Freehub Not Engaging- 2 Easy Ways To Engage

Getting your bike ready to go commuting becomes a bummer when you can’t get it moving. This is something that is caused when freehub doesn’t engage.

The pawls just can’t catch the teeth of the hub and the hub moves both ways. Failing to make the bike go forward. We know how frustrating that makes you.

So, what to do when freehub not engaging?

Freehub hub not engaging is always caused by gunk or old grease/oil in the freehub. This makes the pawls get stuck. In order to engage freehub, you need to take apart the freehub. After that, spray it with degreaser and lubricant to get the gunk out. If all the gunk gets out, the freehub will engage.

In our article, we’ll go through the workings in detail.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s dig in.

Why Does Freehub Not Engage?

Freehub doesn’t engage when gunk gets stuck inside it. It also happens when the grease or oil inside the freehub gets too old. This results from leaving the bike idle for a considerable amount of time.

You see, the freehubs are a ratcheting mechanism. This ensures the one-directional rotation of the freehub. When the freehub doesn’t engage, the hub moves both ways and the bike won’t pedal forward.

The freehub is attached to the main hub. There are pawls in the freehub that engage with the teeth in the main hub. This engagement causes the bike to move forward.

Now, the pawls can rise or stay inside. They have a spring system underneath them. So when you are not paddling, the pawls fold and stay inside. This makes sure that the wheel doesn’t stop rotating, despite the freehub being stationary.

And the moment you start paddling, the pawls catch those teeth and engage. Causing the bike to move forward.

So are you seeing where the problem is? These pawls stop rising due to gunks and old grease/oil. This stops them from catching the teeth. And thus causing the problem, freehub pawls not engaging.

How To Engage Freehub

To make your day a little better, we’re here with some good news. You don’t need to go to a mechanic to engage freehub. All you need are some degreaser, grease, and cleaning fluids. Plus, some DIY skills.

We’ve divided the troubleshooting in two segments. One is for internal pawls. And the other one for external pawls. These pawls fall into the insides of freehub. When the pawls rise from the hub to stay outside, they are external pawls. 

And when they stay inside, they can’t be seen. These are internal pawls.

Now let’s engage the freehub!

For Internal Pawl:

But before we get into lubricating, you need to take apart the freehub first. Let’s see how.

Step 1: Take Apart the Freehub

For making a freehub with internal pawls engaged, the freehub itself needs to be taken apart. After that, the rest can be done. So let’s see how it can be dismantled.

  • First, you need a cassette removal tool. I personally use the MatyKit 7Pcs Bike Tools. Simply lock the chain whip from the kit onto the cassette.
  • Then use the lock turn removal tool to remove the lock turn from the cassette. After that, the cassette gears and the cassettes will come off.
  • After that, use the same lock nut removal tool to take the lock nuts off the freehub. The cones on the other side will also come off after that.
  • Finally, take the freehub off.

Step 2: Clean the Freehub

Okay, this is the main part of the whole article. The freehub doesn’t engage due to gunks getting stuck inside. So you need to be very patient here.

Simply spray degreaser in the gaps of the freehub. This will make sure that the gunks come out of it. I personally use the SuperClean Gunk Removal Degreaser. Spray it a couple of times and gunks will start to accumulate.

After that, I use the WD 40 Lubricant to do the final trick. Keep spraying in the gaps until the gunks start to come out from the back of the freehub.

You can use a paper towel to clean the back. The gunks will come out from there in liquid form.

Finally, when all the gunks come out, you’ll notice that the freehub is now moving in one direction only. This means that the pawls are engaging now.

And voila! You just engaged your freehub.

Now you have to make sure that this issue doesn’t repeat anytime soon. For that, you need to use some grease around the gaps of the freehub.

Here’s our recommendation for grease you can use on your freehub.

Product NamePrice
Park Tool PolyLube 1000 Bicycle GreaseCheck Latest Price on Amazon
Finish Line Premium Grease with TeflonCheck Latest Price on Amazon

For External Pawl:

What happens here is that the pawls become sticky and don’t come out to engage. As mentioned earlier, this happens for poor lubrication. Or, the grease and oil get too old.

Before getting into the steps, make sure to take apart the freehub as we mentioned earlier.

Step 1: Take the O-Ring Off

Now in the case of external pawl freehubs, the pawls are the culprit. These little devils develop gunk inside them. This causes their springs to malfunction.

You can use some pliers to take off the O-ring outside of the pawls. After that, the pawls will easily come off. Make sure that the springs don’t come off too.

Step 2: Clean the External Pawls

Now that the pawls are off, you need to clean them. I have seen results while using the Park Tool Cleaning Kit. Clean the pawls thoroughly with this and then put it back in there. You can know if the pawls need cleaning by looking at the bearings too.

Between cartridge bearing and cup and cone bearing, the condition of both of these indicates if pawls are good or not. If the bearings are clean and fresh, so are the pawls.

This will make sure the pawls engage with the teeth. Finally, your freehub will now engage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Now let’s have a look at some of the commonly asked questions regarding freehubs.

How do I know if my free hub needs replacing?

You can know if your freehub needs replacing by holding the spline body. Hold it firmly. After that, give it a wiggle. If the body moves more than 2 mm sideways, you need to replace it.

Are all shimano freehubs the same?

Yes. Almost all of the Shimano freehubs are the same. You can interchange them.

How often should you service a freehub? 

You should service your freehub once it reaches 2000 miles. However, to be safe, it’s recommended that you service it after reaching 1500 miles.


That’s it for today folks. We hope we’ve been able to help you on freehub not engaging.

Be careful identifying whether your freehub is external or internal pawed. If you look out for that, then following our instructions will engage the freehub in no time.

Best of luck to you on your troubleshooting!

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