Can I make this bike quieter?
April 24, 2006 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Vintage bicycle question: I recently acquired an old 1970s schwinn 10-speed road bike. The ticking sound created by the freewheel when coasting is exceptionally loud. Is this normal? Can anything be done to quiet it down?
posted by anticlock to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) has a classic and vintage as well as mechanics subforum that might be helpful to you.
posted by atom128 at 4:39 PM on April 24, 2006

Sorry I can't be more helpful, but I don't ride bikes that can coast :D
posted by atom128 at 4:40 PM on April 24, 2006

I have a 1973 Schwinn Continental whose freewheel also ticks unusually loudly, so maybe it's not a symptom singular to your bike but to the older Schwinns in general. I'm not sure if there's a way to make it quieter. I kind of like it though.
posted by irregardless at 5:02 PM on April 24, 2006

That's the sound of the freewheel pawl. It might be a robustly built unit with a strong pawl spring (which is why it still works well), or it might need some heavy grease. Freewheels (especially old ones) are a lot of work to overhaul -- sometimes they can't be disassembled at all. Go to your local bike shop for help.
posted by randomstriker at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2006

I think randomstriker is right about the pawl spring - I've looked at doing this with an old schwinn but found that I'd essentially need to have someone with a machine shop manufacture a custom spring and pawl and that it might not even work - I gave up and learned to love the clicking... it is a really good way to let pedestrians and others know that you are coming without having to shout, "coming through! beep beep" and the like.
posted by dorcas at 5:31 PM on April 24, 2006

I have a 73 Schwinn World Traveler that also makes that sound. I've never found it to be a problem though. If for some reason you need to be silent, putting a little bit of pressure on the pedals helps. Congrats on the bike though, I love mine!
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:00 PM on April 24, 2006

I haven't owned a bike since the late eighties, and I have to ask: do all bikes NOT make that sound now? Dorcas has it right when he says it's a great way to let pedestrians know you're coming, always was when I was a kid anyway.
posted by davejay at 6:39 PM on April 24, 2006

I filled my freewheel with cross country ski wax and that cushioned the pawl enough to make it quiet. The wax is sticky and stays put.
posted by hortense at 6:58 PM on April 24, 2006

Yes, it's normal, especially if the freewheel's not been lubricated in a long time and is dry running. Get some oil in there. Lay the bike on its side and spin the rear wheel. Apply the oil into the crack between the moving and stationary part - it's pretty obvious on old freewheels - some kind of pipette or applicator will help. You'll hear the 'note' of the freewheel deepen and get a little softer when the oil reaches the ratchet pawl(s). When that happens, stop adding oil and wipe away any excess. If your oil starts seeping out the other side of the freewheel/sprockets mechanism onto the hub body, you've got more than enough in there already. Any old mineral oil can do, lightweight motor oil works and you don't need to get much in there. Nothing too thick and sticky, because it can cause the pawl to stick and might not penetrate far enough. Lubrication won't make it anywhere near silent, but it will quieten things a bit.

Screw-on freewheel sprockets are a nearly dead design. Bikes nowadays generally use a freewheel mechanism built into the hub rather than the sprockets. As well as being a stronger arrangement (the bearings can be closer to the frame dropouts) it's a bit quieter, as well.
posted by normy at 7:06 PM on April 24, 2006

normy has it right there, but I would add one more thing. As a much younger lad, I had many bikes, some older like you describe, some newer. There was an obvious difference in the 'running sound' of the older and newer ones. At one point, I became obsessed with making my then-favorite run as completely silent as possible. I dripped light oil on the freewheel, like normy described, but I found that didn't really go far enough. I removed the freewheel from the wheel entirely, cleaned it throughly and then soaked it in a coffee can of light motor oil, and then let it drain out. It took several days to completely drain, but after that, it positivly purred!

I can't say I would reccomend this technique, unless you have a similar obsession and amount of time on your hands, but I'm at least here to say it can be done. We have the technology...
posted by schwap23 at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry I can't be more helpful, but I don't ride bikes that can coast :D

That was supposed to be my line.

Drip a little oil in the freewheel.
posted by fixedgear at 2:21 AM on April 25, 2006

Sheldon's got it covered. Scroll down to lubricating freewheels. It is easy, and you'll know when you've done it right, since you'll hear it instantly.

Since it is still ticking, the freewheel pawls are probably OK. Worse case, you've got a bad freewheel. IMHO, it is stupid to fix them, given the cost of replacements -- indeed, if you've never replaced a freewheel, you might spend more on the tools to remove the freewheel than the freewheel itself.

Note: since we're talking old 10-speed, you're probably looking at an old 120mm rear spacing, so you can't easily go to a 6 or 7 speed freewheel. You can do so, however, if the frame is steel, by cold setting the frame. You can go to the Ultra-6 style freewheels that SunTour made, if you can find them.

If you have friction shifters, you're done. If you have index shifters, you'd need to replace them to use more gears.
posted by eriko at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2006

Phil Wood makes (made?) a tool specifically for working grease into the freewheel: you'd remove the freewheel from the hub, screw it onto this tool, and squirt in grease. Supposedly this went a long way towards silencing it.

A good shop might have this tool, or you might be able to hunt it down yourself.
posted by adamrice at 7:41 AM on April 25, 2006

Unless the bike is something special or you're very attached to it for sentimental reasons, and you know what you're doing, I wouldn't go messing with re-spacing the frame to use more modern hub parts. A new rear hub means a new rear wheel and that's possibly more expensive than the whole bike is worth.

If the freewheel and sprockets are worn out, you can still get replacement 5-speed blocks for about $20. Any sensible bike shop should be able to replace it for only a few bucks labor charge. It's a few minutes job if you have the right tools and know how to use them. That's about as far as it's worth getting involved in renovations on an older bike like this. Old bikes quickly become money sinks as you discover more and more parts that need attention. If you're not careful, before you know it you can spend enough for a new one, or a better used replacement.
posted by normy at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2006

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