Bike FAQs

Bicycle Clutches (What They Are and How They Work)

correct answerThe Short Answer is:
A bicycle clutch is a mechanism that prevents the pulley cage of the rear derailleur from moving forwards freely. This stops the pulley cage from moving forwards when the bike hits a bump, keeping the chain tight and therefore preventing chain slip and stopping the chain from falling off the chainring. It is a part of the bike's drivetrain that works with the rear derailleur to keep the chain tight and prevent chain slip.

Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation and exercise, and their design has evolved over the years to include various components that improve their performance. One such component is the bicycle clutch, which is a part of the bike’s drivetrain.

In this article, we will explore what bicycle clutches are and how they work. We will also look at different types of clutches and their advantages and disadvantages. Whether you are a seasoned cyclist or a beginner, understanding how your bike works can help you make informed decisions about its maintenance and upgrades. So, let’s dive into the world of bicycle clutches!

The Purpose of a Bicycle Clutch

A bicycle clutch is a mechanism that is part of the rear derailleur on some bikes. Its purpose is to keep the derailleur arm from bouncing up and down too much, which helps keep the derailleur in place.

The clutch resists movement in the tension pulley of the derailleur, which retains chain tension by restricting the derailleur’s movement. This is especially useful when riding over rough and uneven ground, as the weight of the chain can cause a standard derailleur to bounce up and down.

The clutch mechanism keeps the chain under tension during the ride, so it loosens less and stays in a better position. In summary, the purpose of a bicycle clutch is to keep the chain in place and prevent derailment when riding over rough terrain.

Types of Bicycle Clutches

A bicycle clutch is a mechanism that retains chain tension by restricting the derailleur’s movement. It is mainly found on mountain bikes, which are designed for rough terrain. There are two types of clutches: wet and dry. Wet clutches are used in almost all bikes and are bathed in engine oil to cool the clutch components.

On the other hand, dry clutches are not bathed in oil and are used in high-performance bikes. The multi-plate clutch is the most common type of clutch used in motorcycles, which uses a number of interleaved driven plates and friction plates placed in a common hub.

Internal Gear Hubs with Clutches

Bikes with internal gear hubs and clutches are becoming increasingly popular among cyclists. These hubs replace the derailleur gears on a bicycle, and you can actually remove your derailleur drivetrain from your bike and fit an internal gear hub.

Internal gear hubs are more technologically advanced and require less maintenance compared to a conventional derailleur drivetrain. The 3X3 Nine internal gear hub promises no maintenance, no gear adjustments, not even an oil change, and is built to run for life, trouble-free, and even under high e-bike loads.

The Kindernay internal-gear hubs differentiate themselves from other systems by way of their instant hydraulic shift with a unique planetary gear system with power-transferring clutches that work seamlessly and don’t require the rider to be pedaling. The Shimano Alfine is another popular internal gear hub that is known for its durability and reliability.

Derailleur Systems with Clutches

Bicycle derailleur systems with clutches are becoming increasingly popular, especially in mountain biking. A clutch derailleur increases the resistance provided by the main pivot, either through a clutch or more complex electro-hydraulic systems, resisting the fore and aft movement of the derailleur cage, and making for a far quieter and more reliable drivetrain.

Almost all modern mountain bike derailleurs include a clutch mechanism, and there are a few compelling reasons not to buy a clutch derailleur for a mountain bike. Clutch derailleurs are not as necessary for road bikes, as the rear derailleur and jockey wheels keep the chain taught enough to ride. A bicycle derailleur clutch is a mechanical system that keeps the chain under tension during the ride, so it loosens less and stays in a better position.

How a Bicycle Clutch Works

A bicycle clutch is a mechanism located on the rear derailleur of a bike, mainly found on mountain bikes. It works by dampening the pivot point at the top of the derailleur, so the arm does not bounce around potentially causing damage to your frame or resulting in the chain unshipping completely.

The clutch keeps the chain under tension during the ride, so it loosens less and stays in a better position. When a rider presses the clutch lever for changing gears, the coil springs in the clutch are compressed and the pressure plate expands which allows the stake of the clutch to be released.

The clutch resists movement in the tension pulley of the derailleur, which prevents the chain from bouncing around and keeps it in place. In summary, a bicycle clutch is an important part of the bike’s drivetrain that helps to keep the chain under tension and in place, especially during rough terrain rides.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Clutch Systems

Bicycle clutches are a type of slipper clutch that provides more safety during fast downshifting. They work by disengaging the engine from the transmission as you shift gears. Like any other clutch system, bicycle clutches have their own advantages and disadvantages.


