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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Adventures in DIY: Pedal Overhaul

Pedal body with axle,  washer, locking nut, dustcap, and cone. Not pictured: ball bearings.
A few people think I'm a great bicycle mechanic. This notion is quite far from the truth. Oh sure, I can do some basic stuff. Fix a flat? Sure. Adjust brakes? Grudgingly. Mount stuff? Okay. Since I have toured extensively, I can do the basics. But I don't like doing certain things, so I'll just bring my bike by a shop. (It doesn't hurt that there are 83,267 bike shops in Portland, the closest one from my house two blocks away.) Anything major? Drop it off at ye old bike shop.

Of course I'd like to be able to do more work on my own bicycle. I should learn how to do more things. I've never been mechanically inclined, so some bike repair intimidates me. This is no excuse.

Tomorrow is Portland's annual Tweed Ride. The Rudge Sports in all of its path-racer glory would be the most obvious mount for such a themed ride. Hopefully I'll be able to ride it, though the weather has been dreadfully rainy this week, and more of the same is expected tomorrow. The Rudge is a "sunny day" bike in its current configuration, as the combination of steel rims and no fenders does not lend itself to wet rides. If it is raining, I'll take the Raleigh. But if it isn't, I want the Rudge to be ready. And one thing it needs is pedals. I originally ran the "rat trap" pedals that were on the Raleigh, but they sucked, so I installed my '80's Shimano Deore pedals with Power Grips. They work, but they're not aesthetically appropriate for the bike.

So I got a pair of SR quill pedals from my friend Ed. While they are 70's style road pedals, not rat-traps, they are more appropriate for the Rudge. There was one problem, though: one of the pedals was a bit grindy, but not overly so. It would probably be fine, but I decided this would be a good opportunity to teach myself how to overhaul a pedal.

Yes, pedal overhaul, a lost art. Many modern pedals are either not designed to be serviceable, or they use cartridge bearings. But these pedals came from a not-so-distant past where it was expected that you should be able to service any part of a bike. So with my copy of Sloane's Complete Book of Bicycling (25th Anniversary Edition), I went at it.

The Sloane book.
Most pedals I've seen have a dust cap that needs to be pried off, but these conveniently had a screw-on cap, removable with a 6mm Allen wrench! Easy! I gave the inside a blast of WD40 to clean it out. Then I removed all the internals: the lock nut, washer, cone, axle, and all of those ball bearings. (Despite being extra careful and doing all the removal over a bowl, I still lost a few bearings. So I got some more from the bike shop.) The only issue I found was there was some stripping of the threading at the "top" of the axle, where the nut/washer/cone screws on. I asked the bike shop if they thought it was an issue, and they said as long as the nuts can tighten properly, then it should be okay.

After cleaning the parts and a liberal application of grease, I put everything back in, tightened nut/washer/cone, and put the dust cap back on. And now: no grindy feeling!

I did the same thing to the other pedal. Even though it had no grinding, the inside was dry as a bone, so it got a greasing.

Then I attached some nice steel clips with leather straps to the pedals. Voila! Classy pedals for a classy bike. And most of it free: the only thing I bought new were a set of Zefal leather straps which set me back $8.50. And now I have learned a dying art.

Illustrations on fitting a toe strap. From Bicycle by John Wilcockson (1980).


  1. Nice job on the overhaul. They look rather lightly used from the surface appearance. Such a shame they dont make them like they used to. I think the old way was a bit "greener".

  2. Good job. I, too, wish more pedals could be disassembled for overhauling. So far, I've been lucky that the four bikes I've refurbished haven't had gunky pedals, so derusting and oiling was all that was needed. I recently acquired a 1958 Raleigh Lenton Grand Prix which has similar pedals. I haven't started the overhaul on it, but when I do, I'll have to check to see if the pedals come apart.

    I personally think being able to work on my own bike makes it more fun to ride!

  3. I used to do a fair amount of pedal overhauls at the bike shope, back in the early 90s. By the late 90s, I was doing none. All of the "serious" cyclists had gone clipless/sealed bearing, and the people still using quill pedals weren't the type to pay for an overhaul.

    Congrats on a job well done. Nice feeling, isn't it, to make something like new again...

    1. Yeah, I can see why shops nowadays wouldn't want to do pedal overhauls (and why people wouldn't want to pay for it.) While it was an easy job, it was time-consuming. I'm sure if I was a better mechanic, overhauling a set would take 15-30 minutes. Still, a shop would have to charge appropriate labor ($20 and up). At that point, you are looking at the price of a new (albeit cheap) set of pedals.

      A bicycle-mechanic friend of mine mentioned that while new MKS pedals are good because they are overhaul-able, that only means something if you are the one who is going to do the overhauls. I can see someone like me walking into a snobby shop, MKS pedals in hand, asking about overhauling them. They'd probably direct me to some higher-end sealed bearing pedals instead.

  4. Excellent job, just note that if you continue down the road of maintaining the bearings yourself, you may slip into oiling rather than greasing, in search of that elusive low-friction perfection.

  5. I remember those old style pedals and liked them very much. Also the Christophe leather toe straps, which I haven't been able to locate. Do you know of a place online where I can get these? In recent years I've bought the no-name variety of leather straps.

    1. The only on-line place I could find is (of course) Rivendell:
      They're $14 plus shipping.
      But I've found them cheaper at Citybikes in Portland. Let me know if you want me to get some for you.

  6. Nice-looking pedals! Don't forget to give your toe straps a twist as they pass through the pedal body. It's an old trick to keep the buckle from slipping around sideways. (Showing my age here ...)


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