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Just got myself a new quick release rear wheel. Fantastic, right? Well, it's sort of a pain because I'm always worried it's going to get nicked. Usually, I just take off the front one and thread the lock through both wheels and the frame, but in unusual situations (eg When locking up two bikes with my one lock) it's necessary to remove the rear wheel. When I put it back on, I worry that I haven't centered it absolutely perfectly, and that I'm going to destroy it by riding it like that.

So, question: how can quickly be sure that I've centered by wheel, other than by just 'eye-balling' it?

EDIT AUG 3 2011

So thanks for the answers, but a lot of people are addressing how to safely lock a bike. I appreciate that, but my question (italicized above) is regarding centering a wheel. There are other reasons to take off both wheels, like if I need to fit the bike in a car. Thanks again, everyone, because it's also helpful to have tips on how not get your bike stolen.

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Nobody is actually addressing the question being asked here. Is it that vital to ensure the wheel is centered? Can it really be destroyed by riding slightly off-center? –  Mac Aug 3 '11 at 23:37
    
Well, even if it's not good for the wheel, it's unsafe. I always check if my bike is centered by riding with no hands for a couple of meters (so that imbalance becomes more noticeable), and sometimes after reattaching the back wheel I notice that it's not center. Recentering the wheel rectifies this. –  JKDDOW Aug 4 '11 at 0:51
    
Ahem!! I addressed the question. You look at the spacing on either side of the wheel, between the stays. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 4 '11 at 1:37
    
@JKDDOW wow that's very interesting. I've wondered why sometimes my bikes are more stable when riding no hands than other times. Do you know if the bikes leaning to the left whether the wheel needs to be tilted left or right? –  Mac Aug 4 '11 at 3:15
    
Are talking about a rear wheel with a derailleur/chain tensioner? Or are you talking about a single-chainline bike without tensioner? Are the dropouts vertical or horizontal? –  PositiveK Aug 21 '13 at 1:41

9 Answers 9

There are two types of rear dropout, ones that are vertical and ones that are horizontal.

With vertical dropouts you put the gears in top at the back and low at the front. Then you put the wheel in. Then you put some weight on the seat and fold the quick release lever over, applying whatever adjustment needed to get the quick-release tensioned correctly. The lever should fold up rather than down, forward or back as you don't want passing vegetation or other cycles to come into contact with the lever.

Horizontal dropouts require pretty much the same procedure however you have the problem of making sure the wheel is equidistant to the chain-stays. This is best done by having good eyesight and holding the wheel in place whilst you fold over the quick-release lever.

More generally you have a time penalty each and every time you lock/unlock your bike. You may want to consider investing in a cable loop to go through your D-lock and around the back wheel. These are affordable and need be not that bulky as someone is less inclined to saw through it to get your back wheel than they would be if they were able to get your whole bike. It will deter the casual rather than the determined thief.

The other option is to get a set of replacement quick-release levers with Allen key or 'special key' heads. In the UK these need not set you back more than fifteen pounds for the simple Allen key versions:

enter image description here

The 'special key' versions are worth the premium because you need more than an Allen key to get them undone:

enter image description here

These are a lot cheaper online, you can get the set for all of £8 if you Google 'Trans-X' quick release skewers.

the only pain with them is that the key needs to be carried and that does not fit onto a standard keyring too well.

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I definitely recommend getting the non quick release axles. It saves so much time and effort. –  Colin Newell Aug 2 '11 at 19:58
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A cable through the rear wheel is unnecessary. –  Stephen Touset Aug 2 '11 at 23:41

It depends on the bike. On some bikes simply having the axle all the way seated in the dropouts is sufficient to center the wheel, but in others (generally ones with a bolt-on derailer hanger) the wheel is not self-centering.

For this latter case (or if you're a perfectionist with the other type) you look at the spacing between the tire and the frame, after "hitting bottom" on the shallower dropout slot. (Look at the space between horizontal chain stays for horizontal dropouts, and the space between the diagonal seat stay for vertical dropouts.) The same amount of space should be visible on both sides of the tire.

Before centering, get the QR properly adjusted (should require significant force to close all the way, but not Herculean effort). Then partially close the QR to create some friction, adjust the wheel looking at the space around the tire, and then close the QR completely. Once you get used to it, centering the wheel this way takes only another 5-10 seconds.

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Upvote for actually answering the question, although everybody else's advice to avoid the problem altogether is also useful. –  Stephen Touset Aug 4 '11 at 3:16

If you have horizontal drop-outs, you might also have threaded holes for "drop-out adjustment screws". These are M3 screws held in place with firm springs that allow you to finely adjust exactly where in the drop-out the rear axle rests. If you have adjustment screws set-up right, you can be assured that the rear wheel is straight by merely yanking it backwards with some force before tightening the quick-release.

As others have indicated you judge the placement of the wheel by comparing the gap between the tire and the left/right chainstays.

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Buy another lock - the wise advice is to use two anyway: one to secure your bike to something immovable (and one wheel), the other to secure the other wheel.

