Monday, December 1, 2008

Q&A: Removing old freewheel; fixie cranks

Q: I am trying to get hold of a freewheel remover for an old racing bike. (Raleigh circa. early 80's).

I am told the freewheel is a Maillard. It is 6 gears, internally splined and the splines are quite large diameter - 31.5mm I think.

Do you sell or know where to get one?


A: Hi Nick,
I tried to find a Maillard freewheel remover at the online sources that carry such things and couldn’t, so unfortunately, I think that remover may be unavailable as a new tool. It’s been a while since the majority of bicycles have come equipped with freewheels (today, most bikes use cassettes). If you’re not clear on the difference, here’s a link to a great Sheldon Brown article that explains:

So, I think your best bet is to call bicycle shops in your area to ask if they have this tool. It only takes a few minutes to remove a freewheel and if they have the tool, they should be happy to do it for you and only charge you a few dollars. The most likely shop to have this tool is one that’s been around for awhile. I remember using this tool a lot when I worked at a Schwinn bicycle shop because the Schwinn 10-speed bikes came with a Schwinn-Approved freewheel that was actually made by Maillard. That was in 1973. At that time I purchased one of these tools for my toolbox and I still have it. See the photo.

When you look at the photo, don’t be confused. The tool is the top part. The lower part is a different tool, an Atom freewheel remover. On my Maillard freewheel remover tool, you had to first insert the Atom tool in the bottom. That’s why it looks a little strange in the photo. In any case, any shop with the remover should be able to help you out.

If you want to buy your own, you can certainly keep searching. You might find one at a shop that’s been around long enough to have some old stock. You could also search on or you might try visiting, joining their email list and posting a message to the members asking if anyone has an old tool for sale. That group is interested in classic lightweight bikes and they are very resourceful when it comes to finding old bikes, parts and tools.

Lastly, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of finding the tool, or if the freewheel is fairly worn out, another option is to dismantle the freewheel so you are left with the body/base of the freewheel only (the part with the cogs has been removed). When it’s disassembled like this you can grip the body with a large wrench like a monkey wrench, or grip it in a bench vise, and you will be able to remove the freewheel. Then you can install a new freewheel that takes a modern remover.

Hope this helps,

Q: Hello Mr.Jim,
I bought an affordable track bike (fixie) and am in the process of getting a new crank. I would like to get a 165mm crank. What are some things I should look out for to make sure it fits the bike?

Also, if I were to get a 46-tooth chainring and I have a 17T cog, how long would the chain have to be? The chain now is connected to a 36T ring and a 16T cog.


A: Hi Travis,
Thanks for the questions. In order to install a different crank on that bicycle, you need to either get a new crank that fits on the existing bottom bracket (the mechanism inside the frame that the crankarms attach to), or you need to get a new crankset that comes with its own dedicated bottom bracket and replace both the old crankarms and the old bottom bracket. The easiest thing might be to bring the bike into the bike shop with you so they could look at what you've got and recommend the least expensive solution.

And, when you go to larger chainrings and cogs, the easiest thing is to install a longer chain. But, if you had some spare chain pieces of the right size (they need to match the size of the existing chain (either a "derailleur" chain or a "coaster-brake" chain), you can splice those sections in to lengthen the chain you have now and save the cost of a new chain. I can't tell you the exact length because it depends on the wheelbase of your bicycle so it's done by trial and error.

Have fun upgrading your fixie,


getinlost said...

Regarding the question on the fixed gear chain length. Here is a site
that with a bit of measuring should give the answer needed.

Jim Langley said...

Great tip. Thanks!


GhostRider said...

Check with Harris Cyclery...they have the Maillard "Normandy" freewheel remover listed on an order page:

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for the link. I actually searched Harris Cyclery trying to find it and couldn't. Appreciate you sending it. I'll add it to the post so people will see it.

Thanks a lot and good rides!