While thru-axles may seem like a superior choice, they aren’t perfect. There are still many reasons why you may prefer a quick-release skewer, just as there are several reasons you may want to consider thru-axle hubs for your next bike.
As the name implies, quick-release skewers are easy to release. Just flip the lever, and you can slide the wheel out of the bike. There are thru-axles with levers, but they don’t work like a skewer. You still have to unthread the axle from the bike. This takes slightly longer to remove. While this isn’t an issue for most riders, it could cost you a few seconds in a race. There are a few unique solutions around this problem, but you aren’t likely to see them unless you have a high end thru-axle for road bikes built for racing.
Track dropouts are still common on fixed gear and single speed road bikes. Moving the wheel back and forth in the dropouts makes it easy to tension the chain. However, most new single speed mountain bikes use thru-axle hubs for added strength.
The nuts on axle washers, axle bolts and quick release skewers have a toothed or textured surface. This bites into the dropout to keep the wheel in place. These fasteners don’t bite down in the same place every time, which can lead to alignment issues. A misaligned front wheel can make the rotor rub against the brake pads. A misaligned back wheel places the cogs at an angle, which makes shifting harsh and unpredictable. There’s only one position for thru-axle wheels, which eliminates these problems. When it comes to thru-axle vs skewers, thru-axles are the clear winner if you’re using modern drivetrain and brake components.
Thru-axles add strength to the bottom of forks, improving torsional rigidity. This helps the bike track through corners. It also reduces twisting forces on suspension forks that can lead to rotor misalignment and broken axles.
On average, a thru-axle weighs about 20 grams more than a quick release of similar quality. The added material used for the dropouts increases weight, but less material is needed for the forks, seatstays and chainstays. That’s because thru-axles act as a structural components. On average, a thru-axle bike weighs around 100 grams more than a quick release bike.
Most internal gear hubs and electric motor hubs won’t work with thru-axle frames. The axle is the anchor point for the sun gear, so it’s under torsional stress. To keep the axle from spinning, keyed washers push against the dropouts to support the axle. There are a couple internal gear hubs from Kindernay and Rohloff that will work with thru-axles. These use adapters that clamp onto the chain and seat stays to keep the axle from spinning. These adapters only work with a few frames.
Quick release axles have been around for almost 90 years, so they’re well established and easy to find. You should have no trouble picking up replacements, no matter where you are in the world. Due to their shorter availability and endless range of sizes, you will probably have to order replacement thru-axles. What is an annoyance for local riding can become a logistical nightmare if you’re touring and bikepacking. When debating between thru-axle vs quick release skewers, most long distance riders will go with skewers.