Ex Post Facto Terror

08.1.2007 | 8:56 pm

Have you ever thought about how many separate moving parts your bike has? Wheels, cogs, levers, cables, bearings, a chain, and a couple of pincers. All of which need to be working — more or less, anyway — for your ride to go off well.

Here’s a mental exercise to do sometime while riding: think about all the moving parts in your bike’s drivetrain, starting with your cleats and working all the way through your pedals, cranks, bottom bracket, chain, derailleur(s), freewheel (if you’ve got one) and wheel.

Makes you dizzy, doesn’t it?

Like a car, a modern bicycle is crazily sophisticated. But you can ignore all that complexity, because actually using the bike is simple, reliable, and worry-free.

Most of the time.

The Genius of the Quick Release Skewer
I have, on occasion, stared at the quick release skewer at the front of my bicycle and marveled at it. It’s an almost impossibly elegant design, performing a crucial task with an absolute minimum number of parts: Tighten on one side to a certain point, then use the clever cam-shaped lever to cinch it tight. No tools required. Voila, your wheel stays put.

It’s too perfect a design, frankly, to have been designed by humans. I suspect aliens from the future brought it too us, at the same time they revealed that vinegar and egg whites could be combined to make mayonnaise.

Where was I? Oh yes: the quick release lever. It’s a marvel. It does its job exactly, intuitively, and reliably. I have never, in my entire life, created anything so perfect.

About a week ago, though, a quick release skewer just about made me throw up.

Easy as Pie
I’ve been riding the Tibble Fork trail – my favorite trail in the world – a lot, lately. The route I take makes for an intense climbing workout, followed by an exquisite downhill, all on ridiculously beautiful forested singletrack.

I’ve been trying to open up a bit more on the downhill, figuring that my big wheels should make up for my slow reflexes and timidity. And they have been. I’m a little faster going down than I used to be, though nowhere near as fast as any of my riding friends. That will never change.

Anyway, following a terrific climb and very good downhill, I rolled up to my car, ready to take my front wheel off so I could put the bike on the truck’s fork-mounted rack.

The front wheel’s quick release skewer just plopped open.

No effort required.

At all.

So I sat down and gave myself some time to let the wave of nausea pass, thinking about what I had lucked out of.

Not the Only One
The thing is, I know this same thing has recently happened to Dug — except his skewer actually flopped open while the bike was rolling, calling Dug’s attention to it.

Brad tells me it’s happened to him, too.

Is it the extra torque disc brakes put on the skewer? Is it that skewers just wear out and need to be replaced every so often? Am I just getting old and forgetful?

Hardly matters, really. I’m freaked out no matter what the answer is.

And you may rest assured that I now check the lever plentysix times per ride.


  1. Comment by aussie kev | 08.1.2007 | 9:06 pm

    up until now i thought they where unbreakable and infalible !!! plentysix may not be enough checking !!!!

  2. Comment by Logan | 08.1.2007 | 9:12 pm

    Indeed, I was just thinking about the quick release yesterday as I was riding home. I’d never taken the time the appreciate it fully until I bought an older mtb without them, and as such must now carry a wrench when riding this particular bike. The componentry on this bike is suntour, so I believe I’d have to change EVERYTHING over to shimano or sram to have QRs. Unless the aliens could whip something up for me…

  3. Comment by Shaun | 08.1.2007 | 9:20 pm

    years ago at an Aussie track carnival one of my clubmates, who was a veteran (now called Masters), had just finished his race. While he walked back to our group, on the grassed infield, he lifted the front of his bike as to lay it on the ground. His front wheel dropped out of the forks & rolled away from him for some distance. We all just fell around laughing at him not realising the crash he could have just had in his race.
    I also rode my track bike (you call them fixies) on the road sometimes, with no brakes. After one such outing on returning home I discovered the nuts on the front wheel were not tightened. That does give you a funny feeling knowing that you could have faceplanted into the tarmac.

  4. Comment by Chris | 08.1.2007 | 10:07 pm

    So, keep in mind the bane of QR’s is actually the ‘lawyer nibs’ on the fork, which keep the wheel from sliding out if your QR isn’t tight… I personally dislike the nibs, but I’ve never had quite that experience.

