How To Change Your Bike’s Cassette
If you notice your gears skipping during a bike ride, it may be time to learn how to change your bike cassette.
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An hour or less
Less than $100
Changing your bike cassette is one of the most common maintenance tasks you can do, and it's also one of the easiest.
For those new to cycling, a bike cassette is the group of cogs on your rear wheel. It sits on a freehub (the ratcheting cylinder attached to the hub), and a removable lockring holds it in place. When you pedal your bike, the chain latches onto one of the cogs, pulling it forward and moving you one pedal stroke closer to your destination.
So why would you remove or change your cassette? When the cassette gets really dirty from use, it's better to remove it for a thorough deep cleaning instead of spraying degreaser on it. But the most important reason is wear. When the individual teeth become pointy like a shark's and the gears begin slipping, it's time to replace the cassette.
Most bike mechanics recommend replacing the cassette after 4,000 to 6,000 miles. I typically replace mine every season or every other season, depending on how often and how hard I've been riding that particular bike. Using a ride-tracking app like Strava is a great way to keep track of how many miles you're riding.
Most modern bikes might have a 10-, 11- or even 12-speed cassette, but it might have as few as five or seven. When buying a new cassette, make sure it's compatible. An 11-speed cassette should be replaced with another 11-speed cassette. You can't replace a nine-speed cassette with a six-speed, and so on.
But you can choose a cassette with a different number of gear teeth. More teeth on an 11-32 cassette means you'll have an easier time climbing hills than if you were riding an 11-25. (This all can be really confusing, so if you have questions, ask your local bike shop for help.)
You don't have to replace your cassette every time you put on a new chain, but you should replace the chain every time you put on a new cassette.
- Chain whip/chain pliers
- Lockring removal tool
- Citrus degreaser
- New (or cleaned) cassette
Project step-by-step (5)
Remove the Rear Wheel
- Loosen the quick release or thru-axle and slide out the bike wheel.
Remove the Old Cassette
- Insert the lockring removal tool into the lockring. (I use this combo tool from Feedback Sports, but you could also use this one with an adjustable wrench.)
- If using a chain whip (typically a piece of metal with a handle and bits of chain attached at the end), apply the chain to the cassette so it doesn't spin. Chain pliers like these make it even easier.
- Loosen the lockring by wrenching left with the removal tool.
- Remove the lockring.
- Pick up the cassette from the bottom and lift directly up. Be sure to hold onto the top of the cassette so everything stays in place. Many cassettes have multiple rings and spacers, so I normally use a loosely secured zip tie to avoid losing any of the pieces. It also keeps them in the correct order.
- Assuming there's life still in the old cassette, I'll save it as a backup or donate it to one of our local youth cycling programs. Either way, give it a thorough cleaning before storing it away. Cassettes can be absolutely filthy and you don't want your parts bin covered in gunk.
Clean the Area Around the Freehub
- Wipe away any debris around the freehub with a rag soaked in citrus degreaser.
Install the New Cassette
- Look for the raised notches on the freehub, then line them up with the cassette grooves.
- Slide on each piece of the cassette, making sure they line up perfectly with the ridges on the freehub.
- Tighten the lockring.
Replace the Rear Wheel
- Slide your rear wheel back in place and tighten the quick release or thru-axle. Make sure the wheel spins freely and there isn't any brake rub.
- You're all done! Go for a ride on your tuned-up bike!