Drivetrains

Page Contents

Clip-In pedals and nervous Newbies  
Pedal Removal
Crank Removal
Bottom Bracket Removal
Lubricating Freehubs

Clip-In pedals - info especially for Newbies

          Clip-in pedals are one of the finest bike-related inventions ever.  Before they came along we all used "toe clips & straps".  They worked just fine but clip-in pedals are so much better.

I read so many threads at mtbr.com and RBR.com about Newbies and their fear of being clipped into a set of pedals.  I also read lots about Newbies who buy the pedals, set off down the road or trail and find that at the first obstacle or the first time they have to stop, they can't get a foot out and they fall over.  Then they're scared, frustrated, hurt or worse still (worse than being hurt) they ditch the pedals.  Let's take a realistic look at what's happening, what's not happening and how we can cure their problems.

I've used clip-in pedals since they first appeared on roadbikes (about 1986) and mountainbikes (about 1990) so I have lots of experience with them.  I've owned every major type of clip-in pedal.  They all use similar basic designs and each one has their plusses and minuses.  I'll give you my opinion and findings of each type.  

First let's hear my opinion of who should use them and who shouldn't.  To me it's dead simple - if, while you're out on your bike, your feet are ON the pedals more than they're OFF then get clip-in pedals.  If you're OFF the pedals more than you're ON then don't get them.  Simple eh?

Why do we use them at all?  It's been proven for a hundred years (of using toe-clips & straps) that pedaling is generally more efficient when the feet are firmly attached to the pedals.  You can do more than just push down.  Think of it like skiing.  Why did they decide that it was better to be fastened to the skis than just standing on them?  In fact it was ski binding maker Look that came out with the modern (and widely accepted) design.  But the clip-in pedal idea has been around since 1895.  Look just developed it to a very workable idea in the mid '80s..

Pedal Types 

Shimano road pedals - Excellent pedals with great adjustability.  All price ranges.  They're all good.  Extra money buys lightness.

Shimano mountain bike pedals - the very first mountainbike clip-in pedals were the incredible Shimano PD M-737.  These were great until you encountered mud and got the bottom of your shoe and the cleat covered in the stuff.  Then, it was really hard to clip INTO the pedals and almost impossible to get out.  I remember looking for many handy trees to grab so I could struggle to get the shoe unclipped. 
    Since then Shimano has worked hard on the system (called SPD ~ Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) and at the moment their top end pedal is their XTR.  And yes, Shimano cured the dreaded mud curse along the way. They have a range of lesser expensive pedals that use the same system of operation.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shimano_Pedaling_Dynamics
    There are a few Shimano clone pedals on the market that use the same type of retention mechanism.  Wellgo and Ritchey are probably the most famous clones.  The great thing about the SPD system is that they all have adjustable release tension which is great for less experienced users.  This type of pedal is my favorite for Newbies.

Speedplay mountain bike pedals - the Speedplay Frog is a unique pedal with no springs to provide cleat retention.  To exit the pedals, just swivel the heel outwards about 15 degrees and lift the foot.  Incredible.  There is NOTHING to hold you fast to the pedals once the swiveling heel has gone past a tab/slot arrangement.  I had great trouble entering the pedals when mud was present so this pedal wasn't acceptable for me.

Speedplay road pedals - very popular pedals with the sporty and racing crowd, right up to the top pro racers.  There is no release tension adjustment but they really don't need it.  Their cleat system is a lot more finiky than other pedals and the cleats can't stand any dirt at all so if you do a lot of walking through grit and dirt look elsewhere for pedals.  They do market a walkable cleat cover for about $10/pair that allows walking and keeps dirt out.  Double sided pedals therefore a bit easier to get into than Shimano.  Their Zero model is my pedal of choice right now.

Crank Brothers mountain bike pedals - Eggbeater - this pedal is a revelation.  It's similar in operation to the Time as it has no adjustable release tension.  Its mud operation is second to none (mud is not an issue where these are concerned).  For me, the spring-loaded release is very light and takes but a nanogram of effort to make the release when the cleats have gone though the break-in phase..  CB's no-BS warranty is legendary.  This is my favorite mtb pedal for experienced users and second favorite for Newbies.  This is my MTB pedal of choice right now.
The Crank Brothers Candy pedal gives all the benefits of the Eggbeater but with a surrounding platform to support the shoe.  This makes for a fine pedal when used on a road bike (with MTB shoes).  The extra platform makes it possible to use the pedal with sneakers for a trip to the corner store.

