How do I Loosen or Tighten Bike Pedals?

You’ve decided to upgrade to some shiny, new, potentially bike-matched pedals, and you would like to tackle the intricate installation yourself.  Now you’re likely asking yourself something you may not admit to your cycling friends, “How do I loosen or tighten bike pedals?”  We can assure you that this will be easier than building Swedish furniture or attempting to install a new bottom bracket.  Prepare yourself for a few minutes of grease-filled fun and those new pedals will be ready to tackle the Alps (or the local 3-minute climb)!

Tools and Supplies

  • Pedal Wrench (15mm)
  • 6mm Allan wrench (some pedal models)
  • 8mm Allan wrench (some pedal models)
  • Grease for threads
Pedal threads are different on the left and right sides.  The right drive side pedal has a right-hand thread (removes counterclockwise, installs clockwise). The left, non-drive side pedal, has a left-hand thread (removes clockwise, installs counterclockwise). Many pedals are stamped “L” and “R” for left and right.
Popular mythology dictates that the Wright Brothers (arguably the inventors of the airplane. Unless you are un-American and believe that clearly, Richard Pearce was the first in flight) originated left-handed pedal threads to keep pedals from unscrewing while riding. It is a good practice to screw pedals in tightly after final fit adjustments. Pedal threads, like most component threads on a bicycle, should be lubricated lightly with grease.

DRIVE SIDE:

Tighten: Turn towards (over the top) the front wheel. Loosen: Turn towards (over the top) the back wheel.

NON-DRIVE SIDE:

Tighten: Turn towards (over the top) the front wheel. Loosen: Turn towards (over the top) the back wheel.

Tips and hints during installation or removal

  • Shift the chain to largest chainring to protect your knuckles against greasy abrasions, if the wrench were to accidentally slip.  This accident may or may not have happened to employees at BikeFit.
  • Try different wrench positions to gain a quality mechanical advantage between the wrench and crank arm. Pedals are often fastened very securely and can require some extra effort to remove. If possible, hold the opposite crank arm as another point of leverage.
  • Pour yourself an adult beverage of choice after completing the installation and removal.  Pre-pedal installation imbibing can result in potential injury, increased frustration, or futile questioning of the stalwart “lefty loosey, righty tighty.”

Morton’s Neuroma in Cycling: Nerve Pain Between the Toes

Have you ever felt pain or numbness near the ball of your foot or under your toes? Sometimes people describe it as feeling a pebble or a rock underneath their toes.  Others may feel a burning sensation, sharp pain, or numbness.

Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the tissue around the nerves leading to your toes.  The pain most commonly travels between the 3rd and 4th toe but others experience pain near the ball of their foot or between the 2nd and 3rd toe.  Although the word “neuroma” conjures negative thoughts connecting to cancer, Morton’s neuroma is benign.

 

Causes

  • Tight shoes: high-heeled shoes specifically are a risk factor.  In cycling, shoes are commonly lower volume, which could pinch the toes together for prolonged periods depending on your ride duration.  Considering the number of pedal strokes in a long ride, and the potential amount of massive watts you expend on your local group ride of death, cyclists could be at a higher risk.
  • Foot abnormalities: people with bunions, hammer toes, high foot arches, or flat feet have a higher level of risk to develop Morton’s neuroma than others.
  • Impact: The repeated trauma of your feet pounding the pavement via running also places you at risk.
  • Foot Tilt: An often overlooked aspect in connection to Morton’s neuroma is the tilt of the foot as it relates to the connection with the pedal.  When the foot tilts up to the inside (forefoot varus) in a natural position, more pressure exists on the outer rays of the foot during the pedaling cycle.  This situation occurs in approximately 90 percent of the population.

 

Verification 

If you experience persistent pain, we recommend visiting your healthcare provider to potentially diagnose the issue with a foot examination. They may recommend a foot x-ray to rule out whether you’re experiencing bone problems vs. another instigator.

