Track bikes and subsequently fixies do not use quick-release skewers to minimize the chances of collisions and keep the chain tensioning process simple and efficient.
In some cases, a quick-release skewer will be unable to sustain the pulling power of the chain and the wheel could move forward in the dropouts. (This applies mainly to cheap quick-releases.) When that happens chain tension will be lost.
The Reasons Why Track Bikes Do Not Have Quick-Release Wheels
Track racers ride very close to each other. Consequently, every single component that sticks out is potential hazard.
Quick-release skewers have a lever that protrudes outside of the wheel more than a regular axle nut. The lever could turn into a “claw” and catch another rider’s wheel, pedal, leg, chain…and cause an unexpected collision resulting in a failed race and injured athletes.
Strength While Skidding
Skidding is not done on the track, but it’s quite common for fixed-gear bicycles which are fundamentally very similar to track models.
Skidding is accomplished by violently locking the pedals of a bike with a fixed drivetrain to block the rear wheel and make it slide.
Since track and fixed-gear bikes have horizontal dropouts, there’s a possibility that the quick-release skewer will not hold well under the massive torque generated by the chain and the rear wheel will slide in the dropouts.
When that happens, the chain tension will be lost and with it the ability to break with the pedals.
A bolt-on axle, on the other hand, can be tightened to a higher torque setting and has track nuts with a larger surface area resulting in greater friction against the dropouts. As a result, it’s a lot less likely to lose chain tension.
There are many methods to tension the chain of a track bike or a fixie. The general guideline is as follows:
Step 1: Place the bike on a repair stand or upside down on the floor.
Step 2: Partially untighten the rear axle nuts.
Step 3: Pull the rear wheel back and place it at an angle towards the non-drive side. Tighten the non-drive side axle nut.
Step 4: Pull the drive side of the wheel towards the drive side of the bike. Don’t try to center the wheel just yet. Tighten the drive-side nut.
Step 5: Free the non-drive side nut and center the wheel. Tighten the non-drive side nut.
Similar procedures are not possible when the bike has a quick-release wheel at the back.
Many people choose to ride track bikes for their simplicity and classic appearance. Bolt-on axles complement that look whereas quick-release skewers could take away from it as they are a road bike invention and thus part of the “complicated bicycle family”.
What About The Front Wheel?
Besides the increased chance of collision which matters only in track settings, there isn’t a technical reason not to use a quick-release skewer at the front because the front wheel is independent of the drivetrain stresses.
In fact, some people may consider it beneficial to use a quick-release skewer at the front because the rider would have the option to remove the front wheel easily and lock it with the bike to prevent theft.
That said, some will consider the need to carry a wrench to remove a bolt-on wheel a good enough theft deterrent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use quick-release skewers on a single-speed bike?
Yes. A single-speed bike has a free hub or a freewheel that functionally disconnects the rear wheel from the chain when the rider isn’t pedaling. Subsequently, the quick-release skewer isn’t subject to the torque that a fixed-gear bike will generate when the rider locks the pedals.
Sheldon Brown says that it’s fine to use a quick-release skewer on a fixie. What do you have to say about that?
Sheldon Brown is correct, of course. A quality quick-release can sustain the strain when clamped appropriately.
However, it’s not only about strength. Bolt-on axles are still more convenient for the rear because they make it easier to tension the chain and keep it straight.
Summary: What You Need To Know
Track bikes do not use quick-release skewers for the following reasons:
- To minimize the chances of contact between two bikes when racing and thus avoid collisions.
- To avoid sudden loss of chain tension due to the lack of clamping strength and/or friction between the skewer and the frame.
- To make the chain tensioning process simpler and easier.
- To keep the original aesthetics of the bicycles.
Besides the first point (collision), the problems apply only to the rear wheel. Thus, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to install a quick-release skewer at the front if the bike is used recreationally and for commuting.
The quick-release skewer will make flat tire fixes slightly more convenient. That said, the rider will still have to carry a 15mm wrench for the rear wheel.
Some consider the additional tool annoying, but it’s not the end of the world since most dedicated cyclists carry other tools anyway.
Bonus Tip: You can purchase a cheap 15mm wrench and cut it with a bandsaw, an angle grinder, or a hacksaw so that it weighs less and can fit in your tool bottle, for example. File the trimmed end as it may cut you when using the tool or piece the inner tube in the tool bag.