Winterizing a freehub is simply overhauling it with the right lubricant. This piece
should help you decide whether you need to winterize your freehub and get you through the
procedure if you decide to try.
Manufacturers assemble freehubs with varying amounts of fairly thick grease in the
bearings and pawls. At temperatures below about 20 F (-7 C) some freehubs start to have
problems. The grease on the pawls becomes stiff enough to keep them from springing open to
their engaged position. The rider experiences this as pedaling with no resistance and no
forward movement. Sometimes the pawls will slowly rise to a partially engaged position.
Theyll catch and then slip. This is particularly undesirable, since the pawls and
the steps they catch on are liable to chip, leaving steel fragments to do further damage
inside the freehub. Neither model nor year are useful predictors of which hubs will have
cold-related trouble. The colder it gets the more likely a freehub is to malfunction.
Its usually best to wait and see if there are problems before winterizing a
freehub. Unless the owner is doing the Iditabike or an Arctic expedition I take a wait and
see approach. Youll get some warning as the temperature slides downward.
Flushing with solvent has not been a reliable substitute for full disassembly. The pawl
pockets trap partially dissolved grease right where it does the most harm.
Freewheels and freehubs have similar internals and are subject to the same problems in
the cold. This piece covers freehubs in detail since they're more common on
More specifically, it covers
Shimano freehubs, which are standard on almost all bikes in the $400 to $1500 range.
Taiwanese freehubs are similar enough internally that the same instructions apply,
although the freehub body and the hub shell are attached together in a variety of ways,
none exactly like Shimano's. Many freehubs made by American companies use Shimano freehub
bodies; the instructions also apply to them, with variations in how axle bearings are
Ive had good results winterizing non-Shimano style freehubs by degreasing and
applying small amounts of Mag-1 on pawls. This includes Phil, Chris King, Hugi, White,
Sachs. These brands all have stronger pawl springs than Shimano.
Once winterized, the freehub is still ready for other seasons.
If your freehub doesnt work at some other time of year and its past its
warrantee period (Three years for XTR and Dura Ace, two for all other levels), then the
procedure described here will allow you to diagnose and probably fix the problem.
If you use your winterized hubs year round and put on a lot of miles in mud and rain,
eventually enough contaminants will get in that youll need to winterize again. If
theres enough muck in the freehub, it will show winter symptoms at other times of
Shimano silent clutch freehubs will function at 60 below with no special treatment.
Instead of pawls, they drive through about two dozen eighth inch cylinders that roll into
pockets and jam to drive, backing out a little to coast.
Theyre called RO-80 and cost and look about the same as LX. They engage with less
pedal motion at warm temperatures than pawl freehubs and take a little longer to engage at
lower temperatures. While they always work at low temperatures, winterization brings them
back to near-instant engagement no matter how cold it gets. Theyre pretty much cold
proof since they depend on the viscosity of the grease to move the rollers into
engagement. Theyre about 120 grams heavier than LX.
A little about Lubriplate Mag-1.
Ive tested dozens of low temperature lubricants and Ive never found a
generally available grease thats as good for bike bearings in winter. It does fine
at high temperatures and is the most water resistant grease Ive used. It costs about
$4 for a 14 ounce tube and can be found at auto supply stores and bearing and lubricant
sources. It has a good reputation among heavy equipment mechanics here in Alaska.
Freehubs are simple mechanisms, but if you've never seen the inside of a bicycle
bearing before, I suggest you overhaul a front hub before disassembling a freehub. All of
the non-cartridge bearings on bikes are of the same general design, they just go together
differently. If you understand a front hub, you'll understand headsets, pedals, freehubs
and pre-cartridge bottom brackets.
So, Im assuming some familiarity with hub bearings. I wont be explaining
how to disassemble or adjust them.
Shimano's position on taking apart freehubs is: DON'T! If it works, leave it
alone. If it doesn't, send it to them for warranty evaluation. They are generous in their
handling of warrantee situations, but disassembly will put the part out of warrantee for
some problems. The right side dust cap is almost impossible to remove without some
distortion, so they will know.