Solutions

  • Physical therapy: BikeFit (and our education partner CyclePoint) trains numerous bike fitters who are also physical therapists.  These extremely knowledgeable fitters specialize in both cycling and neuromuscular injuries.
  • Find better fitting cycling shoes:  Examine the toe-box and fit of your current shoes.  Many people have wide feet and some shoes are extremely narrow.  Although aesthetics in cycling may have led you to your most recent shoe purchase, comfort translates to increased power.  Many companies like Lake, Sidi, Bont and Northwave, produce wider shoes.  Lake produces “normal width” shoes that are already wider than many other companies, and they offer a separate wide sizing selection as well.  Some local bike shops offer specific shoe and cleat fittings.  If you visit your LBS (local bike shop) and request a foot fitting, they must examine the width and tilt of your foot to remedy pain sources.
  • Wedging: Wedging is the solution to the foot tilt issue that causes excessive pressure on the outside of the foot.

A Wedge helps brings pressure under the first two toes, or as you can see from the illustration on the right, wedges spread out the pressure.  This often relieves pain and discomfort.  We strongly suggest that anyone who displays symptoms of Morton’s neuroma should examine the tilt of their feet.

You don’t have to feel pain when you ride.

Why do I have bike saddle wear on one side?

Hi BikeFit,

I’ve noticed that my bike saddle is worn only on one side.  I found some information on web talking about a leg length issue or how I sit on the saddle being the source of the problem.  What do you think?

-Gene

Hi Gene,

We’ve received this question from numerous riders and would be happy to shed some light on the situation.  In regards to what you found on the web, finding a saddle is extremely important and a difficult part of achieving cycling comfort, but we’ve seen uneven wear on a variety of saddle types.  It’s possible for a rider to favor one side over the other and unfortunately they’ve potentially acclimated to an off-center position.  This is where we strongly recommend that you visit with a professional bike fitter or BikeFit Pro in order to analyze your riding style and get a full bike fitting.

Are your legs different lengths?

Regarding the potential leg length discrepancy, this could also be the culprit.  If you visited a professional fitter, they would hopefully ask the following questions to pinpoint if a leg length issue is an origin of the saddle wear.

1.) Do you have an x-ray or medical information diagnosing a leg length difference (considered by many as the Gold Standard, the STANDING AP Scanogram Full-Length X-ray used by clinicians is the most accurate way to diagnose a Leg Length issue)?

uneven saddle wear leg length pelvis x-ray

2.) Have you been told you have a leg length issue?

3.) Do you get saddle sores, but only on one side?

4.) Does the saddle show uneven wear (your original question) or even tilt lower to one side?

5.) Does one knee have more bend than the other when pedaling?

6.) Do you rock lower to one side than the other when pedaling (viewed from the rear)?

7.) Do you sit off-center or side-saddle?

8.) Is it obvious or observable (perhaps others have mentioned something to you)?

9.) Do you have lower back pain or discomfort on one side?

 

Even with all these questions from a fitter, we would recommend that a medical professional would be the best person to diagnose you with a leg length discrepancy.  If that is the diagnosis, leg length shims could be a possible remedy.  We do not recommend cleat stagger if you are looking for a quick fix.

Often, the problem starts with the foot/pedal interface

We’ve noticed that many riders are misaligned due to the inherent tilt in their feet.  Using a Cleat Wedge can help align the foot in its connection to the pedal and improve the alignment of the kinetic chain up the leg, through the knee, and up to the pelvis.

cycling knee collapse without wedges

The image on the left displays the knee collapsing inward as the foot is forced flat to meet the pedal.  This knee collapse causes the leg to push inward, which then rubs excessively against the saddle.  You likely also noticed that your cycling shorts may show significant wear on one side vs. the other.

The image on the right shows how cleat wedges improve alignment and in turn, reduce saddle wear on one side.  The reason it likely only occurs on one side is due to the asymmetric human body.  Most cyclists discover that one foot may need wedges, leg length shims or pedal spacers and the other may not.  There are also other great benefits to using cleat wedges when riding.  

Thank you for the excellent question.  Feel free to reach out to us with more.

-The BikeFit Team

Cycling Knee Pain? Stance Width may be the Culprit.

cycling knee pain
cycling knee pain

Do you feel knee pain when cycling? Do the images above look familiar?  Are your knees going outward when you pedal?  If not, you’ve likely noticed this when riding with others.   The origins lie in an under-discussed topic in cycling: stance width.

