What Is A Quick Release Bike Wheel, And How Do You Use One?

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These days, most bikes are fitted with a specific device for holding their wheels on securely: the quick release bike wheel.

“Quick release bike wheel” is a slightly misleading term. It’s not the wheel itself that is “quick release”, but the mechanism that secures it to the frame. A quick release mechanism consists of a skewer or rod that is threaded on one end, with a “cam” lever on the other.

The quick release makes the process of removing a bike wheel easy and takes away the need for carrying tools around while you ride. This is done by opening and closing the cam lever, which is a kind of small chock used to hold the bike wheel in place.

In this article, we’ll be explaining everything you need to know about the quick release bike wheel:

  • The Origins Of The Quick-Release Mechanism
  • What Is A Quick Release Bike Wheel?
  • How To Identify A Quick Release Bike Wheel
  • How To Remove And Install A Wheel Using A Quick Release Skewer

Once we’re done, you’ll be ready to employ your knowledge of the quick-release bike wheel in all sorts of cycling situations.

Let’s get started!

What Is A Quick Release Bike Wheel: Title Image

The Origins Of The Quick Release Mechanism

This cycling innovation was first invented in 1927 by Italian biking legend Tullio Campagnolo.

Campagnolo became frustrated by the complexity of changing gears during a race, which necessitated stopping, removing the rear wheel, and flipping it horizontally so that the opposite cog is engaged by the chain, before reinstalling the wheel.

As you can imagine, this was a time-consuming process, and during a race, it could have significant consequences.

The quick-release mechanism was Campagnolo’s answer to this problem, and it was a seriously good one. Having a quick release bike wheel can make the cycling process quicker and easier in a variety of different contexts.

The success of this invention spurred the Italian racer on to become a leading road and track cycling component manufacturer. His company Campagnolo continue to supply cyclists to this day.

But how exactly does this mechanism work, and how important is the quick release bike wheel today?

Photo of a black quick release skewer against a white background.

What Is A Quick Release Bike Wheel?

We’ve touched on the origins of the quick release bike wheel, but it’s worth going into some more depth about what this term actually means.

A quick release bike wheel is equipped with a mechanism for removing and replacing the wheel from the bicycle frame without using any tools. This is done by opening and closing the “cam” lever, which is a kind of small chock used to hold the bike wheel in place.

Quick-release mechanisms work in a similar way to the wheel chocks that you might see truck drivers place behind their wheels when parked up a hill.

By creating an obstacle that the heavy truck must ride over in order to move backward, these chocks use the vehicle’s weight to keep it in place. A similar principle is applied with the quick release.

It takes more force for a quick release to open than it does for it to shut, meaning that they are secure, and it’s very difficult for a quick release bike wheel to just “pop open” while riding.

These mechanisms should also be pretty simple to operate, but for people who are new to cycling, they’re one of the most commonly misadjusted parts on a bicycle.

Therefore, it’s important to educate yourself on what the quick release does before you spring into action.

Photo of a black quick release bike wheel on a road bike.

What Is A Quick Release Skewer?

Quick release bike wheels are removed and installed using a mechanism known as the quick release skewer.

Made up of a threaded rod that goes through the hub, a lever, a nut, and two conical springs, a quick release skewer helps make the process of changing a wheel speedy and efficient, but it also ensures your wheel is secure during rides.

To attach your bike wheel securely, the skewer’s rod is inserted into the hollow axle of the wheel, a special nut is threaded on, and the lever closes to tighten the cam and secure the wheel to the fork.

Certain types of bicycles, like utility bikes or track bikes, tend not to use quick releases. This is partly due to tradition, although it’s also because quick tool-less removal of wheels is also less necessary for these types of bikes.

So do all bicycles come with this mechanism? And how can we identify a quick release bike wheel?

Vintage silver metal quick release mechanism against a grey backdrop.

How To Identify A Quick Release Bike Wheel

These days, most bikes come with a quick release axle, but not all.

Essentially, if you’re able to remove your wheel and replace it without any tools, it’s a quick release bike wheel.

This process involves opening and twisting a lever that will undo the metal skewer. But some bikes use an alternative system. If your bike isn’t equipped with a quick release mechanism, it’s likely that it uses either old-school axle nuts or a thru-axle skewer.

