Quick-release Skewers vs. Thru-Axles (my comparison & analysis)

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of quick-release skewers and thru-axles.

The Advantages of Quick-release Skewers

  • Cheaper and Widely Available

The Italian racer Tullio Campagnolo invented the quick-release skewer in 1927 after experiencing extreme frustration when flipping his wheel to switch gears during a brutal winter race.

His hands were freezing and he had a really hard time unscrewing the wing nuts used at the time. His experience motivated him to come up with a better mechanism.

Quick-release skewers became very popular as they allow mechanics and riders to quickly remove or re-install a wheel without a special tool.

Currently, quick-release skewers are found on bicycles ranging from low to high-end. The higher demand and popularity result in lower price tags. If you’re on a budget, hubs with quick-release skewers will allow you to save money.

The popularity of quick-release skewers makes them easier to replace when touring in remote locations that cannot offer the bike component variety of big cities.

  • Lighter

Quick-release skewers are thinner and weigh less. The user can expect to save about 100 grams.

In the big scheme, the weight saving is inconsequential, but if you want to have the lightest possible machine, then quick-release skewers are the way to go.

  • Faster Wheel Replacement

A quick-release skewer doesn’t have to be removed from the hub when changing a wheel and thus offers faster wheel replacement.

How much faster? About 2 or 3 times depending on how much experience the user has.

It sounds like a lot but since wheel replacement is fairly fast, we could be talking about 10 seconds vs 30 seconds in favor of the quick-release system. Percentage-wise the savings are huge, but from a practical standpoint, they are inconsequential.

If you find yourself replacing a flat tire on the road, the 20 seconds make no difference because the actual “bottleneck” is the patching of the punctured inner tube or its replacement.

The Disadvantages of Quick-release Skewers

  • Less Secure

A properly installed quick-release wheel is secure enough, but thru-axles offer greater security because they go through the fork or frame, and it’s practically impossible for the wheel to come out.

A quick-release skewer, on the other hand, can theoretically come undone. When that happens the wheel will be “free” to fall out of the frame or fork.

Thus, if maximum wheel security is the goal, thru-axles win.

This property is more important in the world of mountain bikes because of disc brakes.

Disc brakes create a lot of torque and lateral stress. As a result, there’s a higher chance for a quick release on an MTB to come undone. For that reason, thru-axles gained market share in the MTB sector before conquering the road and gravel world.

  • Lower end

Quick-release skewers can be found on high-end models of the past, but the vast majority of bikes in the upper echelon are switching to thru-axles.

Elitists can label quick-release skewers as ancient technology that only the “plebs” should deal with.

  • Not as Streamlined

Quick-release skewers always have a lever or else they won’t be quick anymore. The lever has two downsides.

First, some people consider it non-aesthetic due to the lack of symmetry. Second, it can act as a claw catching another rider’s wheel or another external object. Hence the absence of quick-release skewers on track bikes.

Some thru-axles have a lever too, but there are also many models that come without one. Obviously, their downside is the need to use a wrench. (Most models require a 15mm Allen key that’s often a part of the rider’s multi-tool already).

The Advantages of Thru-Axles

  • Security

The number one reason for the existence of thru-axles is the additional security that they offer.

Thru-axles pass through the dropouts on the frame and fork. The dropouts designed for thru-axles are closed (unlike those made for quick-release skewers) and make it practically impossible for the wheel to come out once the axle is tightened.

  • Stiffness

Theoretically, thru-axles are stiffer and allow the bike to track better while minimizing energy losses too.

That being said, it’s highly doubtful if this point has any practical validity. At the end of the day, the job of quick-release skewers and thru-axles is to secure the wheel to the fork and frame. Once that’s done, it’s questionable whether it matters how much stiffer one is than the other.

If you’re a recreational rider, this point more than likely does not apply to you.

  • Consistent Alignment

With quick-release skewers, disc brake rotors often come out of alignment when re-installing a wheel and rub against the brake pads.

For that reason, it’s often necessary to re-center the pads after working on a bike. This procedure is very annoying, especially if you have to do it in the middle of nowhere.

In the past, I used to carry a plastic card that I would put between the rotor and the brake pads to help me achieve the needed clearance so that the wheel could spin freely.

A thru-axle wheel, on the other hand, ensures a consistent position of the hub and consequently the rotor. As a result, the rider doesn’t have to re-center the brakes nearly as often.

