Workshop: How to clean Shimano clipless pedals
By What Mountain Bike | Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9.00am
It took the arrival of the Shimano M737 SPD double-sided clipless pedal in 1990 for clip-in pedals on mountain bikes to really take off.
Over the past 20 years, the M737 has spawned a raft of copycat designs that are lighter, better in mud or have fewer parts, but none exceeds the original for long-term performance in all weathers and with the minimum of care.
That said, eventually all pedals need a service as bearings wear out and water inevitably beats the seals. We ask a lot of our SPDs, so give yours a little TLC every once in a while – they certainly deserve it.
Then, when you’re smashing them on rocks or dunking them through stream crossings, you’ll know that they’re as ready for action as possible.
Time: 45 minutes
Skill rating: Moderate
Cost: Under £10
Know your way around your pedals
Bearings: Shimano SPD pedals still use cup-and-cone style loose ball bearings. This makes them a little tricky to manage when it comes to servicing, but with a little care the process needn’t take any longer than for pedals that use bushes or cartridges.
Pedal body: Pedal bodies are generally made of alloy, although some of Shimano’s platform models have plastic builds. Don’t worry too much about the cosmetic damage they incur, though; our experience tells us they’re almost impossible to break through impact.
Springs: The coiled steel springs give Shimano’s SPDs their most defining characteristic: that solid and reassuring click as the insertion of the cleat forces the pedal jaws open before they snap shut again. Shimano prefer the stiffness, reliability and improved action with the bearings that steel provides over lightweight metals such as titanium for their pedal axles. All Shimano SPDs use 6mm or 8mm Allen keys to screw the axles in and out of the crank arms.
Adjuster screws: Not everyone likes or wants the same level of resistance from their pedal springs. Old, tired knees might prefer less resistance, and hardcore cross-country racers on bumpy tracks might want a bit more. Thanks to these 3mm Allen key adjusters, you can dial in your preference easily.
Threaded collar: An important component that keeps the pedal body attached to the axle. On budget models, there’s a nylon cap at the other end of the pedal body from the collar and you’ll find the bearing preload nut hidden under this.
How to service and set up SPD pedals
Your clipless pedals will give you month after month of faithful service through rain and shine if you service them correctly. This 16-stage guide shows you have to do it.
- 7mm and 10mm spanners
- Allen keys
- Teflon grease
- Medium-weight oil
- Shimano TL-PD40 tool (if your pedals have plastic collars)
1 Thorough wash
You can’t do anything with dirty pedals, so get some hot water and cleaning solution and give them a good wash before you begin any sort of servicing. Grab an old toothbrush and really work the bristles into the nooks and crannies to remove caked-in dirt. Make sure the springs are clean and free from grit, too – the grease they carry usually attracts lots of dirt.
2 Remove pedals
Using the appropriate size Allen key – 6mm or 8mm depending on the model; some entry-level models still come with 15mm spanner flats, too – remove the pedals from the cranks. Remember that the left pedal has a reverse thread, so turn it clockwise to undo; the right-hand pedal is loosened by turning it anti-clockwise. The simple way to remember this is that both undo by turning the Allen key downwards and towards the back of the bike.
3 Poke around
With the pedals clean and off the bike, the next thing to do is to have a feel of the axles and a really close look at the mechanisms. After all, there’s no point in removing the axles until you’re sure whether you’re supposed to be tightening or loosening the bearings, or unless you know you need to replace a damaged jaw.
4 Vice advice
Place the pedal in a bench-mounted vice or, if your pedal uses a plastic collar, put the TL-PD40 tool in the vice. Alternatively, use a 36mm spanner – that’s the old threaded oversized headset size. Note that the right-hand pedal has a left-hand thread and the left-hand pedal has a right-hand thread.
5 Slide body off and clean
You should now be able to slide the pedal apart, taking the alloy body off the steel axle. You’ll see that most of the factory-installed grease has disappeared, and what’s left is a gungy black colour. Give it a spray with some degreaser, wipe it down with a lint-free rag and then leave it to dry.
6 Undo bearings
Now the axle’s clean and free from contaminated grease, you’ll be able to see the wood for the trees. Use 7mm and 10mm wrenches to undo the locknut on the end of the axle.
7 Smooth bearings
The bearings in modern clipless pedals are pretty well sealed, especially in the Shimano SPD range. That said, the cheaper models do need more regular attention than the mid- and top-end jobs. Check the condition of the bearing and if it’s good, grease it lightly before loading the 10mm nut.
8 Lovely balls
Counter-tighten with the 7mm locknut. It might take a couple of attempts to get the bearing smooth with no play or binding, so get plenty of grease in and on the bearings. As you screw down the 10mm nut, take care that none of the tiny balls manage to creep out of their race.
9 Lock down
With the retaining nut snug, you can fit the 7mm locknuts. These will need to be counter-tightened to stop them backing off. Now wipe all excess grease from the unit.
10 Grease is the word
Spray a bit of degreaser into the empty pedal body and then use some cotton buds to wipe out the worst of the dirty grease from inside it. Don’t sweat it if you can’t get rid of it all though, because you’ll flush it out later. Quarter-fill the bottom of the pedal body with some Teflon grease.
Insert the cleaned, lubed and freshly adjusted axle back into the pedal body, and then screw them back together with the TL-PD40 tool, using the reverse of the extraction method. If your SPD pedals have nylon collars, be particularly careful not to cross-thread them as you tighten the pedals.
When you reassemble the pedal, the axle’s reinsertion will force this new grease out, taking the old, contaminated grease with it. Clever, eh? Wipe off the excess grease that’s been purged from the pedal body. Don’t add any more grease – that will just attract unnecessary dirt to the area.
13 Lube springs
The pedals’ performance relies on the ability of the coil steel springs to operate freely and with the minimum of friction. When the pedals are factory fresh, they come with a glob of green Shimano grease, but you only need to lube the springs with medium-weight oil. Adding too much oil will just attract excess grit to the area.
14 Adjust springs
Some riders don’t even realise that their pedals have an adjustment for spring tension. On each side of the pedal, a small 3mm Allen-headed bolt lies on the outside edge of the rear jaw. This can be turned counter-clockwise to reduce tension and clockwise to increase it. The adjustment is marked by clicks; try tightening or loosening by two clicks at a time.
15 Clean threads
Clean the pedal threads in the crank arms with a bit of degreaser. Clean the threads on the pedals the same way. Now lightly grease both sets of threads – cranks and pedals.
16 Go ride
Inspect them for damage. There’s unlikely to be any, but it’s good practice and, ensuring you’re using the correct pedal for each crank arm, tighten the pedals until snug. Don’t go mad, though – they’ll tighten through use anyway. Now get out and ride!
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Older model SPDs (and some modern budget models) use a threaded nylon locking collar to keep the axle and pedal body together. It can be tricky to remove – especially the first time – so use the special plastic TL-PD40 tool and fit that to a bench-mounted vice. Fit the pedal into the vice-held tool and then turn it in the appropriate direction.
Some shoe and cleat combinations aren’t immediately well suited. You can create a smoother entry and exit from the pedals by gently trimming away some of the rubber surrounding the cleat recess on the sole of the shoe with a sharp blade. This means less sole material is pressing on the pedal. Go carefully, though, since removing too much will make the union between pedal and shoe sloppy. And be careful with the blade, too!
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