Summary.  My favorite pedals for Newbs (I've had them all for at least one whole year) -

Mountain bike pedals - 
1.  Shimano - with retention adjustment set loose.  Choose your price range.
2.  Eggbeater - No adjustment but the sets I've had didn't need any.  They laugh at mud.  The finest customer service.
3.  Time ATAC - No adjustment on most models.  A bit tighter than Eggers. Good in mud.
4.  Speedplay Frog - The easiest to get out of but for my mud they were unusable.

Road bike pedals - 
1.  Shimano.  Choose your price range.
2.  Crank Brothers Candy - a mountain bike pedal that is excellent for road bikes (used with MTB shoes) where walkability is needed.
3.  Speedplay Zero.

Road pedals vs Mountain bike pedals
- if you do any walking while out road cycling then consider using mountain bike shoes and pedals.  You can walk normally as the cleats are recessed ino the sole and the pedals won't seize up from dirt.  It's not possible to use road pedals and shoes for mountain biking but it's perfectly ok to use MTB pedals and shoes for road riding.  Only out & out roadie snobs would say otherwise.

As with ski bindings, it might be a good idea for newbies to get their clip-in pedals cleats installed by an expert.  They all come with instructions and if you're handy they're not a problem.  Shoe alignment and cleat adjustment is critical as is release tension.  More on this later.

Most newbies have lots of horror stories of fitting the pedals, clipping into them, launching themselves on a ride and then at the first stop (planned or otherwise) being unable to release a foot and thus toppling sideways onto the road or into the dirt while still connected to the bike.  They gather on forums like Brothers in Arms and relate their stories of their past and future inevitable falls.  Some go on to become proficient in the pedal's use while some revert back to flat pedals in disgust.
    But why would anyone venture into anything without some understanding of the equipment, its use and adjustment and taking the time to practice until proficient?  Would they jump out of a plane or dive below the waves without understanding the technology of their equipment?  No, but they barge into busy streets, rock gardens or logpiles every day and then, when they come to a complete standstill they have forgotten they are still securely fastened and go "Ohh shit!" before falling into the intersection or weeds.  Any expert riders within viewing range, shake their heads, roll their eyes and mutter "Frikkin newbs."

Years ago when these pedals were new and no-one knew anything, we didn't know that we were supposed to fall so we didn't.  I didn't fall, my son didn't fall and my club members didn't fall (due to the pedals) - never.  I'll tell you what made us so special.  If you follow these steps they just might shorten your learning curve and save your skin and pride.

Fitting cleats - they must be correctly fitted to the shoes so that the feet both point straight ahead.  I measure from the shoe heel to the chainstay and get both measurements equal.  Before fitting the cleats, lube the threads of their bolts.  I use the finest thread lubricant - Anti-Seize compound. When you have got the cleats positioned correctly, scribe around the cleat so that if they ever move you can re-position them.  Wait until you've done a few rides before doing this to be sure you have the cleats properly positioned.  Tighten the bolts very tight and after every ride re-check them until they won't re-tighten any more.  Then you can quit. If a cleat comes loose due to lack of tightening you will not be able to release from the pedal.  
If, during your first rides, you feel that a foot is not positioned properly then maybe you have one foot that needs a "misalignment" of the cleat.  My own son needed this.  Having both feet pointing straight ahead caused him knee pain in one knee.  Set them for personal comfort.  When you're happy with their position, re-tighten the bolts and scribe around the cleats.  Don't forget to keep re-checking the tightness.