Rather than using a “cam” system to secure the wheel to U-shaped fork dropouts, thru-axle skewers thread through the wheel hub and circular dropout holes.

There are two key factors that can help you identify whether a bike has a quick-release or a thru-axle skewer:

  1. What will the bike be used for – for instance, is it a mountain bike, a road bike, or a gravel bike?
  2. What type of brakes does the bike use?

It has become standard for most modern high-end mountain bikes to have a thru-axle, while other types of bicycles will be more likely to have a quick-release bike wheel system.

But you don’t always have to stick with what you’re given. It’s worth noting that it’s also possible to convert your bike wheel into a quick release, either by taking it to your local bike shop or by purchasing a quick release conversion kit.

Pale green bike fork with disc brakes and a black quick release lever.

How To Remove And Install A Wheel Using A Quick Release Skewer

There are lots of situations in which you could end up having to remove your bike wheel.

You could be fixing a punctured inner tube, taking it for a ride on a local dirt trail, packing it up in the car for a long-haul trip, or trying to squeeze all your worldly possessions into a van when you move into a new flat.

Whatever your reason, the quick-release mechanism makes this process simpler.

How To Remove A Quick-Release Bike Wheel

Follow these 4 easy steps to remove your quick-release bike wheel.

  1. Release Your Brakes – In order to remove your front wheel, you’ll need to release the cable tension, if you have rim brakes or cantilever brakes.
  2. Flip Your Bike – Unless you have a mechanic stand nearby, flipping over your bike will be the next step. Allowing it to rest on the seat and handlebars should give you a stable platform with less risk of your bike falling over once the wheel has been removed.
  3. Open The Quick Release – Flip the quick release lever into the open position (often the skewer will be marked with the words “open” and “close”). Hold the lever still and loosen the bolt on the other side of the axle.
  4. Lift The Wheel Up And Out Of The Fork – This step is pretty self-explanatory, but make sure that if you have rim brakes, you don’t dislodge your calipers. If you have disc brakes, you should be careful with rotors.

Note – if you’re removing the rear wheel, you should first shift the chain into the smallest sprocket (the hardest gear) at the back. You’ll then need to pull the derailleur backward as you remove the wheel so that it has space to slide out.

How To Install A Quick Release Bike Wheel

Removing your wheel is only half the job!

Here’s how to install a bike wheel using a quick release mechanism:

  1. Guide Your Wheel Back Into The Fork – It’s important to be careful at this point. If you have disc brakes, guide the rotor in between the brake pads.
  2. Tighten Your Axle – Settle the wheel completely into the dropouts. Make sure the quick release axle is on the non-drive side of the bike, matching the wheel.
  3. Flip Your Bike Back Over – Make sure your brake cable is reconnected or tightened properly if you have rim or cantilever brakes.
  4. Spin Your Wheel – This is the best way to check that your brake pads are not rubbing the rim or the rotor. If your wheel doesn’t spin properly, it might be because it’s crooked in the fork’s dropouts. In this instance, flip your bike over again, loosen your axle, push down on the wheel, and tighten the axle again.

Follow these steps, and you should be absolutely fine. Changing a wheel using a quick release system is a simple process, but it’s important to be confident about what you’re doing.

Road cyclist speeding around a corner.

Is There Anything Else I Need To Know?

Before we leave you to it, it’s worth quickly recapping that quick release bike wheel systems suit some types of bikes better than others.

As we mentioned, modern mountain bikes will sometimes use a thru-axle system instead. Utility bikes are also less likely to use a quick release.

We should also note that quick release bike wheels can be more vulnerable to theft, for obvious reasons. To counteract this, cyclists can theft-proof wheels by using security skewers and other mechanisms.

But don’t let this put you off!

Quick-release bike wheels have become super popular for a reason. They make changing a wheel quicker and easier, and they stay secure throughout your rides.

Photo of author
Fred is a sports journalist with an extensive background as a cyclist. Fred is on a mission to explore the intersection of cycling, mental health, and mindfulness. His work dives deep into the transformative power of two-wheeled journeys, emphasizing their therapeutic effects on the mind and soul. With a unique focus on well-being, Fred's writing not only informs readers about the world of cycling but also inspires them to embark on a path of mental and emotional resilience through the sport.

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