What Does Freewheel Mean On A Bike?

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Ben Jones

Components, Cycling Basics, Maintenance, Other


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“Freewheel” means to roll along on a bike without turning the pedals.

The front and rear wheels will be spinning but the pedals can stay still, or even be moving backwards.

You can freewheel on most types of bicycles. For example, mountain bikes, cruiser bikes, ebikes, and road bikes can all be used to coast on.

There are many situations where freewheeling is fantastic fun!

Let’s take a look and also see what the one type of bike is that you CAN’T freewheel on.

What is a fixie bike

A ‘fixie’, also known as a fixed-wheel or fixed-gear, is the main type of bike that you can’t freewheel on.

Fixies have a drivetrain (think: the pedals and chain) that is directly connected to the rear wheel with no freewheel mechanism.

That means, whenever the pedals are turning, the wheels are turning too.

It also means that, when you stop turning the pedals…the wheel stop turning too.

Fixie bikes are normally used for sprint track cycling in a velodrome – where speed is everything and the pro riders using them are unlikely to be freewheeling!

Occasionally you might see fixie bikes on city streets, where bike couriers sometimes ride them.

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What are the advantages of being able to freewheel on a bike?

The main pro is that you can give your legs a rest!

With a fixed-wheel bike you need to keep pedaling all the time that you’re moving along.

Stop pedaling at any point and the bike wheels will stop turning.

With bikes that can freewheel however, stop pedaling and the wheels will carry on turning and the bike will move you forwards.

That’s great because it means that you can pedal hard to get up a hill and then ease back and stop pedaling at the top and let the bike freewheel down the other side.

Similarly, on the flat, you can pedal to get up to the speed you want to cruise at and then stop pedaling and coast along.

The laws of physics mean that eventually you’ll come to a stop – until that time (when you have to start pedaling again) coasting can be a lot of fun.

Another advantage of a freewheel bike is that you can push your bike along and the pedals won’t turn around – on a fixie bike, any time the wheels are turning, the pedals will be spinning as well. Your shins will thank you for this one!

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Who are freewheel bikes suitable for?

Most cyclists will find that bikes that can freewheel are the best type for them.

Fixed wheel bikes (i.e. those bikes that can’t freewheel) can take some time to get used to.

If you’ve ridden a bike before then you’ll likely be used to riding a bike that freewheels and so it will feel very natural.

If you haven’t ridden a bike before then I’d recommend that you try a bike that freewheels first, rather than a fixie.

They’re easier to get used to riding on and you can give your legs a rest when they get tired!

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Which is better freewheel or fixed?

For me, one of the absolute joys of cycling is the feeling you get when you’ve pedaled hard to get up a steep hill and the reward is to then take your foot off the gas and freewheel down the other side.

That said, with a fixed-wheel bike, if you turn the pedals backwards, you’ll start moving backwards. Fun party trick? Most definitely. Have I ever managed it without falling off my bike and onto my butt? No.

I guess some things are best left to the pros.

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