Ive winterized hundreds of freehubs and freewheels and have taught dozens of
people how to do the job. I went through the procedure while writing this, to be sure that
nothing got left out.
But in the end, you're on your own. If it screws up, neither
Icebike nor I can take responsibility.
Tools and supplies
- Hyperglide lock ring tool
- Large wrench or vise, to turn HG lock ring tool
- One chain whip
- 15 mm cone wrench, to fit left cone
- 17 mm open end or adjustable wrench for all left lock nuts except current XTR, which
needs a 17 mm cone wrench
- 10 mm Allen wrench (some Taiwanese freehubs use a 12 mm)
- Large screwdriver for prying out right dust cap
- Shimano freehub body disassembly tool; Shimano calls it an FH-40. You can make a usable
substitute by grinding an old Suntour 2- or 4- prong freewheel tool (Park FR-2 or FR-3)
- Lubriplate Mag-1
- Rags or paper towels
- Access to a replacement right dust cap in case you ruin the original
- A small magnet is helpful in handling bearings.
Lets do it!
Remove the cassette: Thread off quick release nut, seat cassette lock ring tool
into splines in lockring, thread quick release nut on finger tight to secure tool. Turn
cassete lockring tool counterclockwise while using chain whip to keep cassette itself from
turning. Once lock ring tool turns easily, remove QR nut and thread cassette lockring out
completely. Cassette should slide off freehub body.
Remove left side lockout, washers and cone.
Keep track of order and facing of parts as they come off the axle.
Remove ball bearings. Countem, Nine quarter inch per side.
Carefully pry out right side dust cap. Try gently prying on one spot and then another,
working your way around the dust cap. I can remove about four out of five without damage.
The '99 LX, XT and XTR fit tighter than earlier models and are harder to remove without
damage. If you bend it beyond repair, Morningstar makes replacements that are better than
the stock ones for about $4.
Use the freehub disassembly tool to loosen the bearing cup that you can see when the
dust cap comes out.
The cup is reverse threaded, so turn it clockwise. At this point just loosen it
slightly, do not remove. Note the tightness. Its not very tight. Be prepared to put
it back in to slightly more than the same torque.
Use the 10-mm Allen wrench to loosen the hollow bolt that holds the freehub body to the
It's on quite tight and has normal threads. (Loosen counterclockwise)
Back the Allen bolt out all the way and the freehub body should separate from the hub
shell. Pull the Allen bolt out and set it aside.
If there was a washer on the hub shell under the freehub body, put it back on.
Reinstall freehub body onto hub shell, getting the10 mm Allen bolt very tight. (400 inch
pounds or bouncing with straight arm on a six inch inch wrench)
Tighten the bearing cup to the torque you remember from removing it and a little bit
more. If you've done it all correctly, the freehub should click while turning freely
counterclockwise and should catch when turned clockwise.
If you've killed the right dust cap, order a new one. If not, press it back into place
so about an eighth inch of threads show outside it.
Reassemble the axle into the hub, using Mag-1 and 9 balls per side.
The axle should turn freely in the freehub body dust cap. If it doesn't, check for
slight distortions of dust cap. Try pressing the dust cap in a little further, so it
clears the outer part of the cone.
Its also possible to do this job on a hub before building it into a wheel. The
bolt that holds the freehub body to the hub shell is very tight and can't be loosened
without holding the hub shell firmly. You can, however, disassemble the freehub body
without removing it from the hub and follow the whole procedure as indicated above.
AWS stocks Mag-1 and
If you dont want to do this yourself, send me the freehub body by priority mail
and Ill winterize it for you for $15 including return postage and Morningstar dust
cap if needed. Let me know by E-mail that it is coming.
Editors Note: Simon Rakower is the owner
of All Weather Sports in Fairbanks Alaska, inventer of the Snow Cat rims and has outfitted
many Iditasport participants.