Tech Tuesday - Cassette Removal and Installation

Nov 22, 2011
by Mike Levy  
How does a cassette work? A modern mountain bike's cassette, no matter how many speeds it has, slides onto the rear hub's freehub body and is tightened down with a lockring. Splines on the freehub body ensure that the cassette's shift ramps are properly aligned as the manufacturer intended. The hub's clutch mechanism, the part that allows you to coast or put down power, is built into the freehub body itself, meaning that the cassette can be removed without having to dive into the hub's internals. Removing the cassette involves loosening the lockring with a special splined tool while holding the cassette with a chain whip, a type of long wrench with a section of actual chain on the end that engages the cog's teeth. While removing the cassette isn't included in routine maintenance, it does allow for easier cleaning of the drivetrain.

tech Tuesday
The cassette is made up of cogs, some separate and some on a carrier as shown above, that feature notches that mate with splines on the freehub body.

Some helpful pointers before you begin:
• While both SRAM and Shimano cassettes can often be removed with the same tool, there are a number of different lockring tools that may or may not be best suited to your hub depending on the configuration. Your best bet is to take your rear wheel into your local shop and have them show you which model is ideal.
• Lay out the cogs and spacers on your workbench in the exact order that they were removed in. Your bike won't shift correctly if a spacer is installed in the wrong position.
• If installing a new cassette take note of the order of its parts when removing it from the box.
• Although we didn't show it below, the wheel's quick release skewer can be used to hold the lockring tool in place while you crack it loose. This is especially helpful if the engagement between the tool and lockring is shallow, as can sometimes be the case.
• Be careful not to cross thread the lockring while reinstalling the cassette. Doing so can sometimes damage the threads on the freehub, which opens a can of worms on the entire repair. Likewise, aluminum lockrings can be fragile - take your time.
• If installing a new cassette it is important to also use the new lockring if the new smallest cog is of a different size to the old one (11 and 12 teeth are the most common sizes). Eleven tooth cogs use a smaller diameter lockring than larger twelve tooth versions. Using the twelve tooth sized lockring on an eleven tooth cog will prevent the chain from fully engaging the threads, causing it to skip under load while in the highest gear.

What's needed:
Cassette lockring tool
Chain whip
Large adjustable wrench or vice (in place of a freewheel tool wrench)
Grease or anti-seize (optional)

tech Tuesday
You'll need a chain whip, lockring tool and large adjustable wrench to do this job, although a vice can be used in place of the wrench.
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Step 1 - Remove the rear wheel from the frame and slide out the skewer, being careful not to lose the centering springs on each side. Install the splined lockring tool so that it is fully seated into the notches. If the engagement is quite shallow and the lockring tool is hollow you can use the QR skewer to hold it in place by reinstalling it through the hub and tool and snugging it down. Some lockring tools feature a pin that takes the place of a skewer.
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Step 2 - Install the chain whip, making sure that the tool is fully engaged with the cog. The purpose of the chain whip is to hold the cassette/freehub from spinning while you loosen the lockring. If you are facing the cassette you will want the handle of the tool extending to the right as shown above.
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Step 3 - It is now time to loosen the lockring. With the wheel face up on the workbench use a large crescent to turn the lockring tool counter clockwise while pulling the chain whip clock wise to hold the cassette/freehub in place. Apply even pressure to prevent the chain whip from jumping off of the cog, but if it does so repeatedly it likely means that that particular cog is so worn that the tool is actually slipping off. Move up to a larger cog and try again. If you've used the QR skewer to help hold lockring in place you'll need to remove it in order to further loosen the lockring once it's been cracked free.

Some overly tight lockrings may require a bit of body english in order to crack them loose. If this is the case place the wheel upright on the ground in front of you with the cassette facing away. While standing over the wheel, with the tools in the orientation shown above, use your body weight as an aid to help loosen the lockring by pushing down on both the wrench and chain whip.
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Step 4 - Unthread the lockring and set aside. Slide the cogs up and off of the freehub, taking note of where each spacer sits, and lay them out on the workbench in a safe spot. They need to go back on in the exact order that they were removed for your bike to shift properly.

