How to put a front wheel on a bike

Hopefully refitting the front wheel will be straight forward, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to want to go in. This is particularly frustrating if you had no problems removing it! Fortunately, Cycle Maintenance Academy is here to show you how to put a front wheel on a bike with whatever brakes or wheel fastenings you have.

How to put a front wheel on a bike when the wheel won’t go past the rim brake

If you had a flat tyre when you removed your wheel, then the squishy tyre slid past the brake pads. Now your tyre has been inflated, it won’t go past the pads. You will need to make sure you have released the brake. 

Undoing a “V” brake

Undoing a v brake can seem a bit daunting, but if you follow the instructions you should be able to manage this task.  If you are really struggling we have a special tip at the end. There is a chance that your brake cable is too tight and can’t be released in the way that we are describing. If this is the case then you may need to seek help with adjusting it.

Let’s have a look at the caliper. At the top of the right hand arm is a cable clamp.  This holds the cable in place.  

how to put a front wheel on bike

At the top of the left hand arm is a pivoting piece of metal called the cable bridge.

how to put a front wheel on bike

A curved tube (the noodle or guide pipe) sits in this.  

You are going to remove the noodle from the cable bridge.  First, with your left hand, use your index finger and middle finger to hook around the noodle.

how to put a front wheel on bike

With the thumb of the same hand push the top of the noodle down. This keeps the cable straight and at its loosest. Pull the noodle towards you.  This pulls the left hand arm towards you.

how to put a front wheel on bike

Now push the right arm with your right thumb.

how to put a front wheel on bike

Finally, use your right index finger to release the noodle from the cable bridge.  Not working? Check the following:

  • Is your cable too tight?  If the cable is too tight then you won’t be able to physically remove the noodle.
  • Are you pulling the cable upwards as you attempt the task?
  • Is the noodle damaged?

If it isn’t that the cable is too tight, but you are struggling to hold the noodle in the correct position, then try this tip:

Find a long cable tie or easily adjustable strap.  An old toe strap is ideal. Put the strap or cable tie around both arms of the caliper and pull hard.  

The pads are now hard against the rim.  It gives you two hands to undo the noodle.  Now release the strap.

Et voila, the cable has been released.

Undoing a cantilever brake

Let’s look at this brake. Two arms that push the pad onto the rim, linked with a cable going across.

This is called a straddle wire. One end of the straddle wire or possibly the brake cable itself is clamped on the top of the left arm.

Near the top of the right arm you will see where the straddle wire is hooked in.  The idea is that this can be unhooked to allow the brake to be released.

How this is done depends on the make of straddle wire.  It may have a tab near where it hooks in to help you pull on it or there may be an extension at the end.  Sometimes there is neither.  If necessary use a pair of pliers to grip the end.  Push the arms close to the rim and unhook the straddle wire.

If it is really difficult, employ the use of a third hand, a cable tie or adjustable strap.  There is no special technique here.  If you really can’t do it, then deflating the tyre is the easiest route.

Undoing a caliper brake

Because a caliper brake is normally on a bike with narrow tyres, they don’t need to be released very far.  Look at the caliper.  Find where the cable is clamped. There is generally a little lever here.  It should be pointing to the floor.  

If your brake is functioning properly then you should be able to flip it up and open the brake.

It may not seem to be much of a gap, but it should be enough to allow the wheel to be released.

If you have a very wide tyre, even with the brakes undone, it is still very difficult to refit the wheel.  If this is the case, you will need to deflate the tyre before fitting the wheel. Some older bikes and Brompton bicycles have caliper brakes with no quick release mechanism. As with the wide tyres you will need to deflate the tyre before fitting the wheel.

The rotor on the wheel won’t fit between the disc brake pads

If you have hydraulic disc brakes on your bike and you press the front brake lever without the rotor being in place, then the pads will push together and won’t release enough to allow the rotor to slide in between.

