You’ve got a new mountain bike! You’ve spent hours (it seems) researching models, talking to bike shop staff and test riding different bikes. You can’t wait to get on it and go for a ride! Then you realize it doesn’t have the right kind of pedals.
For a casual, non-mechanical recreational bicyclist bursting with excitement and now you have to figure out how to change the pedals??
This article – and video – will teach you everything you need to know about:
- How to remove mountain bike pedals
- How to install mountain bike pedals
- What tools you need to change mountain bike pedals
- Different types of mountain bike pedals
- Gear recommendations for mountain bike pedals
How to Remove Mountain Bike Pedals: Three Easy Steps
What tools do you need to remove mountain bike pedals? You will most likely need an 8 millimeter hex wrench or a 15 millimeter crescent wrench or pedal wrench specific for bicycles.
If you’re using a pedal wrench, monkey wrench or crescent wrench:
- Slide the wrench into the flat part of the pedal, where the pedal is threaded into the crank arm.
- On the right side pedal (drive side), you’ll turn the wrench to the right (clockwise) to loosen and remove the pedal.
- On the left side pedal, you’ll turn the wrench to the left (counterclockwise) to loosen and remove the pedal.
* Bike pedals on the left side are reverse threaded. This means, for the right pedal, you follow the usual rule “rightie tightie, leftie loosie.” On the left side, it’s the opposite.
If you’re using a hex wrench:
- Coming from inside the crank arm, slide the short end of the hex wrench through the hole in the crank arm all the way into the hole in the pedal.
- Unscrew in a counterclockwise direction on the right side pedal.
- Unscrew in a clockwise direction on the left side pedal.
* If your bike is on the ground when removing the pedals, you’ll want to engage the rear brake when you are unscrewing the pedals.
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How to Install Mountain Bike Pedals
What tools do you need to install mountain bike pedals? You’ll most likely need an 8 millimeter hex wrench or a 15 millimeter crescent wrench or pedal wrench specific for bicycles.
* The most important thing to remember when installing mountain bike pedals is to make sure that the pedal labeled “right” or “R” goes on the drive-side (right) side of the bike, and the “left” or “L” pedal goes on the left side of the bike. They are NOT interchangeable! (Remember what I said about “reverse threaded”?)
- Wipe the pedal spindle clean with a rag, as well as the hole in the crank arm. Then, grease the pedal spindle.
- Line the pedal spindle (also known as the “pedal axle”) up with the hole in the crank arm. It should be level, parallel to the ground and perpendicular to the crank arm.
- Thread it into the hole with your fingers. It should be easy to twist. If you encounter resistance, you’ve probably got it cross threaded (which is bad). Remove it and thread it in again.
- When you’ve got it as tight as you can with your fingers, insert the wrench. A pedal wrench or crescent wrench goes between the pedal and the crank arm. A hex wrench goes through the hole in the crank arm into a hole in the pedal axle. Tighten to the right (clockwise) on the right side of the bike. Tighten to the left (counterclockwise) on the left side of the bike. You can do this fastest by turning the crank arms backwards with the wrench engaged.
You don’t have to break your shoulder trying to tighten pedals with all your might. Just get it as tight as you reasonably can with a wrench. The reason pedals are reverse threaded is that the pedaling action will actually help tighten the pedals as you ride. Smart, huh?
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
Types of Mountain Bike Pedals
Flat Pedals or Platform Pedals
Flat pedals are just what they sound like, and platform pedals are the same thing. They’re the kind of pedals you probably remember from your bike as a kid and the kind that usually come on a newly-purchased bike. However, bike manufacturers – recognizing that most mountain bikers will immediately replace the factory pedals with whatever pedal system they prefer – usually use the cheapest, most basic flat pedal in bike kits. In fact, high end bikes often don’t come with pedals at all.
Benefits of flat pedals:
- Easy mounting and dismounting – particularly important if you lack the balance to handle clipping a shoe onto a pedal (or unclipping) quickly.
- Usually cheaper.
- You don’t have to worry about special shoes. However, rigid, stiff-soled shoes are pretty much the universal recommendation for the best mountain biking shoes.
