Not-So-Quick-Release Skewers

I promise to move on to other topics next post, but I want to talk about the relationship between your front quick-release and your fork. And I will show you a trick to make wheel removal and installation easier – and a lot more elegant.

The quick-release mechanism was patented in 1930 by Tullio Campagnolo, then a frustrated bicycle racer. Blah, blah, blah. Read all about it here: Wikipedia Quick release skewers.

Fast forward some sixty years to the introduction of secondary retention methods, AKA lawyer tabs. These tabs on the fork dropouts prevent the wheel from bouncing out of the fork, even if you forget to tighten the quick-release. See Sheldon Brown’s article on quick-releases for some good photos of various prior designs. I think you’ll agree that lawyer tabs are the best of the lot.

Am I the only person that finds it interesting that no-one is concerned about the rear wheel falling out of the dropouts? I guess that would cause a less spectacular crash.

A brief aside related to redundancy: Did you ever notice that Shimano HollowTech cranks have secondary and tertiary retention elements? Can you identify them in this exploded view?

Incredibly the UCI began enforcing the use of lawyer tabs in professional racing in 2013 by making it a violation to grind them off – “no equipment modification”. I have not seen an in-race front wheel change since the inception of this rule to see if this has caused significant delay. Anybody?

Back in the day, bicycles were made of steel and all dropouts were the same thickness (almost all made by Campagnola). Speed was so important that the team mechanics carried a set of dropouts to pre-set the quick release for faster wheel changes. It’s not surprising that they grumbled about the new ruling.

And I am not even going to get into the discussion about loose quick-release levers getting caught in disc brakes…

A company called Clix manufactures a cool quick-release device with a cup-shaped spring-loaded washer that can be pulled back to pass over the lawyer tabs. It comes standard on some bikes. I have been unable to find it as an aftermarket product. Apparently it mates with a specifically designed fork.

Getting back to the evolution of Tullio’s quick-release design, the nut on the quick-release almost always includes a drag block of some kind in the threads, most often a plastic insert. This was a cool feature before lawyer tabs. You flip the lever open, remove the wheel, fix your flat or whatever, then put the wheel back in and flip the lever closed. The drag mechanism prevents the nut from turning, holding your tension setting. But with lawyer tabs, you have to unscrew the nut four or five turns to take the wheel off. Your previous setting is lost. The drag mechanism just makes it harder to turn the nut. In evolutionary terms, it is a vestigial appendage.

How do you remove or install a front wheel, ergonomically speaking? You reach down with both hands while you use your chest or your chin to hold the bike steady. It’s not a very elegant maneuver. And on a tall bike, or most any bike with aero bars, I can’t even reach both arms down to the axle without ducking my head under the bars, and hitting the back of my head afterwards. I have devised a method that works better.

Two warnings:
– Do not try this in your good khaki slacks. It could leave a nasty grease spot.
– Do not try this if the threads on your skewer stick out beyond the end of the nut. You will screw the skewer into your calf. Don’t ask me how I know.

1. Stand directly in front of the bike.
2. Hold the handlebars with your left hand.
3. Place your left foot next to the right side of the front wheel.
4. Reach down with your right hand to operate the lever.
5. Press the inside of your left calf against the quick-release nut to hold it still while you turn the lever with your right hand to loosen or tighten.
6. When you are ready to flip the lever closed, release your calf pressure so that the fork can settle down evenly over the axle.

I am working on a video of this procedure for the visual learners among you. I will post it soon.

I suppose there is a quick-release nut out there somewhere with enough drag on the threads to prevent me doing this, but I haven’t found it yet. And if I did, I’ll bet I could loosen it up a bit with an M5x0.8 tap.

(I also have built a prototype of a nut with an anti-rotation tab, but I don’t see much value in complicating the system and possibly making it harder to stab the dropouts onto the wheel.)

I promised at the outset to talk about something besides quick-releases next week. How about frame stiffness? It’s not (entirely) about the bike.