Cassettes can sometimes become stuck on aluminum freehub bodies due to the them gouging into the softer metal. This is common when the steel cogs are spaced separately instead of attached to a carrier that spreads out the load better. A screwdriver can be used to gently pry the cogs loose (be careful not to bend them), or used to tap them loose from the back side with a hammer.
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Step 5 - Now is a great time to give the cogs and freehub body a proper cleaning, but be sure not to misplace any spacers while doing so. Inspect the cassette for any broken teeth or burs that can be cleaned up with a file.
Tech Tuesday
Step 6 - Take note of the freehub's splines and the notches on the cogs before reinstallation. The cogs will only slide onto the cassette in one orientation thanks to an odd sized spline that is slightly smaller in thickness than the rest. This ensures that the cassette's shift points will all line up as they were designed to. The spline and corresponding notch are shown above circled in red.
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Step 7 - While there is always debate about giving the freehub a light coating of grease or anti-seize, we don't ever recommend doing so. Neither will prevent the cassette from gouging into the freehub body, and a steel cassette and freehub body has very little chance of corroding enough to ever become rusted together (that same goes for aluminum cassettes and F/H bodies as well). What the grease will do, though, is attract dirt and grime and make a mess of things. The only place where a small dab of grease or anti-seized should be used is on the lockring threads to allow it to be loosened easier down the road.
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Step 8 - Align the cogs correctly and slide them down onto the freehub body, being careful to install everything in the exact order required - spacers included. Some cassettes will use a large 'carrier' that many of the cogs are attached to, turning them into a single unit, while some others may use separate cogs throughout the entire cluster.
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Step 9 - Some cassette and hub combinations, especially those fitted with 10 speed cassettes, will result in the last (smallest) cog not engaging the freehub's splines fully until pressure is applied. Make sure that the last cog is properly aligned before pressing it down with one hand while threading the lockring clockwise with the other until it is snug.
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Step 10 - Take a close look to make sure that the cassette is spaced evenly before using a wrench to fully tighten the lockring. Look from the rear while slowly rotating the cassette. If you spot any wobbles or unevenness between the cogs you'll need to disassemble the cassette and find your mistake.
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Step 11 - Finish tightening the lockring by using a crescent wrench to turn it clockwise until it is quite snug. A torque of at least 360 inch/pounds is recommended. The QR skewer can once again be used to hold the tool in place (not shown).

Do you have any pointers on removing and installing a cassette? Share them below!

Past Tech Tuesdays:

Tech Tuesday #1 - How to change a tube.
Tech Tuesday #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
Tech Tuesday #3 - How to remove and install pedals
Tech Tuesday #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
Tech Tuesday #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
Tech Tuesday #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
Tech Tuesday #7 - Tubeless Conversion
Tech Tuesday #8 - Chain Wear
Tech Tuesday #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
Tech Tuesday #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
Tech Tuesday #11 - Chain Lube Explained
Tech Tuesday #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
Tech Tuesday #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
Tech Tuesday #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
Tech Tuesday #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
Tech Tuesday #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
Tech Tuesday #17 - Suspension Basics
Tech Tuesday #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
Tech Tuesday #19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
Tech Tuesday #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock
Tech Tuesday #21 - Wheel Truing Basics
Tech Tuesday #22 - Shimano Brake Pad Replacement
Tech Tuesday #23 - Shimano brake bleed
Tech Tuesday #24 - Fox Lower Leg Removal And Service
Tech Tuesday #25 - RockShox Motion Control Service
Tech Tuesday #26 - Avid BB7 Cable Disk Brake Setup
Tech Tuesday #27 - Manitou Dorado Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #28 - Manitou Circus Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #29 - MRP G2 SL Chain Guide Install
Tech Tuesday #30 - Cane Creek Angleset Installation
Tech Tuesday #31 - RockShox Maxle Lite DH
Tech Tuesday #32 - Find Your Tire Pressure Sweet Spot
Tech Tuesday #33 - Three Minute Bike Preflight Check
Tech Tuesday #34 - MRP XCG Install
Tech Tuesday #35 - Stem Choice and Cockpit Setup
Tech Tuesday #36 - Handlebars - How Wide Affects Your Ride
Tech Tuesday #37 - Repairing A Torn Tire
Tech Tuesday #38 - Coil spring swap
Tech Tuesday #39 - Trailside help: Broken Shift Cable
Tech Tuesday #40 - Installing a Fox Float Air-Volume Spacer
Tech Tuesday #41 - Replace the Seals on Your 2011 RockShox Boxxer World Cup Fork
Tech Tuesday #42 - Clean and Lubricate Your Fox F32 Dust Wiper Seals
Tech Tuesday #43 - Thread Locker Basics
Tech Tuesday #44 - Install a SRAM X.0 Two-By-Ten Crankset
Tech Tuesday #45 - VPP Suspension Bearing Service
Tech Tuesday #46 - Rotor Straightening
Tech Tuesday #47 - Finding and fixing that creak
Tech Tuesday #48 - Bleed and Service Magura Marta Disc Brakes
Tech Tuesday #49 - Cup and Cone Hub Basics
Tech Tuesday #50 - Install and Adjust Pedal Cleats
Tech Tuesday #51 - Cup and Cone Hub Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #52 - Converting Mavic Crossmax SX Axles