Stance width

Here’s a fun exercise to find out what we mean by “stance width.”

  • Stand up.
  • Take a few steps.
  • Stop and stand in a comfortable position with your legs side-by-side.

Look at your feet.  This is your natural stance width that your body selects when you are not clipped into the pedals.  Now, for fun, clip into your pedals on the bike and observe how your normal stance on your feet and your bike setup may be different.

We are not suggesting that you mimic the exact comfortable standing stance to your bike setup, but it does give you an idea of why many people experience discomfort on the bike.  When you performed the exercise above, you may have noticed that your feet are wider apart than on your bike or that your feet “toe out” to the side.

Clipping into a pedal may limit your natural position, but we promise you don’t have to quit cycling and sell your bike.

The knee followeth the foot

Going back to our illustrations above, when you clip into the pedal, the foot does not have a choice to move.  Consequently, the knee kicks out at the top of the pedal stroke (going where it wants to) and then, because it is attached to the foot, follows it inward at the bottom of the stroke.  After thousands of revolutions (a 2-hour ride could have 10,000 depending on how fast you pedal), you may develop some significant knee pain.

Solution #1 – Cleat in = foot out

knee pain move cleat

In the earlier days of cycling, the default was to tell the rider to bring their knees in to meet their feet.  Sadly, this may cause even more knee pain.  The best solution is to move your cleat in, which in turn, will move your foot out to meet your knee.  This simple change will help with your knee alignment and potentially alleviate cycling knee discomfort.

Solution #2 – Pedal Washers or Pedal Spacers

If you’ve already moved your cleats in completely but your knee continues to push outward, try adding 1.5mm washer (only use one) to the pedal spindle where it attaches to the crank arm.

knee pain spacers

If you have a wider stance width (many riders do), you may require more lateral (foot out) adjustment.  20mm Pedal Spacers provide the extra length.  20mm spacers require a 15mm pedal wrench but we also provide Hex+ 20mm Pedal Spacers for pedals that install using a 5mm or 6mm hex key wrench.

knee pain pedal spacer

 

Results

Now that you’ve moved the foot outward, you likely increased your comfort, alleviated pain, and aligned your feet to your knees.  Your pedal stroke should look more like the image below:

knee pain alignment

Eurika! You’ve maximized your ability to apply power to the pedals and now can ride off into the sunset (without having to ice your knees or visit an orthopedist when you arrive home).  Remember that bikes are symmetrical and people are not.  Take this into account and assure that you and your normal, asymmetrical human parts are customized to fit your bicycle.

 

Which Type of Cleat Wedges Work with Your Bicycle Cleats?

Most cycling shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals and feature holes drilled in the soles for attaching cleats. The bicycle cleat engages with the pedals to create a secure connection. Cleats are supplied with your pedals, and they should match the type of cycling shoes, whether road-specific or off-road/multi-use-specific.

bicycle cleats

Some cycling shoes are drilled to accept both 3- and 2-hole bicycle cleat designs, but most will accept only one or the other. Shoes made for use with 2-hole systems cannot be modified to use a 3-hole cleat. The 4-hole Speedplay® pedal system can be adapted to fit 3-hole shoe styles.  There are a few shoe brands/specific models drilled with 4-hole Speedplay-specific bolt pattern.

What’s the difference in functionality?

The 2-hole system is commonly known as the SPD system (SPD = Shimano ® Pedaling Dynamics). The 2-hole system can be used for all types of riding, including road cycling, mountain biking, touring and commuting. When paired with some shoes, the recessed cleat design allows easier walking. Most off-road racing, where a mud shedding cleat design offers an advantage, is where a small two-hole cleat is popular.  There is a road-specific version known as “SPD-SL” (3-hole bolt pattern).  Get SPD Cleat Wedges.

SPD Wedges Bicycle Cleats

 

The 3-hole system is also known as the Look-style system (for the pioneering manufacturer/brand, Look Cycles). The 3-hole system is most often used for road cycling because it offers a stable platform for energy transfer while riding. The soles of many performance oriented shoes are often made more for riding than walking with stiff soles and little tread.  The larger cleat design incorporates a three-fastener connection, which is much more secure connection than with two fasteners like the ones found with the 2-hole type. Popular brand names of 3-hole bicycle cleats are; Look ®, Shimano SL, Time ® Road and others.  Get Look Cleat Wedges.

