Best Cassette For My Bike

Pedaling, shifting, and the rough road you travel on your bike will gradually wear down your bike's chain and sprocket.
Pedaling, shifting, and the rough road you travel on your bike will gradually wear down your bike's chain and sprocket.

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Best Cassette For My Bike

Everything you need to know to choose the right cassette for your bike and when and how to install a new cassette

A cassette is a set of sprockets (or “gears”) that sit to the right of your rear wheel and engage with the chain to propel your bike forward. Like a REPLACEMENT BIKE CHAIN, it’s important to make sure your new cassette is compatible with the rest of your powertrain and also fits your wheels.

Here’s how to find the right cassette to replace yours. But first up, why would you want to replace your cassette?

When should I replace my cassette?

Pedaling, shifting gears, and the rough road you ride on your bike will gradually wear down your bike’s chain and sprocket. The chain stretches and as a result the tooth shape of your cassette gears changes, so they become sharper and the planes between them larger.

This causes a gradual deterioration in gearshift performance, so your gears can slip. You will also see changes in the tooth profile of your chain, but because there are more teeth in the chain in contact with the chain, the results may not be as obvious. On the other hand, chains are often more expensive to replace than cassettes, so you should try to reduce chain wear.

We have a guide on how to CHECK CHAIN WARE; usually when it’s 0.75 percent worn, it’s time to change your chain. You should also replace your cassette at the same time, otherwise the quality of the tape change may become worse.

Of course, the derailleur works with a variety of cassette sizes, so you might also want to swap out your cassette for a wider or narrower gear range, or maybe you just bought some shiny new wheels.

Choosing the right cassette for your bike

shimano ultra cs-R8000-cassette
Shimano Ultra CS-R8000-Cassette

There are a few things you need to adjust for the cassette to work with your transmission and wheels.

First, a new cassette must have the same number of gears (“gears”) as the one you’re replacing, or it won’t work with the rear shifter and derailer and it may not fit properly. your back. If you are not sure, count them.

Your cassette must also be compatible with your rear gear, which will have a limit on the number of teeth it can work with in the largest gear.

You cannot use a cassette with a larger sprocket that has a higher number of teeth than this, so for example you cannot use a sprocket between 11 and 42 teeth. GRAVEL BIKE CASSETTE unless you have a derailleur specifically designed for it.

Some derailleur gears, including those from Shimano, also have a limit to the smallest sized gear they will use. You can check the allowable range on the derailleur manufacturer’s website. Sometimes the brand specifications are conservative and you can go overboard, but you do so at your own risk: don’t expect a warranty if a part fails as a result of it.

How do I make sure my cassette will fit my wheel?

Then it gets even more complicated. Your replacement cassette should fit your wheel hub. There are several standards for freewheels and they are not interchangeable.

Shimano freehubs

If you have a bike with ten speeds or fewer, you’ll need to use a spacer for a ten-speed cassette to fit securely on an 11-speed hub. You should find that there was a spacer in place when you remove your old cassette, which can be reused.

Older bikes may have a slightly narrower 10-speed freehub on the rear wheel. Shimano 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace 10-speed cassettes will need a 1mm spacer to fit. If you’re mounting them on an 11-speed freehub, you’ll need to supplement this with a 1.85mm spacer as well. 

Mountain bike cassettes are slightly narrower than road bike cassettes with the same number of speeds and so are not generally compatible with road bike wheels unless you use a spacer.

Shimano 12-speed groupsets use a newer standard called HG spline L2 with more splines in the freehub and cassette, but fortunately it’s backwards-compatible with 11-speed hubs. Shimano Micro Spline mountain bike hubs and cassettes with a similar-looking spline pattern are not compatible with road bike components, though.

Campagnolo freehubs

Campagnolo N3W Hub

Another freehub standard is Campagnolo 11/12-speed. Campagnolo freehubs have deeper grooves in their flanges and a Shimano cassette won’t fit; you need a Campagnolo-specific cassette. There’s a specific locknut needed to secure the cassette to the wheel too. 

Campagnolo’s latest wheelsets use a new standard that it calls N3W. This mates a shorter freehub with the 13-speed cassettes used by the Campagnolo Ekar gravel bike groupset, but is also backwards-compatible with 11/12-speed Campagnolo cassettes when used with a special adapter.

SRAM XD/XDR freehubs

Installing a cassette on a SRAM XDR freehub
SRAM

Yet another standard used on road bikes is SRAM XDR. This is used for SRAM 11 or 12-speed cassettes and allows a ten-tooth smallest sprocket to be used.

