Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
This week, I am soliciting your help for a longtime RoadBikeRider roadie from Lansing, Michigan named Rick Oberle. You’ve probably seen his great comments over the years. I’ve known Rick through emails we’ve traded going back many years when he first reached out about one of my favorite stories on my personal cycling website called Bikeman. If you’re into vintage road bikes, it’s a fun read: https://jimlangley.net/spin/bikeman.html.
Meet Rick Oberle
I asked Rick to introduce himself to you. He wrote, “I would have to say that my favorite bike is my Seven since I have had it for nearly 20 years and have over 100,000 miles on it. The last mile I rode on it is pretty much like the first mile. Generally, I like to ride where there are no cars but my favorite location to ride is Canada, then North Carolina near Boone, then SE Ohio. I also get a strange satisfaction in riding INSIDE the City of Detroit – no cars, smooth roads, few people. In Canada, you can ride forever and never encounter anything but polite and considerate people, even on the busiest of roads and I have ridden to Quebec City from Lansing.
I am an early-onset Senior Citizen – 65 years old. I have been riding since I scraped together $35 to purchase a department store three speed in 1967. I rode that bike thousands of miles including the 10th TOSRV. We rode in tennis shoes just like most people in those days. I eventually got a Peugeot PX-10 and then my Legnano. I purchased an RRB frame in 1974 and moved all the parts to it, replacing whatever wore out. When I finally bought an entire new bike in 1998, the only thing left of the original Legnano (on the RRB) was (ironically) the pedals.”
You can learn more about Rick on this website: https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/directory/?user=RickO7.
Rick’s tech question
If you read Rick’s bio, you’ll see he talks about pedals at the end. That’s what his question is about.
What follows is his query and my reply in which I run down a list of ideas and thoughts for him to consider. If you’re an experienced clipless pedal rider, please read the Q and A. Then Rick and I would be grateful if you’d weigh in by leaving a comment sharing any tips, ideas and solutions from your experience with clipless pedals.
Rick’s pedal problem
“Hi again, Jim! This might be something readers could help me with. I have a heck of a time with pedals! They seem to wear out faster than tires (not literally but almost!). I gave up on Look pedals a few years ago and went to Shimano 105s (I didn’t want to spend a lot on something that wasn’t going to last anyhow), figuring that anything Japanese has to be well-designed and well-built. They have failed after a couple years too.
I get tired of the clicking on every revolution as the cleat doesn’t fit snugly in the pedal itself. It is only the pedal that gets clicked in and out of with every stop that has worn out. At this point, the pedal will not hold the (new) cleat in hardly at all and going over a bump can knock my foot out of the pedal. This happened to the Looks too which is why I ditched them (these were not my first). Why can’t pedals last forever like they used to???
Any suggestions for making pedals not wear out so quickly? Or since I probably have to get another pair, which clipless pedals are the most durable? One more thought I had. I broke the ankle on the foot I click in first about a year ago so maybe that ankle didn’t get screwed back in place straight and that’s causing a pedaling motion that’s prematurely wearing out pedals? Anyone else experience this?”
My thoughts and observations on Rick’s questions
Thanks for reaching out Rick. I’ve been clipless since 1982 and you are the first person to describe problems like these so something unusual is going on in my opinion. I’m going to throw out a list of things for you to think about and check that I hope will help you resolve the issue.
- I asked readers to weigh in if they have had pedal issues related to suffering a broken ankle (I haven’t)
- in general, cleats wear out pretty regularly – depending on how much you ride and the conditions and the cleat material – I’d say about a year for plastic, a couple – even more for metal
- pedals don’t wear out nearly as fast as cleats – I’m riding on 10+ year-old pedals Look Keos
- pedal screws that hold jaws and reinforcements can loosen and cause problems on pedals that have screws
- cleats can loosen and move around on the shoe(s) and this can cause entry/exit issues along with pedal, cleat and shoe wear
- plastic pedals have jaws front and rear that you’d think would wear but they don’t usually wear very much
- metal pedals and cleats like MTB SPD pedals last a long, long time under even the most demanding conditions – the cleats need replacing way before the pedals – but they are not road shoe friendly – still some roadies use them for the walking convenience and for additional durability
- in general, lubrication on plastic cleats/pedals is only needed once in a blue moon and sparingly
- too frequent or too much lube attracts dirt and dirt/grit accelerates cleat wear – though you could certainly wipe off the surfaces before the grit becomes a problem or try to – it tends to get down inside
- walking in road shoes with plastic cleats on the bottom causes many (most?) issues with cleats wearing out too soon. If I make a special effort to take my shoes off when I need to walk, I can keep the cleats like new for as long as I keep doing that. But it’s a pain to ruin your fancy cycling socks, too, so I usually just minimize walking
- how you enter/exit clipless pedals likely factors in when it comes to how long the pedals last. Smooth unforced engagement and release should wear the pedals and cleats less
- I have seen pedals beat-up not by riding but by letting them knock into things like curbs and steps when walking the bike. Even the toughest pedal can get damaged if it’s struck hard against something a lot tougher than it is
Overall, I wonder if you’re simply not replacing your cleats soon enough. Because you mentioned play between the pedals and cleats. When the cleats are good you won’t have play. For reference, I use Keo pedals and the cleats with the rubber on the edges – this model https://amzn.to/3iJQ89W.
This is a solid combination that just keeps on ticking. I weigh about 155 pounds and ride about 8,000 miles a year. I do NOT ride in the rain if I can help it and no snow or slush, either. Also, very little gravel riding on my road bike. I do ride my MTB but not much.
Also, I bet you wouldn’t wear out Shimano SPD pedals and cleats. While this means buying and wearing typically heavier walkable shoes, it might be worth it to you to escape the pedal issues. Many roadies love their SPD pedals and shoes. I use Shimano’s M520 pedals on my commuting bikes. They’re super affordable, too: https://amzn.to/3iUsF65.
Maybe something here will help you hunt down the issue, Rick. In short, I don’t think you should be having so many issues. Clipless pedals for most people just work. So, you have to figure out what’s different for you.
Thanks for reading Rick’s question and my feedback. If you have some clipless pedal suggestions for solving his problems or want to recommend a certain make and model, please comment below. Thanks for the assist!
Ride total: 9,793
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.