Thru Axle Vs Quick Release: Is A Thru Axle Better?

Since its original invention by bike racer and manufacturer Tullio Campagnolo, the quick release mechanism has made removing and installing bike wheels easier and quicker for cyclists everywhere.

However, the quick release does have its flaws. There are certain types of bikes for which this system isn’t ideal.

Thankfully, there’s a great alternative.

The thru axle is a wheel attachment system favored by many due to the secure ride it offers. But what are the key differences between the thru axle and the quick release?

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about these wheel attachment systems. We’ll be exploring these key points:

  • What Is A Thru Axle?
  • What Is A Quick Release?
  • How To Identify A Thru Axle Vs Quick Release Skewer
  • 4 Key Differences Between A Thru Axle And A Quick Release
  • What Types Of Bikes Are Better Suited To Each System?
  • Thru Axle Vs Quick Release: Is A Thru Axle Better?

Let’s dive into it!

Thru Axle Vs Quick Release: Title Image

What Is A Thru Axle?

The thru axle was developed in response to flaws with the quick release mechanism.

For off-roaders and downhillers, quick-release bike mechanisms sometimes caused problems, with wheels popping out and skewers snapping in rough riding conditions.

For this reason, manufacturers decided to do away with the U-shaped fork dropouts of the quick release bike wheel, and instead bring in circular dropout holes that provide more security.

A thru-axle is also beefier, and the fact that it threads directly through the fork holes and wheel hub makes it basically impossible for the wheel to detach.

Sounds good, right?

These features have allowed the thru axle system to take the bike manufacturing industry by storm. With the thicker axle bolted directly onto the bike, most people consider this mechanism to be safer and more secure.

However, while the thru axle is certainly on the rise, it’s a long way away from wiping out the quick release.

Tons of people still opt for the quick release system. Let’s take a more detailed look into what this mechanism looks like and why it became popular in the first place.

Quick release skewer against a grey background.

What Is A Quick Release?

Most modern bikes are fitted with a quick release mechanism.

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

Removing a quick release bike wheel involves opening and twisting a lever that will undo the metal skewer (called a quick release skewer) holding the wheel in place.

Quick release skewers are made up of a threaded rod that goes through the hub, a lever, a nut, and two cone-shaped springs. This mechanism makes the process of changing a wheel speedy and efficient, while ensuring your wheel is secure during rides.

Despite what some people say about the enhanced safety of a thru axle, it’s important to note that when used correctly, quick release bike wheels are super secure and incredibly unlikely to become detached.

Ultimately, different mechanisms are useful for different purposes.

Thru Axle Vs Quick Release: Is A Thru Axle Better? 1Thru Axle Vs Quick Release: Is A Thru Axle Better? 2
Credit/License: (Left Image) Chris King Thru Axles by Glory Cycles under CC BY 2.0. Edited from the original.

How To Identify A Thru Axle Vs Quick Release Skewer

If you’re fairly new to all this, you may find it difficult to identify whether or not your bike uses a thru axle or a quick release system. And that’s fine — we’re here to help you out!

Quick release skewers always include a lever.

Often, thru axles don’t have an inbuilt lever, and need to be unscrewed with a tool. However, some types do have levers and can be difficult to tell apart from quick release bike wheels.

One way to identify thru axle vs quick release mechanisms is by their thickness. Thru axles are substantially fatter, usually with a diameter of 10 mm or more, whereas a quick release skewer is 4-5 mm.

Thru axles also have exposed threading on one side which screws directly into the frame of the bike. On a quick release skewer, the threading is concealed beneath a cap nut.

Quick release skewers also feature a small spring at either end. Thru axles never have springs.

Pale green bike fork, fitted with disc brakes and a thru axle.

4 Key Differences Between A Thru Axle And A Quick Release System

#1. Dropouts

  • Quick release skewers use a “cam” mechanism to secure the wheel to U-shaped fork dropouts.
  • Thru axles thread through the bike wheel hub into closed, circular dropout holes.

#2. Slippage

  • Thru axles and thru bolts eliminate slippage as the axle is screwed directly into the frame.
  • Meanwhile, slippage is more likely to occur with a quick release mechanism, especially if it has been incorrectly adjusted.

#3. Convenience

  • One of the major things quick release bike wheels have going for them is that they’re incredibly quick and easy to remove. This makes them very convenient for repairs or transportation.
  • Typically, having a thru axle will make the process of removing your bike wheel a little more time-consuming.

#4. Braking

  • Thru axles decrease brake rotor rub and improve braking force by reducing fork flex and creating a rigid connection between the hub and fork legs.
  • On a quick release bike with disc brakes, the braking force can cause the quick release to loosen and the wheel to fall out.
Photo from behind of a mountain biker's legs as they cycle down a dirt track.

What Types Of Bikes Are Better Suited To Each System?

Now that you know the key differences between the thru axle and the quick release, you might be able to guess which bikes are best suited to each system.

The main reason that thru axles were created in the first place was because quick release wheels struggled when faced with punishing downhill courses.

For this reason, you’ll find that almost all high-end mountain bikes use a thru axle rather than a quick release. This has become standard within off-road biking.

This makes them better equipped for handling gnarly off-road conditions by ensuring there’s no risk of the bike wheels popping out of place.

Similarly, gravel bikes tend to use thru axle systems – especially the newer models.

Brakes also play a role in whether a bicycle will have a quick release or a thru axle system.

Bikes that use rim brakes tend to have a quick release skewer, while bikes with disc brakes almost always use a thru axle.

This isn’t a blanket rule, although you’ll find that most disc brake bikes with a quick release skewer are at least a few years old. It’s only recently that complaints about disc brake bikes with quick release mechanisms started coming in (this led to some manufacturer recalls).

Check out our article on all the parts of a bicycle explained for some more detailed guidance on the individual roles of each bike part.

A mountain bikes descends a trail into a misty valley.

Thru Axle vs Quick Release: Is A Thru Axle Better?

With all this information, there’s probably still one major question on your mind: Is a thru axle better?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this. Ultimately, it depends on what your individual needs are, where you’re riding the bike and what you expect it to do. There are pros and cons to both the thru axle and the quick release.

That being said, the former is becoming more and more popular. So before we go, let’s recap 3 major reasons people believe that the thru axle is better.

#1. Extra Secure

Thru axles don’t bend, break, or loosen under heavy stress, which makes you more secure when riding – particularly if you’re going downhill or over a bumpy off-road course. This is what makes it the go-to system for mountain bikers.

#2. Less Vulnerable To Theft

Quick release bike wheels can be more vulnerable to theft, because of the fact that their wheels can be detached without the use of a tool.

It’s possible to counteract this using security skewers and other anti-theft devices, although overall, the chances of theft are ultimately lower with a thru axle wheel mechanism.

#3. Improved Front End Handling And Stability

The most significant performance enhancement provided by a thru axle is the extra rigidity it gives the bottom of your fork. This solidity can lead to better handling, and reduces the risk of bending the rotor on your disc brake or damaging an axle.

You might think that the difference is clear then: surely thru axles are the superior type of wheel system?

However, it’s not as simple as that.

Quick release bike wheels are still very safe and secure when used correctly, and you shouldn’t let the potential risks we’ve discussed here put you off from using them.

The added speed and efficiency afforded to you by the quick release mechanism should not be underestimated. This system makes the whole process of removing and replacing a wheel super easy.

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