Bike skewer installation

Sometimes a bike won’t have hexagonal nuts holding the wheels onto the frame. Instead there is a skewer that runs through the axle and this has a lever to hold the wheels in place. In this article we are going to look at bike skewer installation and help you to fit the skewers so that you can be confident that they are holding your wheels in place correctly.

quick release bike skewer
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a quick release skewer?

– The wheel can be removed more quickly than with wheel nuts 
– No tools required. Because a wheel with a quick release lever doesn’t need any tools the rider doesn’t have to carry a spanner 
– The wheel can easily be stolen the advantages afforded to the cycle owner are also advantageous to a thief.

Different sizes of bike skewers

Quick release skewers are 5mm in diameter and fit a 9mm axle.

Anything bigger is classified as a thru-axle skewer.

qr bike skewer vs thru axle

Quick release skewers come in 3  lengths. The shorter skewer is for the 100mm axle in the front wheel.

quick release bike skewer has 3 lengths

The longer skewer actually comes in two very similar lengths. Road bike rear wheels use a  skewer designed for a 130mm axle.

Mountain bike/hybrid bike rear wheels use a skewer that is made for 135mm axles.

Be aware that because there is a long thread on the mountain bike/hybrid skewer it is also compatible with road bike rear wheels. However the road bike skewer, being shorter, might not be long enough clamp a mountain bike or hybrid wheel.

rear road bike skewer might be too short on MTB
What does a skewer consist of?

On one end is a removeable acorn nut. There are also often 2 springs to hold the mechanism away from the axle, making wheel removal and refitting a lot easier. Quick release skewers work by opening and closing lever using an eccentric cam system.

Bike skewer mechanisms

Your lever will have on of two mechanisms.

Enclosed mechanism.  

enclosed bike skewer

With the enclosed mechanism, the lever is attached eccentrically to the skewer shaft inside the lever body.

quick release bike skewer anatomy

 As the lever is being turned to the closed position, it pulls the skewer shaft against the lever body which compresses against the dropout locking the wheel into position.

Exposed mechanism. The round end of the lever is attached eccentrically to the end of the skewer shaft.

exposed quick release bike skewer mechanism

When moving the lever into the locked position, the round bit of the lever rotates off centre applying pressure to the toothed washer below clamping the wheel to the dropouts.

Releasing the bike skewer and removing the front wheel

To undo the quick release skewer, first look at the lever. Some levers have “open” marked on one side and “closed” on the other.

open and close on a bike skewer lever

Now, look at a quick release skewer fitted onto the bike. If you can see “closed” on the lever then the wheel is secured.

If you can’t find writing on your skewer, then have a look at the lever. You will see that it curls in when it is closed.

To release the wheel, pull the lever towards you. This will open the quick release mechanism. 

On most forks the wheel can’t be removed from the dropouts completely. This is because of the little bumps of metal around the drop outs. Their function is to stop the wheel coming out of the forks when the skewer is undone. They are called “lawyers lips” as they are a security lip and means that your wheel won’t fall out so you can’t sue anyone!  To remove the wheel you will need to unscrew the skewer by holding the lever in one hand and unscrewing the nut just enough to be able to remove the wheel.

Some top end road bikes don’t have these lips so that you can release your wheel more quickly in a race situation.

Releasing the bike skewer and removing the back wheel

Undoing the rear quick release skewer is the same as for the front wheel. To remove the wheel you don’t normally have to unscrew the rear skewer at all because there are no lawyers lips. This is because the back wheel can’t actually come out and throw you off the bike. All that will happen is that the wheel will jam against the rear stays and cause the bike to skid. Sometimes, however, you may need to loosen the acorn nut do get past the retaining bolt on the rear mech. 

A bit of good advice.

Don’t remove the skewer and take it right out of the axle. It isn’t necessary for wheel removal and you may lose the bits.

Bike skewer installation

Put the bike upside down. 

If you have to fit a quick release skewer, first locate the spring on to the lever.

bike skewer spring

At the rear, push the skewer through the axle from the non-drive side.

If you have a bike with disc brakes, then at the front, push the skewer through the axle from the drive side. If you don’t have disc brakes it doesn’t matter. 

The protruding part will have a thread showing. Put the remaining spring onto the skewer with the thinner end against the axle.

Now screw on the nut 4 or 5 turns. 

fitting bike skewer nut

Securing the wheel

To secure the wheel you will need to tighten the quick release skewer. First chose the position where the lever will be locked. 

Now put the lever 180 degrees to the final position and hold in place.

Start to tighten the nut clockwise. When you can start to feel it tighten stop and push the lever into its final position. It should start biting at 90 degrees.

If it doesn’t feel at all tight, move the lever back to the starting point and tighten a bit more. If it’s too tight move the lever back to the starting point and loosen a bit.

closing bike skewer

Repeat this process until you can feel the lever tighten as you push it towards the closed position. You will need to use the heel of the hand for the final closure.

Don’t force it. If you feel that it doesn’t close, that means it is too tight and it will be very difficult to open again.

If you don’t tighten it enough it could flop open and cause the wheel to come off.  

Quick release skewer used incorrectly

Remember that the quick release skewer doesn’t tighten the wheel in the same way as wheel nuts, so don’t use the lever to tighten the skewer like a wing nut.

bike skewer doesn't tighten like a wheel nut

The reason for this is that the parts of the quick release nut that touch the frame have ridges all the way around the surface. When a quick release skewer is tightened fully, neither side of the lever rotates so then the ridges can bite into the frame. If the lever is tightened by holding the nut and rotating the lever when the wheel feels tight, the ridges on the lever will have spun instead of biting into place, resulting in the wheel not being fitted in place as tightly as it should be.

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