 

Look Wedges Bicycle Cleats

The 4-hole system is associated with the Speedplay® pedal/brand.  Speedplay design has the clasping mechanism on the cleat, rather than on the pedal, like with SPD and Look systems.  In this system, the shoes are made more for riding than walking.  The system with a four-fastener connection, generally offers more adjustability options in the foot/pedal connection, often making it a favorite of bike fitters.  We offer these in both the Walkable™ style (shown below) and regular road cleat style.

Speedplay Wedges Bicycle cleats

cleat wedges

Please feel to e-mail us with any questions regarding how your pedal/cleats fit with your wedges.  Contact us!

In The Shoe Wedges or Cleat Wedges?

In The Shoe Wedges

As long as you are talking about BikeFit branded wedges, this is not one wedge against another. Both of the wedge styles offered from BikeFit work extremely well. Each wedge, however, has its place.  In most cases, it’s preferential to use the Cleat Wedge.

When to Use In-the-Shoe Wedges

1.) Cleats not compatible with Cleat Wedges

In the Shoe

 

The In The Shoe (ITS) Wedge often is a “fill in” product for types of cleats that are not compatible with Cleat Wedges like Crank Brothers. However,  Crank Brothers provide a shoe shield (seen on the left) where you can use Cleat Wedges with their cleats.

 

 2.) Hyper-Mobile Feet

A hypermobile foot would be a good place to use an ITS in combination with a Cleat Wedge. This type of foot needs more support. A more rigid foot tends to be more responsive with less wedging and the Cleat Wedge is a better solution for most rigid feet.  This also may be a great option for those who have room in their shoe and would not be affected by the change in volume inherent with the addition of In The Shoe Wedges.

3.) Diagnostics

In-The-Shoe Wedges are also great for diagnostics. If you are looking to determine the effects of wedging on cycling mechanics, ITS Wedges provide the ability to make quick changes.  This also holds true if you are testing out comfort but do not want to take the time to remove your cleats, add cleat wedges, and realign (time saver).  We should mention that this is usually a temporary change.  Once the comfort or mechanics are confirmed, the first choice to correct your foot’s natural angle/tilt is almost always cleat wedges.

In The Shoe Wedges

4.) Fine Tuning

In-The-Shoe Wedges also offer a fine-tuning option for cyclists “in-between” wedge levels or it is tough to tell if 2 cleat wedges or 3 cleat wedges is the better solution. In other words, if 2 or 3 cleat wedges help correct your mechanics and reduce foot pain, try using 2 cleat wedges and add an ITS as the 3rd wedge. Go out on a ride and spend some with the ITS in the shoe and some time with it in your back pocket. Over a period of time, you will usually discover the preferred amount of cleat wedging.  For many cyclists, you may require more than 3 Cleat Wedges.  Since we do not recommend using more than 3, the ITS wedge provides the extra bit of tilt needed!

Does Cleat Stagger Remedy a Leg Length Discrepancy?

Cleat Stagger

What is Cleat Stagger?

When the cleat on one bike shoe is shifted forward and the other one positioned to the rear, rather than symmetrically aligned (see the photo above).

We tend to hear more about cleat stagger when it accompanies a comment suggesting that a particular anatomical leg length difference is located at the femur. With that information in mind, many fitters and cyclists consider staggering the cleats. Is this the right answer?

Things to Consider:

  1. How can you be sure the leg length difference is only in the femur?
  2. Are you sacrificing optimum cleat fore/aft position with cleat stagger?
  3. What other aspect(s) further up the chain is/are compromised by cleat stagger?  Are you sacrificing too much in order to avoid a simple solution?

We noticed that by addressing almost all leg length differences as a leg length discrepancy, you will most likely discover the best solution: a Leg Length Shim. This also tends to minimize other complications from the foot up that can possibly occur via cleat stagger.  Some of these sacrifices can include injury, pain, imbalance or loss of power.

