Workshop: Servicing pedals and cleats

Keep your pedals and cleats sweet

The humble pedal is a frequently neglected part of any bike that suffers from the same fate as feet and shoes. They’re physically distant, out of our immediate field of vision, so they get treated carelessly and subjected to all kinds of pressure, neglect and abuse.

But it’s through these often overlooked means that force is applied to your bike, hundreds of times in a ride. So it’s crucial that this meeting point of rider and machine is maintained, because a breakdown here could lead to all sorts of problems, both mechanical and physical.

Throughout this tutorial we make reference to the ubiquitous Shimano SPDs and the road-specific SPD-SLs. Most variants share a similar design and execution so, even if you don’t have exactly the same model as those shown, our examples should be close enough to remove some of the mystery from your maintenance queries.

Handy tips for pedals

Before removing the pedals, protect yourself from possible injury by placing your chain onto the big ring. Donning a pair of long gloves to protect your wrists and knuckles is also a good idea.

Ensure that you position yourself in a way that will prevent you from striking sharp edges on the bike or losing your balance if the pedal should suddenly decide to break loose.

Check the external condition of the pedal before you start to remove it. You might find something terminal such as a cracked body or loose base plate screws.

If your pedals haven’t been removed in a while, you might need to spray a little penetrating fluid to get them started. If after a couple of turns if you’ve managed to expose a few threads then spray the fluid again, repeating every few threads until the pedals are free. A dry, corroded thread can become damaged if you remove the pedal without a little lube help.

Remember, the left pedal spindle is reverse threaded, so turn clockwise to remove the pedal when facing the crank arm. The right side is normal, so turn it counter-clockwise to loosen it.

Tools Required

  • 15mm pedal wrench
  • 3, 4, 6 and 8mm hex keys
  • Shimano tool TL-PD40
  • Crocodile vice-grips or needle-nose pliers
  • 7, 8 and 10mm box-end/open-end spanner
  • Adjustable spanner or bench vice (optional)
  • Spray lube/degreaser
  • Oil and grease injector
  • Stanley knife

Removing the cartridge with a plastic tool

Gently clamp the shimano tool (tl-pd40) to remove the pedal's bearings: gently clamp the shimano tool (tl-pd40) to remove the pedal's bearings

Gently clamp the flats of the Shimano tool (TL-PD40) in a vice or, if this isn't available, you can use an adjustable spanner. Be aware that it may take a fair bit of force to immobilise the pedal as you apply torque.

Pay particular attention to the arrows embossed on the cartridge casing as they point in the direction you should twist for tightening. Turn against the arrow to remove the pedal.

As the cartridge is removed, it extracts the cylindrical bearing cup from its press-fitting.

Adjusting the axle assembly

Disassemble and regrease the axel: disassemble and regrease the axel

The axle assembly consists of an inboard cone built into the axle and a threaded outboard cone sandwiching two sets of 3/32 bearings in a twin cup press-fit insert. The cone will probably need a 10mm spanner to immobilise it while unscrewing the 7 or 8mm lock nut with an appropriate box-end or small adjustable spanner.

After cleaning and inspection, reassemble in reverse order with a bit of grease, adjusting and locking the cone with just a hair's play to allow a smooth rotation. Put a dollop of grease into the pedal body and, being careful not to over-tighten it, reinstall the axle assembly.

Servicing external bits

Never completely loosen the tension screws: never completely loosen the tension screws

While cleaning the outside of the pedal body, check for any kind of damage such as excessive wear of the base plates, broken springs or missing countersunk screws. Don't ever totally unscrew the tension adjustment screws, but instead keep them under a bit of tension to avoid any reconnection difficulties. Lube all pivot points with a drop of oil.

Service shortcuts for slackers

Drill a small hole to bypass fiddley deconstruction: drill a small hole to bypass fiddley deconstruction

If you can't be bothered to go through the fuss of removal and servicing, drilling a small hole into the pedal and injecting grease periodically is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Secure the pedal safely in a vice (using soft jaws if you have some) and mark the spot to be drilled with a sharp punch. Use a 2.5 or 3mm drill bit to carefully put a small hole in the end of the axle, through the cap. Clear away all metal shavings carefully before reattachment.

