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Repair Help and Education

Wheel Removal and Installation

Typical Tools and Supplies Needed

This article will discuss the removal and installation of wheels. See also Tire and Tube Removal, and Inner Tube Repair

The wheel must be removed to replace the tube and tire. If possible, begin by mounting bike in stand. If no stand is available, bike should be laid on its left, non-derailleur, and side when the rear wheel is removed. Do not stand bike upright without the rear wheel in place, as this will damage the rear derailleur.

The bicycle may use a quick release lever at the hub. This is an "over-center" cam mechanism that pulls a skewer tight and holds the wheel in place.

  1. Rear wheels, shift derailleur to outermost gear and innermost front chain ring.
  2. Release brake quick-release, if any. Typical MTB brakes and road brake quick release mechanisms are shown below.

  3. Release wheel quick-release by pulling quick release lever outward. Pull outward on end of quick release skewer lever. If necessary, loosen quick release adjusting nut to clear any tabs at end of fork. For wheels with axle nuts, loosen both nuts outside of dropouts.
  4. Front wheels guide wheel down and out of fork. For rear wheels, pull back on rear derailleur to allow cogs to clear chain. Lower wheel, guiding the wheel down through brake pads and forward to clear chain and derailleur. Guide the wheel through the brake pads and out the fork ends.

    Bolt-on type wheel


Thru Axle Systems

Downhill and freeride bikes may use a "thru axle" system. The through-axle system uses a hub design that allows the axle to be pulled from the hub. This allows the wheel to be installed into a frame or fork design with ends that are completely enclosed, providing a very rigid and secure interface.

thru axle
Loosen pinch bolt and then remove axle from hub

Rock Shox, Fox Racing, and other manufacturers offer a thru axle system with a quick release skewer. These systems are similar to conventional system in that they use a cam system. The axle has threading on one side and is fit through the dropout and through the hub. A lever system rotates the axle and threads, snugging it in the dropout. The axle is then held secure by the cam. The cam (or in some brands a double cam) is adjusted so there is resistance approximately halfway through the swing from open to closed.

thru axle
Open cam and unthread axle from fork


Pull axle from hub

Installing Wheel on Bike

The wheels must be properly mounted to the bicycle frame. Misalignment can result in problems with shifting and bike handling. If the wheel is not securely mounted in the dropouts, it may come out when the bike is ridden, possibly causing injury to the rider.

Quick release wheels use a hollow hub axle fitted with a shaft, a lever that operates a cam mechanism, and an adjusting nut. The cam puts tension on the shaft and pulls both the cam and the adjusting nut tight against the dropouts. This tension is what holds the wheel securely to the frame. The adjusting nut determines the amount of tension on the quick release lever and cam. Lubricate the cam mechanism if it appears sticky or dry.

The quick release is fitted with two conical shaped springs. The small end of the spring faces the axle, and the large end faces outward. These springs make the wheel easier to install. If one or both springs become twisted or damaged they may be removed. The springs serve no purpose once the wheel is tight on the bike.

Small ends of springs face hub


Disc Brake Note

Bicycles using disc brakes at the hub need special attention to skewer use. Rim brake systems (Dual Pivot, Linear Pull, Cantilever, Sidepull, etc.) tend not to apply significant pressure on the axle. Disc brake systems are mounted on the fork and apply a load on the rotor, which is attached to the hub. There is an outward load on the hub axle that tends to push the axle out of the dropout. Outward load on disc

It is especially critical the skewer be properly and fully secure on disc brake systems.


Non-quick release hubs use axle nuts outside the dropouts. The axle nut will have a washer built into the nut, or a separate washer. If the washer has teeth or knurling, these face the dropout to help secure the wheel. Lubricate the axle threads while the wheel is off the bike.

It is often easiest to install the front wheel when the bike is standing on the ground. The quick release skewer must be fully engaged on the dropout surfaces. By placing the bike on the ground, the axle will be fully up in the dropouts.

  1. Check that the quick release skewer lever is in open position. Check that brake quick release mechanism is open.
  2. Install front wheel between dropouts with skewer on left side (from rider's point of view). Pull wheel fully up into dropouts. For non-quick release wheels with axle nuts, washers go to outside of dropouts.
  3. Rear wheels, pull back on rear derailleur to open chain. Place smallest cog between upper and lower sections of chain. Guide wheel between brake pads and engage smallest cog on chain.
  4. Determine final closing position of hub quick release lever. Rotate front lever and adjusting nut so the lever will end up just in front of fork. Position the rear lever so it falls between the chain stay and seat stays. Reposition the lever as necessary if it will not fully close.

  5. Adjust closing tension of quick release skewer. For most skewers, hold lever parallel to the hub axle, which is half way through its swing from fully open to fully closed. Tighten adjusting nut snug against dropout. Check results by moving lever back and forth through its swing. Lever should meet resistance to closing half way through its swing. Close lever fully.

  6. For non-quick release wheels, tighten axle nuts fully.
  7. Close brake quick-release mechanism. View wheel centering in fork. Wheel should be centered between fork blades. To adjust wheel centering, open skewer, move wheel either left or right until wheel appears centered, then close skewer. For non-quick release wheels, loosen axle nuts and center wheel, then tighten nuts fully.
  8. Inspect brake pad alignment and centering by closing and opening pads with brake lever. If brake pads are not centered to wheel, see Chapter 6, Brake Systems. If wheel fails to adequately center in frame, either the frame or wheel may be miss aligned.
  9. Spin wheel and double check pad alignment to rim. Be sure pads do not strike tire.
  10. Orient skewer so lever will end up between the seat stay and chain stay, unless this prevents lever from fully closing.
  11. Close brake quick release or attach MTB brake release wire.
  12. View centering of wheel between chain stays and seat stays. Also sight rim centering to brake pads. Open skewer or loosen axle nuts and adjust as necessary to center wheel in frame. If brake pads are not adequately centered to wheel re-adjust brakes. If further attempts to align the wheel fail to adequately center it in frame, either the frame or wheel may be miss aligned. Seek a professional mechanic for help.

Note: So called "open cam" skewers may require more tension from the skewer. These skewer levers have the cam mechanism exposed, and should be lubricated often. Always check with skewer manufacturer for specific procedures.

Closed cam lever

Axle Nuts

Wheels may also be held on with a nut. The rear dropouts may also have a derailleur hanger that bolts to the dropout. There should be a bolt and nut that holds the hanger to the frame. The wheel installs over hanger bracket. The axle should extend to the back of this bracket. However, the left side axle will appear not to sit at the back of the dropout. This is because the right side is displaced forward by the hanger bracket. Center the wheel and fully secure nuts.

Bolt-on type hanger

Front axles on some bike may include a tabbed washer. There will be a hole in the fork for the washer tab.

Nut type front wheel with tab washer