Single speed bicycles are the perfect low maintenance solution for getting around your town or city. With no complicated groupset or gearing system, you have fewer parts to worry about and maintain.
Most single speed bikes have a flip flop rear wheel so that you can choose between hair raising fixed gear riding or the more popular single speed freewheel.
When opting for the freewheel, you do not have to be pedaling all the time, but you still benefit from the simplicity (and increased effort) of only having one gear.
Making sure you have the best single speed freewheel will enhance your ride quality.
Whether you are looking to convert your current set up or upgrade your single speed freewheel, here is a list of the best single speed freewheels for fixies, BMXs and city bikes.
SHIMANO Single Bicycle Freewheel Sprocket – SF-1200
Best for stealth
Shimano is a brand that is ubiquitous in the cycling parts and component market. Here they have designed a single speed freewheel, that makes hardly any noise while freewheeling.
As a cyclist, you are not always going to be pedaling, and it can be very annoying to have a constant whir from your freewheel.
Designed for your standard threaded hubs and made out of hardened steel for longevity and durability. This 18T freewheel is a solid choice, especially if you are not looking to turn heads while you are freewheeling.
- Incredibly quiet while freewheeling
- High quality and durable
- Limited gearing options
Gearing options: 18T
Chain Compatibility: 1/8″
SunLite – Easy Off Single Freewheel
Best on a budget
This freewheel has no frills attached. It is simple to install and does what it says on the tin. The bearings spin freely, and although you will not get the same amount of use out of it, compared to more expensive options, it does the job for a single-speed city bike.
- Not the best quality, so you will need to replace it more often than the Shimano or White Industries freewheels on this list
Gearing options: 16T, 18T
Chain Compatibility: 1/8″, 3/32”
ACS Crossfire BMX Freewheel Gun Metal 18T
Best for BMXs
Made from durable cold-forged CNC machined steel this freewheel is more robust, less expensive, and easier to replace than cassette hubs. ACS has set the standard for BMX freewheels for almost two decades! Crossfire freewheels are removable with their unique 6-spline tool that fits all sizes.
- Good quality material
- Requires ACS Crossfire freewheel tool for installation and removal
- Limited gearing options
Gearing options: 18T
Chain Compatibility: 3/32″ or 1/8″
White Industries Dos ENO Freewheel 16/18t
Single speed freewheels are excellent. However, sometimes just having one additional gear is all you would need to have the perfect city bike.
This freewheel from White Industries, combines 16t and 18t cogs, to make the most versatile and well-built freewheel on the market. You are still benefiting from not having a complicated gearing system, as you will need to manually move your chain if you are looking to change gears.
Although it does come with a hefty price tag, White Industries freewheels are built to last. They utilize a sealed cartridge bearing, meaning that it is sealed from the elements and will not let mud or water in that will cause damage to the bearings.
Despite its compact design, you do not get any chain rub between the cogs, so do not worry about the extra gear kicking your chain off or causing any complications mid-ride.
- High quality
- Sealed cartridge decreases the risk of the freewheel seizing up mid-ride
- Two gears on one freewheel
- The purist single-speed cyclists will not be happy with you
Gearing options: 16T and 18T
Chain Compatibility: 3/32″
If having two gears on your freewheel feels like cheating, or you just don’t fancy getting your hands greasy only to benefit from a slight change in gearing. You can get White industries high-quality single speed freewheel in a choice of 16T, 17t, 18t, 19t.
When you replace your chainring or freewheel, you should always replace your chain at the same time. If you leave an old chain on your bike that has already stretched, it will drastically shorten the life of your new freewheel as the uneven chain spacing will quickly grate the teeth on your cogs and cause irreparable damage.
You will have noticed that a lot of the freewheels advertise that both 3/32″ and 1/8″ chains, will fit. The standard chain size for single speeds and fixed gear bikes is 1/8″.
The dimensions refer to the width of the chain. Although they both offer the same amount of strength, you generally get less wear from 1/8″ chains, as the components are wider.
For a single-speed bike, you do not need to buy an expensive chain. Something like this 1-speed 1/8″ chain will do the job, with an accompanying chain tool, so you can make sure your chain is the perfect fit for your bike (without the need for a chain tensioner).
The best single speed freewheel gear ratio
A bikes gear ratio is represented as two numbers such as 44:18. The gear ratio will dictate how much effort is required to get the wheels moving, in addition to the top speed that can be achieved.
