How to Change & Clean a Cassette

There are certain basic skills that every cyclist should have.  Obviously, among these basic skills are knowing how to clip-in and clip-out (especially important when coming to a stop at a red light), properly inflate your tires, change a tube, and so on.

There are a handful of slightly more advanced mechanical skills that are “good to know” and could ultimately save you considerable amounts of money at your local bike shop. 

Knowing how to render basic service on your bike’s drivetrain is one such example.  Let’s face it….your bike, crank, and cassette get pretty dirty from regular use.  If you happen to ride in the rain, live in a dusty area, or like to take your time trial bike off-road for whatever reason, these components can get really dirty.  Moreover, many of us have multiple sets of wheels, hence knowing how to transfer a cassette from one set of wheels to another if of paramount importance.

While I’m not a bona fide bike “wrench”, I’ve worked in a bike shop before – and I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express recently, therefore I feel like I’m qualified to perform some of the basic maintenance on my bike.

Over the weekend, I decided to remove my cassette from one set of wheels, clean it, and then install it on a different set of wheels.  What follows below is a pictorial representation of the steps I took.  Enjoy!

The first step on changing a cassette is removing the rear wheel from your bike. Removing your rear wheel is facilitated by shifting your chain to the smallest cog on the cassette.

It’s a good idea to have a stable work surface. Clearly my work area has been slightly “used” before…

You need a few tools to remove a cassette…the two most important are a chain whip and a cassette tool. Cassette tools are specific to the brand of cassette you have (example, Shimano)

The cassette tool slides easily into the locknut


After you place the cassette tool on, reattach the end of your quick release skewer as shown to help hold everything together.

The purpose of a chain whip is to hold the cassette still while you use a wrench to loosen the cassette lock-nut. Note that this image shows the INCORRECT way to put a chain whip on a cassette (doing it this way will not effectively hold the cassette still)

Here you can see the proper alignment of a chain whip. To loosen the locknut, remember “lefty-loosey”. You’ll note that a pair of vice grips is probably not the best tool to use, but they get the job done in a pinch.

Once loosened, simply remove the cassette locknut and set it aside…

…then just lift the cassette off the freehub.

This picture shows the cassette sitting on my workbench. You’ll see several individual cogs, a couple of black spacers. Note that the three biggest cogs are attached to each other as a unit. This is a typical arrangement for many cassettes.

Here’s a close-up of the 3-cog “block”…

…and a close up of the plastic spacers.

Cleaning your cassette is super easy. I use a terry cloth hand towell and a little degreaser. Very little elbow grease is required.

Here I’m ready to begin the reassembly process. I’ve got my new wheel ready and my cassette all cleaned up.

Here’s a close-up of the hub on my Spinergy wheels. Note that the hub has splines that hold the cassette on – important to see that one of the gaps is larger than the other. This really makes putting on the cassette super easy (you just match the splines up).

Here’s a close-up of the first cogs placed on the hub. In this view, you can really see the size differences of the splines.

Another close-up showing how a cog slides onto the hub.

Some of the cogs will have a built-in spacer. Those that don’t require spacers in between them. If you don’t use spacers, your chain will not fit in between the cogs, and you won’t be able to pedal (not a good thing)

Here’s a close up of a cog with a built-in spacer

The very last cog has a built in spacer as well. Note that the non-hub side of that cog also acts as part of the lock-nut assembly.

Here’s the finished product (sans the lock-nut/lock-ring). Clean, shiny cassette on my 2nd set of wheels.

The lock-nut/lock-ring just screws on. Remember, “righty-tighty”. I tighten finger tight, then tighten again using the cassette tool…

Inserting the cassette tool for the final tightening

…and….voila! The finished product ready to be installed on my bike.

Removing and cleaning your cassette is a really simple exercise that will add to the lifespan of your cassette.  The entire process shown above took no more than ten minutes (and that’s with me taking about 100 pictures).   Again, depending upon your riding conditions and frequency, you may be able to get by cleaning your cassette every month or so.  You may need to do it more frequently.  I’d strongly suggest cleaning your cassette if you’re moving it from one set of wheels to another set of wheels.

Keep in mind that your cassette is but one part of your drivetrain that needs regular service.  Your chain and derailleurs are other critical components that must be cleaned and serviced periodically.  In fact, chains stretch through regular use, and need to be replaced.

Hope this helped you.  If so, let me know and I’ll add tutorials for other basic maintenance.

Happy cycling!


6 thoughts on “How to Change & Clean a Cassette

  1. Great recap man. You took plenty of pictures to help illustrate your points well.

    Going to try my first cassette replacement on Heather’s bike this week 🙂 (I was told to practice bike maintenance on your wife’s bike first… right?).

    • Not sure what happened, but my captions disappeared. I’ve reloaded them now – hope they help!

  2. Woohoo! Excellent post and very timely! I am about to do this tonight for my first time ever!

  3. A quick cleaning of the cassette is even easier when left on the wheel. Stretch a cloth with degreaser between the cogs and slowly work from side to side. One direction cleans while the other rotates the cassette on the freehub (just like a socket wrench) meaning you can keep the wheel in one position.

  4. Bring on the tutorials I say …. I’ve been cycling all my life but am pretty useless when it comes to mechanics and maintenance. But your tutorial makes it look so easy. I have a spare broken wheel with a cassette on it so might pull it apart to practice before I touch my race bikes 🙂

  5. Pingback: Good Wheels « bikesandstuff

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