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Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 16 0
 If you don't have a chain whip just use an old chain and push a screw driver between the plates of both end of the chain to 'lock' it .
Also be careful as in the past I have slipped and smashed my hands into the cassette and taken off loads of skin Big Grin
  • 48 3
 Uggg still pic's again Frown !!!! I can't be the only one missing the videos BRING THEM BACK
  • 9 1
 yeah please bring them back!!!! :o
  • 3 0
 PLEASE !!!!!!!!!!
  • 14 1
 I know, god forbid you have to read some instructions! There will be more videos, but the video TT's take much more time to produce.
  • 2 1
 i wish thier were videos cuz i like to seee how its done in a video i dontt mind reading tho but vidoes are nice
  • 11 3
 Is this really something you guys need a video for? For a fork service, yes. To take a couple tools and in a few steps take your cassette on and off, no.
  • 4 0
 carpy95 has a point !
  • 1 0
 I agree with carpy95 on this one you definetly need a video for fork servicing and and anything else complex really like full bike builds and bb/hub servicing
  • 8 0
 There will never be a tech tuesday on full bike builds. If you need a video, you shouldn't be building bikes.
  • 1 0
 I do what @bigburd says but wired part of an old chain to a tire lever and to protect my hand I wear a rubber glove, it works really well.
  • 1 0
 @bubbaleech this is true
  • 1 0
 this is really straightforward... if you want a video tutorial just go to youtube. there's a lot of them there..
  • 4 0
 if your cassette lockring is difficult to remove by using a chainwhip, you can also wrap an old piece of chain around the cassette, (as you would with the chainwhip) and feed both ends of the chain into a vice, which does the same job as the chainwhip, by holding the cassette still, but allows you to use both hands to undo the lockring if it is seized or difficult to move.
  • 4 0
 I find it easier to use a 1 inch socket, I believe, and a socket wrench instead of a crecent wrench to grab onto the cassette tool.
  • 2 0
 Good call. That does make life easier!
  • 4 5
 Hey look! Funny guy everyone!
  • 8 0
 Guys, for reference the comment above mine was deleted, not making fun of Mike or Enorbz.
  • 1 1
 yeah just my 2 cents as I did it last night, but those bigger sockets could be pricey good thing ym dad is a machinist and has all the tools already
  • 2 0
 Although not at all ideal, if your in a pinch (like the night before a ride, and you don't have a chain whip) you can easily remove a cassette using a pipe wrench....I STRESS THOUGH......only do this if you are removing a cassette that you are going to be discarding, as the pipe wrench will damage the teeth on the cassette. You will still need a splined lock ring remover "socket" of course, to work with the pipe wrench. Oh Ya and lest we forget...Many cassettes can be removed simply by wrapping an old rag around the cassette, or using a durable leather glove to grip it. If the cassette is on very tight though, this will not work. (its worked MB 50% of the time for me though).
  • 6 1
 I made a chainhwip out of coolhwip...
  • 1 0
 what's with that H? XD
  • 1 0
 Stein's lockring remover is the best because it has a guide pin and attaches to a standard 3/8" socket. You know how Shimano has a recommended torque setting printed on the lockring? Well Stein's lockring remover is the only one that can actually be used with a torque wrench.

Also, forget about chain whips. I think there are few people who haven't injured themselves in some way using a chainwhip (gonna happen sooner or later, trust me). Use Stein's Hyper-Handle or Pedro's Vise Whip instead.

Check out these URLs:

All of these tools can be purchased from Bike Tools Etc. (

In response to [alarco]'s concern about the Vise Whip providing enough leverage: I'm a 155-lb weakling. I use a Vise Whip all the time, and it works way better than a chain whip. It's just so much easier and safer to use.

Hope this info is helpful
  • 2 2
 There is a useful trick if you have excessive play between the splines of the freehub body and the cassette and are worried about gounging your freehub body. Un-bend/straighten a bunch of paper clips, clip them to the length of your freehub body splines, and then slip them into place between the splines before you install the lockring. They cost basically nothing, weigh practically nothing, and will eliminate any sort of slippage as you pedal that might lead to grooves forming in the splines.
  • 3 2
 Paper clips may be too thick to fit in this little space - what I did was to take a pin and puch it few times with a hammer, to make it thinner and flatter. Afterwards, you can smooth the edges with a file (without any special effort) and cut the endings to get it ideally fit. Bonus: I don't usually have paper clips around, whereas I've got planty of pins rolling over Wink This winter I'm going to check if it helps my aluminium freehub body to resist the "single-cogs" casette...
  • 3 3
 Or simply using a cassette spacer and putting it behind the cogs on the free-hub body also works... less work and costs like nothing at your LBS and it's actually designed to specifically remove that little play lol.
  • 2 0
 Alex-Mtl, I don't think you understand what these two are talking about. There is space between the splines on the freehub and cassette which tends to lead to extra movement when you pedal and in the long run destroys the splines in both the freehub and cassette. This is what they mean by using pins to remove play.
  • 7 13
flag vengeance111 (Nov 22, 2011 at 10:21) (Below Threshold)
 If you can't take a cassette of without watching a shitty slideshow on how to do it you deserve to have the god damn chain whip put up your ass why cant they make these things about slightly harder stuff like taking out rear shocks ect
  • 1 0
 Hum, possible, I was thinking more of some small side-play coming from the fact that the cassette is slightly not tight enough when the lock-ring is tightened as tight as possible. I never had a cassette and free-wheel combo which had looseness coming from the splines on the free-hub body and the cassette though.
  • 2 5
 @vengeance111 - I said something similar regarding the basic nature of this and funnily enough my comment was deleted. This site is all about censorship and removing anything critical, it's happened to a few of my comments.
  • 5 0
 @ oodboo - Actually, your comment wasn't deleted. It was automatically moved to the "Below threshold threads are hidden" link at the bottom of the page because enough users thought negative propped it. Now that I look at your comments I can see a trend...

