The Quick Release

Tullio Campagnolo patented the cam mechanism quick release for wheels that is still widely used today, 80 years later. Back in 1990, I wasn’t too concerned with who invented it, but I knew that you didn’t have a good bike unless you had quick release skewers.

This is more or less how it goes today – even in cases where you shouldn’t have a quick release.

The quick release was always about racing. I don’t know if they had team cars back in the 30’s, but if you get a flat in a race, you just get a new wheel from the mechanic in the team car. The quick release allowed you to quickly swap the entire wheel. You flip the lever open, pop out the wheel, pop in the new wheel, flip the lever closed, and go.

It could happen probably faster than you can read that sentence.

It became the standard for mountain biking too, simply because it worked so well. Why wouldn’t you use the system that needed no tools? Carrying a 15mm open end wrench on your bike is not so easy.

Unfortunately, in the mid 90’s, the effectiveness of the quick release was severely curtailed by stupid people. Somebody somewhere sued a bike company because they didn’t know how to work them properly. Their wheel fell out of their bike, and they sued because the QR was sooo dangerous.

In response the industry was forced to put little tabs on the forks so that even when the QR was improperly installed, and the lever came open, the wheel should stay in the fork – at least until the QR twisted itself open. Presumably the rider would stop after noticing that the wheel was loose. Of course if they were too stupid to figure out the QR, I’d think they would also not be able to figure out why their front end felt so wobbly…

The American Justice System; enabling idiots since I don’t know when.

Since the QR was so great on wheels, it’s also great on the seat, right? Well, no. It’s entirely pointless on a road bike. You put your seat at the correct height, and there is literally no reason you’d ever ride your road bike with the seat at any other height.

Same for hybrids and cruisers. Anything you ride on the street really.

Mountain bikes on the other had, are ridden down very steep trails, where it’s beneficial to have your weight as far back as possible. Behind the seat in fact. The seat being at the correct height makes this very difficult. Enter the Hite-Rite.

Breeze and Angell Hite Rite.

Flip open the seat QR, sit down to push the seat down, get gnarly, then flip it open to allow the seat back up when you were back on level ground. It was simple, and worked well – some custom made frames had mounting tabs for them too.

On the other hand, maybe it didn’t work that well, because it only lasted a couple years in the marketplace. It did rely on the seatpost smoothly sliding in the seat tube, and judging from the amount of zig-zag scratches I’ve seen on seatposts in my lifetime, this didn’t happen enough.

If you have a dropper post, now you know where the idea came from.

Back to wheels though. By the mid 90’s in the mountain bike world, the 9mm QR axle was simply not getting it done – it wasn’t stiff enough. So, we went to 20mm axles, and then 15mm axles. And the quick release skewer just didn’t work in this context.

There were some hilarious attempts to adapt QR technology to 20mm axles. Marzocchi’s 20mm QR was truly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever had to deal with. On the underside of each fork leg were 3mm allen bolts. You’d loosen the bolts to remove the axle, but you’d have to completely remove the QR part of it to get the axle out. Or you could completely remove the aluminum plates under the axle to remove it.

There was nothing quick about either of these options.

When 15mm axles came along and showed 20mm the door, it did away with the QR entirely. The axles have a lever built into them, so the wheel still comes off without tools. And it’s fine anyway since there’s no team car in mountain bike racing. If you get a flat, you’re on your own. Having a really solid connection between the fork and the wheel is far more beneficial.

10mm and 12mm rear axles have taken over the industry now too, so the rear QR is pretty much gone too. Only one really stupid place is holding out; the seat.

This is my Devinci Kobain RS, which came from the factory with a Gravity dropper post, and a seat QR. The dropper post is actuated with a lever on the handlebar.

There is literally no reason for a seat QR. Why would you need to move the non-moving part of the dropper? The dropper post handles dropping the seat for rough terrain. And you can’t take the post out because there’s a cable attached to the bottom of it! It is 100% useless.

I think I’ve successfully made the case here for the end of the cam type quick release on a modern mountain bike.

Thank you Mr. Campagnolo for your contributions to cycling, they have been invaluable, but, time marches on, and we’ve had to move onto better and stronger things.

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