The XDR cassette initially pushes then screws onto the XDR freehub body and doesn’t have a lock nut. SRAM also makes XD cassettes for mountain bikes, but these are narrower than XDR cassettes and won’t fit on an XDR freehub without a spacer. You can’t fit an XDR cassette on a wheelset with an XD mountain bike freehub. 

What if I don’t have a cassette?

Not all bikes have a cassette. A SINGLE SPEED BIKE will have a single sprocket with a freewheel mechanism included that threads onto the hub. If it’s a fixed gear single speed bike, there’s no freewheel and the sprocket will be held in place by a reverse-threaded lock ring. Many single speed bikes will have a flip-flop rear hub that lets you set them up with a freewheel on one side and a fixed sprocket on the other.

Older bikes used a freewheel, aka a block, which also included the freewheel mechanism in the freewheel body and threaded onto the hub. You need a differently designed set of gears to work with this system and different tools to change the freewheel.

Should I just buy like-for-like?

Shimano 105 crankset 50-34 11 speed
Shimano 105 crankset 50-34 11 speed

As with bicycle chains, if you’re just replace your existing model with the same one you’re not going to have any problems. If you want a wider or narrower gear range, though, you’ll need to check derailleur compatibility, as above.

Again, like chains, you can save a significant amount of cash by downspeccing through the manufacturer’s groupset range. An 11-speed Shimano 105 11-28 tooth cassette, for example, will work exactly like a Shimano Dura-Ace 11-28 tooth cassette, it will just be a little heavier and a lot less expensive.

Make sure that a replacement cassette has the same number of sprockets as the one it’s replacing, though. Groupsets typically add a speed from one generation to the next, so you can, for example, find a Shimano 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace cassette fairly readily with 10, 11 or 12 speeds.

For systems with 11-speeds and fewer, SRAM and Shimano road bike cassettes are interchangeable with each other. Their 12-speed road bike cassettes are not, though. 

You can also buy cassettes made by other brands such as Miche. Provided they have the right number of speeds and correct gear range, these should be compatible with your drivetrain. They are sometimes cheaper than brand-matched components. 

What do I get if I spend more money on a cassette?

recon_racing_cassette

A more expensive cassette will, in general, be lighter than a cheaper one. That may be because it’s been made of more exotic materials or because it’s been machined more.

Shimano’s top spec Dura-Ace cassettes, for example, have their largest sprockets made of titanium, whereas in Ultegra and 105 these are steel and mounted on an aluminium alloy spider. 

In the case of SRAM, its range-topping Red cassette is machined from a single steel billet, while 12-speed Force cassettes have a single piece for the smallest four sprockets and the larger ones are individually pinned to the cassette body. Durability may be greater and a cassette made from fewer components could be more rigid, but that’s not necessarily the case.

You might get flashy finishes too, as in the latest iridescent SRAM Red cassette or the Recon Racing cassette that is also iridescent and weighs just 94g.

What tools do I need to change a cassette?

pro_cassette_removal_set_shimano_compatible

Removing a cassette and adding a new one requires a few tools that are specific to the job.

First, you’ll need a cassette lock nut tool. This slots into the flanges on the locknut that holds your cassette in place. Most then require you to use a large spanner to loosen the lock nut, but you can get all-in-one lock nut tools with a handle. Lock nuts are different between Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo cassettes and you need the appropriate tool for each.

If you try to loosen the lock nut, you’ll just turn the whole cassette against its freewheel mechanism, so you need a chain whip to hold the cassette in place. This is a metal bar with a short length of chain attached. You wrap the chain around a sprocket on the cassette, which lets you brace the cassette while loosening the lock nut.

Once you’ve removed the lock nut, the cassette sprockets should just slide off the wheel’s freehub. Be careful to catch any spacers as you’ll need them when you add your new cassette. Now is a good time to clean the freehub and the area around the hub flange, which is usually very hard to get at.

Next you need to slot the new cassette onto the freehub body. The flanges on both are designed so that the sprockets will only fit on the freehub in one position and one orientation, so you need to get this right. That’s so that the ramps and tooth positions in the sprockets are precisely aligned to ensure smooth shifting. It can be fiddly and may be messy if your freehub is a little dirty. Your new cassette may be greasy too.

shimano_dura_ace_12-speed_lockring

Once all the sprockets are threaded onto the freehub, you can add the lock nut. Do this very carefully by hand, as it’s easy to cross-thread, potentially destroying an expensive freehub. If the lock nut doesn’t seem to be going on correctly, remove it and try again – never use a tool to force it on.

