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How to take a wheel off a bike

31 March 2023
How to take a wheel off a bike

Taking the wheels off your bike might seem counterintuitive, but there are plenty of reasons you might want to do it. If you’re driving to a race or off for a cycling holiday, you may need to remove a wheel to store your bike on a rack or in the back of the car. Additionally, removing wheels can be helpful for a range of bike maintenance tasks, such as replacing a flat inner tube. 
Regardless of the reason behind it, read on to learn how to remove a bike wheel.

How to take off a bike wheel

The exact method to remove the wheel of your bike will depend on the type of axle you have. A quick release axle has a cam lever that allows you to swiftly take the wheel off its axle, without having to remove the axle from the bike. Thru axles, on the other hand, are more common nowadays on all kinds of bikes. They’re sometimes referred to as stealth axles. You will have to remove the axle on these hubs, but all it needs is a 6mm Allen or Hex key. 
Below, we explain the simple methods you can use to remove the wheels of your bike.

How to take a front wheel off a bike

Some bike racks that allow you to mount your bike on the back or top of your car require you to remove the front wheel of your bike to do so. Here is how you can do it without fuss.

1. Release the brakes

If your bike has cantilever brakes or rim brakes, the first step to removing your front wheel is to release the tension in the cable. Find the brakes in front of the fork at the top of the wheel. For rim brakes, there is usually a quick release lever or button. Cantilever brakes can be released by one end of the cable out of its holder.
It should be noted, if you’re removing the wheel to deal with a flat, you might not need to do this, as a flat tyre should fit through without adjustment. Because of this, if you’re struggling to release the brakes, one option is to let some of the air out of your tire. Just don’t forget to pump it back up again once you’ve replaced the wheel!
For bikes that have disc brakes, you shouldn’t have to touch these to remove the wheel.

2. Get your bike into position 

Removing a bike’s wheel while it’s still standing on it makes the job unnecessarily difficult. Your best option is to prop your bike on a purpose built bike workstand to take the weight while you get the job done. If you don’t have one or you’re out on a ride, flipping your bike upside down to stand on the handlebars and saddle works too. 

3. Open the axle

For quick release axles: Open the cam lever and hold it in place. Then loosen the bolt on the other side of the hub, but don’t remove it altogether.
For thru axles: Move the lever into the open position and turn it anticlockwise to unscrew the axle and remove it from the bike. You may need a 5 or 6mm hex key to loosen the axle.

4. And finally, take off the wheel

You should now be able to lift the wheel away from the bike frame. Be careful to avoid dislodging the components of your brakes as you do so. Touching the hydraulic brakes can move the pistons out of position, preventing the disc from fitting into the calliper. If this happens, you can use a flat head screwdriver or tyre lever to push the pistons back into place.

How to remove a rear bike wheel

Taking off the rear wheel of your bike is a bit more difficult, as it’s this wheel that’s connected to your drivetrain. However, with these step-by-step instructions, anyone can do it - and you can even do it without getting greasy from handling the drivetrain!
The first step to removing a rear wheel is to make some slack in the chain by moving it to the smallest cog on the rear wheel and the smallest chainring on the crankset. Creating slack makes it easier to take the rear wheel off without damaging any aspect of the drivetrain. 
Next, you’ll need to release the brakes. This works just the same as it does for removing a front wheel. As explained earlier, you probably won’t need to do this if you have a flat or if you’ve got disc brakes.
Opening the axle is also the same process for your rear wheel. Finally, you can lift the wheel out of place. If it doesn’t come easily, don’t force it. It’s likely that the problem is your derailleur or chain is still blocking the way. If this is the case, just use your hand to pull the derailleur back out of the way, and remove the bike wheel. On some models, there is a service catch you can use to keep the derailleur out of your way.

How to straighten a bike wheel

A bent rim can happen in all sorts of situations, particularly if you’ve been out mountain biking on rough terrain. Fortunately, this is something that can be fixed at home, although pro cyclists and racers might benefit from the expertise of a professional bike mechanic. It’s also worth checking if you’ve broken any spokes when you notice a bent rim. These will need to be fixed sooner rather than later. 
If you’ve spotted a wobbly wheel on your bike and you want to try fixing it at home, the first step is to make sure the axle is sitting straight. Check that your brakes aren’t damaged or dislodged as well - all of these things can cause issues easily mistaken for a bent rim. 
Once you’re sure a bent rim is the problem, fixing it is the next step. It’s best to take your bike to a professional mechanic to true the wheel, but if the problem is only a small deviation at one point on the rim, you may be able to adjust it yourself. This involves using a spoke wrench to tighten the spokes opposite the deviation to straighten the rim. So, if your rim is warped to the right, you need to tighten the nearest spoke that is attached to the left side of the hub. This can take a bit of trial and error to get your wheel relatively true, but it can save you the cost of a visit to the mechanic. However, if you find you need to tighten spokes more than a couple of turns, you should take it to a professional for an opinion and it may be the case that the rim or wheel needs replacing.

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