Let me emphasize one of the above points.  Cleat screws need to be tight and kept tight.  If a cleat comes loose you will have MUCH trouble unclipping.  Work back & forth between the two screws tightening them a bit at a time.  Make sure they are very tight.  Re-tighten after the first ride and don't forget to check their tightness until they stop needing to be re-tightened.  If you lubed the screw threads like I told you, there won't be any problem removing the screws when needed.  This is very important

Pedal release tension adjustment - the Shimano type pedals have a newby friendly adjustment screw.  Consult the instructions on how to adjust the tension.  Set the tension to a very low setting.  Don't get all macho and crank it way up or you deserve to fall.
    Now insert the shoe into the pedal by hand and turn the shoe over so you can see the cleat/pedal relationship.  Release the shoe by swiveling the heel out and watch what happens.  Neat eh?  Now insert the shoe again and make sure it's clicked in.  Release again very slowly and watch to see if ANY shoe sole rubber touches the pedal while its releasing.  If it does then trim it away with a box-cutter knife. This sole-trimming is for mountain bike shoes only.  Road shoes never need it.

Don't be squeamish here and try to preserve your new soles as this is the #1 issue where release problems are encountered.  You MUST trim off anything that touches.  The pedal's release mechanism must be unencumbered by sole friction to do its job.

Next put on the shoes and get ready to ride.  Get out in the driveway and find something to hold onto. A doorframe in the house works great too.  If you don't, then it's like jumping out of a plane without finding out how the parachute works.  Mount the bike, hold onto the fence or doorframe and clip both feet in.  Try a toe first entry and then heel-down pressure to click in.  Everyone has a fave foot that they touch down first.  Mine is my right so let's talk about that one.  With the right foot almost at the bottom of the pedal stroke (5 o'clock or 7 o'clock) swivel the heel OUT while pressing down slightly.  Pivot on the ball of the foot.  Click; you're out.  Clip back in. Keep repeating this until you become an expert.  Now try at the top of the stroke and then switch to the other foot.  It's harder at the top of the stroke but do it to see how it feels.  Do it dozens, if not hundreds of times.  As well as making the brain/foot path it also breaks in the cleats and retention bits for a smoother release.

Once you're an expert then you're ready to ride.  Choose a grassy park where you're not going to have any surprise stops.  Just simply forget the busy streets, rocky trails and log piles unless you're a complete idiot.

Now liss'n up.  The foot isn't going to come out by a divine miracle when you come to a stop.  If your brain isn't connected to your foot then you're gonna fall.  Plan a stop, roll along to the planned place, unclip the foot when you're10 feet away, roll up and place the foot down.  Lean the bike towards the leg you're standing on.  Tip it the other way and you're goin' over!  Bye! 

So what was hard about that?  You had to pre-plan and execute the move.  If for some unknown reason your foot won't unclip out of the pedal (why not?  You've got the tension loose and soles trimmed haven't you?) then DON'T STOP!  Keep rolling and try again.

You're only going to fall if you STOP with your foot still clipped in.  That's about the same level as hitting the ground without pulling the parachute cord.  Zone out and forget to pull the cord and you're a human tent-peg.  Practice the above until it becomes 2nd nature.  You have to create the brain-foot connected path just like pressing the clutch before you shift gears or turning the doorknob before you open the door..

When you're an expert at this, go try some EASY trails or quiet roads.  But forget you're clipped in and remember a split second after you stop and you're gonna by lying on the trail with your buds splitting their sides at you.

If you did what I said earlier and loosened the retention tension way off you've probably had trouble staying IN the pedals.  This is because your foot flops around and the muscles haven't learned that they are responsible for keeping the feet facing straight ahead.  This will come in time.  You may tighten the springs a little bit but no-one needs them tightened right up.  That's not macho; it's dumb.

One last word.  Shimano makes a "multi release cleat" for the nervous nellies.  In theory you can pull at any angle in a panic and the cleat will pull out of the pedal.  That's so cheezy.  Pedals for panicers! The purpose of clip-in pedals is to keep you fastened to the damn things until you make a release.  Remember what I said about running the release tension loose?  With multi release cleats, unless you want to be popping out of them anytime you put any pressure in any direction, you'll have to increase the release tension.  Which is counter productive isn't it?  We want a loose release tension to help us get out don't we?

To summarize - know your equipment and practice in wide-open and soft areas for the times you forget what I said above about loose tension and planned stops.