Drawbacks of flat pedals:
- Feet can slip off pedals, particularly on bumpy terrain or when applying a lot of force to your pedal stroke (which are both situations when you do NOT want your feet slipping off).
- You waste energy on climbing by not utilizing the upstroke of your knees. When your shoes are clipped into pedals, even the low-effort upstroke of the knee is utilized to propel the wheel forward. This can be countered by using toe baskets, also known as “cages” or “toe clips.”
Clip-In or Clipless Pedals
As a kid, I was wild about riddles. I could – and still can – rattle off dozens of groan-inducing riddles without breaking a sweat.
Q. When are farmers mean?
A. When they’re pulling the ears off the corn!
Q. When are cooks mean?
A. When they’re beating the eggs and whipping the cream!
Q. When are clipless pedals also clip-in pedals?
Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, “clipless” mountain bike pedals are the same as “clip-in” mountain bike pedals. (It harkens back to the days when a pedal basket or toe cage on a flat pedal was considered a “toe clip.” Clipless pedals are, therefore, pedals that don’t require a toe basket to hold your foot on the pedal.) While I can’t give you a funny answer to the riddle, I can tell you some of the benefits of clip-in or clipless pedals for mountain biking:
Benefits of Clip-In or Clipless Pedals
- Hold your feet on the pedals to prevent slipping.
- Ensure the foot placement on the pedal to minimize foot injury from pedal stressors.
- Maximizes energy by utilizing both the downward and upward motion of pedaling to propel the bike forward.
- Generally, the most popular pedal type for recreational to pro mountain bikers.
Drawbacks of Clip-In or Clipless Pedals
- More expensive – though there is a wide range in the cost of different systems, depending on your selection.
- Takes practice to learn to enter and exit the pedal clip safely and quickly. Every cyclist I know has at least one injury from not being able to release their foot from the pedal fast enough.
- Dozens of different styles of pedal systems that work with a matching cleat on your shoe. This requires research of what product to buy, purchase of appropriate shoes, making sure you always have right shoe for the pedals you’re using, switching out your pedals if you use a different bike, etc.
Hybrid or Dual Pedals
A little of both worlds, hybrid pedals are usually flat platforms on one side with a pedal clip system on the other side. See benefits and drawbacks of clipless pedals (above) as they’re more or less the same for hybrid pedals.
Benefits of Hybrid or Dual Pedals
- Great for a commuter bike that you also use for mountain biking. Flat pedals when you’re riding around town in casual shoes, and clipless pedals when you’re on a mountain biking trail wearing your mountain biking shoes.
Drawbacks of Hybrid or Dual Pedals
- Requires more speed to enter the pedal because you not only have to be able to get the cleat into the clip, but first you have to spin the pedal to be clip-side-up.
Now, once you decide between flat, clipless or hybrid pedal styles, you’ll have to decide on an actual pedal-cleat system. Egg-beater style clipless pedals? SPDs? BMX-style platform pedals with aggressive grips? This is quite a question in the biking world, and everyone seems to have their own preference. Also, much of the decision will depend on the type of terrain you like to ride and any physical considerations that effect your riding.
Spend some time reading product reviews on biking and bike product websites. If you’re part of a cycling club, put the question out to the group for a variety of opinions. The founder of DIY Mountain Bike has compiled some wisdom from his own pedal-prolific experience and sums up his pedal recommendations for both mountain biking and commuting (https://www.diymountainbike.com/recommended-gear/review-best-mountain-biking-pedals/).
While breaking down each pedal system individually is too ambitious for this article, you now know the most important thing: how to remove and install mountain bike pedals. When you’re jumping with excitement to get out on your new bike, you won’t be held back by struggling to change the pedals. You’ll be ready to ride!
Professional writer Kat Jahnigen was 2 miles from the nearest village – and roughly 2,310 miles – from the nearest English-speaking town – when her bike tire burst. At that time, she was a college student on a bike trip across the desolate, rocky island of Crete. It suddenly occurred to her that it would’ve been good to learn some basic bike repairs before setting off on a solo bike trip.
Check out Kat’s website WriteHire at writehire.net.