@Vengeance111 - So wait, you're telling me that you don't need a Tech Tuesday on cassette removal, but you do need one on how to remove two shock bolts so you can take your shock off your bike? As ironic as that is, you would see that we did just that on a previous Tech Tuesday where we showed people how to swap out the coil on their rear shocks if you scanned the list of older TT's. There was some hate because that one was too easy as well, but it looks like there are some readers out there who can use it - including you. It is sad how many times I have to say it, but easy for some isn't easy for others, as proven by yourself.
  • 1 4
 I meant shock service, my mistake !
  • 2 0
 If you have an impact wrench; just put on the removal tool and hit it with impact and your done. No need for a chain whip or ghetto substitutes.
  • 1 1
 If you don't have such a fancy chainwhip like Mike, a good tip is to use the chainwhip on a smaller cog so that the body of the whip overlaps the chain. This way you won't damage/bend the cogs when you apply pressure.
  • 1 0
 Has anyone ever used Pedro's whip vise? Worth it? I agree it's a little bit expensive, but it seems so easy to use compared to the good old chainwhip.
  • 1 0
 What's with all the ghetto tools? You can have a pretty decent chainwhip for ~20$ (not a parktool, of course). The right tool for the right job.

Concerning that fancy Pedro's whip vise, the more I look at it and the more I have doubts about the length of the handle, and the leverage it can provide when time comes to tighten the cassette.
  • 1 1
 True, like Alarco said, chainwhips cost nearly nothing and that way there's no ripping of skin with ghetto chain/vice or chain/screwdriver devices lol.
  • 1 0
 *when time comes to remove the cassette (don't need any chainwhip tool when installing the cassette...)
  • 3 0
 You can make your own whip in about 30 minutes, all you need is a piece of 1/8" x 1" flat steel strap, a drill, a chain tool, and 2 pieces of chain. Check it out here:
  • 1 0
 The Whip Vice is terrible! Good idea, bad execution.
  • 1 0
 Pretty basic tech-tuesday today Wink But maybe it's good that pinkbike supports also the newbie bike-mechanics, it'll be a decent source of knowledge for everyone
  • 2 0
 could you do a tech tuesday on over the winter tune ups for when your bored inside
  • 1 0
 strip it down to the frame and take everything apart. refer to every other tech tuesday
  • 1 0
 This is the easiest job ever. The only thing that could ever stop anyone over 12 years old from doing it is lack of tools. New rider? Go buy the tools ASAP, save some money.
  • 1 0
 I came across this video to compliment the cassette maintenance
  • 1 0
 i used to make a chainwhip out of an adjustable spanner and an old bit of chain...
  • 2 3
 Can we have a "Fox 32 F100 complete rebuild" video at some point?
Tonnes of people are riding those and I think it would be greatly appreciated.
  • 1 0
 please bring them back!!!
  • 1 4
 i think the only thing people actually need to know is tricks for getting cassettes off when the single cogs are gouged into the freehub body. there's tricks, i'm not gonna tell you them of course but its the only time getting a cassette off can be tricky
  • 2 0
 Oh Great One, please, please I beg of you to enlighten us mortals with your infinite wisdom!

Every second I exist without knowing your special madskillz tricks is like torture. How CAN I go on?
  • 1 7
flag bigtard (Nov 23, 2011 at 17:25) (Below Threshold)
 i told you i wont. you'll have to keep hitting your cassette with hammers and screwdrivers like the fucking retard that you are
  • 2 0
 Thanks Pinkbike !!
  • 1 0
 I have ripped my hands apart doing this...BE CAREFUL!
  • 3 4
 i use a block of wood and stairs so the cassette bites into the wood in place of the chain whip.
  • 7 0
 Mechanics everywhere are simultaneously cringing and feeling satisfied with their prolonged job security.
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