Last week one of my teammates mentioned that he was being driven crazy by a drivetrain click. Every time his right pedal passed 5 o’clock, he heard and felt a pronounced click. I enjoy finding and fixing bicycle noises and have a popular page on the subject on my website with solutions for all kinds of common and unusual clicks and clunks from me and you: http://jimlangley.net/wrench/keepitquiet.html.
However, no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get rid of his click. Finally, I thought to ask him how many miles he had on his bike. When he told me he was approaching 20K, it dawned on me what the problem might be: his Shimano clipless pedals.
Pedal play or noise can indicate it’s time to regrease
What happens is that the pedals come from the factory with enough grease inside the bearings for up to about five years of use. But, if you’re a high-mileage roadie, like my teammate, you can wear out the grease faster. And, when that happens, the bearings don’t have enough lubrication and they can make noise. Also, you may develop a small amount of side-to-side play in the pedals — noticeable if you push and pull on them.
Tip: If you keep track of when you install new parts on your bike, it can be easier to determine if they might need repair or replacement. I make a note in my training diary so I can look back.
You only need a few tools
Fortunately, the fix is easy and doable by anyone with a few simple tools and some good bicycle grease, such as Finish Line, Park Tool, Phil Wood, etc. For tools, you’ll need the right pedal wrench for your pedals. Some can be installed with an Allen wrench that fits in the pedal axle. However, note that Shimano recommends always using a regular 15mm pedal wrench on the pedal-axle flats for tightening. That ensures that the pedals are tight enough and won’t loosen while riding.
Tip: Pedals are a little tricky, so use care when installing and removing them. Always start them by hand to ensure you don’t damage the crankarms’ delicate aluminum threads. And, remember that the left pedal is reverse-thread. Turn it clockwise to loosen it and counterclockwise to tighten it. See my pedal page for more details: http://jimlangley.net/wrench/pedalbasics.html.
You’ll also need tools for removing the pedal axle in order to repack your pedals with fresh grease. For current Dura-Ace pedals, an adjustable wrench works. For other models and older Shimano SPD pedals, pick up one of Shimano’s TL-PD40 axle-removal tools (available at bike shops), which fits on the special splined end cap that’s unscrewed to remove the axle. Or, if you don’t want to buy a new tool, you can make do with pliers if you protect the splined cap so you don’t mangle it.
Tip: To use pliers safely, a good trick is to cut short sections from an old punctured inner tube and slip them over the jaws of the pliers.
How to repack the pedals
Regreasing Shimano clipless pedals is surprisingly easy (the following steps work for some other pedals, like Look Keos, too). You can doit in about five minutes. Remove the pedal from the crankarm. Then, to remove the pedal axle to access the bearings, unscrew the end cap on the inside of the pedal and pull to extract the entire axle and bearing assembly from the pedal. Don’t worry about losing small parts; it will come out as one piece.
Tip: Use gentle pressure to loosen the end cap. If it doesn’t loosen, you’re turning it the wrong way and you need to turn it the other way. You can also look at the end cap or the tool (depending on the pedal model) for marks showing which way to turn it.
To finish the job, stuff about a tablespoon of grease inside the pedal and put the axle back in. When you push the axle in and tighten the end cap, you pressurize the sealed chamber inside the pedal body. This forces the grease into the bearings and relubes them, and they’re good to go for another 5 years. Note that there’s no need to clean the bearings or remove any old grease because it’s a sealed system.
The one caution is not to force the end cap. If, when you’re tightening it, it resists, unscrew it and start again. What can happen is an air bubble can get inside the pedal and prevent the cap from getting any tighter. If you force it, you can split nylon end caps — and any nylon parts inside the pedal — from the force. By unscrewing it and starting again, the air escapes so you can tighten the cap without excessive force.
Tip: I should mention that I’m assuming your pedals are in used but good condition. If you have crashed and damaged your pedals or ride in the rain and snow all winter, your pedal bearings may need more work (replacement axle/bearing assemblies are available if yours are worn out). But, in most cases, regreasing pedals as explained is a simple and effective solution.