  5. Comment by matt | 08.1.2007 | 10:09 pm

    I’ve found the QR not-very-tight a few times, and you’d think I’d learn since I had the front wheel fall out on a fast downhill quite a few years ago. Thankfully I was wearing a full face helmet at the time.

    Still, the blood in the eyeball, and the recurring dirt-sliding-past-my-eyes dreams were punishment for my slackness.

  6. Comment by Steven Hanley | 08.1.2007 | 10:28 pm

    I wonder what sort of QR you use?

    The common rather light skewers, such as the Salsa flip flop, which you seem to describe, which are simply a cam on a nut. Ie some bits of metal and not much complexity. Are as you say siple, however they are also prone to failure in my experience.

    Shimano skewers are the way to go (and campag road skewers) with their internal mechanism. Sure they are heavier but they are far less likely to fail or work themselves loose. I have not seen one of these fail when done up reasonably well.

    Oh and I like my pink fatcyclist jersey, it arrived (Australia) last week, I wore it in my Yoga class today and will probably wear it at an 8 hour mountain bike race this weekend.

  7. Comment by Tim D | 08.2.2007 | 12:13 am

    This is indeed a problem related to disc brakes. There has been a lot of discussion in the tandem world, where front brakes tend to be used harder because you can’t really endo a tandem. The force of the disc brake will loosen a poorly tightened quick release. The general advice is to use a steel QR and one with fairly aggressive grip. Do it tight and check it regularly.

  8. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 08.2.2007 | 12:44 am

    My PhD supervisor described for me how a high frequency harmonic can arise if you apply the right combination of brake pad and disc material to each other with the right angular velocity (speed of rotation). If the harmonic vibration of the brakes is also a harmonic of the thread/nut side of the quick release skewer (or nut and axle on a non-QR wheel) over time the nut may walk along the thread thus undoing itself.

    There’s also the possiblity of human error during the installation process. A couple of weeks ago at the velodrome We did our normal 10 minute gentle roll around chatting pre-warmup followed by a 30 lap hit out warmup. I found myself on the front with 3 laps to go with my “pea” on my wheel. It was an ideal opportunity to practice a TDF quality leadout (track season is only 9 weeks away). I jumped up to about 27mph and stayed on the front, taking the next 2 laps to wind up to 30mph then with 1 to go hit out at about 33mph with my “pea” tucked in tight. He screamed past me as we entered the last bend and his computer gave him a maximum of 37.2mph to my 33.6.

    We rolled down a couple of laps and then went to the fence for a drink and to discuss the next “event of the training night. When I lifted my bike up to hang it on the fence by the handlebars the front wheel fell out and rolled down onto the infield.

    I remembered that I tightened my back wheel and as I was about to tighten the front someone had asked to borrow my pump. Oops. But no-one needed an ambulance so it’s all good in the end.

    I’d say the same applies here. Nothing bad happened, so nothing at all happened. It’s just between you, me and the fence post.

  9. Comment by Yukirin Boy | 08.2.2007 | 12:57 am

    A QR that flopped open would scare me too!
    Especially after going end over end after careening into a rock face while descending a mountain yesterday.

    I was wearing my Pink Lemonade jersey for the first time also! Its now been well and truly christened. The crash was unrelated to a loose front wheel (well not a loose front axel – fork interface – more a loose front tyre – road interface) but it has sparked my imagination.

    Can I join the slow downhillers club? – at leat on a temporary basis

  10. Comment by tigermouth | 08.2.2007 | 1:44 am

    Chris Says: the ‘lawyer nibs’ on the fork, which keep the wheel from sliding out if your QR isn’t tight

    Response: I filed the nibs off all of my forks.

    Logan Says: The componentry on this bike is suntour, so I believe I’d have to change EVERYTHING over to shimano or sram to have QRs.

    Response: The easiest thing is to just get new wheels with QRs. The cheapest thing is to just replace the axles in the wheels you have with axles that take QRs.

  11. Comment by James | 08.2.2007 | 2:00 am

    Last year I went out to do some sprints on the road. I warmed up for about half an hour and then stood up to do the first sprint. My rear wheel pulled over and smacked into the left chainstay on the first pedal stroke.

