How to Clean Your Bike Cassette

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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How to Clean Your Bike Cassette

While a dirty chain might get most of the attention, there are other parts of your drivetrain that should be kept clean to prevent premature wear. The cassette is one part that often gets overlooked, which can hinder your bike’s performance and eventually wear down the cogs, chain and rear derailleur.

Since these parts aren’t especially cheap to replace, let’s take a look at how you can clean this part of your bike and keep your drivetrain running smoothly.

MAINTENANCE CLEANING

Most of the time, you won’t need to remove the cassette from the wheel to clean away most of the dirt and grease. This is especially true if you are good at keeping a clean chain and wiping off excessive grease after each ride.

In the case when your cassette is in need of a wipe down but not a complete overhaul, you should be able to take care of the job fairly easily on your own without any special tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • An old toothbrush
  • A rag or old T-shirt
  • Degreaser

Begin by removing the rear wheel. This makes it easier to get in between the sprockets and keep the grease you’re removing off the frame. How you hold the wheel is up to you, but I like to lay the wheel in my lap with the sprocket facing up.

Pour some degreaser in a bowl and soak your rag or piece of an old T-shirt in it. Starting with the largest sprocket, floss the rag in between each sprocket all the way around and down toward the hub of the wheel. For any clumps or hard to remove grease spots, use the toothbrush. Repeat with each sprocket until the entire cassette is clean.

Once you put the wheel back on and have cleaned the other parts of your drivetrain (chain, chainring, etc.), reapply lube to the chain.

DEEP CLEANING

During the winter months, water and road grime can wreak havoc on your drivetrain. The rear wheel especially takes a beating, and because of this the rear cassette is often a prime location for gunk to collect.

In this scenario, or when you’ve neglected cleaning it for an extended period of time, you might need a deep clean. Here’s how you can remove your cassette from the wheel and clean each individual cog to get it sparkly clean.

What you’ll need:

  • Chain whip
  • Cassette lock ring tool
  • Wrench
  • Zip tie
  • Degreaser
  • Toothbrush
  • Old towel

With this method, special tools will be required. A chain whip and a cassette lock ring tool are two you’ll need to purchase to complete this job. Keep in mind there are different lock rings for different components, so make sure you purchase a Shimano lock ring if you’ve got Shimano compatible components and wheels.

Remove your rear wheel and skewer. Wrap the chain whip around one of the middle cogs on the cassette. Place the lock ring tool in the center of the cassette and hold steady with a wrench. Push the chain whip down while holding the lock ring in place to unscrew the cassette from the freehub of the wheel.

Be aware the cassette has specific spacers between each cog, and losing track of where they go can be a problem when it’s time to put the cassette back on. For this reason, it’s best to use a zip tie to band all the cogs and spacers as they are as soon as you remove it from the wheel. Once the cassette is off and tied, place it in a bowl with a generous amount of degreaser.

After letting your cassette soak for a few minutes, scrub each cog with your old toothbrush. You can also use an old rag to wipe down your freehub on the wheel if needed. Scrub until the entire cassette is sparkly clean, then wipe the cogs down with your old towel.

Remove the zip tie and place the cassette back on the freehub of the rear wheel, starting with the largest cog first. It may take some time to slide each cog on the free hub body correctly, but having all the cogs and spacers in order makes this easier. Place the lock ring back in the center of the cassette and screw on by hand. You can use the wrench to tighten it further, but not much strength is needed to finish the job.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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