Bicycle wheels on premium bikes often come with a device called a quick release which holds the wheel on. These are used because you then do not have to carry tools to remove the wheel. It seems people are often removing bike wheels, to fix a flat, fit the bike into a car or to keep someone from stealing it.
Quick releases are simple to operate, and you wouldn't think a web page dealing with them was needed. Wrong! Bike mechanics will tell you it is one the most commonly mis-adjusted part on a bicycles owned by people new to cycling.
That wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so dangerous to misuse quick releases. If not properly used, the front wheel can fall off, and you crash, hard. Usually head first.
So let’s take a quick look at a quick release and I will explain how it works. It's really simple, and remarkably secure when used correctly.
By their very nature, it is almost impossible for a quick release to work itself open. Personally, I always disbelieve anyone who says "it just popped open". The way they are designed, it takes more force for the quick release to open than it does for it to remain securely shut. All the bumps in the world will not jar them open. The only way they "just pop open" is if they are never properly closed.
The quick release operates like the wheel-chocks you will see careful truck drivers place around behind the wheels of a truck parked on a hill. The chock might be only 4 inches high, and the truck might weigh 10 tons, but that little 4 inch bump becomes an insurmountable object precisely because the truck is heavy. It takes a great deal of energy to lift 10 tons 4 inches.
The quick release has a little chock (called a cam) built into it. It has to climb over the top of its chock every time you open or close it. The cam is built into the silver end-cap where the lever attaches.
Here is the common mistake that many people make when first encountering quick releases.
When refitting the wheel to the bike they use the lever like a handle, and rotate it around and around till the quick release is tight and never swing the lever into the closed position. Wrong and very unsafe!
First, note that the quick release handle is slightly curved. Almost all of them are built this way. Further, one side of the handle often has the word "open" and the other often says "closed". When the curve is pointing away from the bike (and the word open is visible) the quick release is loose, and your bike is unsafe and not safe to ride.
To close the quick release, swing the lever so that the curved handle points to the bike or the wheel, and the word "closed" is visible. You swing the lever like a door; you don't twist it or rotate it. The lever swings about 180 degrees and shouldn’t be able to open far enough as to foul your wheel or disc brake rotor. In a fully open position you should be able to pass a pencil between the spokes/rotor and the lever (about 5 – 6 mm), if this is not the case I highly recommend that you change the quick release skewer in its entirety.
When swinging the lever from full open, to full closed, you should JUST start to feel some resistance when the lever is pointing straight out (mid or 90 degrees. see figure 3) from the wheel. This resistance should start getting harder at about the 2/3s way closed, and really hard up to the 3/4 point (still 1/4) open. Then it may get easier the rest of the way. Your lever has climbed "over the top" of its cam and is sort of rolling down the back side of its little wheel chock.
Note, that some brands just get progressively tighter, and there is no perceptible feel of "going over the top".
How Tight is Tight Enough?
When the lever leaves a mark in your hand after closing it, it's probably tight enough. An indentation that lasts about 5 or 10 seconds usually means you have pressed hard enough.
What if you don't feel any resistance, or you feel resistance even when it's wide open? In either case your quick release needs to be adjusted.
Resistance when wide open
If your lever binds up or becomes hard to swing and it is still in the wide open position (the word Open is showing) then you have to unscrew (lefty-loosie, righty-tighty) the lever a bit. Now you may use the lever as if it were the handle of a wrench, (without fear of being laughed at) and unscrew it a half turn at a time, then try swinging the lever, then unscrew a bit more, till you get it so the resistance just starts to set in with the lever sticking straight out from the bike.
Resistance never felt, easy to swing from open to closed
In this case, you have to tighten the lever. First open it all the way. Then start rotating the lever like it was a wrench, and swinging the lever every half turn or so, until you just barely feel resistance when it is sticking straight out. If it is really loose, you may have to reach around to the other side of the bike wheel and hold onto the other end of the axle to keep the quick-release end-cap (or nut) from spinning. (Sometimes it's easier to just spin the nut with your fingers while holding the lever straight out. When the nut gets hard to turn, you are near the proper adjustment).
After you get the resistance dialled in so it just starts getting tight with the lever at the 90 degree mark (sticking straight out from the wheel), grab the nut (other side of the wheel) with one hand, and the quick release with the other, (flip the lever to the full open position) and rotate the two together so that when you close the lever it will be pointing rearward, or parallel to the fork. DO NOT LOCATE THE LEVER AGAINST EITHER FRAME OR FORK, they may not be fully closed and may open and it can also make them difficult to open again.
Warning: We are into religious territory now. There are people who feel quite strongly about the orientation of quick release levers. (Indeed, QR Skewers should be on the left handside of the bike. See rule no. 41 in Velominati’s The Rules. http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/
On a bike used only on the road, as long as it is tight it can be pointing any which way. It really does not matter. On a bike you will ride off-road through bushy tracks/trails, point them rear-ward so a branch does not catch it and flip it open, as might happen if it were pointing forward. I said "might" happen. Never has happened to me, or anyone I know, but you hear stories....
Some folks like to align the quick release lever so that (when closed) it will be parallel to a solid piece of the bike, like the fork or chain-stay. This allows them to grab the release lever and the fork and really squeeze the two together. It also makes it harder to get your wheel off when you want to, because you can't get your hand behind the lever to pull it out. If you have small hands this technique may help, but if you have a weight-lifters grip, this is unnecessary, you putting more stress on the system than is necessary, unscrew a quarter turn and try again.
If you have any questions on the subject please call us in the workshop or pop in and we will demonstrate the correct way to fit a quick release for you.