By Jim Langley
This week, as a follow-up, let’s look at the other half of the system, clipless pedals and how to properly care for them. They’re what lock the shoes in place and ensure an efficient pedal stroke. Here are basic tips for inspecting pedals for problems and maintaining them correctly.
On most clipless pedals, the “jaws” are the sprung plastic or metal pieces that capture the cleats to hold the feet on the pedals, optimizing pedal power. The popular exception is Speedplay road models where the jaws are actually built into the cleat rather than the pedal.
Whether on the pedal or cleat, it’s important to care for these jaws. The best way is to try to avoid walking in mud or sand, anything that can wear and jam the mechanism when you step on the pedal to click in. This is another great reason to wear rubber cleat covers when walking in cycling shoes.
Stomping the feet on the ground a few times after walking can do a decent job of knocking sand out of the cleats. Another technique is to rap the side of your foot against the side of the pedal to knock the dirt out. Or, in a worst case, scrape the cleats clean with a stick.
Walking in dirt and mud is less of an issue with recessed-cleat style clipless pedal and shoe systems. They’re designed for walking and usually even shed dirt and mud, clearing the cleat and pedal jaws as you click into the pedals. These are the perfect choice if you plan to walk a lot when you ride.
To keep the jaws working nicely, lubricate them whenever they start to feel a little tight clicking in, or if they begin to squeak or creak. Finish Line’s Pedal and Cleat Lube (developed in conjunction with Speedplay) is nice for this. If you use a thicker lube, don’t forget it’s on your shoes or you might walk into the house and trash your carpets. And be sure not to use penetrants that can loosen the screws holding the jaws to the pedals.
Speaking of these screws, when inspecting the jaws, check with the right tool to ensure that any screws securing the jaws are nice and tight. They can loosen and fall out, crippling the engagement mechanism.
Pedals can go seemingly forever with the grease put in the bearings at the factory. But it’s still wise to check them – especially if you ride in all weather conditions. Over time the grease does wear out.
The way to tell is 1) to push and pull on the pedals, feeling for play in the bearings; and then 2) to turn the pedal slowly with your fingers, trying to feel for a hydraulic resistance. If there’s no play and the pedals turn with a bit of resistance (the grease inside the bearings is what makes it feel that way), then the bearings don’t need attention.
If you can’t tell by turning the pedal whether or not there’s any hydraulic resistance, try flicking with a finger to spin the pedal on its axle quickly. If the grease is worn out inside, the pedal will spin and usually sound dry, metallic. If there’s good grease inside, it will spin a little slower and won’t make dry or metallic noises.
If you still can’t tell, you may want to remove the pedals. That way you can hold the axle between your fingers and turn it slowly. With this method you will surely feel whether the bearings are still greased, or dry. Just remember: while the drive-side pedal is standard threading (righty, tighty; lefty, loosey), the non drive-side pedal is reverse threaded. Turn it clockwise to loosen and remove it.
Tip: If you have clipless pedals mounted and removed by an allen wrench inserted in the end of the pedal axles (on the back of the crankarms), it can be difficult to remove the pedals. A cool tool that will help is Efficient Velo’s Knuckle Saver adapter.
If needed, most clipless pedals are relatively easy to regrease, which will also remove the play. The job is usually as simple as removing the axles, putting a dollop of new grease inside the pedal bodies and reinserting the axles. This forces the grease into the bearings.
To find the exact bearing servicing procedure for your brand and model of clipless pedals, refer to the maker’s website. Or search on YouTube. Many companies today provide excellent video instructions there.
Please share your own pedal inspection and maintenance tips in the comments below the Newsletter version of this article.
Thanks for the tips and humorous comments about my Tech Talk column last week on fixing tired shoes. Rest assured that those gnarly old S-Works shoes shown in the photos aren’t my only pair – they were just the perfect examples with lots of problems to explain how to fix. I especially wanted to show the frayed Boa closure.
I’d like to point out that there are actually good reasons some riders keep using senior shoes even as they become as decrepit as a teenager’s Chuck Taylors. For example:
1. It’s difficult for penny-pinchers to discard things that have served them so well and still work fine just because they’re getting old and ugly.
2. Old shoes are nice for use in bad weather conditions (do you really want to trash your newer $300 shoes?)
3. Because they have formed perfectly to your feet and are the most comfortable – a process that can take years with some new shoes.
4. And maybe the best reason: the cleat position is spot-on, whereas the new shoes’ cleats still don’t feel perfect. Cleat fitting is another process that can take much trial and error.
Doug Kirk says
What? Nothing about eggbeater pedals? They are great. Require no maintenance, the cleats last forever, I’ve been using them on my road bikes for close to 15 years. Best of all you can use them on mountain bike shoes which are far safer to walk around in and don’t require cleat covers.
Mark Barrilleaux, Killa's Gara says
Jim, a couple of ideas that might be helpful come to mind.
– I Use the mnemonic “Back Off” to remember which way to turn to remove pedals. It works for both sides, and keeps me from getting confused, especially when approaching a pedal from the back with an allen wrench.
– Always wear work gloves when removing pedals to prevent busting your knuckles on something.
– For seriously seized pedals I remove the cranks from the bike, clamp my pedal wrench or allen wrench in my bench vise, and use the crank arm as my lever.
– My last resort is using a heat gun to loosen the threads. Be very careful applying this tactic to carbon fiber cranks. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t hold it in your hand, it’s too hot.
– And finally, regarding pedal disassembly: Just as the thread between the pedal and the crank arm is left-handed on the left side, some of the threads used to hold pedals together are left-handed. Check the service instructions, or at least try loosening in both directions before getting rough with it.
John Marsh says
“Back Off!” is an excellent mnemonic device! I’m stealing it, and your other comments, for next week’s Quick Tips! You’ll get full credit, of course.
Bike Fitness Coaching says
Jim, As a “knuckle-saver” I use a piece of thick-walled 3/4″ PVC pipe – about 2 ft long. This goes over the handle end of the 8mm allen wrench. Gives me leverage as well as keeps my knuckles away from the chainrings and other odd bits that tend to bite. Cost me about twelve cents vs the $24 of your referenced product. For those tough pedals, I place the bike on the ground and have another mechanic hold it or I lean against the wall, place the 8mm pedal wrench so the handle is facing to the rear then using leg power, quickly stomp on the wrench. The pedals come loose every time.
Also, its usually not the pedals that are the issue, its usually the cleats. As a bikefitter, I see it all and in fact there have been clients with cleats so worn I don’t even know how they are able to clip in. This is a safety issue since the amount of material holding the cleats into the pedals is about as thick as a piece of paper. Just think what would happen if you start a climb and this last bit of plastic gives way? I recommend and usually resell a new set of cleats.