And, given you're not going to be using the quick release so much now, as @mathew recommends, buy some non-QR axles (although that's one more tool to carry around in the event of a puncture).

QR are great for race changes and quick low-security locking, but I would always remove a QR seat post bolt and normally skewers too. (The tools live in my saddle bag, which I don't mind being QR!)

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The question is better than I first thought. I will explain.

If the rear wheel is not centered it is a much more serious business than the front wheel; I mean a millimeter or two. The reason is that the former horizontal position of the cog-set has been used to adjust both the upper and lower derailleur limits and the cable tensioning barrel adjuster for the shifting. If casual wheel centering is even a millimeter or two out, and it can be, then the shifting can get all messed up. More so with the 3.95mm pitch of 10-speeds than with the 5mm pitch of the 7-speeds, but important for both.

Wheel centering also has an effect on both sets of rim brakes. With the 1mm or so block clearances of modern rim brakes, even a 1mm wheel centering offset can require brake adjustment and balance. In fact the most common cause of inability to balance brakes is poor wheel centering. It is as well that rear wheels are rarely removed in a casual way, though the brake matter still applies even to a front wheel.

I have not found a really good way to ensure quick centering of a wheel, and am reduced to sighting the center seam of the tire in alignment with the middle hole in the rear wheel arch. A built-in feature would be handy if somebody would care to invent one, maybe something with a visual indication when the rim distances are casually equal, bearing in mind that although centering is also desirable, it is that the wheel is put back exactly in the SAME position that most preserves the adjustments.

Thanks for the question.

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The position of the cogs relative to the derailers varies very little with changes in "centering" of the sort being discussed. The real problem is the brake calipers (if rim brakes). –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '11 at 15:23

A trick I often use to center my wheels is to simple install them with the bike upside-down, resting on its handlebars and saddle. Gravity keeps them fully seated while I tighten the quick-release; otherwise both my hands are occupied and I often mis-align the wheel.

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You don't need to remove the rear wheel. Lock only the rear wheel, but do so through the rear triangle. This will properly secure your frame and your rear wheel. You may want to buy a cable to go through the front wheel as well. As always, Sheldon Brown demonstrates the correct technique.

proper locking technique

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Looks like one of Sheldon's better bikes there! –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 3 '11 at 0:06
    
don't forget to mention that a simple, short cable lock (~36") can be looped through the front wheel and locked to the U-lock. When you're done, just wrap the cable in a zig-zag around the u-lock and go--typically takes less than 30 seconds to lock or unlock, and secures both wheels and the frame –  STW Aug 4 '11 at 3:12
    
Sheldon's technique isn't secure. All the thief needs to do is chop through your rim and tyre and they have the whole bike. OK, the back wheel is toast, but that's a quick replacement. Sorry to have to contradict Sheldon here. See the thread on LFGSS. People using this technique have had their bikes stolen. –  MatthewN5 Aug 17 '13 at 9:30
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If they can cut through your rim, they can save themselves the trouble and simply cut through your U-lock anyway. A rim is a pain in the ass to cut through — it would be continually pinching the cutting device, given the strong inward pull of the spokes. –  Stephen Touset Aug 19 '13 at 18:01
    
Yeah, and cutting through the tire is probably a bigger PITA than cutting through the rim. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 21 '13 at 11:21

Place the wheel in the dropouts, squeeze the brake, tighten the skewer, done.

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"Centering" is not actually the problem, but "aligment". The distance from the hub to any of the dropouts is defined by the specific dimension of the bearings, cones, spacers and locknut used in each side of the axle, none of this is changed when opening or closing a quick release skewer. The "mobile" parts of a skewer squeeze the frame from the outside (outer sides of the droppouts), but the inner part of the dropouts directly press against the locknut in the axle.

This, in conjunction with vertical dropouts virtually eliminates any chance of installing a rear wheel badly aligned. The only thing to worry about is to properly seat the axle in every dropout, taking it as far into the dropout as it naturally goes. This type of frame only allows to attach the axle in one position, thus as long as you do it reasonably right, the wheel will be centered and aligned.

A frame with horizontal dropouts however pose a bit of a challenge. Again, it is not the centering of the wheel, but its aligment what is difficult. If your frame has perfectly simmetric dropouts, a good strategy is to install the wheel with the axle in the deepest part of the dropout, and adjust brakes and deraileur in this position. This way every time you have to re install the wheel, simply put it as deep as possible.

If this is not an alternative, a set of stopper bolts may do the trick. Alternatively you can use paint or stickers to mark aproppriate aligment marks to help you during the task.

In the case that you use disc brakes, they are a pretty reliable way of assuring the wheel is propperly positioned because they have very tight tolerances. Before removal, check that the disc is centered in the caliper and that neither pad rubs it. When you reinstal, check the same.

As other answers state, bad wheel alignemt is a big issue with rim brakes. This makes them a good indicator too. If you have your brakes propperly tunes, the pads land in the center of the rim's braking surface, and when you release the lever, they should "rise" more or less the same distance from the rim, so, perform this check after attaching the wheel and most likely you'll be fine.

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protected by Gary.Ray Aug 19 '13 at 13:36

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