The keen eyed reader will remember that my left hand SPD SL pedal started creaking during BMB. Thankfully nothing happened, and when I got home I got a new pair of pedals, moving the creaking set onto my winter bike.
The pedals kept working for another 5 months, but I finally decided to try to give them a service, in the hope of rescuing them. For reference, the pedals have probably done about 7,000 km, primarily in summer but also in one winter.
This post might be part of a new series on bike maintenance and upgrades, showing you how I – as an uninitiated but vaguely technically minded person – tackle various tasks. Hopefully this might inspire you to try your hand at improving your own bike!
I’m not sure of the technical terms for each part, so I have been as descriptive as possible.
I’ll caveat this by saying I’m not a bike mechanic, but I read up on the process, watched a few videos, tried it, and – spoiler alert – I survived a test ride. If I feel anything weird on the bike afterwards, I’ll take off the pedals and make sure they’re safe. But so far, so good.
What do I need?
You will need:
- 30 minutes of time (for both pedals)
- Clear, flat workspace
- 7mm spanner
- 10mm spanner
- 17mm spanner
- 8mm Allen key (Hex key)
- Unfolded paper clip or hook (for the ball bearings)
- Plenty of paper towels
- Optional: tweezers, bowl, magnet, vice
Taking it all apart
Remove both pedals from your bike. Give them a quick clean with a paper towel, or even a toothbrush to get rid of dirt.
Holding the pedal body firmly, use the 17mm spanner to remove the outer nut – this may be stiff. The left hand pedal is simple: righty tighty, lefty loose-y. The right hand pedal is however reverse threaded, so turn left to tighten, right to loosen.
Pull the spindle out of the pedal body. Admire the gunk that has built up, wipe this all off with a paper towel.
Put the 8mm Allen key into the base of the spindle, and holding onto this, undo the first bolt (I call this the first bolt) using the 7mm spanner. On the right hand pedal, this will also be reverse threaded, so turn right to loosen. Clean this and put it aside somewhere safe, you’ll need to keep these components in the proper order. Taking photos at key moments can be helpful to remember how everything fits together.
Keep the 8mm Allen key in the base of the spindle, and use the 10mm Allen key to undo the next bolt (I call this the second bolt). Do this carefully, as the ball bearings are hidden behind this bolt, and are not held in place with grease.
Using the unfolded paperclip (or tweezers or magnet), carefully remove the ball bearings and put them on a clean paper towel somewhere safe. There should be twelve – don’t lose them!
Remove the shiny silver metal cylinder, put this aside.
Remove the little black rubber grommet (I call it a domed grommet) from the spindle – this doesn’t have a screw thread. Put this aside.
Remove the second set out ball bearings (these should be in grease), and put them on a clean paper towel (ideally separate from the other set). There should again be twelve.
Once you have removed the black tube, use the paper clip to remove a little rubber ring grommet (I call it an O grommet) from inside. This is on the larger opening on the inward facing side, and might be hard to see because of the grease.
That’s it, you’ve taken apart your pedal!
Cleaning it all
Use paper towels to clean all the parts. I would recommend dabbing most of these, especially the ball bearings. Take care with these, as they may get stuck to the paper because of the grease and you can lose them. I avoided using water or degreaser to clean things, its much simpler and you avoid any unnecessary additional steps.
For the larger components, you can give them a good scrub with a paper towel. You can roll it up and run it through them to get most of the gunk out.
You’ll also need to clean the pedal body – this is most exposed to the elements and will contain a lot of gunk. After all, you don’t want to clean everything and then put it back into a filthy pedal body. Roll up a paper towel, push it inside to the bottom, and twist it around to get the most out.
Don’t forget the order in which you put the components!
Putting it all back together
Take your spindle and fit the rubber O grommet back on – there is an indentation halfway along the body where this sits (look at the photo above).
Put the black tube on over the grommet. It should naturally come to a rest, and will effectively float on the grommet. Don’t force it down too hard.