Once you’ve got the lock nut on correctly and it’s flush with the sprockets, you can use your lock nut tool to tighten it. It needs to be tightened firmly to ensure that it stays in place under load – 40Nm is the usual quoted torque value. If you’ve got everything set up correctly, your cassette sprockets should be held firmly together with no play on the freehub. If they do move, you may have forgotten a spacer.

If you have a freewheel rather than a freehub and cassette system, you’ll need a different tool to mesh with the freewheel and unthread it from the wheel and then tighten your replacement in place. You don’t need a chain whip, though.

Best cassette: Our picks for every major current groupset

You can usually choose from a range of different cassettes that will work with your gears. While there’s no single best option, here are our picks to balance value and performance. We’ve also mentioned some flashy options if you want to save a little weight, but bear in mind that a cassette and chain probably won’t last more than a year of steady use, particularly if you ride through winter.

Best cassettes for Shimano groupsets

Shimano Dura-Ace/Ultegra/105 12-speed

For the best, the Dura-Ace cassette will fit your powertrain and give you larger titanium gears – but for a price. For half the price, the 12-speed Shimano Ultegra cassette will give you the same gear ratio and maintain Hyperglide+ shifting, which the 12-speed 105 doesn’t, despite the reduced weight. about 100 g more than Dura-Ace.

Shimano Ultegra/105/GRX 11-speed

For the Shimano 11 speed group, again you can opt for the Shimano tape and reducing the number to 105 will save you money compared to the Ultegra band of the same scale and will also work with the gravel speed GRX 2 × 11. If you want maximum lightness, the Miche Supertype cassette reduces component weight to less than 150g.

Shimano Tiagra/GRX 10-speed

Still available at 10 speeds, the Shimano HG500 cassette is a good choice that works with both the Tiagra Road Groupset and the gravel GRX400. It offers four options ranging from 11-25 all the way up to 11-34, so there are plenty of options to suit your riding style.

Shimano Sora 9-speed

Another Shimano option that gives you a wide choice of ratios, the HG400 MTB cassette is available in six different configurations from 11-25 all the way up to 11-36. You’ll need to use 1.85mm spacers, but cassettes up to 34t are compatible with Sora groups and give you plenty of choice.

Shimano Claris 8-speed

Among the aftermarket brands, Microshift gives you good compatibility with Shimano group sets and systematically discounts Japanese parts. It is durable and gives you five different ratios.

Best cassettes for SRAM groupsets

SRAM Red/Force/Rival AXS 12-speed

For 12-speed SRAM pods, you’ll need an XDR tape (or an XD MTB tape with spacers). SRAM Red cassettes are beautifully crafted from a single piece of steel, and you can now purchase one in rainbow colors. Perhaps the more thoughtful choice is the Rival cassette – as with Shimano products you can save a considerable amount of money and it can be equally durable, just heavier than the Red option.

SRAM Force/Rival 11-speed

Like the Shimano 11-speed drivetrain, there are several levels of 11-speed SRAM cassettes available that will work with the 11-speed SRAM grouping. The PG-1130 band is the cheapest of these and offers a good variety of gearshift options, but make sure your derailleur is compatible before ordering the 36 or 42t options, which requires Force derailleur 1/Rival 1. Ranges up to 11 -32 will work with a standard 11-speed drivetrain and you’ll need to use a 1.85mm spacer to fit it onto a road bike wheel.

SRAM Apex 10-speed

The PG-1030 SRAM tape has the same range as the PG-1130 above, only ten gears instead of 11. This is also an MTB tape and so will require 1.85 mm spacers on the road bike wheel and you need to make sure your derailleur is compatible with wider range of cassettes.

Best cassettes for Campagnolo groupsets

Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed

You will need an Ekar cassette to work with Campagnolo’s gravel set. It does, however, have three gear ranges, allowing you to fine-tune the cassette selection to suit your driving terrain.

Campagnolo Super Record/Record/Chorus 12-speed

You will need an Ekar cassette to work with Campagnolo’s gravel set. It does, however, have three gear ranges, allowing you to fine-tune the cassette selection to suit your driving terrain.

Campagnolo Centaur 11-speed

A Campagnolo Centaur cassette is available fairly cheaply and will give you three different device range options.

Best single speed sprockets

Single speed sprocket is a cheap item. Miche is well known for their track parts and their sprockets come in a variety of size options as well as 1/8″ and 3/32″, so you can fine-tune your ride. If you are looking to replace your single speed freewheel, the Token Shark Bite freewheel is of good quality and should be durable.