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How To Install MTB Pedals

April 22, 2020

Installing pedals is quite easy, but there are some things you need to know, as otherwise it can be an expensive fix. Michael's here to share some tips on installing and removing MTB pedals to help you nail it on the first attempt, with all the skin on your knuckles intact.

What you'll need

Identifying which tools you need

All pedals used to come with 15mm flats so all you needed was a 15mm spanner, but most aftermarket MTB pedals these days will require a 6mm or 8mm Allen key for removal. Some pedals even have a combination of a 6mm Allen key and 15mm flats, making it easier to get your hands on the tools you need.

Removing the old pedals

Now that we know which tools we need we can remove the old pedals. Funnily enough, this is the part that stumps most people as the threads on the pedals actually go different ways depending on which side of the bike they’re on. The side with the chain on it (the drive side) has a standard thread and turns counter-clockwise to remove it. No surprises there.

The non-drive side pedal is the one that tends to have people scratching their head at first because it unthreads the opposite way to what you’d expect (this is referred to as "reverse-threaded"). You’ll need to turn it clockwise to loosen it.

The other thing that gets people at first is that the cranks can tend to spin around while you’re trying to crack the pedal loose, making it really hard to get any force on the tool if you don’t have it in the right spot. What we want to do here is set up the pedals and tool so that we're putting force primarily against the crank, in a position that does not cause the cranks to spin.

Occasionally, pedals can be really difficult to remove, simply because they've been installed without an adequate amount of grease, and/or they've been over-tightened, often with a pedal wrench or allen key that's much larger than what you have in your toolkit. I’ve got a few techniques to share that use mechanical advantage to make it easy to remove even the most stubborn pedals without skinning your knuckles, damaging your cranks, or losing your cool.

The Pinch

The Pinch works by using a combination of your weight, the strength of your hands, and the chain tension working together to break the pedal free.

  • To set up for this you’ll want to have the crank with the pedal you’re working on sitting horizontally and pointing towards the front of the bike.
  • Position the tool so it’s almost inline with the crank arm but angled up slightly.
  • Lean over the top of the bike with your chest on the saddle to stop the bike rolling forwards.
  • Hook your fingers around the crank arm and put downward pressure on the tool with the heel of your palm and squeeze until you feel the threads start to budge.

The Stomp

If the pinch doesn’t break the pedal free, first take a step back and ensure that you’re turning the pedal the correct way and you’re not actually making it tighter. If you’re certain that you’re turning it the right way it’s time to escalate the level of force with the Stomp.

  • Set the crank arm up so that it’s pointing forwards and sitting at about a 45 degree angle so you can stand on it and put some tension on the chain.
  • Put your brakes on and attach the tool so that it’s almost horizontal and pointing towards the rear of the bike.
  • Put your foot on the pedal and your heel on the tool and increase the pressure on the tool with a bit of a pulsing motion until the thread breaks free and starts to turn.

The Breaker

If neither of the two methods have worked it’s likely that either the Hulk assembled your bike or there might be some corrosion or surface bonding that’s caused the pedal and the cranks to fuse together. We need some extra leverage to crack it loose.

A length of metal pipe works great for this but you can also create a makeshift breaker bar by hooking the ring end of a large spanner around your tool to provide you with some extra mechanical advantage. This one can be a bit of a fiddle to set up but it’s pretty effective.

The Double-Team

If you have a set of pedals that have both the 15mm spanner flats and the 6mm Allen key slot you can combine forces with a mate (if you’re allowed to) to double-team the stubborn pedal into submission.

Installing the new pedals


Note the direction of thread and the groove on the flanged section of the non-drive side pedal.

Now that we have the old ones off it’s time to install the new pedals. The first thing we need to do is to work out which pedal is which. Most pedals will have an L or R engraved into them which is nice and convenient. On some models the left pedal will often have a little groove engraved into the flange at the end of the thread to help you identify it quickly. If there aren’t any markings you’ll need to eyeball the thread and try to visualise which way it would rotate as it was installed. It’s important that you get this right as you can damage your cranks if you try to thread in the wrong pedal on the wrong side.

Remember: The drive side has a normal thread and the non-drive side has a reverse thread.

Clean the threads

Grab a rag and give the threads on the pedal and the crank a bit of a wipe to remove any grit and crusty old grease.

Grease it up

We want to make life easier on our future selves and putting a bit of grease or anti-seize compound on the threads will make you want high-five yourself next time you remove your pedals as it will be a cinch. If you install them dry they’re likely to bind together and you’ll only have yourself to blame if they’re super hard to get off.

Ensure that the pedals are lined up properly and don’t go wonky as you start to thread them in. They should go in smoothly and without much resistance. If it feels like it’s taking too much force to screw them in, stop immediately and back them out and try again. Don’t try to force it or you might cross thread it or even strip the thread.

A good tip if you find a small burr or minor cross thread is to screw the pedal in from the back side of the crank arm. This is normally pretty effective at cleaning up the thread as it goes in and you should find that everything will go together smoothly when you install the pedal from the correct side again.

How tight do they need to be?

They need to be fairly snug but don’t go too crazy as you’ll just make it harder to get them off next time. If you’re the type of person that likes to torque everything to spec. Park Tool recommends approx 35-40nm of torque when installing bicycle pedals.

Setting your SPD pedal tension

Shimano pedals have a wide range of tension adjustment which makes them perfect for riders learning to ride clipped in. The tension can be backed right off to make clipping out nice and easy while you’re still programming in the muscle memory to twist your heel out to release your foot. The tension can be incrementally increased as you gain confidence and want to be locked in more securely.

On Shimano SPD pedals there are two separate tension adjustments on each pedal, one on each side. You'll need a 3mm Allen key to make this adjustment. You want to make sure that they are both sides of each pedal are set with the same tension or you might get a nasty surprise when you suddenly can’t clip out and have a topple over (we’ve all been there).

The best way to ensure they’re set the same is to back the tension right off on both sides, and then count the clicks as you add it back on. 1-2 clicks is normally enough to get a noticeable difference in tension when you’re setting them up.

Meet Michael!

Michael has always loved bikes, and began turning his passion into a career while still in high school, selling MTB parts from underneath his parent's house. Things have transformed since then and he's now co-owner of MTB Direct. His regular role is project management, especially around some rad new features for the site. When he's not out riding one of his many mountain bikes, he's looking after his two little girls and teaching them to ride!