    I hopped off the bike and took a look – no QR in the rear wheel. At that moment I remembered I had been switching stuff around the night before, and borrowed the skewer to use on another bike on the trainer. I rode home very gently. Maybe not as bad as a front wheel, but good thing I didn’t try to bunny-hop anything during the warmup…

  12. Comment by Little1 | 08.2.2007 | 2:02 am

    hhhmmm yes, we have had the QR staying put debate on a few rides, sometimes it is a miracle to me that more of them don’t pop open more often and at in opportune moments.

    Writing from SA on a very sad day, we have just lost the life of one of our foremost up and coming riders who was on the Barloworld team with Robbie Hunter. He didn’t ride the Tour as he had had an op recently, complications from the op led to his untimely death. He will be missed be all cyclists.

  13. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 08.2.2007 | 2:49 am

    Firstly commiserations to South Africa, Barloworld and the riders family and friends.
    So FC was it bad luck you nearly had an accident or good luck you didn’t? Sounds like it might be associated with disc brakes. I can honestly say it has never happened to me. Did have an exciting moment with loose handlebars once after the bike had been serviced by others – rolling downhill towards a roundabout and an oncoming bus with my arms strapped down by the brake cables as the bars rolled around and my carbon fibre soles sliding along the bitumen very smoothly. Survived to visit the bike shop and raise a few concerns on the quality of the work done by their crew. Invented a few swear words but came up with nothing as original and universally accepted as the Shadow. Needed a new pair of bibs as well.

  14. Comment by TIMK | 08.2.2007 | 3:56 am

    There’s apparently an effort to make QR’s illegal in New Jersey because of such concerns.

  15. Comment by RoadRash | 08.2.2007 | 4:44 am

    Seriously folks – Many years ago I neglected to tighten down a front QR after a flat tight change. Paid for it dearly. I took a rise on a small river bridge too fast and actually got a little airborne. (This was many years ago). In midair I had just enough time to see the front wheel detach before impact. Several flips later, I ended up on my feet with the surreal vision of my front wheel rolling merrily across the far side of the bridge. Lots of road rash. No broken bones. One severely taco’d front fork. An yes, I check my QR plentsix times ever since.

  16. Comment by Mike Roadie | 08.2.2007 | 4:50 am

    Why do they call it a “near miss”, when “near HIT” is more accurate???? I’m not sayin’…..I’m just sayin’

    Now for the important stuff……..
    Also, mayonnaise is mostly eggs and oil (minimum 65% oil). Vinegar, as well as lemon juice, spices, etc. are just add ins.


  17. Comment by hades | 08.2.2007 | 4:55 am

    TIMK – there’s an effort by manufacturer of a different system of retaining the wheel to make standard QR illegal and make their patented system required in New Jersey because no one has seen the need to adopt their expensive system yet and they want the government to make it mandatory. Read more ranting here: http://drunkcyclist.com/wordpress/2007/06/15/stupidity-should-be-painful/

    Fatty – The QR, by the by, was not invented by aliens; it was invented by Tullio Campagnolo (yes, that Campagnolo) after climbing the Croce d’Aune Pass. He was unable to loosen the wingnuts which held his wheel in place to flip it over and use the other gear. He cried (in Italian) “There has to be a better way!” and came up with QR and Parallelogram derailleur as a result.

  18. Comment by DOM | 08.2.2007 | 5:44 am

    Glad it was only a stomach churning “What if?” Can’t help but think it would have made a great post had the wheel dislodged. Schadenfreude is a huge part of why this site’s success.

  19. Comment by Nick | 08.2.2007 | 5:48 am

    Yep, had the front wheel come off on me. Just got done riding an extremely technical downhill and was on the flat part of the trial laying the hammer down. Saw what I though was a benign rock that the suspension should have easily taken care of. Not quit true. Front wheel flopped out and I landed on m face. Some nice rasberry’s on my face and a bruised ego.
    I am wondering how well the new dt240 hubs work with their new axle. Saw it in magazine and immediatly wanted a pair for exactly this reason.

  20. Comment by Weean | 08.2.2007 | 5:50 am

    If Big Mike’s supervisor is right, it might be worth trying to put your QRs round the ‘wrong way’, so as to put the nut further away from the vibrations. Could be crazy talk, but I know I’d be trying to do it if I ran disks right now.

