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Pedal Basics
...and not so basics

Please note: This article is about removing and installing bicycle pedals. If you’re looking for information on installing cleats for clipless pedal shoe systems like Look, Shimano, Speedplay, Time, etc., go here

Required tools: There are special pedal wrenches available that are long for optimum leverage and have thin jaws to fit onto narrow pedal axles for a good purchase (Park Tool's pedal wrench, which I use and recommend is shown in the picture on the bottom of this page).

Depending on what type of pedals you have, you might be able to use a regular combination wrench instead (most pedals are 15mm). Note that some pedals are installed and removed with an Allen wrench inserted into the end of the threaded end of the pedal axle. You’ll need one with a long handle like this. Or, you can slip a piece of tubing or pipe over a regular Allen to lengthen your wrench and improve the leverage you have.

The most common reason to remove pedals is to upgrade or to switch a pair from one bike to another. You usually must remove the pedals when you ship your bicycle in a bike box, too.

Pedal removal and installation is trickier than it looks. Because pedal axles are usually made of steel and crankarms are usually aluminum, there’s the possibility of the hard pedal threads stripping the soft aluminum ones during pedal installation.

Also, pedal threading is unusual and confusing. The right (drivetrain side) pedal has regular threading (clockwise turns tighten it; counterclockwise turns loosen it). The left, however, is the opposite. What’s more, pedals are often attached to the crankarms super tightly, which can make removal quite difficult.

It was the "father of the bicycle," James Starley who invented the reverse-threaded left pedal. Until this innovation, left pedals would unscrew and fall off. Their reverse threading fixed the problem.

Here’s my video on pedals. Click to watch the show full size on YouTube.

Most pedals have flat spots on the axle near the crankarm for the wrench to grip. If you don’t see any flats, your pedal probably requires an Allen wrench, in which case, the hole for the tool will be in the end of the pedal axle, on the inside of the crankarm.

Safety tip: If your bike has more than one chainring, before trying to loosen pedals, shift onto the large chainring. This ensures that if you slip when working on the pedals, as I’ve seen happen to a few mechanics, you won’t slam your hand or wrist directly into the chainring teeth, which results in a nasty injury since the teeth are typically extremely sharp and also quite greasy.

There are 3 “secrets” to easy pedal removal:
1. Turn the wrench the right way (to loosen the right and left pedal, the wrench is turned towards the back of the bike). Note that if you turn it the wrong way first you can make it even harder to remove the pedals because you tightened them even more first!Push toward the crankarm
2. Position the wrench alongside the crankarm for optimum leverage. When it’s right, you’ll be able to push toward the crankarm, scissors style (photo right). If this isn’t possible with your wrench, try a different type.
3. Use a pedal wrench with a long handle or attach a “cheater” bar, such as a length of pipe, over your wrench.

How to deal with stuck or frozen pedals

If you try all these steps and simply can’t get the pedals off, here are some ways to extract even the stubbornist of pedals:
1. Use a penetrant like Liquid Wrench. If you have the time to wait for it to work, apply Liquid Wrench to the pedal threads. Given time to work its magic, it should penetrate its way between the threads making the pedals removable. Or try Finish Line's Chill Zone, which freezes and penetrates.
2. Use heat. Try heating the crankarm with a propane torch. Heat only the crankarm, not the pedal, which likely has plastic or rubber seals or parts that the heat will damage. Heating the crankarm a bit will expand it slightly (especially aluminum crankarms) and should loosen the pedal. Be careful NOT to touch the hot crankarm and burn yourself and it doesn't take much to heat up an aluminum crankarm so don't heat it too long!
3. Use a vise. If you have a sturdy bench vise, remove the crankarm(s) with the stuck pedal in it. Place the crankarm in the vise with the pedal facing up and positioned so you can get your pedal wrench on the axle flats (use soft vise jaws or wood blocks to protect nice crankarms). With the vise holding the pedal, all your force will be directed into the axle and greatly increase the chance that you can remove the pedal.
4. Use an oversize monkey wrench (also called a pipe wrench). If you're dealing with old-style rubber pedals like the ones shown in the picture of the blue cruiser bike above, and the pedals are old and worn out, you can bend and twist and break the bodies off. This will leave only the pedal axles attached to the crankarm. And, if you have a large monkey wrench you’ll be able to grab the axles with enough purchase to turn them and remove the pedals (the more you tug on a monkey wrench the tighter it grips what you’re trying to turn). Using this technique I once removed a pedal someone had welding into a crankarm!

One of the reasons pedals can be difficult to remove is lack of lubrication. So, be sure to grease the pedal threads before installation. Then look closely at the pedal axles or ends to see which side they belong on. You should see a little “R” and “L,” (photo below) for “Right” and “Left.” Note that French pedals sometimes have “D” and “G” for “Droit” and “Gauche.”
L for Left; R for Right

Choose the appropriate pedal and start it into the correct crankarm by hand turning the pedal axle toward the front of the bike (both pedals thread in in this direction). If it won’t start, don’t force it! You’re probably trying to install the left pedal on the right side or vice versa.

Take your time and resist the temptation to force the pedals in. The pedals have steel threads and the crankarms are usually aluminum. It’s very easy to ruin the crankarm threads by forcing the wrong-side pedal in. So, don’t force it. Crankarms are expensive!

Thread both pedals into the crankarms as far as you can by hand. Then fully tighten them with the pedal wrench. It’s important to get pedals good and snug so they can’t loosen from pedal pressure (a loose pedal can make a click or tick that drives you nuts and is hard to find). Tightening sufficiently can be difficult with pedals requiring an Allen wrench if you only have a short tool. For these, use a cheater bar to ensure adequate tightness.


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