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Inspecting and tuning your pedals and cleats

Make sure all is well beneath your feet

by Nick Di Cristofaro

Example of Shimano cleat that is still OK for use

The most important contact point with your bicycle is at your feet. It’s here that you power your machine. So, maintaining the devices – the pedals and cleats – that connect your feet to your bike should be a priority. I’ve seen these components get quite neglected though. I’ve even seen nasty crashes due to a malfunctioning pedal or worn or improperly installed cleat.

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Cleat Care

Example of Speedplay cleat that could use replacing

Most people never look at the bottom of their cycling shoes. Make it a habit to inspect your cleats often. Check bolt torque and also clean the contact areas. For Shimano and Look cleats, look to where the front of the cleat clips in. There should be ample cleat material there. If more than half of it has worn way, replace the cleats. For Speedplay cleats, you should replace them every 3,000–4,000 km or before the mounting screw heads start to wear down. If such wear happens, it will be difficult to remove the screws. At worst, you’ll have to drill them out. Newer versions of Speedplay cleats actually have a permanent rubber cover that extends the life of the cleats drastically. You must also lubricate Speedplay cleats often with a dry-type lubricant. Walking on your cleats, obviously, will wear them out faster. You should probably get cleat covers if you do a lot of clomping around your coffee stop.

Pedal Work

At least once a year, you should remove each pedal axle, inspect and lubricate. Sometimes you need a special tool to hold the spindle to un-thread the pedal body. Other times, you simply use cone wrenches. Once you remove the pedal body, inspect the axle for damage or corrosion. Also, look at the bearings to see if they’ve become a little rough and need to be replaced. If there’s any damage on the axle, replace it, too. Also inspect the inside of the pedal body for damage. Clean it out with a rag and inject or brush a small amount of grease inside. Don’t forget to also wipe down the axle assembly. Brush grease into the axle assembly and slide the pedal body over it. While holding the axle with the appropriate tool or cone wrench, tighten everything back down.

Inject grease into Speedplay pedals with a grease gun

Does the axle have some play? On most Shimano pedals, you can use a couple of wrenches to fix this issue. You must loosen the locknut, and then adjust the cone to take out the play before re-tightening the locknut. This process is similar to adjusting a wheel hub. Note that newer Dura-Ace pedal axles are different. They don’t use a locknut-and-cone assembly. Instead, they use a needle bearing and loose ball bearings. After you put the pedal body back onto the axle, you adjust the play using two cone wrenches. If, after all your adjustments, there’s still some play, you’ll have to replace the axle assembly.

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With Speedplay pedals, you can inject grease into the pedal bearings. Remove the grease port screw, and then using a grease gun with a special nozzle, inject grease into the port. When you see clean grease flowing out the other end, stop injecting, wipe the excess and replace the port screw. You can actually rebuild a Speedplay pedals completely. You can replace pedal bodies, base plates and bearings. Most of those steps you should leave for a professional mechanic. But if you take proper care of your pedals, that visit won’t be for a while.