  21. Comment by brokemba | 08.2.2007 | 5:52 am

    Hey FC and fellow cycling enthusiasts. This may be a touch off topic for this particular story, but the fake news article related to each “new” winner of the tour after the last was discredited for doping is sooo accurate. Check this article out about Contador now. Who was next in line to win and subsequently lose the tour for doping? By next July, they may have worked through the entire finishing field!


  22. Comment by Nick | 08.2.2007 | 6:00 am

    More info on the dt swiss. Its the DT RWS thru bolt. Seems like it would be safer.



  23. Comment by pikkumatti | 08.2.2007 | 6:43 am

    Yesterday a bridge fell into a river by itself. That should remind us to assume nothing, and check our QRs (and headsets, and crank bolts, and . . . ).

  24. Comment by traildiva | 08.2.2007 | 7:18 am

    My riding style is more rampaging hippopotamus than graceful ballet, so I’m quite happy to take the extra thirty seconds to unbolt my wheel when changing a flat.

    [ There are reports and pictures on local bike sites of cyclists climbing into the bridge debris to help pull motorists out. ]

  25. Comment by Joe G | 08.2.2007 | 7:32 am

    I also had a front QR detach during a bunny hop over a crack in the pavement. A jogger 50 yards up the road finally caught my wheel, and I caught my cheek on the pavement and scraped half of it off. That bike never rode again.

  26. Comment by MTB W | 08.2.2007 | 7:37 am

    I know the feeling. Twice in the last few months, I noticed the front wheel jumping around (once during a race). The QR was open and laughing at me. Luckily, the nubs saved me from some serious pain since the wheel didn’t fall off. Anyway, I now check it very closely before every ride. I don’t know what caused it (likely rider error) but there maybe some credence to the disc brake idea. I never had this problem until I got my first bike w/disc brakes last year.

  27. Comment by bikemike | 08.2.2007 | 8:05 am

    yep, law-yers in new jersey are ascending on the
    bike industry as we speak to do away with tulio campagnola
    invention. i’m sure wal-mart is to blame in here somewhere,
    seeing as how their sales people show everyone who buys a
    bike from them the proper way to operate a QR.

    you didn’t buy your bike from wal-mart did you fatty?

  28. Comment by cap'n | 08.2.2007 | 8:32 am

    A freind of mine made the mistake of letting his front QR come loose. At high speed he went to wheelie up a curb. The wheel feel off. He came down hard. Dislocated shoulder and a face full of road rash.
    I’ve been really good about checkingn my QR bwefore each ride since.

  29. Comment by GenghisKhan | 08.2.2007 | 9:07 am

    I’ve had the ol’ loose QR problem–and on the Tibble Trial, too–but fortunately, the lit’l drop-out nubbins kept it from falling out. It’s not a pretty image, seeing thinking through what would happen if your front wheel came off during, well, any part of a ride!

  30. Pingback by RocBike.com » Links Of The Day: 2 August 2007 | 08.2.2007 | 10:18 am

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  31. Comment by art | 08.2.2007 | 11:54 am

    After popping a couple of QR’s over the years, I’m all about the bolt skewers:
    Unless you’re racing and need a ten second wheel change, there’s no reason for a quick release. Bolt skewers go right on with a single allen wrench, and are just about impossible to half tighten with your fingers. Bonus points for lighter weight and superior aerodynamics.

  32. Comment by C-Fiddy | 08.2.2007 | 2:47 pm

    Hey wait, Is Fatty callin’ Tulio an Alien?!?


  33. Comment by eclecticdeb | 08.2.2007 | 3:52 pm

    I’ve made the error of not setting my brakes. Unfortuately, you tend to notice these things when you actually NEED the brakes. Not pretty.

  34. Comment by boots | 08.2.2007 | 7:41 pm

    To expand on Tullio’s inspiration a little. The reason he was trying to loosen the axle wing nut was to allow him to reverse the rear wheel, thereby enabling him to
    use the differently geared cog on the flip side. Also it was alledgedly snowing
    and his fingers were frozen. A true mechanical genuis. I have used Campy quick
    releases for years without incident. And I file off those damn nubs also!

  35. Comment by mark | 08.2.2007 | 10:20 pm

    I don’t file off the nubs, as they have saved me on my mountain bike multiple times. One of my bikes has the specialized front hub and quick release (similar to the salsa design). The bad part is that it comes loose. The good part is that the bolt is 9mm thick, so I went to the hardware store and put some lock washers between the nut and the fork. Problem solved. Not sure if this would work with a standard QR, but it has turned what was a persistent problem into no problem at all.