The numbers represent the number of teeth on the cog. The first number is your front chainring, and the second is your rear cog.
The best gear ratio depends on your fitness and the terrain you are going to be cycling on. When looking for a new single speed freewheel bear in mind smaller the number, the harder it’ll be to accelerate at the start, but once you have built up momentum, you will be able to pick up more speed than a larger geared freewheel.
The most popular and versatile gearing for single speed freewheels is 18T.
Maintenance and when to replace your freewheel
As with most parts on your bike, there will come a time when you need to replace your freewheel. You can lengthen the lifespan of your freewheel by looking after it properly. Periodically put some oil or grease on your freewheel.
Put your bike/wheel on its side and try to get the oil through the small gaps of your freewheel, so that it can reach the ball bearings within. Use the same lubricant that you use to clean and lube up your chain.
This has the same effect as on your chain, removing dirt, reducing the risk of it rusting up and ceasing.
Although single speed bikes do require a lot less maintenance than other bikes, you should still look after the chain.
Keep it clean and well oiled, and after a few months check that the chain has not stretched, by leaving an old chain on you will not only shorten the life of your freewheel, but you could also have a rather nasty accident if one day it snaps mid-ride!
Your chain will stretch with use.
So it is worth investing in a chain checking tool, to know when to replace your chain, before leaving it too late and having to buy a new freewheel and front chainring.
You know when it is time to replace your freewheel when there is friction when freewheeling and it is no longer smooth or relatively quiet. Also if your chain is worn or stretched the teeth of your rear cog may start looking pointed, this will cause the chain to slip.
Why do people ride a single speed bike?
Their simplicity is the attraction for many city cyclists. Without as many moving parts as a multi-geared bike, there is less to go wrong. Most fixie/single speed bikes come with a flip flop rear wheel, giving you the option to ride a fixed gear, most city cyclists stick with the freewheel.
Riding fixed gear is interesting, but it also puts a lot more pressure on your legs, as you are forced to pedal to keep the wheel moving, as well as “backpedal” when you are slowing down or trying to stop.
With a single speed freewheel, you get the best of both worlds. As you only have one gear, you get a better workout than if you were riding a geared bike.
Especially if you commute to work on your bike, having to stop frequently, you will be starting on a higher gear than you are used to, while it may feel like slow progress at the start, it is an excellent workout and will build up your leg strength in no time!
Is it easy to replace a single speed freewheel?
Although it is relatively easy, you will need a few tools and some lube (to make sure your replacement does not seize up and ruin the hub next time you need to replace it).
Check out this easy to follow Youtube video – Removing and Installing a Freewheel
What you will need:
- At least two Wrenches (one large enough to fit your freewheel tool)
- Freewheel tool
Installing the freewheel yourself will save you money in the long term. Once you have done it once and have all the tools, you will be quicker at replacing it and only need to fork out for the freewheel next time.
Can I convert my old road or mountain bike into a single-speed city bike?
If you have an old bike collecting dust in the garage, rather than spending all the money to replace all the components or going out and buying a brand new bike, a cost-effective project is to convert it into a single-speed bike.
It is a project and not just a two-minute job. Although you could just buy a new rear wheel, there is not much fun in that! By investing the time in doing everything yourself, you not only retain your old bike’s personality, but you also save a lot of money.
There is nothing better than the satisfaction of riding a bike that you have built yourself (ok, you only converted it, but no one needs to know that)!
The easiest and cheapest way to convert your rear wheel is by purchasing a single speed conversion kit. You are going to be replacing a larger cassette with multiple cogs, with a skinnier single-speed freewheel.
So without spacers and a good quality lock ring, there is no other way to install a single-speed freewheel to your existing hub.
Once you have fitted your freewheel, removed the existing derailleur and gear levers. You may need to purchase a chain tensioner.
Depending on your frame type, older steel frames have the horizontal drop out slots that make it easy for you to move your rear wheel back a bit to increase the chain tension.
Chain tensioners are relatively inexpensive but do add another component, so you may choose to avoid using one.
The best single-speed freewheels are high quality, low maintenance and the perfect gearing for picking up speed as well as getting you up modest climbs.
Whether you are looking to replace your current worn out freewheel, or are embarking on a project to convert your old bike, getting the best single-speed freewheel is essential to the quality of your ride.
Enjoy the ride!
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.