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Pedal Removal Tips

When removing pedals is must be noted that the non drive side pedal is backwards threaded - this means that this pedal unscrews clockwise.  The drive side pedal is threaded normally - it unscrews counter-clockwise.  The reason for this is that the action of the pedal rotating around its spindle causes the pedals spindle to tighten.  If you remember this then you will always unscrew pedals the correct way - "All pedals unscrew backwards" - meaning 'towards the back of the bike'.
    When removing pedals (especially the drive side one) always shift the chain up to the outer chainring for if the wrench slips off - there's not much worse than hitting your knuckles on dirty, greasy, sharp chainring teeth.
When fitting pedals always lubricate the threads with grease or anti-seize compound.

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Crank Removal Tips for square taper spindles

Be sure to use a good crank extractor for removing cranks.  It's easy to strip the extractor threads out of aluminum cranks so caution must be used.  Unscrew the crank fixing bolts and make sure there is no washer left behind in the hole as you will need all the thread depth you can get.
Screw in the body of the extractor to its full depth and snug it with an adjustable wrench.  Make sure the extractor's center screw doesn't bottom on the spindle so that the body won't screw all the way in. 
Then screw in the tool's center bolt and the crank will be pushed off.  A lot of force will be needed here.

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Bottom Bracket unit removal tips

Bottom bracket units (except for Italian threaded units) unscrew the opposite way to pedal spindles.  On BB units the drive side cup is backwards threaded and unscrews clockwise.  The non-drive side unscrews counter-clockwise.  The rule of thumb here is "All BB cups unscrew forwards" meaning 'towards the front of the bike'. The most common BB units are the "Shimano spline" type units which have fine teeth in the cup.  Be careful that the removal tool doesn't slip and damage the spline teeth.
The best way to do this is to bolt the tool to the spindle using a long bolt the same threads as the regular crank bolt (insert bolt size here!!!).  Use a large wrench or socket on the tool and unscrew the cups making sure you remember which way they unscrew!  Loosen both cups before the BB unit is removed so that you will have an axle to bolt to.
If the cups are impossible to remove and you're sure you're turning the tool the right way, here is a sure fire way to break the cups free - remove as many parts for the bike as possible (wheels etc).  Bolt the tool solidly to the axle.  Lift the bike's frame and place the tool in a large bench vice and tighten. Now use the bike's frame as a large wrench making sure you absolutely know which way to turn the frame!

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Lubricating Shimano Freehubs (except '86 - '90 DuraAce)

Your Shimano Freehub can be purged of old, dirty lubricant and the internals - ball bearings, pawls and springs - can be lubricated with fresh oil by using a wonderful tool - a "Morningstar Freehub Buddy".

This tool can be bought from many sources for approximately $25us. I got mine from Frankford Cycle mail-order.  

As inventor and maker Paul Morningstar passed away in late 2013, the availability of the Freehub Buddy might cease.

To lube your freehub you will need to follow these steps -

1. Remove rear wheel, remove QR skewer, remove cassette (cassette removal tool, chain whip and an adjustable wrench are needed).
2. Remove hub axle. (cone wrenches are needed - Shimano hubs use sizes from 13-18mm. I'd suggest getting two of each size as you NEVER have the correct size if you don't have all the wrenches - it's just Murphy's Law).
3. Remove all ball bearings. Pry out (gently!!) the dust shield in the end of the Freehub (ratchety thing).  Morningstar also markets a special prybar for this step and I've used a screwdriver with varying degrees of success).
4. Insert a 10mm allen wrench (big sucker!) into the hollow bolt that holds the Freehub unit onto the hub body. Remove bolt and freehub.
5. Remove dirt seal from back of FH unit.
6. Insert Freehub Buddy into front of Freehub. Squirt in (with a pump oilcan) some nice Outboard Motor Gearcase Oil or whatever oil you choose. Watch the dirt purge from the back of the unit. When it runs clean you can stop pumping.
7. Set the Freehub on its end and let drain for a few hours. Wipe it off.
8. Reverse the removal procedure and replace Freehub, dust shield, and axle. Don't forget to grease those bearings, cups and cones! Check them very closely for pits too and replace if necessary (hub cups cannot be replaced).

There you go! If you do this as often as needed (depending on your riding conditions), your Freehub should last forever.
Note - the scope of this FAQ can't give you all the details of stripping your rear hub.   What you need is a good book on bike repair.

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