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When fixing or maintaining a bike, you often need to take off the back wheel. Quick-release (QR) systems make it easy to do this. However, it’s a bit more difficult if you have a thru-axle, especially if there’s no lever. Here’s how you do it:
You can take off the back wheel of a bike that has a thru axle without a lever in 5 simple steps:
Step 1 – Set up your bike on its back
Step 2 – Use the highest gear
Step 3 – Disconnect the brakes (the method depends on the type of brake you use)
Step 4 – Remove the wheels using appropriate tools
Step 5 – Carry out any necessary repairs on the tire and then put the thru-axle and the rear wheel back on
In this post, I’ll walk you through each of these steps so you know exactly how to do it. I’ll also cover the following:
- Troubleshooting thru axle issues
- Exactly what thru axle bikes are
- The pros of having a thru-axle bike
- The different types of thru-axles you can get
- Quick-release bikes and how they work
How to Take Off the Rear Wheel and Through Axle – 5 Steps
Step 1 – Set up your Bike
First, place your bike on a repair stop (or something similar) and move the chain towards the shortest cog. You can work on your bike by turning it upside down if you do not have a bike booth or are in the center of a ride.
Now, you’re almost ready to take the wheel off. If the bike is assisted in some way, it’s easier to take off a bolt-on rear wheel. This could mean a bike booth, or it could mean turning the bike over. (Source)
Be aware that putting the bike down upside down may cause the saddle and the brake hoods to get scratched or dirty.
When you can get towards both flanks of the wheel, it’s easier to take it off. You may do this while standing directly over the bicycle, but once the tire is off; you’ll need a place to put the bike down.
When you set the bike down, the drive side should always face up.
By moving to the smallest cog, the wheel will be easier to pull out. Turn off the clutch on your derailleur if it makes the chain tighter.
Step 2 – Use the Highest Gear
Before taking off the rear wheel on a bike with either a cassette or a freewheel, you have to swap to the correct gear at the back.
The same holds true for wheels that can be taken off quickly. The smallest sprocket is the one with the highest gear.
This is done so that the wheel can be taken off more easily. If you didn’t do this, you would have to relocate the chain over several shafts to remove the wheel. If you do that, it’s likely to get caught in the gears.
If you swap to the smallest sprocket, it’s easy to put the chain back into its original sprocket when you change the wheel. (I promise you!)
Step 3 – Disconnect Your Rim Brakes
Before you can take off a back wheel, you ought to release the rim brakes so the brake pads can move farther apart. This is because when the tires are full, they are wider than the width of the brake track.
Since the brakes are close together, the tire is successfully locked in place.
With the caliper brake pedal, you must find a small lever that lets you open up the space between the brake pads quickly. You can take off the wheel by pulling that lever up.
With the V brake pedal, you should first squeeze the brake arms along with your hand to free the “noodle” from its system at the top left.
Cantilever brakes are kept in place by a protrusion on one side and a clamp on the other. On the side with the nipple, move the brake arm toward the rim. This gives you enough room to detach the cable and stop the brakes from working.
Step 4 – Remove the Wheels
To remove the wheel, use a 15mm ratchet wrench or an expandable wrench to slacken the nuts along both flanks of the axle.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t have to take off all of the nuts to get the wheel off. Move the wheel carefully outward to get it off the chain.
If your bike has a kickstand, you’ll need to take the nut off the axle to lift the kickstand off. Now that the wheel is loose, you can take it off the bike by pulling it away from the dropouts. Hold the wheel up and pull out the axle.
As you start to take the wheel off the bike, you should watch the wire to ensure it doesn’t get caught on a spool or the axle. Pull down on the overtightening arm and back just on the body of the gearbox to get the tire out smoothly. The wheel should come out easily.
Step 5 – Putting The Thru Axle As Well As The Rear Wheel Back On
To put the back wheel back on, just do the steps above backward.
Lower the wheel such that the head of the chain remains on the lowest sprocket and the rear of the loop goes under it. Again, you can open up the chain by gently pulling back on the derailleur. This gives you more space to move the loop into position and see what you’re doing.
Once the loop is in place, carefully move the axle toward the dropouts and into them.
As you do this, you might feel the chain tensioner spring into place. Use your wrench to tighten the nuts again. Finish by turning the wheels and making sure the gears move as they should.
If you want to see the process visually, then a great youtube video to check out is this one:
I should mention that there is an optional Step 6, which is adding grease to your axle once any repairs are complete.
Start by putting a thin layer of grease on the strands on the axle once you’re done.
Pull the chain tensioner down and back to move it out of the way. It also aids in ensuring that one of the shortest cogs is connected to the chain at the top. Before putting the axle back in, make sure the wheel is in the dropouts.
Troubleshooting Axle Issues
Now the axle is hopefully back in place. Phew!