Where the black tube ends, add some grease around in the opening between the black tube and the metal of the spindle. Don’t use too much, this grease is used to seat and lubricate the ball bearings.
Using your fingers (or tweezers), carefully place the ball bearings into the grease-filled gap. You’ll want to do this one at a time, and put them in side-by-side. All twelve of them should fit and sit evenly around the spindle. I added a bit more grease on top of the ball bearings. Before you move to the next step, count them to be certain! The black tube is not fixed in place, so don’t move this around too much otherwise the bearings could fall out. You may want to use your paperclip to poke the ball bearings into place if they’re not being cooperative.
Fit the domed grommet around the top part of the spindle – make sure the domed part faces toward the outside / end of the spindle. It should sit near the bottom of the spindle “level”.
Fit the shiny metal tube on top of this grommet – the end of the tube should touch the black tube.
Using your fingers (or tweezers), carefully place the ball bearings into the gap formed by the shiny metal tube. These ball bearings don’t need grease.
Screw on the second bolt onto the spindle (on the right hand spindle, turn left to tighten). This has a slightly funnel shaped bottom, and should point towards the larger, inner-side of the spindle. Once tightened, this will hold the ball bearings in place.
This is the fun part.
Screw on the first bolt onto the spindle, but don’t tighten it yet. For the moment, there should be a gap between this and the second bolt.
The shiny metal tube is essentially where the pedal body will connect. You should be able to rotate this with your fingers and feel no resistance. If it wobbles laterally (along the body of the spindle), it is too loose. If you feel any resistance or even a slight grinding feeling, it is too tight. This is really a delicate point in the process. Don’t forget that on the right-hand pedal, turn left to tighten and right to loosen!
Once you’ve found the right tension, put the 8mm Allen key into the spindle body and put the 10mm spanner on the second screw. Ideally you’ll want a third hand or a vice, but I managed well by positioning these in the same direction and pushing both of them into my stomach. Neither should move during the next step.
Once the second bolt is held in place as above, use the 7mm spanner with your free hand to tighten the first bolt against the second bolt. This should be quite tight, but don’t go too crazy. I’m sure someone wise would specify a torque, but you want it tight enough so that it doesn’t come undone when riding.
Stand back and admire your handiwork. Check that the shiny metal tube still rotates freely. If not, redo the last few steps, you’ll get it! Don’t worry that the black tube may wobble a bit and can be moved away from the shiny metal tube, that’s normal.
Add a bit of grease to the threads on the black tube, and gently screw this into the pedal body. Use the 17mm wrench, it can be quite stiff. Again, make sure you tighten it up, but don’t go too wild.
Give the pedals a twirl and enjoy their new free movement. You can always go back and redo any of the steps if you’re not quite happy. All you have to do now is to clean the crank arm threads, grease the threads on the spindle, and screw them back in using the 8mm Allen key.
I took the bike for a spin afterwards and I immediately noticed the difference. What really surprised me was how light the pedals were, and it struck me. Many racers look for marginal gains and save watts in their chain or jockey wheels, such as waxing their chains or spending hundreds on ceramic bearings or oversized jockey wheels. However, how many regularly service their pedals before their big races?
When I originally heard the clicking noise of the pedal, I thought it would be a write off and that it was merely another disposable item. After doing some reading, I was surprised that it could be serviced and after trying it myself, I am surprised how easy it was.
If you’ve had your road pedals (or any pedals for that matter) on for a few thousand kilometers or if you’ve just finished a hard winter, why not spend half an hour and give them a service. As long as you have the basic tools and don’t mind taking things apart (and getting your hands messy), this is a pretty quick and easy job.
EDIT: The next day I decided that my right pedal spun a little too freely compared to the left (making it challenging to clip in). I took it apart again and tightened the second bolt to ensure the spin of left and right were similar.
Have you tried doing any repair work to your bike recently? Did I miss any steps above? What repair or service would you like to see me try next?
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