The bike industry is known for not creating or adhering to standards, but it wasn’t until I needed a rear axle I fully realized how bad it had gotten. Digging through my bins of hoarded bike parts, I pulled a not-small selection of rear through axles in what was the correct length and spacing for a 12 x 142mm rear hub.
Looking to upgrade a Kona Raijin 29″ hardtail from QR to thru axle wheels, I had ordered the dropouts months ago. I finally had some time set aside to do some wrenching, and with a stack of thru axles to chose from, I figured one of them would get me rolling.
And yet, not a single axle in the bunch was going to allow a bike ride (on this frame) today. Although they were all the correct length and diameter, each axle had a completely different thread pitch. Frustrated, I decided it was time to to deal with it once and for all, and headed to a local bikeshop that boasts a robust online presence and inventory known for its vast selection of small parts.
What the what? In an ironic twist, the one time I visit my local bike shop, not only did the help at the counter have no idea what I was talking about or what part I needed, (although they were a stocking dealer no less) but I had to tell him the part I required. Fortunately I was able to navigate the shop website to identify the part I required, as their site wasn’t working correctly on my mobile device.
Except it wasn’t in stock; I received the usual script: ‘they could get it for me in a matter of days’. Thing is, I can go online and order it and do the exact same thing. Plus it’ll be shipped directly to my home or place of work and I wouldn’t have to spend an hour in traffic to deal with it. I wanted to ride my bike today though, so I got in my car and got ready to visit another shop. After driving three blocks I realized the error of this logic, pulled over and started making some calls. I called three more shops that specialized in mountain bikes, but not a single shop had the rear axle I needed to make my bike ridable this day.
It should also be noted that my partner Inga manages online marketing for two cycling e-commerce websites, and they don’t even list thru-axles on their websites. I’m gonna be bringing that one up at the next happy hour…
I just need a damn rear thru axle for my bike. How hard is that?
Standards? What Standards?
Well, thanks to the bike industry that could give a shit about the network of independent retailers, we have a crap ton of skus to chose from. The result is that no shops in the “bike town” of Portland stock them. Thanks to innovation and product development of the sport. Good job team!
My recent favorite is the VitalMTB’s Inside Line Podcast with Jose Gonzalez at Trek. He compared the bike world to the motorcycle industry, in which everything is proprietary and that the bike industry (well, Trek at least) is moving in that direction. Did the riders ask for that? This pretty much means that when you’re traveling and have issues with your bike, you’re going to have to seek out a Trek dealer. A mechanical could (and has) easily end your trip. Look, Trek has been making some dope mountain bikes lately. Personally though, I’m starting to get fed up, and I’m not sure I’ll be riding one again. (ok, unless they give me a really, really good deal on one)
Seriously, if 2 or 3 brands got together and decided on a number of standards, I’d be on board, and will only buy and recommend your bikes from this day forth. I’ll bet others would too. We’d maybe even make a Facebook group and bitch about those other companies. As long as your bikes don’t suck of course.
I have no idea what axle I need
I still wasn’t 100% sure I had identified the actual part I needed, so I began my online reading. (I obviously wasted a lot of time researching this crap) There are basically three different rear axle types seen as the current “standard” for MTB rear thru axles. You think there would be three, as there are three distinct rear hub types:
- 9mm x 135 mm
- 12 x 142 mm
- 12 x 148 mm (also referred to as boost)
- … oh wait, there is road too now. They had to do a bunch of different shit too, because.
The cool part of the 9 x 135 and 12 x 142 spacing is that many hubs can be adapted to work with both, and you can move wheels between bikes with spare hub caps.
There are a bunch more though. Boost is new and is quickly becoming the new standard. This doesn’t take into the spacing seen on DH bikes, 12 x 150 mm, or the Superboost spacing (based on the DH width) that Pivot is using. Plus road bikes are now utilizing thru axles. Do you think they did something like choose one of the existing types? Of course not.
How many types of rear axles does there need to be?
In the rear there are basically three types of rear hubs:
- 10 x 135 mm (or QR)
- 12 x 142 mm
- 12 x 148
- .. and DH. And road/cross/gravel now too.
So logic would dictate there would be three types of rear axles, right? Wrong.
How to determine the thread pitch on a rear thru axle
I still needed an axle. Although I also still needed to figure out which one I needed; the easiest solution would be to check with the company that makes your frame. Otherwise you’re going to need to get out the tape measure and calipers and start doing some research.
