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Sprockets smaller than 14 teeth used a built-in spacer, but the other splined sprockets were reversible, so that if you wore out one side, you could flip them over and the other side was just like new!
Sprockets with a built-in spacer were available in 5- 6-speed or 7- 8-speed (narrower) versions.
If you wore out your sprockets, or wanted different gear ratios, you could unscrew the cluster and install a new one.
Beginning around 1980, the Shimano "Freehub" largely replaced the conventional threaded rear hub.
Sprockets in many cassettes are held together by three small bolts or rivets for ease of installation.
These bolts or rivets are by no means necessary, they just make it easier to keep the sprockets and spacers in the correct order and position when they are removed from the ratchet body. Some of the high-end cassettes use a "spider", an intermediate metal casting, to hold 2 or more of the largest sprockets.
Not all Freehub brands share this feature, which is covered by a Shimano patent.
Some newer Freehubs have the right-side bearing farther inboard, but these use oversize axles.
It then disengages, and falls on to the next sprocket that is closest to being in line with it.The smallest sprocket on a Uniglide cassette was not splined, it was threaded.The threads of this sprocket would hold everything else together.Spacer washers would fit between each pair of sprockets.5- and 6-speeds used 3.65 mm spacers, 7-speed generally 3.15 mm, 8-speed 3.0 mm.
Removing a freewheel is a chore, because pedaling tightens it onto the hub threads.