Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Death of Quick Release

Any fools still using quick release hubs are hopeless Retrogrouches. That's right. Quick release hubs, which have been standard issue on quality bicycles since the 1930s (thank you, Tullio Campagnolo), are dead.

On Tuesday, AngryAsian declared it's time to throw away our quick releases in favor of thru-axles (Bring On The Thru-Axles). Why? He says in the opening paragraph because they've been around over 80 years, and there are lots of "crappy ones" out there.

It should be noted that a lot of those "crappy" quick release skewers tend to come on really expensive wheels. And the reason so many "crappy" QR skewers exist is because weight weenies are obsessed with shaving off every possible gram of weight. But now these weight-obsessed gram shaving junkies are going to switch to heavier thru-axles? Well, yes. Because they're new.

I wonder, after the weight obsessed junkies get done performing their magic on thru-axles, won't they be rendered pretty "crappy," too?

There must be another reason why it's time to ditch quick release levers. Well, on downhill mountain bikes, especially those with disc brakes, thru-axles may provide a better, more secure wheel attachment. OK, score one for thru-axles. But what about for the rest of us? What about road riders with rim brakes? For MOST riding applications, traditional quick release skewers provide all the strength and security anyone needs. In fact, they provide more security than most people need.

What is the argument against thru-axles? AngryAsian says tradition is a big issue. "Without question, tradition is a big deterrent. We've all been using quick release skewers for so long that it's hard to imagine a road bike being built without them." I think that's a slight misinterpretation of the history and tradition. People don't use quick release hubs because they're tradition. They're tradition because they work. They're simple, and incredibly effective. They've been rendered slightly less effective by weight weenies (those open-cam designs might be lighter, but they really are junk), and by lawyers ("safety-tabs" or "lawyer-lips," anyone?) but the quick release lever is truly a great bicycle-related invention -- one that is really difficult to improve upon.

Even in the arguments FOR thru-axles, the column has to cite the negatives:
Thru-axles are slower to operate -- but new designs are almost as fast as quick releases with "lawyer tabs."
Thru-axles are heavier -- but not by much, anymore.

From a "big box" store.
AngryAsian also cites safety. He states, thru-axles are "simply harder to install incorrectly," and "less likely to catastrophically fall out even when they are." It's true that people sometimes do not know how to correctly operate a quick release lever. Then again, I've also seen lots of bikes out there with axle nuts where the nuts were loose, too. And forks installed backwards. Brake cables unconnected. It goes on and on. Should we completely "dummy-proof" everything about bicycles? Is that even possible?

But let's just say that the industry is listening. Thru-axles are "in" and traditional quick releases are "out." That's a pretty sobering thought for me, but I can't help but think it would be typical given the current state of the industry. Consider that changing standards would mean total incompatibility with our current bikes. New wheels. New frames (or at least new forks). We'd have to completely "upgrade" our bikes, so you can almost hear the marketing execs salivating. But don't expect that the industry would settle for just one new standard. Competing companies would all release their own new "standards," none of which will be interchangeable with any others. They're doing it with bottom brackets, and headsets, why not hubs? If this happened, would companies continue to make parts compatible with "old" technology? Probably -- but one should fully expect that the industry would relegate it to "entry-level" bikes and components (so much for the safety arguments -- it's at that level where we see the most installation issues). Am I being too harsh? Pessimistic? Cynical? Industry people at Eurobike last year were talking about relegating 26-in. wheels to the entry-level market (see Still More Wheel Madness), so what chance does the "lowly" quick release skewer have?

The only thing wrong with quick release hub technology is that it's old. It's light, simple, inexpensive, and it works. There is tremendous compatibility over decades worth of bicycles and components. There may be some (completely solvable) issues with disc brakes, but then I'm not really sold on those, either. For most riders, most bikes, and especially road bikes, I see no reason to abandon them. Tullio Campagnolo, wherever you are, thank you.


  1. I've never seen a Thru Axle in the flesh, but what I hear about them confirms me in my plan to stock up on the old-style, all-steel, internal cam QRs, particularly those that will work with 135 OL spacing. Why? The old, all-steel, internal cam ones securely hold a fixed gear axle in place in a horizontal dropout or track end, despite the mighty torque of my (can you guess who I am quoting?) "dolphin-like thighs". Otherwise -- for example on front axles and with vertical dropouts, I use allen skewers.

    Why QRs (of the right sort) on fixed gear drivetrains? Because, if you like to flip your wheel, it makes doing so a lot easier than with nutted axles. On the gofast fixie, I can flip the wheel to the long-hill 17 t (65") from the cruising 15 (75") without having to empty the saddle wedge to find the cut-down 15 mm box wrench needed to loosen the axle nuts. Even more convenient: hiking the chain from the 17 to the 19 t cog on the Surly Dingle on my fixed errand bike is very easy with the old, XT Shimano QR -- I can even make the shift with loaded panniers.

    (Not that I shift very often on my fixed gear bikes.)

    1. Thanks for the comments. I don't personally use a quick release on my fixed gear bike (well, on the front, for convenience sake) but I have heard many people attest that they are plenty strong enough, and I believe them. All-steel, internal cam QRs are the best -- hard to improve upon. Thanks!

  2. As a tradesman, I have been in a lot of garages. Almost every single one has at least one dusty bicycle with flat tires in it. These are the people who bicycle manufacturers are really selling to. Believe it or not, almost everyone in the suburbs has a bike. Almost none of them ever ride them, but they have them. Most "technological advances" are, in reality, production cost reduction measures in disguise. Take disc brakes for example. I'm sure in certain racing situations disc brakes are superior to rim brakes. For an entry level hybrid or whatever though, using disc brakes means that you, as a big bicycle manufacturer, can spend less time truing wheels and can, in fact use cheaper rims because braking performance is mostly independent of wheel build quality. Perhaps a thru axle hub setup is a better solution in some competive settings but I'd be willing to bet though that using a pressed in bearing set, as in a thru axle hub, would be cheaper to produce on a large scale than a traditional hub which requires at least a modicum of skill to assemble and adjust properly. Furthermore, do you, as a large bicycle manufacturer, give a damn knowing that 99% of your bikes are going to sit and rot in peoples garages? Probably not.

    1. I totally agree with that point -- that a lot of "advancements" have more to do with cutting manufacturing costs. I believe that is the real advantage to the new press fit bottom brackets and threadless headsets, too.