    If Contador is in fact a doper, then he sucks. And Levi will certainly regret that push he got from the team car and corresponding 10 second penalty.

  36. Comment by Philthy in Oz | 08.2.2007 | 11:31 pm

    You suggested that “It’s too perfect a design, frankly, to have been designed by humans. I suspect aliens from the future brought it…” I suspect on the other hand that being such “intelligent design” it was almost certain provided to us by the FSM (see the website link) probably for use on one of the first pirate ships in a way that has been lost in antiquity.
    As far as losing the front wheel due to skewer looseness, I have suffered this fate but as I was a teacher at the time and stored my trusty steed where access could be had by the students, it was more likely to have been loosened by a disgruntled sixth grader than by any natural means. I ended up with faceful of footpath and memorable evening in the emergency dept where an apologetic nurse scrubbed out the gravel with a brillo pad.

  37. Comment by Philthy in Oz | 08.2.2007 | 11:33 pm

    Woops here is the FSM URL http://www.venganza.org/

  38. Comment by stack | 08.3.2007 | 7:47 am

    After re-entering a crit following a failed attempt at bunny hoping a teammate who was sliding across the pavement, I spent a couple of laps lamented my chain skipping before someone mentioned that my rear skewer was open. I unclippped and wound it up before kicking it shut-ish. In the peloton. On an 8 turn course. Going 20 something. I may not be faster than anyone, but I can still impress on occassion.

  39. Comment by lmouse | 08.4.2007 | 12:25 pm

    Fatty, don’t you have enough to worry about right now? I’d file this one under “I’ll think about that later. Much later.”

  40. Comment by lmouse | 08.4.2007 | 12:30 pm

    Which, of course, isn’t to say that you shouldn’t check it along with other things before every ride. Because that would just be asking for it.

  41. Comment by lmouse | 08.4.2007 | 12:44 pm

    BTW, have you heard? Lance and Floyd are back on for Leadville.

  42. Comment by lmouse | 08.4.2007 | 12:55 pm

    Both of them.

  43. Comment by Dudley | 08.4.2007 | 5:34 pm

    It was nice to see the stories of hard work and dieting involved in your recent challenge.

    I did notice however that your photo and the before and after photos of other riders show your hands shaped as if they were recently pried off of the handlebars, curved and partially closed in the post photos.

    This is probably OK, but maybe this is something to keep an eye on. Like in the TDF this year when lots of the riders had a tough time lifting and even holding on to their post stage loot.

    Congratulations and I will look forward to trying one of your upcoming contests!

  44. Comment by MAJ Mike | 08.4.2007 | 7:02 pm

    You people have me paranoid now. I must have checked my QRs every time we stopped on the group ride today.

  45. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 08.4.2007 | 11:27 pm

    MAJ you stop on group rides – you legend. In my group everyone else stops until I catch up then they move off again.

  46. Comment by MAJ Mike | 08.5.2007 | 3:58 am

    Stoplights, my friend, stoplights. Actually, yesterday, out of nowhere, I had what was easily my best group ride ever. I’m not sure where it came from, but I know that the guys who are 20+ lbs lighter than me were wondering “WTF…!?!?”

  47. Comment by Rocky | 08.5.2007 | 2:07 pm

    A 20mm through axle resolves the unfounded fear in question. My therapist says it’s so. And I believe her. If only there were such a simple cure for the rest of the bike world’s psychoses.

    Or perhaps a velcro strap around the skewer and fork leg, just as visual insurance that it is securely secure.

  48. Comment by buckythedonkey | 08.5.2007 | 11:47 pm

    Just back from holiday and I’m delighted to hear that you both had a good session with the Doc. Keep it up Susan – WIN!

  49. Comment by MTB W | 08.6.2007 | 7:32 am

    Wow, it just happened again yesterday at Keystone, doing hard down hilling on the ski slope area (on my FS XC bike – in a little over my head w/o a down hill bike). I heard the rattling sound and instantly knew what was wrong – QR hanging open. Must be the disc brake (certainly can’t be rider error!) The nubs saved me again.

    I think raising this issue has jinxed me – I am not listening, I am not listening!

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