Grease is the word

Shoot the pedal with greese periodically to keep things running smoothly: shoot the pedal with greese periodically to keep things running smoothly

The tip of most grease injectors should fit snugly into the 3mm hole, but the hole is small enough for the surface tension of the grease to keep it from oozing out once it's settled down. If you prefer, you can install an appropriately small self-tapping screw to prevent leakage. About every three to six months, depending on how much you cycle, chase out the old grease by filling the pedal again. Wipe off the excess and ensure you push the rubber dirt seal back into place.

Replacing cleats

Out with the old

Lube the cleat and leave to soak before you undo it: lube the cleat and leave to soak before you undo it

After cleaning away any dirt and debris from the soles of your shoes, shoot a generous amount of light lube into the threads of the cleats and allow it to soak in for a while. When you come back to the shoes, make sure that there’s nothing clogging up the 4mm hex key aperture before you start undoing the bolts. Remember that the key should be fully engaged before you apply torque and downward pressure.

If the opening has been deformed inward over time, use a small hammer against the back of the hex key to gently persuade the bolt to cooperate. This usually works, but read the next section carefully if it doesn't.

Driller killer

If your cleat is stuck, drill out the bolt heads to remove them : if your cleat is stuck, drill out the bolt heads to remove them

If the hex bolts holding the cleat in the bottom of your shoes are still proving hard to remove, you'll need to resort to drilling out the offending items. Using a 5 or 5.5mm bit, drill far enough to weaken and remove the bolt head. The cleat will come off once the head is removed, so you can then pull the remaining part of the bolt out with a stout pair of vice-grips.

If even this doesn't work, bear in mind that you can sometimes ditch the whole threaded back plate, used to keep the cleat in place, and replace it with a new one. This should only be done as a last resort. If you hunt around you should be able to find stockists that will sell them to you as a spare.

Dirty business

Be careful when prying out the backplate: be careful when prying out the backplate

Getting out the back plate from the inside of the shoe can be a dirty job after a couple of years of mucky abuse, but persist. Open up the shoe as wide as possible, removing the laces if necessary, then pull out the old insole, any inserts and the waterproofing stickers. Some shoes also have a flap in the sole, so pry this open with a small screwdriver (point it away from your hands in case it slips). On new shoes, you might have to cut the flap loose using a sharp Stanley knife, so do this with extreme caution.

Installing new cleats

Using the edge of a table and a ruler, align the cleat with the axis of your foot: using the edge of a table and a ruler, align the cleat with the axis of your foot

With the cleats removed, clean the sole of your shoe using an old toothbrush and lightly grease all the contact points. Place the shoe on a flat table and, using the old cleat’s marks as a guide, roughly attach the cleat in place.  

Using a ruler you can now determine the angle of the cleat, adjusting it so that the edge of the table and the ruler are parallel. The edge of the table helps to identify the axis of the shoe, which can be hard to gauge without any visual reference point. Position the central axis of the cleat for a minimal q-factor by making sure that it won't rub against the inside of the crank arm. Temporarily tighten the screws in small increments (over-tightening one screw will have the effect of loosening the other).

Testing tension and adjustments

The cleat should be just behind the ball of your foot: the cleat should be just behind the ball of your foot

Set the left and right tension adjuster screws about midway and clip in. Position yourself somewhere safe (against a wall) and test getting in and out of your new cleats, making small adjustments as required. Position the pedal axle slightly behind (less than 5mm) the ball of your foot and tighten evenly and firmly.

The spring and pedal body you start and stop with could be slightly more worn than the one you stay clipped into, requiring a higher tension adjustment. If the soles of the shoes interfere with clicking in, you can try trimming away any small bits of rubber surrounding the cleat with a Stanley knife.

Re-torque the bolts after your first time riding with the new cleats.

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