Installing Clipless Pedals

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Clipless pedals for cleated shoes.
Clipless pedals for cleated shoes. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

There are many different kinds of bike pedals, of course.

Swapping out your existing pedals for clipless pedals is one of the best things you can do to improve your cycling. With clipless pedals, not only are you driving the pedals on the down stroke but now are also continuing to propel them forcefully as you bring your legs back up. 

"Clipless" is admittedly an odd term. It comes from the fact that you've got no toe clips on your pedals, but people often confuse that with "clicking in," which is when your cleated bike shoes lock into the spring loaded pedals that hold them tight.

Changing out pedals is an incredibly quick and easy process, one that even the most novice cyclists can attempt without fear. All you'll need is a wrench and your new pedals.

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Remove Existing Pedals

Pedals with toe clips
Pedals with toe clips. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

The first thing you'll need to do is to remove your existing pedals. No matter what kind of pedals you have, the process for taking them off is going to be the same. These pedals have toe clips. With no foot in the pedal, the weight of the cage makes the pedal flip upside down.

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Locate the Bolt to Loosen the Old Pedals

Locate the bolt to loosen the pedals from the crank arm
Locate the bolt to loosen the pedals from the crank arm. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

Locate the bolt that loosens the pedal from the crank arm. It is marked in the photo above.

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Loosen the Pedal from the Crank Arm

Remove old pedals from the crank arm.
Remove old pedals from the crank arm. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

Using the right sized wrench for the bolt, loosen the pedal from the crank arm. This is generally going to be an Allen wrench (sometimes called a hex wrench) that inserts from the back.  Other times you'll need a specific bike pedal wrench, which is an ordinary wrench like you'll find in your home tool kit, only narrower. I've found that oftentimes the home version will work just fine. If all else fails, your local bike shop would be glad to help you with this.

Something very important to remember: the pedals are threaded so that the cyclist is always "tightening" the bolt as he or she rides. That means to loosen the pedals, you must turn the bolt the opposite way than the crank goes when you are pedaling. While on the right side of the bike, everything is normal, but on the left-hand pedal, it's ​backward. There, instead of the normal "lefty-loosey, righty-tighty" phrase that people use to remember which way to turn wrenches, on the left side it is reversed: you will crank the wrench to the right (clockwise) to loosen the bolt.

It is possible that these bolts will be set pretty tight because of all the torque that your powerful legs have been applying to them as you ride. You may have to work at them a bit, but as long as you pay attention to twisting them in the proper direction, the pedals will come free. A bit of WD-40 sprayed on and allowed to soak in will frequently help them turn loose as well.

One final tip: be sure that your chain is set on the largest chain ring in the front. Just in case the wrench slips and you knock your knuckles against the gear teeth, having the chain there means you'll just skin them a bit instead of receiving a nasty gash.

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Lubricate the Crank Arm

The old toe-clip pedal is now removed from the bike.
The old toe-clip pedal is now removed from the bike. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

With the pedal now removed from the crank arm, make sure that there is no grit in the receiver on the crank arm where the bolt from the pedal goes in. Using a bit of oil, lubricate the threads inside of the crank arm in preparation for installing the new pedal.

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Install the New Clipless Pedals

New clipless pedals now mounted on crank arm.
Your new clipless pedals installed. (c) David Fiedler, licensed to

Using your fingers, thread the new pedals into the hole in the crank arm. It is important to do this carefully, making certain that the pedals go in cleanly. That ensures that no cross-threading takes place, which will cause the pedals to go in crooked and damage both the pedal and the crank arm.

Once you've hand-tightened the new pedals, you can use a wrench to tighten them a little bit further, but it's usually not necessary to really mash down on them. Your own pedaling action will be plenty sufficient to tighten them sufficiently and also keep them from ever working loose.

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Try Out Your New Clipless Pedals

A cyclist mashing the pedals
Mashing the pedals. Jupiterimages/Getty

Now that you have your new clipless pedals on your bike, it's time to try them out. Don your compatible cleated bike shoes, saddle up, and off you go. It probably makes sense to perform this last step in a low-traffic parking lot or somewhere similar where there is some margin for error if you haven't used clipless pedals before. It usually takes a while to get the hang of clicking in and out of the pedals as necessary, and you definitely want to be proficient at it before heading out into traffic.

Again, if the terminology is confusing, just remember that clipless pedals are used with special cycling shoes that have cleats in the sole to connect them directly to the pedals. They are "clipless" because they are an improvement over the toe-clips that used to be the norm in bike racing.

Watch Now: How to Remove and Install Bicycle Pedals