This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of quick-release skewers and bolt-on axles.
The Advantages of Quick-release Skewers
- Fast Wheel Removal and Installation
The main advantage of quick-release skewers is that they allow the user to remove and re-install a wheel without additional tools.
The skewer can be opened by pushing the lever away from the bike and unscrewing the axle. Re-installation happens by tightening the axle and closing the quick-release lever.
This property makes quick-release skewers helpful when working on a bike or replacing a flat tire on the side of the road.
- Large Availability
Quick-release skewers have become the norm for low, mid, and some high-end bicycles. Consequently, all bike shops across the world offer a lot of options to choose from.
The Disadvantages of Quick-release Skewers
Every dedicated bike thief knows how quick-release skewers operate and uses them to his/her advantage.
If you lock your bike outside and it has quick-release skewers on the wheels and seat post, it wouldn’t be unimaginable to find it one day without wheels and a saddle.
Of course, bolt-on axles can be removed too. All you need is a wrench. That said, most bike thefts are crimes of opportunity. Even a small stepping stone such as carrying a wrench decreases the chances of seeing your bike gone.
That said, there are bolt-on skewers tightened with the help of a special wrench that isn’t commonly available.
Those locking skewers are somewhat of a compromise between quick-release skewers and bolt-on axles.
All you have to carry with you to tighten and untighten them is a custom Allen key or a special wrench that comes with the set.
Their downside, however, is that you lose the quickness of quick-release skewers.
Quick-release skewers of decent quality are quite strong and capable of surviving harsh riding. That said, their structure simply does not allow them to match the strength that a thick, bolt-on axle made of solid steel can provide.
There’s a reason why BMX bikes don’t use quick-release skewers – they’re weaker and more susceptible to damage caused by direct impact.
- Subject to Manipulation
If somebody wants to mess with your bike, they can easily loosen a quick-release skewer and create an opportunity for an accident.
This scenario could be classified as highly custom but it’s not unheard of.
- Non-compatible with Some Front Racks and Baskets
Quick-release skewers are not ideal for this application as they can’t handle vertical stress nearly as well as a solid bolt-on axle.
Consequently, most front rack and heavy-duty basket producers specify that direct attachment of their units to the hub should be done only when using a solid bolt-on axle.
I faced a similar problem when mounting my own front rack. I decided to go with an alternative solution – bent pipe clamps around the fork’s legs.
The Advantages of Bolt-on Axles
The main advantage of a solid bolt-on axle is its strength.
A quick-release skewer is hollow and thinner. It’s still strong enough for most people because a cylinder’s strength comes from the walls. However, it cannot match the strength of a well-made solid bolt-on axle.
- Streamlined appearance
A bolt-on axle doesn’t have a lever and gives a cleaner look to the bicycle wheel while reducing the possibility of catching external objects.
Track bikes do not use quick-release skewers to minimize the chance of a collision. The quick-release handle could act like a claw and catch the wheel of another competitor. The outcome will almost certainly be an accident.
- Compatible with Pegs
Only a bolt-on axle provides the strength and technical specificity to securely attach pegs to a bike wheel. The type of axle doesn’t matter as long as it uses bolts. A female axle can work too.
- Torque Measurement
A bolt-on axle will allow you to measure the applied torque via a torque wrench. A quick-release skewer doesn’t provide that opportunity.
The Disadvantages of Bolt-on Axles
- Slower Wheel Removal and Reinstallation
A bolt-on axle makes wheel replacement much slower. This is one of the many reasons why you won’t see one in a road competition where every second matters and mechanics set world records almost every time they replace wheels.
That said, this type of speed is simply not needed in recreational cycling and commuting.
- Another Tool Is Needed
A bolt-on axle requires the user to carry a 15mm spanner. This is not the end of the world because every dedicated cyclist carries either a tool bottle or some sort of bag with a patch kit, spare inner tube, and bike tools anyway.
However, those who prefer to have a maximally simple setup may not like the added instrument.
Do not use cheap spanners as they can break or strip. Invest in a quality unit that will serve you well over a lifetime.
- Cheaper Hubs
Apart from BMX and track, most bikes use either quick-release skewers or thru-axles.
Consequently, the hubs made for bolt-on axles are less common. A good portion of them are part of the entry-level club.
If you want a high-end hub, you will have to go for quick-release skewers or a thru-axle.
What to choose?
Ultimately, it comes down to function and personal preference. It would be inaccurate to conclude that one option is better than the other.
A quick-release skewer is a good option if you are not particularly concerned about the possibility of theft and the lack of toughness.
A quick release will definitely speed up flat tire fix/replacement, but the saved time wouldn’t be crucial in recreational settings.
If you want a simple hub that can support a heavy-duty front rack or pegs, a bolt-on axle will be necessary. The only practical downside is the need to carry an additional spanner.
At the end of the day, if your bike comes with decent hubs for the particular riding style, you will more than likely be satisfied with the skewers/bolt-on axle.
Should I grease my quick-release skewers?
It’s fine to grease/lubricate quick-release skewers, but it’s not mandatory. (read more)
Is it safe to mount a front rack via the quick-release skewer on the fork?
In general, it’s not a recommended practice because quick-release skewers are designed to squeeze the hub to the dropouts rather than to support weight coming from the top. That said, if the front rack won’t be loaded heavily it’s not entirely unreasonable.
Front rack manufacturers often recommend using dedicated rack eyelets or bolt-on axles.
Does the position of the quick-release skewer lever matter?
The short answer is no, but normally the rear lever is positioned on the non-drive to avoid interaction with the rear derailleur and eliminate the chances of touching the drivetrain when installing or removing a wheel.
The front lever is less likely to create issues, but some people prefer to position it on the drive side to keep it away from the brake caliper and reduce the chances of cutting yourself on the rotor when closing or opening the skewer.