  • Better for People with OCD

Cyclists with OCD are known to check their quick-release skewer an obnoxious number of times. I knew a guy who would install his wheel perfectly and then remove it because the lever would be “too tight”, “too loose” or with the wrong orientation. Sometimes that procedure was repeated 3+ times.

Thru-axles do not cure OCD, but their additional security and the tightening process are less likely to amplify the issue.

The Downsides of Thru-Axles

  • Expensive

Thru-axles are reserved for high-end bikes (at least for now). They also require a special fork and frame with threaded dropouts. The price tags of bicycles with thru-axles reflect the specificity.

If you are on a budget, thru-axle models will be too much.

  • Too Unique

Thru-axles have different lengths depending on the fork and frame. Consequently, if you lose your thru-axles, you may be unable to find a replacement in the local bike shop.

Meanwhile, quick-release skewers are widely available everywhere.

  • Questionable Benefits

There is no denying that thru-axles are more secure, but one should also take into consideration that quick-release skewers work very well when installed correctly and have been used on monster MTBs for decades.

Also, the word “stiffness” tends to be thrown around a lot in the world of cycling because it’s associated with better control and power transfer.

However, a lot of components that are supposed to be stiffer either aren’t or are but to a degree that makes zero practical difference. Many argue that thru-axles are one of those parts.

  • Threaded Frames and Forks

A thru-axle is threaded into the frame/fork. The threads on the frame and fork could be damaged. (All threads create that potential.) When that happens, the user will be unable to secure the axle and it may be necessary to re-tap the frame or fork.

Quick-release skewers do not create a similar issue.

  • Extra Weight

As already mentioned, thru-axles tend to weigh more. However, the additional weight is minimal and has zero impact on performance.

And since thru-axles are reserved for expensive bikes, the total weight of the machine might be lower thanks to the lighter frame and/or wheels.

Thus, the additional weight of thru-axles is rarely if ever a game-changing difference.

  • Slower Wheel Removal and Installation

Thru-axles slow down the removal and re-installation of the wheel.

However, the additional time doesn’t matter all that much, and the fact the thru-axles position the rotor at the same place every time and thus eliminate the need for frequent brake recentering makes up for it.

Table Summary

Quick-release SkewersCheaper
Widely available
Faster wheel removal
Non-specific to a wheel or fork
Strong enough
Not maximally secure
Not as stiff
Not symmetrical
Non-consistent disc rotor position (brake rubbing)
Thru-AxlesMaximally secure
Streamlined (when no lever)
A consistent position of the rotor
Slower wheel removal
Difficult to find

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a thru-axle necessary for extreme riding?

A thru-axle is nice to have, but it would be inaccurate to conclude that you need it to ride on any terrain. People have been successfully conquering very difficult trails without thru-axles.

If you have the money, invest in a bike with a thru-axle, but don’t conclude that you need one to improve.

A rider with decent skills and quick-release skewers will destroy a normal person with the most amazing thru-axle bike out there.

Why did it take so long for thru-axles to become popular?

Two reasons:

  • Quick-release skewers have worked fine for close to a century.
  • Bicycle factories are already set to mass-produce quick-release skewers. Re-tooling a factory to begin mass production of thru-axles would be a move of questionable financial sense given the fact that the masses do not care about having such a component.

Are quick-release skewers good enough for loaded touring and bike packing?

Yes. When set correctly quick-release skewers are strong enough to support a loaded bike. Over the years, people have covered pretty aggressive touring destinations with massively loaded bicycles equipped with quick-release skewers.

Don’t forget that the skewer itself is not supporting the weight. It’s simply securing the wheel to the fork or frame. It’s meant to have massive clamping power rather than to endure vertical stress.

Why do people say that thru-axles are more important for disc brake bikes?

From a practical standpoint, the real benefit of having thru-axles is not the added security nor the questionably stiffer performance but the consistent alignment of the rotor in regard to the brake pads.

Quick-release skewers will almost certainly create rubbing between the rotor and the brake pads sooner or later. That can be eliminated, but the procedure is annoying.

Even low-level thru-axles fix this issue. For that reason, people often say that thru-axles make a difference only when using disc brakes.

So, what should I choose?

Honestly, unless one of the two has a downside that’s an immediate deal-breaker for you, then what matters more is the bike itself.

If the bike doesn’t fit your riding style and biomechanics, then its axles don’t really matter. Before making a choice look at the overall package. If it’s an MTB, analyze the suspension and wheels. What condition are they in? (if buying second-hand).

When choosing a bike, don’t base your entire decision on a single part. Always look at the big picture.

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