However, if everything is not quite as it should be here are some tips to help:
If you try to put the axle in and it doesn’t go in easily the first time, take it out and make sure the wheel is straight before you try again.
Put the axle in place and close the brake pedal. Make sure it’s tucked away and not touching the frame of the bike.
If the pulley closes too quickly and touches the frame, it’s not tight enough. Open the brake pedal and pull the axle tighter.
Then double-check everything.
If your shifter has a clutch, you should bring it back on.
Thru Axle Bikes
What does Thru Axle mean?
A thru-axle is just a way to attach a wheel to a hub on a bike frame or fork.
The wheel is held in place between two dropouts. The thru-axle goes straight through the holes in the fork and frame and through the wheel hub.
This keeps the wheel from coming off.
This axle has a large diameter and a threaded side, so it’s easy to tell it apart from a common quick-release skewer.
Through-axle devices have been around for almost 20 years, but until recently, they were often used on downslope and freeride mountain bikes.
Thru-axle Bike – Pros
There are many advantages to thru-axles, such as:
Thru-axles are more than three times as wide as QR sticks and are tightly screwed into place. This makes it almost impossible for them to break and come off while you’re riding.
This is most likely a key priority in cycling for most people.
Thru axles make the bike safer because the front wheel can’t come away from the dropouts while you’re moving. Because they feature holes instead of u-shaped slots, the dropouts can’t be lifted vertically off the axles.
Put simply, this same dropout encloses the axle all the way around. Thru axles also screw further into the dropout, which makes the connection much more secure.
This design keeps disc brakes from throwing out the axle when the brakes are used hard.
The fork is also stronger and less likely to break because of the through axles. The axles are thicker and stronger and not easily prone to damage.
Lastly, it’s less likely that the axles will come undone after being wrongly tightened.
Stop Brake Rotors from Rubbing
The fork can bend when you start standing up to pedal hard. It bends such that a disc brake device sometimes rubs against the rotor. This happens because the pads on the disc brakes are only a few millimeters apart from the rotor.
When your brake rotors rub, they create a drag force that decelerates you and makes you less efficient. It also makes a frictional sound that is just annoying.
This problem is solved by thru-axles, which reduce fork flex. They make a strong connection between the hub and the fork legs, which strengthens the whole front end.
In addition, the brakes work a little bit better because the brake rotor stays in place in the caliper.
This is the most important way to improve performance.
Thru axles connect both fork arms. This makes the bike’s frame stronger. There is a lot less fork bending from strong pedaling or twisting forces caused by disc brakes.
The thru-axle levers are also a bit thicker, which makes them stronger.
Here is a simple table that sets out the respective main benefits of thru axles and quick releases:
|Benefit||Thru Axle||Quick Release|
|Able to get the wheel off without tools||No||Yes|
|Stop brake rotors from rubbing||Yes||No|
What Kinds of Thru-Axles Are There?
Modern bikes don’t often have bolt-on axles, except maybe on cheap bikes. Some old bikes had a front wheel that you could take off quickly and a back wheel that you had to bolt on.
As the term implies, a bolt-on axle is made up of a bolt with threads that goes through the hub of the wheel.
It is held in place by 15mm nuts in U-shaped drop-outs on both sides. One good thing about this kind of wheel is that it can’t be stolen without a wrench.
Modern Thru Axles
Many newer models with disc brakes have thru-axles. Such axles are firmer than QR axles, and they go through openings in the ends of the forks that are closed off.
The rigid connection between the bike and the wheel makes sure that the disc brake blades are in the right place.
There are different ways to keep thru-axles in place. It can be done with an Allen key and a hex key, or it can include a quick-release method.
For racers, the fact that thru-axle wheels are slow to take off with tools can be a turnoff. The World Tour teams use power tools to solve this problem.
Quick Release Bikes
The other option outside of thru axle bikes is to go with a quick release.
How does Quick-Release work?
With a quick-release stick or axle, you don’t need tools to take off or put on wheels. You shouldn’t put it through any portion of the bicycle frame.
A QR axle, on the other hand, uses a cam to lock this into open drop-outs along either of the wheel’s sides. These U-shaped dropouts can be placed either horizontally or vertically.
Dropouts Can Be both Horizontal and Vertical
Single-speed bikes often have dropouts that are on the side. They make it possible to move the wheels forward and backward.
This motion of the wheel changes the tension of the chain, which is helpful when there is no derailleur.
When horizontal dropouts are paired with a quick-release system, the wheel could move if the clamp isn’t tight enough. This could end up causing you to fall off your bike if the back wheel moves backward, which can happen when you brake hard, or it could loosen the chain.
Most derailleur bikes have vertical dropouts, which are better because they are more secure. The axle can’t move from side to side, and even if the wheel is a little loose, gravity will keep it from moving.
If you want to see a full rundown of thru axles vs quick release axles then check this excellent youtube video out: