that effect how quickly the hub will engage when pedaling. These systems use pawls (small metal wedges) that spring out and grab grooves inside the hub shell when you pedal forward. When coasting, as the pawls pass over the groves in the hub they make a clicking noise.
Freecoasters – Freecoaster hubs use a special driver system that engages by pressing back into a clutch. Due to the fact that the driver has to push into the clutch, there is a trait called “slack.” Slack occurs when the driver spins around, threading into the internal clutch. This fraction of a second causes a gap in engagement that will make the bike feel “chainless” until the driver locks into the clutch. Getting used to slack can take some time, and may not be for all riders.
It’s always important to remember the saying, “you get what you pay for” when purchasing new bike parts. When you spend more, you are paying for higher quality materials and better construction. The style of driver will often reflect the price as the more complicated the design, the more expensive the component will be.
For a freewheel, you should be looking to spend between $15 and $30. The more expensive freewheels will generally use higher quality chromoly and better bearing systems. Freewheel hubs are a great option if you’re wanting a more affordable wheel. It is important to remember that Freewheels limit your gear ratio options, as the smallest available driver is a 13 tooth version. If you want to ride the smaller gear ratios such as: 23/8, 25/9, 28/10, or 30/11 you will have to run a cassette or freecoaster.
Cassette drivers range in price from $30 to $95. The less expensive $30-$50 drivers use simple engagement systems and often fewer pawls. These drivers can be found on more affordable hubs and complete bikes. The $50-$95 driver range uses the highest quality materials and engagement systems, sometimes using double the number of pawls then some of the less expensive hubs. The higher numbers of pawls allows for faster engagement.
Because of their complicated design, freecoaster hubs are more of a specialty category. These drivers work with a more intricate system, meaning they cost more to manufacture. You will find freecoaster drivers in the $40-$70 range.
The most important thing to look for when purchasing a new freewheel or driver is that you are buying the right component for your hub. Each version of driver or freewheel is not interchangeable with other designs. You must make sure the part you are buying will work with your hub. The best way to do this is to look up the specifications of your rear hub on the company’s website or contact your local bike shop.
Once you have determined the version of driver or freewheel that works with your hub, it is important to identify how much stress you put on your drivetrain. If you grind a lot you will want a chromoly driver with thicker 1/8 teeth to prevent bending. Multiple bearings in the driver will help to distribute weight and stress, meaning a longer lifespan for the component.
If you’re a rider that puts less stress on a drivetrain, and can often go months without breaking a chain, lighter drivers may be a better option for you. These achieve a lighter weight by using less material, which reduces the rotational weight of your back wheel.
A driver or freewheel will affect your ability to pedal, so be sure to choose one that will last. There is nothing worse then ending a session early because a driver’s bearings have seized up, or teeth have bent or broken off.
Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you’ve purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.
We hope you’ve found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn’t answered in this guide, our BMX forums are a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders. Your local bike shop is also a great resource.
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