There are a variety of thread pitches and lengths; in the 12×142 “standard” alone there are a multitude of options. There are a number of variables you’ll need to determine: thread pitch, length of axle and thread length. Here are the options I’ve discovered for 12 x 142 mm rear thru axles:
- M12x1.0 — Scott / Santa Cruz
- Fine thread. 168mm length with 12 mm thread length
- Used by Santa Cruz and Scott. Santa Cruz models come OEM with a DT
- M12x1.0, 167mm length with 20mm thread length. Maxle Stealth is available for Santa Cruz / Scott
- M12x1.0 — X-12
- 161 mm length
- Used by Specialized. Syntace X-12. Inga’s BMC hardtail uses this.
- M12x1.5 — E-Thru
- Shimano rear E-thru 12mm “standard”
- 171 mm length, 18 mm thread length.
- Used by BMC, Giant, Lapierre, Rocky, Yeti, Evil Following, some Kona models (not mine)
- M12x1.5 — 160mm length, Road
- 160mm length, 20mm thread length
- Available as Maxle Stealth
- M12x1.75 — Maxle
- Rear Maxle used by Ibis, Niner, KTM, some Trek models, a BMC model. Some Kona models too (turns out this was the size I needed)
- 174 mm length. 20mm thread length
This is just for a regular non-boost rear thru axle. There’s also the boost 148 length. In the 12x148mm “standard” you need to choose from multiple thread pitches as well.
- M12x1.5 — Boost E-thru
- 170mm length, 10mm thread length
- M12x1.75 — Boost
- 180mm length, 20mm thread length
- Plus there are additional lengths for Split Pivot bikes and Trek Boost ABP.
Boost being newer isn’t as much as a clusterfuck. And to think I was frustrated with an additional hub width! At least you can add spacer kits to make your old wheels work as a stopgap measure.
So how do you figure it out? You’ll need to know the length of the axle, the length of the threads and whether its a 1, 1.5 or 1.75 thread pitch. Honestly, it isn’t that bad once you know what you’re looking for – it’s still pretty damn lame though. And you probably won’t find the one you need at your local bike shop, though hopefully they at least stock the sizes to fit the lines they carry. Good luck.
What is wrong with you people?
The problem is there are at least three different thread types utilized. Is it that hard to decide on one? That alone would reduce the amount of skus IBDs wold need to stock, assuming they wanted to stock it at least.
Part of it is likely due to the ongoing SRAM vs Rockshox rivalry. Some frames utilize the SRAM Maxle, others the Shimano ‘E-thru Standard’. I’m sorry, but this isn’t helping anyone. Slightly different length would make sense; I can see the logic there, as all frame materials vary. That said, someone could still make a universal axle that fits most — if we could just agree on one thread pitch. The various thread options though? It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Good luck finding a replacement if you lose one. Plus when you’re shopping for a rear axle you have a ton of options. SRAM, DT Swiss and Shimano all offer axles if you can figure out which one you need. Personally I prefer the bolt on type, but they all do the same thing. (Prices range from $30 and up)
During my trip down the rear axle rabbit hole I discovered a few new players in the aftermarket axle game. Even they expressed frustration with the current state of affairs. I mean, damn, just to sell you a rear axle they have to make over a dozen and stock them all.
MRP Race Axle
MRP is one of these, and started offering a cool new axle called the ‘race axle’. Designed as a replacement for the heavier QR lever types, by switching to their bolt in model you can drop some weight too. At $40 it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, though it’s a bit more than a Maxle Stealth. It’s pretty neat. More importantly they offer resources so you can get the correct one that that alone is worth a couple bucks more.
Check it out: www.MRPBike.com/race-axles
The Robert Axle Project — the Lighting Bolt-on Axle
Designed and made in the US and based in Bend, Oregon, the Robert Axle Project makes — and I quote, “a shit-ton of axles.” I like these guys! Side note, they also sent one of their Lightning Bolt-on Axles to try out, so doubly so. (post coming soon)
The Lightning Bolt-on axle is also compatible with the Hexlox security system for riders that lock their bikes in public spaces – it’s definitely worth looking into for this reason alone if that’s something you do.
Seriously though, they just makes axles. Check them out at RobertAxleProject.com
Paul Components Thru-axle QR
Paul Components also makes aftermarket thru axles if you’re into the retro QR thing.
Fairwheel Bikes: All About Thru Axles
Bike and Ski Blog: MTB Thru Axles – Who knew there were so many Standards
Carbon-Ti.com: Axles and Quick Releases