How to change your pedals: everything you need to know

Sooner or later you’re going to need to remove the pedals from your bike. Although it may seem like a really simple operation, we’ve got a few tricks to make sure it goes smoothly.

Pearson how to change your pedals

There’s a tendency to think that pedals are fit and forget. Modern pedals will usually run for years with little or no maintenance, but you may find that you need to replace them, service their bearings - or you may just want an upgrade or to fit a power meter.

It’s fairly easy to damage a pedal in a crash too and if you’re shipping your bike you may need to remove the pedals to pack it. Some bikes will be sold with basic flat pedals, that you’ll want to replace immediately, while many bikes aren’t sold with pedals at all, so you may need to fit a pair before you can start riding.

Different threads

The key thing to remember about your pedals is that they have opposite threads, so the right-side pedal has a normal right-handed thread, but the left pedal has a reversed, left-handed, thread. That’s to stop them from unscrewing as you ride.

Pearson how to change your pedals

So you need to make sure that you’re trying to turn them the correct way to unscrew them, or you risk making it harder to remove them and potentially can strip the threads in your crank arm, which are often alloy and so quite soft.

Because pedals don’t usually get removed that often and they’re likely to get wet if you’re riding in all weathers, the threads can freeze to the crank arms too, making removal difficult. That’s one reason why, when you do come to refit them it’s a very good idea to grease the threads or apply an anti-seize compound.

What tools do you need?

Pedals will sometimes have flat sections at the end of the spindle and can be removed with a 15mm spanner. The space between the pedal body and the crank can be quite narrow though, so you may need an extra-thin spanner to fit - you can buy specialist pedal spanners for the job, which will usually have a long arm for plenty of leverage to get the pedal threads moving.

Pearson how to change your pedals

Most clipless road pedals now have an 8mm Allen key socket set into the inside end of the pedal spindle. That makes for a secure connection so you can apply plenty of force, but you will probably need a longer allen key to get enough leverage on it - a multitool might not let you exert enough force to free the pedal. You may need to extend the arm of the Allen key even further to get enough leverage if the pedal is really firmly set in place; a piece of metal piping is a good option.

Pearson how to change your pedals

You should use paper roll or a rag to clean up the threads too while you’ve got the pedals off the bike and you will need the aforementioned grease or anti-seize compound when you come to refit your pedals.

Right-side pedal

Let’s start off with the right-side pedal. Set your bike up on a flat surface next to a wall.

Chainrings have sharp teeth and it’s easy to bash your knuckles on them (or on the floor) when you unscrew your pedals as you’ll often have to apply quite a bit of force to get them moving. So move the chain to the large ring and ideally put a rag over the chain to protect yourself from chain oil as well as cuts. A sturdy pair of rigger’s gloves is a good additional safety measure as well.

Place your drive-side crank so it’s pointing forward at the three o’clock position. If you’re using a spanner it’s easiest to work from the same side of the bike, but if your pedals use an Allen key in the end of the spindle you may find it easier to work from the opposite side.

Put the spanner or key in the pedal so that it’s rearward facing and pointing slightly downwards - roughly at the seven o’clock position - then apply force anti-clockwise on the pedal. With an Allen key, it’s slightly confusing as you need to turn clockwise when you’re looking at it from the opposite side of the bike. For both an Allen key or a spanner, you need to apply force towards the ground though.

If things aren’t moving, try spraying WD40 or equivalent lubricant on the threads and the point where the pedal spindle contacts the crank arm. Leave it to work for half an hour or so and try removing the pedal again. You can apply more force by putting a foot on the top of the crank arm as you push down on your tool.

Once you’ve got the pedal threads moving, you should be able to unscrew by hand. Spinning the chainset in reverse while holding the pedal spindle is a quick way to unscrew the pedal. 

Sometimes, there’ll be washers fitted between the pedal and the crank arm. Keep an eye out for them, catch them and keep them safe so you can reinstall them when you refit your pedals.

Left-side pedal

Removing your left-side pedal is a mirror image of your right pedal, so you’re turning it in the opposite direction to unscrew.

Again, start with the crank pointing forward and your Allen key or spanner pointing downward and to the rear. This time you’re turning the pedal spindle clockwise to unscrew, or if you’re working from the opposite side of the bike turning your Allen key clockwise as you’re looking at the end of the spindle.

The same issues of frozen in place pedals can occur, so WD40 or GT85 spray can help, as can standing on the crank for more leverage.

Refitting pedals

As we mentioned, start off by cleaning your threads on your pedals and wiping out the threads in the crank arms, then applying a dollop of grease or anti-seize.

You need to make sure you’ve got the right pedal for the right side, as the opposite threads mean that they can’t be interchanged. 

For Look and Shimano type road pedals, it’s quite easy to tell which pedal is which as the pedal’s sidedness means that the platform will be facing forward when it’s the right way up if you’ve picked the right one. It’s a bit more tricky for flat pedals and some double-sided pedals though.

Many pedals will have an L and an R stamped on them somewhere. If not, take a careful look at the threads to see if they rise towards the right (right-hand pedal) or the left (left-hand pedal). 

If you’re still not sure, try inserting the pedal gently by hand - it should be pretty obvious which one is going to mesh with the threads in the crank arm. You’ll feel a click as the threads of the incorrect one jump over the threads in the crank. It’s a good idea to start off tightening the pedals by hand in any case to make sure that you’ve not cross-threaded them, only using your tools to finish off tightening them.

As with removing the pedal, spinning the crank arm - in this case forward - while holding the pedal spindle will speed up reinsertion.

Once you’ve got the pedals started, it’s just a question of tightening them up firmly. They don’t have to be too stiff, although some pedal-based power meters do need quite a firm connection to the crank arm, and sometimes a specific torque figure, to get a consistent, reliable reading.

Damaged threads

If you find that the threads in your crank arms are damaged (it’s usually the cranks rather than the pedal spindles, as they are often made of alloy, which is softer than the steel or titanium used for a pedal spindle), you may be able to have them retapped by a bike shop, who will have the specialist tools required. 

It’s something that our workshop can help you with and we’ll fit or remove pedals for you as well - make an enquiry if you need help. We can also advise you on your options for new or replacement pedals or power meters.
Authored By Paul Norman
Paul has been riding since he was a teenager - and that’s a long time ago now. He was into gravel before it was even invented, riding over the South Downs on his cyclocross bike. He’s been writing about bike tech for leading UK publications and websites for over six years, travelling throughout Europe covering bike launches and riding with some of the road racing greats.
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