Easy-to-understand explanation of the confusing Shimano sprocket and wheel compatibility

Posted at: Jun. 11, 2021

It is easy to get confused about which wheels are compatible with which Shimano sprockets, as there are many different combinations. In this article, we will explain sprocket and wheel interchangeability in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-remember manner by looking at the evolution of wheels and sprockets.

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Types of wheels from the viewpoint of compatible sprockets

When you choose a wheel based on the compatible sprocket, you will find that there are several types. There are four main types of wheels.

  • 11-speed wheels
  • 10-speed wheels
  • 8/9-speed wheel
  • 7-speed wheels

Each has its own characteristics, so let’s look at them in detail.

Wheel Types and Compatible Sprockets

In terms of Shimano components, the thickness (height) of the sprocket is

11 speed > 9 speed = 8 speed > 10 speed > 7 speed

In Shimano components, the thickness (height) of the sprocket is as follows

It’s a little confusing because it’s not in the same order as the number of gears, but it’s easy to remember that only the 10th gear is smaller, and the rest are in the same order as the number of steps.

The 8, 9, and 10-speed era, when interchangeability was widespread

This is where it gets confusing. The higher the grade and the newer the sprocket, the more steps it has. However, as we have just seen, this is not always the case when looking at sprocket sizes.

Here’s why this is the case

  1. the sprocket width was maintained when upgrading from 8 to 9 speed
  2. the sprocket width was narrowed when upgrading to 10-speed.

So there is a good chance that the 8-speed, 9-speed, and 10-speed wheels out there are “compatible with all 8-speeds, 9-speeds, and 10-speeds. In particular, if you are looking for a used wheel, most of the manufacturers’ general-purpose wheels are compatible with all 8, 9, and 10 speeds, if the maximum number of steps is 10.

Dedicated 10-speed wheels in some cases.

This is the reason why I wrote earlier that there is a higher possibility of compatibility.

Although not widely used, there are some “10-speed dedicated wheels” in the world. As we have seen, the 10-speed sprocket is smaller in width than the 8-speed sprocket and larger than the 7-speed sprocket, so this wheel is only compatible with the 10-speed sprocket.

As we have seen, 10-speed sprockets are smaller in width than 8-speed sprockets and larger in width than 7-speed sprockets, so only 10-speed sprockets will be compatible with these wheels. Be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that because 10-speed wheels are compatible with 8 and 9-speed wheels, you can use 8 and 9-speed wheels with 10-speed wheels.

11-speed wheels compatible with all sprockets

Current new wheels are basically 11-speed wheels.

As we saw earlier, the 11-speed sprocket is the widest Shimano sprocket, so 11-speed wheels are compatible with all sprockets from 7-speed to 11-speed. (Spacers are required for all sprockets except 11-speed)

Wheel and Sprocket Compatibility Chart

Let’s take a look at the wheel and sprocket compatibility chart we’ve seen so far. The necessary spacers will also be listed at the same time.

Wheel 7-speed 8-speed 9-speed 10-speed 11-speed
7-speed wheel x x x x
8-speed wheel
(4.5mm spacer)

(1.85mm spacer)
x
9-speed wheel
(4.5mm spacer)

(1.85mm spacer)
x
10-speed general-purpose wheel
(4.5mm spacer)

(1.85mm spacer)
x
10-speed specific wheel x x x x x
11-speed wheel
(4.5mm+1.0mm spacer)

(1.0mm spacer)

(1.0mm spacer)

(1.85mm+1.0mm spacer)

Since the size of the free body differs depending on the step wheel, you can see that there are also differences in the spacers used to install the sprockets.

Wheels, sprockets, and spacers

11-speed wheels are compatible with everything, except for 11-speed sprockets, for which spacers are required. On the other hand, 8-10 speed wheels do not require spacers except for 7th and 10th gears, and 10-speed specific wheels can only be used for 10th gear, so of course they do not require spacers.

It is easy to get confused, but it will be easier to understand if you remember to use a general-purpose 10-speed wheel as a base. If you use an 11-speed wheel, you will need an additional 1.0mm spacer.

How can I tell the difference between wheels of complete bike?

For a complete bike, if the manufacturer writes “XX speed compatible hub” or something similar, you can find out the number of steps supported, but if they don’t, you can find out the number of sprocket steps supported by checking the “current sprocket and spacer”.

For a 7-speed complete bike

A 7-speed complete bike is equipped with the smallest sprocket of all the sprockets up to 11 speeds, so it is almost impossible to support any other number of steps.

The exception to this is if you are using a wheel that is designed for 8-10 speed, it will have a 4.5mm spacer in it, so if you have a spacer, it will be compatible with 8, 9, and 10 speed.

For 8 and 9 speed complete bikes

If the sprocket is installed on the rear wheel of an entry-level CLARIS or SORA grade complete bike with a 1.0mm spacer, the wheel will be compatible with all speeds up to 11.

Without the spacer, the wheel will be compatible with 8, 9, and 10 speeds.

In the case of a 10-speed complete bike

If the sprocket is installed on a middle grade TIAGRA grade wheel without spacers, the wheel can only be used at 10 speeds, not 8 or 9 speeds, because it is a 10-specific wheel.

On the other hand, if only 1.85mm spacers are included, all sprockets up to 8th, 9th, and 10th gear can be used, and if 1.0mm + 1.85mm spacers are included, all sprockets up to 11th gear can be used.

For an 11-speed complete wheel

In the case of 11-speed complete cars, the 11-speed sprocket is the widest of all sprockets, so if you use spacers, all sprockets can be used on the wheel.

Since the current 11-speed wheels are 105 grade or higher, it is unlikely that you will be able to drop from a complete wheel to a lower grade of 10-speed or lower, but be careful when buying a used wheel that is not a complete wheel.

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