Cleat Stagger

Find our for yourself!  Try both a cleat stagger and a Leg Length Shim separately.  In most cases, a bike fitter or BikeFit Pro will be able to observe better symmetry from the rear view.  For the individual, you will likely feel a distinct difference between the two.  Which one felt better? In our experience the preferred solution usually, if not always, includes the Leg Length Shim as the primary adjustment.  Some cyclists expressed that the cleat stagger drives them absolutely bonkers (medical expression).

Lastly, remember with all leg length issues, it is best to have a bike fitter or BikeFit Pro check your posture on multiple shaped saddles.   Some different saddle shapes mask the potential asymmetrical movements often associated with a leg length issue. Only by checking your posture on a few different saddles can you assure you have indeed addressed the difference as well as possible.

At BikeFit, only after installing the shim is staggering the cleat ever-so-slightly a consideration we make in order to fine-tune.  Even then, it is rare at best.

Look Keo Pedal Wear

The equipment of the cyclist often tells a story.  You can acquire valuable information from looking at the components. However, expensive hardware and software will not find it–you must use your eyes! The popular Look Keo pedal is one of the easier pedals to discover uneven wear as the result of a common misalignment. Sometimes this wear can show up in just a few minutes of pedaling.

Where do You “Look” and Why?

For most, our feet do not meet flat or level with the pedal due to forefoot varus. Notice the inside of the foot tilted up higher than the outside of the foot.

Pedal wear foot tiltlook keo foot tilt

In order to clip into the pedal, the foot is forced to be flat (the cleat will not engage the pedal if it is tilted). Therefore, your foot is forced to be level (parallel) with the pedal. How do we know? Look at your pedals and you will see the uneven wear. If the foot wanted to meet the pedal flat and level, the wear would be even, not uneven.

Take a gander at the Look Keo pedal below. Notice inside the red circle which pinpoints the pedal wear more in this area than anywhere else. The reason: the foot wants to be tilted in its natural position.

look keo pedal

 

Many stores and fitters own the expensive Keo Fit pedal but that only addresses cleat rotation to some extent.

What about the newer Look Keo pedals with the wider platform or the Look Delta pedals? You will still find the same wear underneath the front area of the pedal up toward the inside.

look keo pedal delta

The Solution

These example Look pedals and many others like it show the need to add a wedge. Cleat Wedges® enable the cycling shoe to connect with the pedal naturally, by acknowledging the foot’s inherent angle.  This creates a neutral foot position throughout the pedaling cycle, resulting in greater comfort, power, and even pedal wear!  One of the most desirable and comfortable indicators is even pedal wear.

This pedal wear is evident in other pedal systems. See our blog post on Speedplay Pedal Wear for more information.

Leg Length Shim Safety

Leg Length Shims

Protruding Shims

Why are BikeFit’s 3-hole Leg Length Shims (LLS) longer and protrude out more than other brands? The additional length is by design.

Cleats are designed to be used on the bottom of a cyclIng shoe (directly in contact with the sole). Take the cleat away from the surface (sole) and it will no longer work as it was designed. Adding length to the front of the LLS is like adding shoe surface to assure the cleat/pedal interface will function properly.

Engagement problems may begin to occur when building up a 3-hole road cleat to as little as 3-4mm in height. Of course, the greater the stack height, the more likely an engagement issue will arise. The front of the cleat may dip into the pedal too far causing a delay or even the inability to clip into the pedal.

Same Size Leg Length Shims = Dangerous

Leg Length Shim Safety Engagement1

Leg Length Shims of the same size and shape as the cleat contact surface force the cleat to dip too far into the pedal. If the LLS does not extend out in front of the cleat, the increased gap between the shoe and the cleat can cause problematic engagement.

 

BikeFit Protruding Leg Length Shims

Leg Length Shim Safety Engagement2

BikeFit’s Leg Length Shims extend well beyond the front of the cleat providing a platform that allows the pedal to facilitate smooth and easy engagement.

More Examples

Take a look at 2 more examples below of the size differences between BikeFit’s LLS vs. others.