  • Prevents chain slap, protecting the paintwork
  • Reduces wear and tear of transmission
  • Less suspension movement
  • Increased rider safety during fast downshifting


  • Expensive compared to traditional clutch systems
  • Adds some weight to the drivetrain
  • Minimizes noise

It is important to note that there are different types of clutch systems, such as single-plate and multi-plate clutches, as well as wet and dry clutches. Each type has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

For example, wet clutches are gaining popularity over dry clutches due to their ability to handle high torque loads and provide smoother engagement. On the other hand, dry clutches are commonly used in race bikes due to their lightweight design.

Overall, bicycle clutches are a great addition to any bike, especially for those who enjoy fast downshifting and want to protect their bike’s transmission and paintwork. However, they do come with a higher price tag and added weight. It is important to consider the pros and cons of each type of clutch system before making a decision.

Maintenance and Adjustment of Bicycle Clutches

Maintaining and adjusting bicycle clutches is essential for a smooth and safe ride. Here are some tips to keep your clutch in top condition:

  1. Check the lever action: Poor setup can cause heavy lever action and lead to cable or clutch lever failure. Make sure the lever action is smooth and easy to operate.
  2. Dismantle and reassemble: Follow the instructions for dismantling, replacing, and reassembling the clutch. This will help you identify any worn or damaged parts that need to be replaced.
  3. Adjust the torque: When adjusting the clutch, criss-cross around the ring at least three times, increasing torque on each cycle and finishing with a torque of 6Nm/4.4 ft-lbs.
  4. Clean and grease: If the cage stops returning, it’s a sign that your clutch needs a “clean and grease.” Pull the cage forward to check this.
  5. Use the hand or rubber band method: The “hand method” involves squeezing the lever and feeling resistance from the pressure plate, while the “rubber band method” involves using a rubber band to hold the lever in place.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your bicycle clutch is properly maintained and adjusted, providing a smooth and safe ride.

Choosing a Bicycle with a Clutch

When choosing a bicycle with a clutch, it’s important to consider the type of riding you’ll be doing. Mountain bikes are the most common type of bike to have clutches since they handle bumpy terrain that creates loads of chain slap.

If you’re looking for a clutch derailleur, the BOX One & Two Clutch Derailleurs are a great option. However, it’s worth noting that road riders may not need to avoid chain slaps in the same way mountain bikers do. When buying a rear derailleur, it’s important to know the different types available, how they work, and what to look for.

If you’re interested in learning more about bicycle components, BikeRadar’s buyer’s guide to mountain bike groupsets is a great resource. Additionally, if you’re considering an all-road or gravel bike, a clutch can be a useful feature when riding over rough surfaces.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Topic:

Do all bicycles come with clutches, or is it a specific feature?

No, not all bicycles come with clutches. Clutches are a specific feature that can be found on some bicycles, particularly on mountain bikes. A bicycle clutch is a mechanism that prevents the pulley cage of the rear derailleur from moving forwards freely, which helps to retain chain tension by restricting the derailleur’s movement. However, not all bicycles have this feature, and it is not necessary for all types of riding.

How can I tell if my bicycle has a clutch system?

To determine if a bicycle has a clutch system, you can check for the following:

  • Look for a lever on the handlebars that is used to engage/disengage the clutch
  • Check the bike’s manual or specifications to see if it has a clutch system
  • Listen for a clicking sound when you pedal, which could indicate a clutch system
  • Check for any automated endurance or fatigue testing systems, which may indicate the presence of a clutch system

Are bicycle clutches necessary for all types of riding or terrains?

No, bicycle clutches are not necessary for all types of riding or terrains. They are designed to retain chain tension by restricting the derailleur’s movement when riding over rough ground, where the weight of the chain makes a standard derailleur bounce up and down.

For example, a typical road bike doesn’t usually need a clutch since it is designed to be used on smooth roads where the chain won’t bounce up and down. However, mountain bikes often have clutches to prevent the chain from bouncing off the chain on rough terrain.


In conclusion, a bicycle clutch is a device that disengages the pedal from the drivetrain to stop the rotation of the pedals when not being pedaled. It is an essential part of any motorbike, providing safety features and making changing between various speeds much easier.

While motorized bicycle clutches are often set up incorrectly by the manufacturer, manual transmission motorcycles use the clutch to engage and disengage power from the engine to the transmission.

Dirt bike clutches work similarly to motorcycle clutches, and learning how to ride a dirt bike with a clutch may seem challenging at first, but with practice, it can become second nature. Understanding how a bicycle clutch works is crucial for any cyclist or motorbike rider, as it can help improve performance and safety on the road or trail.

Charlotte Barnes

Charlotte Barnes is a trailblazing mountain biker who is passionate about exploring the great outdoors on two wheels.

Alice Eleanor

Alice Eleanor, a seasoned pro who has been cycling for more than two decades. Alice Eleanor’s extensive knowledge of biking equipment and techniques has helped countless riders optimize their biking experience.

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