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DIY Repair

How and Why to Convert Your 3-Pawl DT Swiss Hub to a Star Ratchet

What to expect when you're upgrading your OEM wheels

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We put a lot of stock in the tiny unseen pieces of metal that make our bikes tick. Especially the ones that literally make our bikes tick, like the mechanism that drives the wheel while we’re pedaling and allows it to spin while we’re not. The most popular approach to the freehub relies on pawls and springs, which can be relatively low precision and still work ok. That’s why it’s the go-to when price is a factor.

And it’s no surprise that DT Swiss, possibly the most popular high-end hub brand in cycling, long ago added a pawl-based freehub to supplement their iconic Star Ratchet system (developed back when DT’s hubs were called “Hügi”). But the Star Ratchet is really the way to go. Instead of putting the drive load on just three points of contact (or sometimes two or one if you start to pedal at precisely the wrong moment), the Star Ratchet has 36 points of contact, or 18 or 54, depending on your preference. The 18-tooth Star Ratchet offers a deeper, stronger connection between pedal and wheel, at the cost of engagement speed. On the other hand, the 54-tooth rings sacrifice a bit of that durability but offer less dead stroke. You don’t get that option with a pawl system. The Star Ratchet rings are easy to replace and relatively cheap. But if you wanted to upgrade from DT’s widely specced, less expensive 3-pawl system, you’d have to improvise a pretty suspect solution that’s floating around a few internet forums. Now, DT Swiss offers a factory-approved conversion kit, the Ratchet LN Upgrade Kit, complete with a freehub body, two 18-tooth ratchet rings, and the parts to make them work in  your hub. But it’s still not all that simple.

First, DT Swiss has made both three- and two-pawl hubs in the past, and the conversion kit will only work on three-pawl hubs. Both configurations have been used on the popular entry-level model, the 370, but not all 370s will be labeled, and none will tell you how many pawls they use until you get inside. Simple way to figure it out is, if it has a modern thru-axle, your hub is convertible. The only hubs that are two-pawl have a steel quick-release axle with old-school threaded cones and 17mm lock nuts. Basically, if there are no hex-nuts on the edges of your DT Swiss hub’s axle, you can convert to a Star Ratchet.

As for which kit you’ll need, that’s based on which cassette you’re using, a SRAM XD, Shimano Micro Spline, or original Shimano HG. Each is available in either alloy (AF & AL) or stainless steel (SS). Unless you’re using this on a tandem or an e-bike, you should probably just get alloy.

The kit includes the entire ratcheting mechanism, including the ratchet rings, the springs that keep them engaged, and the threaded insert that the inboard ratchet ring slides on on when engaging and disengaging. The outboard ring slides inside an insert that is part of the freehub body itself, which comes with the kit. Removing the insert from the hub is where this can get a little tricky. It doesn’t come out easily. Every one of your pedal strokes since you first got your 3-pawl DT Swiss hub have been working to keep your insert tight. You may be fighting years of history as you loosen it. And of course, it takes a special tool to remove your three-pawl ratchet ring, and a different one to install the Star Ratchet ring.

But the problem is, these things are $80. Each. So, the best approach is to simply let your local shop handle that part. First, you should prepare it for them by removing the cassette and the three-pawl freehub body. DT Swiss covers this, as well as changing the threaded inserts and installing the Star Ratchet system and new freehub body, in the video below.

If you bring your shop the wheel ready for the old insert to be threaded out and the new one threaded in, you’re likely to get in and out with minimal time and money invested. But that relies on your shop having these tools. If you live somewhere with any type of a mountain bike scene, most shops will be able to help you out, but if you’re not that lucky, you may be buying your own. Thankfully, you don’t need a tool that’s shop-quality.

At the time of writing this, there were a few decent-looking generic Star Ratchet ring installation tools for less than half the price of the DT version online, including this one. But the generic 3-pawl ring removal tools are a little suspect. Some may require removing bearings, some may not fit at all. Either take a risk, or buy the real deal to remove the 3-pawl ring.

If you’re buying your own tools, you may be paying a little over $200 including the conversion kit. You could likely find a DT Swiss 350 hub complete for not much more than that. But that would involve rebuilding the wheel. And, while we’re on that slippery slope, you might as well just replace the wheel at that rate. But if you can do this without a significant tool investment, it is absolutely worth it. The reliability and the customization options alone will justify the price. The conversion kit takes what, you could argue, is not a “real” DT wheel, and transforms it into a true high-end hoop. It is no longer a price-point, OEM-only part. It is now high-end. Fancy. Boutique even. All thanks to some unseen metal parts that make your bike tick, probably louder than it did before.