See How He Uses a Spanner to Tighten That Nut; or How to Change a Worn Out Bicycle Pedal

August 5, 2008

In a world where all men are superheroes and the norm is to walk around town wearing your Superman suit, there is one among them who, unknown to all, has a secret. At a moment’s notice and at the beckon call of distressed cyclists everywhere, one of our supermen can secretly and swiftly transform himself into his seemingly banal alter ego: Bicycle Repair Man. Wearing ordinary work duds and meek and mild in appearance and manner, he goes about the task of fixing broken-down bikes, to the astonishment of all the superheroes who’ve gathered around. “Why, he’s mending it with his own hands!” exclaims one. “See how he uses a spanner to tighten that nut!” cries another. In the land of supermen, it seems, the ability to affect simple bike repair is an Herculean ability that eludes them.

His job complete, Bicycle Repairman rises from his stooped work position and confidently snorts up a loogie in throat-lumping pride as he walks off triumphantly. “All in a day’s work for … Bicycle Repair Man,” he states, with perhaps a slight sense of false humility. Another good deed for mankind achieved.

Bicycle Repair Man is the twisted creation of Michael Palin and the Monty Python’s Flying Circus troupe, one of my favorite skits from the classic British comedy show. Unfortunately, I can’t call upon this guy whenever my bike suffers critical structural distress. It’s either shell out the $30 and leave my bike in a shop for a week to work its way through the ever worsening repair schedule backlog, or do the darn thing me-self. As most repairs aren’t major, I most often opt for the latter – and learn a new skill or two in the process.

After three years of continuous, vigorous use, my Schwinn 26″ Ranger mountain bike finally saw its pedals reach the end of their useful lives. The left pedal had completely failed – the outer plastic shell had cracked open to the point that its inner metal shaft was exposed and sticking out, causing the pedal to start drifting away from the crank arm and making for a very loose foot grip. The same process had begun on the right pedal, though not to such an advanced state. In any case, this was a very hazardous situation that needed correction.

Walmart had the goods: a pair of generic Bell bike pedals in the $6 – $7 range for both (though I really had to hunt for them among all the detritus on the bottom floor shelf that had fallen off the hooks above, seemingly undisturbed for months by any attempts at straightening up by store personnel).

The gist here is that bike pedal repair would seem simple, but is not so much. Screw off the old pedals and screw on the new ones, right? Well, not so fast, Bucko! It was actually a bit harder than expected, so let me lead you through the process. All told, this process took me about an hour.

What you will need:

* WD-40
* typically a 5/8ths inch spanner (open end of a solid wrench; forget about trying this with an adjustable wrench – it doesn’t work; bike shops have a special wrench for this, but I don’t have one and you probably don’t either)
* a mallet (yes you will have to do some pounding; barring that, a hammer should do)
* soap and water to clean your greasy hands when finished.

The old rule, “lefty to loosen, righty to tighty” is not necessarily true with pedal removal and installation, so chuck the idea out the window. The right and left pedals are threaded in different directions, so pay close attention.

The left pedal (that is, the pedal on the left that you would see if you were sitting on your bike and looking down) is the one that presents the most difficulty. This pedal is loosened to the right, or backward toward the tire (clockwise); this is counterintuitive to the usual wisdom. And I can guarantee you the pedal’s interior metal shaft will be screwed so tightly into the crank arm that it will seem to be fused solid; seemingly impossible to unloosen.

Step one: Spray WD40 into the pedal screw-in area on both sides of the crank arm (do this for both pedals), and go into the cool house for 15 minutes and eat or do something else while the loosening, lubricating action takes place. This cannot be hurried along.

Step two: Lay the bicycle down on a solid surface. The crank arm will want to turn clockwise as you are trying to unscrew the pedal in the same direction, which makes for a clumsy grip. You will have to improvise here on how to stabilize the crank arm from turning. I used part of one leg to stop the crank arm action and used the other leg to keep the rest of the bike from moving around.

Step three: Take the 5/8ths inch spanner (I assume this is a common size) and grip the screw end of the pedal shaft at the crank arm and start pulling clockwise. If nothing is happening, pound the spanner with the mallet and try not to hit your hand as you hold the spanner in place (which I, unfortunately, managed to do once). After about 6 poundings I finally got the thing to loosen.

Step four: Do the same procedure on the right pedal except follow the old adage “lefty to loosen” (counterclockwise).

Step five: Install the new pedals. your new pedals will either be of one piece and will fit right into the crank arm threads or will come with an adapter piece that first screws into the crank arm (with the pedal screwing into the adapter). Mine was of the latter type, with the adapter. IMPORTANT: do not screw in the pedal or adapter until you make sure you are using the left and right pedals and adapters. The threading direction differs on both, so make sure you check for “R” and “L”, which should be marked in the outer edges of the adapter or pedal. Remember again that the rules about threading direction that applied when loosening the old pedals still apply when screwing in the new ones. If you have to force the things in or notice that the pedals or adapters are not gripping the threads, then you are probably screwing the wrong way. Duh!

The results of this repair/replacement is that I have pedals that—because of the adapter piece—stick out a little farther than my old one-piece pedal mounting assembly did. Nonetheless, a test drive proved that it all felt right. It was certainly better than trying to turn a loose and crumbling pedal.

I can’t vouch for the longterm durability of the Bell pedals, and if you want to get fancy schmancy on style and price and such then you might want to explore your options further at a bike shop. But I didn’t have time to do this, the emergency called for quick action and I bought the first pair I saw. The Bell set says right on the package that it will fit on vitually all bikes. And in this case the claim was true.

Anyway, it’s all in a day’s work for … Bicycle Rapairman (snorts prideful loogie, spits).