Leg Length Shim Safety Styles 2 Leg Length Shim Safety Styles 1

The engagement problems may not occur every time you attempt to clip into the pedal, but it will eventually happen!  It only takes one mishap at an inopportune time to cause significant concern.  If you are looking for Leg Length Shim Saftey, BikeFit provides you with the best comfort and options.

 

 

Speedplay Cleat Wear and How to Remedy the Problem

Speedplay Cleat Wear

Taking into account pedal and cleat wear is often an overlooked aspect by many cyclists and bike fitters.  In this article, we focus specifically on Speedplay cleat wear.

This information is static (will not be seen with motion capture or data capture during a bike fit). In other words, if your fitter only looks at dynamic (on the bike) data, they miss important information. Why? Although extremely important, dynamic fitting is just one aspect a fitter must consider.

The ultimate bike fit includes both dynamic AND static analysis (the cyclist and the bike or equipment) as well as consideration for how the cyclist feels. Keep in mind, how you feel is as actually more important than how you look on stick-figure printouts or a picture of you in a video.

Your Equipment Tells a Story

Take a look at your shoes. Turn them over and look inside the circle area of your Speedplay road cleat. MOST people notice uneven wear.

speedplay-wearSpeedplay Cleat Wear

 

Do not be surprised when you see this.  There is something you can do to alleviate the problem.

Next, look at the springs. Uneven wear inside the red circles is the norm–not the exception.

uneven-wear-speedplay2

Why? The foot is naturally tilted and it wants to stay that way even if the equipment initially forced it flat. As a result, equipment wears out uneven.

Let’s also look inside of your shoe. One of our most popular illustrations is the one on the below where people say they feel more pressure on the outside of the foot. Why?  The pedal and shoe are flat but the foot is tilted.

unever-wear-insole

The Uneven Wear Culprit

Is this Speedplay’s fault? Absolutely not. All pedals are flat and wear out unevenly. For example, unlike running, in cycling, you can only buy shoes that function one way. All cycling shoes function the same regardless of price or brand (there is one brand that purports to include added tilt to the shoe but all of the shoes within that brand function the same). In running, even within one brand, you purchase shoes for different body architecture (stability, support, neutral…etc). In cycling, you only buy shoes that are flat at the forefoot.  Consequently, you can now diagnose these problems, take a look at possible solutions, and connect with a BikeFit Pro to make your shoe/cleat fit the pedal properly.

Remember it is normal to see uneven wear, but normal does not necessarily mean right. It is also common to see the foot in a relaxed position hang with a tilt or angle to it.

First, you must flatten the foot or it won’t even clip into the pedal. We as cyclists learned to master this skill of leveling the foot to get into the pedal but we are hardly aware of it. Once clipped in, the foot tries to go back to its natural tilted position.  Hence, uneven pedal wear.

The Solution: Cleat Wedges

Knee on a chair and ask someone to hold a straight edge across the bottom of your feet. They will most likes look like the figure on the right.

Foot Tilt Pedal Wear forefoot-tilt-straight-edge

or Download the Free Foot Fit Calculator for Android and with the help of a friend, you’ll discover foot tilt and how many Cleat Wedges you need in minutes!

Speedplay Cleat Wear

If you are looking for more detail, a BikeFit Pro fitter measures foot tilt with the FFMD tools (physical or the BikeFit App for iPad) pictured below.

Foot Tilt speedplay pedal wear     FFMD speedplay pedal wear

Foot tilt is the number one reason for uneven pedal/cleat wear and for most foot discomfort in cycling. This is why we need wedges.

Here is a rear view of Speedplay cleat with 2 cleat wedges.

Speedplay Cleat Wedge Pedal Wear Speedplay Cleat wedge pedal wear

If you would like more information regarding wedges, see our page on wedging benefits.  We also reveal more information on the foot/pedal interface in another fitting article: How to Fit a Road Bicycle.

We have never seen a broken Speedplay spring from a cyclist that has a flat forefoot. However, a flat or neutral forefoot is rare, to say the least. This comment is not coming from Speedplay but it is absolutely our belief that the correct use of cleat wedges will prolong the life of your Speedplay cleat springs. Remember it is important to follow the manufacturer’s suggestion for upkeep and maintaining your equipment.

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