You will need to push the pads apart to open up the brake and enable your wheel to be fitted. You don’t want to damage the surface of the pads, so use a flathead screwdriver and position it between one of the pads and the piston.

Gently push the pad against the other pad and this will force the piston back into the caliper.

Now do the same on the other side.  

This will open the gap between the pads.

Check the quick release lever

If you have a quick release lever now it is worth checking that the springs are mounted correctly.  It’s a good idea to do it now before you replace the wheel in case you forget later. There should be two springs, one at each end of the lever.  The springs are conical.  The thinner end should rest against the axle and the wider end fits into each end of the lever.

How to put a front wheel on a bike

They need to be the correct way around otherwise the springs cover the end of the axle and stop the wheel fitting into the dropout correctly.

How to put a front wheel on a bike the correct way around

When refitting the front wheel, it is often important to make sure it is the correct way around. Because the bike is upside down fitting the wheel can seem confusing. If you have a quick release skewer and you didn’t remove it then the lever side should be on the left hand side of the bike (the side without the chain). If you’re not sure about the original position of the skewer or have wheel nuts then look at the tyre.  If it’s a rim brake, and the bike is upside down, the tread’s direction should point backwards. 

How to put a front wheel on a bike

If you are working on the bike and it is upright, possibly in a bike stand, then the rotational direction will be forward. If the tyre is smooth or the tread is the same then it really doesn’t matter. If you have a disc brake then make sure that the rotor is lined up with the disc caliper.

How to put a front wheel on a bike

How to put a front wheel on a bike and secure it

First, grasp the rim in your hand and guide the axle into the dropouts.

How to put a front wheel on a bike

If you have a disc brake make sure that the rotor goes between brake pads. 

How to put a front wheel on a bike
  1. With a quick release skewer

When it is in place, if you have a quick release skewer you will need to tighten this properly to secure the wheel. First choose 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 opposite to the lever.  It is a “normal” thread so it tightens 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. 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 the lever if you feel that it doesn’t close, that means it’s too tight and it will be very difficult to open again.

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

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.

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. 

  1. With a thru axle.

Hold the forks steady with your left hand.  

With your right hand firmly, but carefully push the axle through the dropout and then through the hub until it stops.  Make sure it has gone through all the way.

Now start screwing the axle clockwise until it is tight.  

Grip the lever and give it a final tighten.  

Push the lever into its final position.

  1. With wheel nuts.

If you have wheel nuts, then you tighten them a bit at a time, first one and then the other, until they are tight.

To get the correct tightness, push quite heavily on the spanner. If you are using quite a long spanner, holding near the end as you tighten will help get the correct tightness.

Finally, Don’t forget to close your brake.

Closing the brake

“V” brake

If you were successful undoing your “V” brake, then you should be able to refit it. At the top of the right hand arm is a cable clamp.  This holds the cable in place.  At the top of the left hand arm is a pivoting piece of metal called the cable bridge. A curved tube (the noodle or guide pipe) sits in this. You are going to put the noodle into the cable bridge.  First, with your left hand, use your index finger and middle finger to hook around the noodle. With the thumb of the same hand push the top of the noodle down. This keeps the cable straight and at its loosest. Pull the noodle towards you.  This pulls the left hand arm towards you. Now push the right arm with your right thumb. Finally, use your right index finger to slot the noodle into the cable bridge.  

Cantilever brake

Push the right hand caliper against the wheel. Grasp the end of the straddle wire with your other hand and pull it down as far as you can. This will pull the left hand caliper against the rim.  

Now hook the end of the straddle wire into the arm of the right hand caliper. If you find the brake too stiff, use a pair of pliers on the straddle wire.

Caliper brake 

Grasp the lever and move it downwards until it is pointing down.  You will see that the pads are now closer to the rim.

Overview of how to put a front wheel on a bike

We hope our blog post has helped you learn how to put a front wheel on a bike correctly, we also have an article on how to put back wheel on bike. To watch the Cycle Maintenance Academy team in practise head over to our YouTube channel:

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