Selle Anatomica
Close-up the rear wheel on a bicycle

How To Put a Rear Wheel on a Bike

Cyclists aren’t going anywhere without wheels — it’s an obvious statement. But ultimately, that means you’re going to have to deal with wheels on a regular basis as a cyclist. Whether you’re changing a flat or fixing a problem with how the wheel is mounted, you’ll need to remove and re-mount your bike’s wheels from time to time. 

That’s not too much of a challenge on the front wheel, but the back wheel is another matter. Getting the chain back over the derailleur and the wheel back in place can be a headache, and many cyclists have never learned how to do it properly.

That doesn’t have to be you, though. With the help of our friend and longtime cycling coach, Darryl MacKenzie, you can learn how to pop that rear bike wheel off and right back on so you can get back to pedaling. Read on to learn more about how to put a rear wheel on a bike. 

Common Bicycle Wheel Issues 

Before we get into the process of bicycle rear wheel assembly, you should consider a few of the reasons you might need to work with your wheel in the first place. Below are a few of the most common issues cyclists encounter. 

Note, too, that different issues may not apply to your bike, depending on the type of axle you have. Rim brakes usually have skewers with a CAM lever that tightens down, while disc brakes usually have thru-axles that screw into place. We’ll clarify throughout which type we’re discussing.

Your Brake Is Dragging 

Every cyclist has experienced a dragging brake at some time or another, and this happens regardless of which type of brake and axle setup you have. The brake may just touch at one point in your wheel’s rotation or rub all the way around. Either way, your wheel isn’t spinning freely.

“This can rob you of energy enormously,” says Coach Darryl. He notes that it’s not uncommon to lose as much as 20% of your pedaling power due to a dragging brake. Over a long ride, that energy loss can add up, leaving you drained and exhausted by the end. 

To ensure your wheel is properly mounted, completing the spin test before each ride is a good idea. With the wheel on the bike, lift it off the ground and spin it slowly in the direction of travel. Watch to make sure the bicycle’s rear wheel doesn't rub the brake at any point, otherwise, you may need to adjust or remount it (more on that below).

Your Wheel Is Loose 

A loose wheel is a much more dangerous issue, and you might not even notice it until the slackness becomes a problem. Laxity can happen to both types of axles. But if you have a thru-axle, your wheel will make a noise when it’s a little loose, making it extremely unlikely the wheel will come off the bike. So this is especially important to watch for with a CAM skewer.

Darryl once had a wheel come off while he was pushing very hard to a start. As you can imagine, he didn’t stay upright. You could have a serious accident if you’re going 20 or 30 miles an hour when that happens. 

If you have skewers, and either wheel (front or back) is loose, you can keep it from coming off the bike. You simply need to tighten it down. The skewer that mounts your wheel in the dropouts has a CAM lever that you screw in and then push down to lock it in place. Screw it far enough so that when you push it down, it’s tight enough to leave a mark on your palm.

Your Skewer Is Poorly Positioned

This is only a problem if you have a skewer with a CAM lever. Even if you lock it down well, if you don’t position it properly, the piece could latch on an object or another rider’s wheel and get pulled open, releasing your wheel from the bike. 

Coach Darryl actually witnessed that exact scenario on a ride. A rider in front of him clipped the rear wheel of another rider from the side, and her spokes caught the other rider’s CAM lever and opened it. Darryl watched in horror as the rear wheel of the bicycle came off and sent both riders tumbling to the ground.

Here again, you can avoid the wheel coming off (and thus you won’t have to put it back on — and you’ll avoid a crash). When you lock your CAM lever in place, make sure the level points in roughly the 10 o’clock direction when you’re looking directly at the wheel with the skewer, which is always on the left side of the bike. Push the lever in far enough that it’s angled toward the wheel, too. The right positioning will prevent snagging on anything during a ride. 

You Have a Flat Tire 

This is probably the most common issue you’ll face as a cyclist, and it occurs regardless of what type of axle you have. When you have to change a tube on a flat tire, you’ll need to take the wheel off the bike. That’s when you’ll definitely need to know how to remove the rear bicycle wheel and put it back on. 

How To Get the Rear Wheel off and on the Bike

No matter which kind of axle you have, the trick for getting your wheel off and on lies in how you approach the problem. First off, you don’t want to simply use brute force to get the rear bicycle wheel off or on. And avoiding that all comes down to where you put the pressure.

“A lot of people think they’re taking the wheel off the bike,” says Darryl. “But, in fact, what they’re doing is taking the bike off the wheel.” 

Here’s how it works.

Taking It Off 

Getting the wheel off is easier than bicycle rear wheel assembly, but this process still requires the right approach: 

  1. Shift the chain to the farthest gear from the bike. 
  2. Loosen your skewer so that its ends are distanced from the drops, or unscrew the thru-axle to remove it completely from the wheel. 
  3. Standing over the bike, place one hand on the rear wheel and one on the saddle.
  4. Hold the wheel in place on the ground and lift the bike up. This will open the derailleur and allow the chain to disengage from the bike.

Putting It On

This is the reverse of the above process. Knowing how to put a rear wheel back on a bike takes a bit more attention to detail: 

  1. Stand over the bike from the left (non-chain) side of the bike so your head will be directly over the cassette (and easy to see) when you lean over the wheel.
  2. While leaning over the bike, bring the wheel into position so that the chain is over the smallest cog.
  3. Holding the bike off the ground, take your hand off the wheel for a moment and manually open the derailleur by pulling it as far as possible toward the back of the bike. 
  4. Lower the bike down onto the cassette so the chain is on the small cog, then let go of the derailleur so everything falls into place.
  5. If you have a thru-axle, insert it onto the wheel and tighten it hard. If it’s a skewer, tighten it as described above in the section on loose wheels. 
  6. Give your wheel the spin test (described above) to make sure it freely. If not, you’ll need to loosen things up and adjust until it does. 

That’s it! Once you have this process down, you’ll be surprised to remember how frustrating taking your bicycle’s rear wheel off and on used to be.   

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Look for more from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay