Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
A quick note to start: If you’re a pedal virtuoso already, feel free to skip this Tech Talk. But if you have any favorite pedal tips to help newer roadies and mechanics, please do share them in a comment.
With Christmas almost here, I want to offer some tips for anyone who might be getting the ultimate gift, a new bicycle! And for those who might be gifted new pedals, too. To explain, most new bikes either come without pedals or with el-cheapo plastic basic ones that you’ll probably want to upgrade ASAP. And if you’re swapping out pedals and haven’t done it before, there are a few things you need to know.
My Friend David
The subject of pedals came to mind because of my buddy David. He recently moved to Denver and bought a mountain bike to enjoy the trails and stay fit. But he immediately had a problem. His feet slipped off the basic plastic pedals on his new bike.
Heading back to the shop, David picked up some wider pedals with pins to keep his feet on. Yet when he tried to put them on his new bike he couldn’t figure out how to do it. He was able to remove the right pedal, but the left pedal wouldn’t budge.
That’s when he texted me for help. Here’s what I told him.
The first thing to know about pedals is that there is always a Right and Left pedal. The Right pedal only goes on the right (drivetrain) side of the bike. The Left pedal only goes on the left (non-drivetrain side).
The next thing to know is that the Right and Left pedals are different from each other. And it’s the difference that caused David’s difficulty.
The Right pedal has standard threading. It is turned to the right to tighten and to the left to loosen. But, the Left pedal has what’s called “opposite” or “reverse” or “left-hand” threading, all of which mean that it is turned to the left to tighten and to the right to loosen.
David got his right pedal off because he turned it the normal way you turn things to loosen them and that worked. But when he tried the same thing on the left pedal, instead of loosening the pedal he only made it tighter. Once I told David to loosen his left pedal by turning to the right he was good to go to install his new left pedal.
Sometimes pedals can be so tight they seem stuck. It can be because they were put in without lubrication. Or they might have been overtightened at some point.
When they’re stuck or difficult to get off, the first thing is to make sure you’re trying to loosen them in the correct direction. It’s easy to get confused.
But before you push hard on your pedal wrench to break a stuck pedal free, take the precaution of making sure the chain is on the largest chainring on your bike.
That way if the pedal let’s go and your hand comes down and slams into the chainring or anything else you have some protection. Even better, you could wear a glove and cover anything your hand might slam into with rags.
I recommend owning and using a professional pedal wrench, such as Park Tools PW-4 for removing tight pedals: https://amzn.to/3snsJUj . It has a long handle and two sets of jaws so you can always find a way to line the wrench up for maximum removal force.
Some pedals take a 6 or 8mm Allen wrench/hex key for installation and removal. The longer the handle on the tool, the easier it will be to use to loosen tight pedals.
If your pedals require an Allen wrench/hex key for installation and removal, you still might like an adapter that lets you use a regular pedal wrench. EVT (Efficient Velo Tools) invented that tool. Here it is: https://www.efficientvelo.com/tools/knuckle-saver-pedal-wrench-adapter .
Bikehand makes a copy of EVT’s tool and includes a pedal wrench: https://amzn.to/3mmBdHs.
Positioning Pedals for Removal
When removing pedals, for either side, if you rotate the pedal close to the front tire (crankarm should be horizontal) and then align the pedal wrench alongside the crankarm or as close to that as you can get it, you will be able to remove pedals by pushing down on the pedal wrench.
With one hand on the pedal wrench and your other on the pedal, you can keep the pedal from changing position and apply plenty of force to remove the pedal.
For pedals requiring an Allen wrench, again rotate the pedal close to the front tire and make the crankarm horizontal. But, position the Allen key so that its end is at 3 o’clock for Right pedals, 9 o’clock for Lefts.
With one foot on the pedal you’re removing, you can now reach down and pull up on the Allen wrench to loosen the pedal.
Just as with removing them, the most important thing is to make sure you’re putting the pedals on the correct side of the bike. Most pedals have “R” and “L” stamped on the axles somewhere, sometimes it’s on the body of the pedals, too.
So look for that before installing them and be 100% sure you’re putting the Right pedal in the Right side and Left in the Left. Also, apply a little grease to the threads to make installation easier and prevent corrosion down the road.
Always start the pedals by hand. If they won’t start by hand, you probably are trying to put the wrong pedal in.
Once the pedal is started in the crank, tighten it with the wrench. You don’t need a professional pedal wrench to tighten pedals. You can get them tight enough with any wrench that fits.
Watch the Video for More
For a lot more details on removing and installing pedals, tools and tips, I made this video. David enjoyed it and I hope you do, too!
10,221 Daily Rides in a Row
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 cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.