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Removing a rear bike wheel is a common need for bike maintenance and repair, and quick release (QR) mechanisms make it relatively easy to do.
And yet, many old bikes, budget bikes, and recent thru-axle bikes don’t have this quick-release facility. That makes things a bit trickier, so what do you do?
This article tells you how to go about removing a rear bike wheel with no quick release.
So, What Is The Quick Release Mechanism?
A quick-release skewer or axle lets you quickly remove and install wheels without using tools. Crucially, it is not threaded through any part of the bike frame.
Instead, a QR axle uses a cam mechanism to lock it into open drop-outs at either side of the wheel. These U-shaped dropouts can be either horizontally or vertically oriented.
Video: In-Depth Look At Quick-Release Skewers
Horizontal vs Vertical Dropouts
Horizontal dropouts are often seen on single-speed bikes. They allow the wheel position to be altered fore and aft (nearer and further from the bike). This movement of the wheel affects chain tension, and that’s useful in the absence of a derailleur.
Read more: How to shorten a bike chain
When used with a quick-release mechanism, the danger with horizontal dropouts is that the wheel may move if not clamped tightly enough. This could cause you to crash if the rear wheel goes backward (possible under heavy braking) or it will slacken the chain.
Vertical dropouts are commonly found on derailleur bikes and have the benefit of being more secure. The axle can’t move horizontally and gravity ensures the wheel won’t move even if done up a bit loosely.
The cam mechanisms used to secure quick-release axles come in two main forms: internal cam and external cam.
An external-cam QR axle leaves the cam mechanism exposed at the end of the skewer. It’s lighter than an internal-cam skewer and may be more pleasing to the eye.
An internal-cam skewer keeps the cam mechanism enclosed and less exposed to contamination. It offers more clamping force. This type of cam is generally considered mechanically superior. Shimano and Campagnolo make them, among others.
Old School Bolt-On Axles (Pre Quick-Release)
Bolt-on axles aren’t common on modern bikes, except perhaps on budget bikes. You’ll see them on older bikes. Some vintage bikes had a quick-release front wheel and a bolt-on wheel at the rear.
As the name suggests, a bolt-on axle consists of a threaded bolt that passes through the wheel hub. It is secured in U-shaped dropouts on either side by 15mm nuts. A benefit of this type of wheel is that it cannot be casually stolen without the use of a wrench.
Modern Thru Axles
Thru axles are used on many modern bikes with disc brakes. These axles are stiffer than QR axles and pass through enclosed holes in the fork ends. The rigid interface between bike and wheel helps ensure the disc brake rotors are properly aligned.
The method for securing thru axles varies. It can involve an Allen key or hex key, or it can have a quick-release mechanism (typically proprietary, like Rapid Axle Technology from Focus Bikes).
For racers, the slowness of removing thru-axle wheels with tools can be off-putting. World Tour teams overcome this problem by the use of power tools.
How To Remove Your Wheel With No Quick Release
Assuming you have an old-fashioned rear wheel with a bolt-on axle, how exactly do you take off the wheel?
You’ll need a 15mm socket wrench or an adjustable wrench to get the job done.
The procedure for removing a bolt-on rear wheel is described below.
1. Select The Highest Gear (Smallest Sprocket) At The Back
On any bike with a cassette or freewheel, you need to switch to the highest gear at the back before removing a rear wheel. The same is true with quick-release wheels. The highest gear means the smallest sprocket.
The reason for doing this is to make it easier to remove the wheel. Not doing so would mean having to move the chain laterally over multiple sprockets to take the wheel off. It’s likely to snag on cogs if you do that.
As well, if you switch to the smallest sprocket, it’s an easy matter to return the chain to its original gear when replacing the wheel.
2. Disengage Brakes (Rim Brakes Only)
Before removing a rear wheel, you need to disengage rim brakes so that the brake pads are farther apart. This is because inflated tires are wider than the brake track, so the wheel is effectively locked in by the narrow spacing of brakes.
With caliper brakes, you should find a small quick-release lever that broadens the gap between brake pads. Pulling that lever up will allow you to remove the wheel.
With V brakes, you must release the “noodle” from its mechanism at the top left (faced from the front) by first squeezing the brake arms together with your hand.
Cantilever brakes are clamped at one side and held in place by a nipple on the other side. Push the brake arm on the nipple side towards the rim. This creates enough slack for you to unhook the cable and disengage the brakes.
3. Position Your Bike
You’re now almost ready for the removal of the wheel.
It’s easier to remove a bolt-on rear wheel if the bike is supported in some way. This might mean a bike stand, or you can rest the bike upside down. Be aware that resting the bike upside down may scuff or dirty the saddle and brake hoods.
Being able to access both sides of the wheel makes wheel removal easier. You can do it standing over the bike, but then you’ll need somewhere to lay the bike down once the wheel is off. Always lay the bike down with the drive side facing up.
4. Remove The Wheel
Using a 15mm socket wrench or adjustable spanner, loosen the nuts on both sides of the axle to remove the wheel. Note that you shouldn’t need to completely remove the nuts to take off the wheel.
If you have a kickstand installed on your bike, you’ll need to remove the nut from the axle to take the kickstand off.
With the wheel now loose, you can pull it out of the dropouts and off the bike.
As you begin removing the wheel from the bike, you need to keep an eye on the chain to make sure it isn’t snaggingon a sprocket or the axle. Carefully move the wheel outwards to free the wheel from the chain.
Pro Tip: Pulling the rear derailleur backward as you remove the wheel opens the chain and helps to get it clear of the sprockets.
5. How Do You Reattach A Rear Bike Wheel?
Putting the rear wheel back on is a question of reversing the above process. Lower the wheel so that the top of the chain rests on the smallest sprocket and the bottom of the chain travels underneath it.
Again, you can gently pull back on the derailleur to open up the chain at this point, giving yourself more room to move the chain into place and see what you’re doing.
Once the chain is in position, carefully guide the axle towards and into the dropouts. You may feel the derailleur spring into its working position as you do so. Tighten up the nuts again with your wrench.
Remove Your Wheel If You Have Quick Release
Quick-release wheels are valued for their ease of removal and installation. So, how do you remove a rear QR wheel?
1. Select The Smallest Rear Sprocket
Selecting the highest gear on a rear cassette or freewheel places the chain on the smallest sprocket nearest to the axle.
2. Disengage Rim Brakes
Most tires are too fat for the wheel to be removed unless you disengage rim brakes. The method for doing this varies according to brake type.
3. Position Your Bike
You can remove a rear wheel with the bike standing freely or on a bike stand, or even resting upside down.
4. Remove The Wheel
Pull the quick-release lever to unclamp the skewer. Turn the lever counter-clockwise a few times while holding the adjustment nut on the opposite side. Remove the wheel.
5. Reattaching The Quick Release Wheel
To reinstall the wheel, position the top of the chain over the smallest sprocket of the cassette. Move the axle into the dropouts so the derailleur springs into place.
Pro Tip: When tightening a quick-release skewer, don’t align the lever with the frame. This can make it hard to open later on.
Knowing how to remove a rear wheel without a QR mechanism might give you the confidence to go ride without worrying about roadside repairs. Granted, you’ll need to take a wrench with you, but that’s all.
You can still buy bikes with bolt-on wheels, too. These are often affordable bikes, and many of them are pretty robust. Maybe you commute on one?
Being able to deal with punctures and replace tubes is a skill that sets you free on a bike. But you can’t effect these repairs if you don’t know how to remove the wheel. It’d be great if this article helped you with that.
Please feel free to share this with friends or leave any comments and tips of your own.