Two teammates asked me to help them upgrade their bicycles from 10- to 11-speed recently. They knew how to do most of the mechanical work but they were concerned that their rear wheel wouldn’t handle the 11-speed cassette, in effect making it impossible to upgrade. They’re not the only ones who’ve asked about this, which makes it a trending topic, to use social media speak.
I thought I’d share how I helped them with this key part of the upgrade in case new 11-speed components are on your wish list. And, because it’s usually something you can handle yourself.
Turning the volume up to 11
To upgrade a bicycle to an 11-speed components group requires your existing rear wheel to accept the 11-speed cassette. If it won’t, you’ll need to build a new wheel on an 11-speed hub or buy a new 11-speed rear wheel.
Luckily, many common and not-so-common wheelsets, as long as they’re at least 10-speed, can be upgraded to 11-speed by purchasing a new cassette body. The body is the part that attaches to the center of the hub and drives the wheel and bike when you pedal. It can look like it’s permanently built into the hub, but on most wheels it’s replaceable should it wear out or should you want to upgrade to more gears.
This was the case with both my friends. And, while both ride on wheels that aren’t common brand names, the upgrade was as easy as it is for the bigger name hoops. I had my friends visit their wheel makers’ websites to look for technical information on their specific wheel model. They were able to find the 11-speed cassette body for their wheels online and order it. The cost was about $50.
Removal of the old Cassette Body
With the new cassette body in hand, you only need to know how to remove the old one and install the new. Here, most wheel companies help, too, with video instructions usually on their sites or on YouTube. One of my friends followed a video and successfully swapped out his cassette bodies.
My other friend asked me to do it for him. I’d never seen his hub before, but it was a sealed-bearing type and these usually come apart by inserting allen wrenches into the ends of the axle. You can tell by looking inside for hex shaped holes. If you have that, you can insert an allen in both ends and turn the wrenches counterclockwise and one end cap will usually come off.
Once you’ve removed the first piece, you’ll find the next secret for getting the cassette body off. In my friend’s hub, it was a second hex-shaped hole, this time much larger. By inserting an allen in that hole and holding the other allen and turning counterclockwise again, I was able to remove the other side of the axle.
When that end was removed, you could see that nothing was holding the cassette body in place anymore. All that was needed was lifting off the old 10-speed cassette body and putting on the 11-speed upgrade. The upgrade kit came with a new end cap, too.
Installation of the New Cassette Body
Cassette bodies are what drive the rear wheel when you pedal, so they’re a critical component that needs to be installed carefully and correctly. When you remove the old one, lift it off gently and pay attention to any small parts that may fall out. Because the new cassette body will work the same way and you want to make sure you understand how thesmall parts fit inside.
The smallest parts are the pawls and springs (see photo) that keep the pawls pushing outward to grab the drive ring in the hub for pedaling force when you hit the gas. These only work if they’re assembled correctly and facing the right direction. They will come assembled from the factory, so don’t disturb them. You may want to take a photo or make a little sketch so you can get them back in correctly if you mistakenly drop the cassette body and knock them out.
Tip: Remember that most companies provide written directions and/or videos on their site where you can learn how these small parts go together correctly. If you have to, you can usually figure it out through trial and error, too. All the pawls and springs are assembled the same way so once you have one right, just copy that. And if the pawls don’t engage when you turn the body forward or ratchet for coasting when you turn it backward, you know the pawls aren’t installed correctly and can try again.
If the pawls, springs, seals and drive ring inside the hub aren’t lubricated already, apply a thick oil or thin grease. Thick grease should be avoided because it can make the pawls stick, which can cause skipping if you’re unlucky (especially in colder climates).
A trick for seating the cassette body on the hub
Installing the new cassette body is a matter of pressing it in place, making sure any spacers or seals are in the right place. But, because the pawls protrude, you might have trouble seating the body fully onto the hub. The pawls need to seat inside the drive ring teeth inside the hub. But the protruding pawls can bump into the hub shell and not want to drop down in-between the teeth.
To get the cassette body to seat, you can gently push down and simultaneously turn the body backwards, which is like when you coast on your bike. With luck, the turning will get the pawls to drop down a bit and go in-between the teeth. Then you can finish reassembling the hub parts.
If you can’t get the pawls to move and the body won’t seat, try this old trick: using a small length or thread or even dental floss, wrap it around just the pawls to hold them pressed in so they don’t protrude. Then, the cassette body will drop in place and you can simply tug the thread out and the pawls will spring out into place against the drive teeth. The last step is to smear some light grease on the outside of the cassette to help the cogs slide on and prevent corrosion.
With your rear wheel ready to accept your new 11-speed cassette, the rest of your build should go smoothly. Have fun!
More sealant tips
First, though, I’d like to pass along some helpful tips that came in after last week’s Tech Talk on tire sealant from Texan roadie Phil Lehmberg. He writes:
“I normally add sealant through the valve with the core removed when I first mount the tire on the wheel, then again in two months since I live in a hot climate. When you put it in through the valve, there’s no need to dismount the tire, just add sealant. Two months after that, I start the process over by dismounting the tire, cleaning out the “strings” and remounting the tire on the wheel with new sealant.
“If you don’t have a home compressor and your floor pump won’t seat the beads of your tire onto the wheel, you can use a CO2 inflator for that burst of air. But put the valve at the 12 o’clock position so any sealant runs to the bottom of the tire before you try – because the CO2 comes out cold and can cause some sealants to congeal. I also suggest you keep a Presta/Schrader valve adapter (costs maybe $1) in your bike saddle bag in case you need a gas station air compressor for your bike.”
Great ones. Thanks, Phil! One more quick tip is something that came up before the Wente Vineyards Road Race last weekend. I had just finished my warm-up and was putting my trainer back in my van when a guy carrying his bike came by hollering if anyone had any sealant so he could fix his flat tire and be able to race. Even though I had a full tookit, I wasn’t packing any sealant. And, it didn’t seem like anyone else was, either. It was a good reminder that having sealant handy isn’t just for during a ride but before one, too.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.