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Bike Won’t Pedal Forward? How to Troubleshoot Pedal Problems

Cycling is one of the world’s most liberating activities! As an avid cyclist, I am well aware of how bikes can take us over several different terrains, each with its challenges. To have a smooth and enjoyable experience, it’s imperative that we take good care of our bikes and regularly perform maintenance checks. 

When bike pedals don’t move forward, it can indicate that the end cap is not tightened. The teeth and pawls inside the freewheel, cassette, or freehub mechanism are damaged or blocked by grease. If the problem persists after cleaning them, you will need to replace it. 

Our bike pedals, in particular, are often the first parts to show wear and tear. They are a big part of our safety, too, so let’s learn what to do if they stop pedaling forward, and how to maintain them to prevent this from happening in the first place… 

Why Your Bike Doesn’t Pedal Forward & What to Do About it

Let’s start with freewheels and cassettes. You have a freewheel or cassette system if your hub has numerous gears for various speeds. A freewheel spins freely in one direction, but the chain pulls it in the opposing direction, grabbing and turning the entire hub. When you bike, this is what rotates the wheel.

Inside, there’s a ratcheting system with pawls, which are small spring-loaded “fingers.” The pawls slide over the teeth as you spin the hub, but when you ride forward, the pawls latch onto the teeth and turn the center of the hub, rotating the wheel when you pedal.

When the bike has been resting for a while, the pawls become greased and don’t jump up to grip the teeth; instead, they stay stuck down. And when you cycle ahead, they glide over the teeth, preventing the wheel from turning.

In this instance, rinse out the old grease and lubricate the freewheel again. It will, in most circumstances, address the problem of being unable to pedal forward.

It’s also conceivable that the freewheel’s internal components, such as the pawls and springs, have been damaged. In this situation, it’s advisable to replace the freewheel with a new one, which should resolve the problem.

The ratcheting mechanism is not part of the cogs of a cassette. A freehub is a distinct component connected to the wheel. It functions in the same way as a freewheel does; it has pawls that may get trapped as well. Flush out the old grease in the same way, and if it doesn’t work, replace the freehub.

The shift cable is the next component to examine. It’s possible that if the shift cable adjustment is wrong, the hub can be shifted between two gears and act as if it’s neutral. It implies that the bike would not move forward even if you pedaled since it would not catch.

The above should fix the majority of problems you may be having with your pedals, but here’s a video that can help to answer any remaining questions:

Pedal troubleshooting aside, if you’re finding this problem occurring quite often, chances are that you need to pay more attention to your bike maintenance, specifically on your pedals. Performing some regular maintenance will help prevent any problems with your pedals, and will make your ride smoother and more enjoyable. Let’s talk bike pedal maintenance…

How To Do Maintenance On Bike Pedals

Pedals take the majority of the abuse when we go cycling. Most of us hardly give them a second thought, granted servicing them will most likely not give you many advantages to your performance. It does, however, provide you with the full life span of your pedals. That in itself makes it worth the effort!

When you first get your bike, you’ll remember the smooth feeling your pedals had as they helped to drift you away on your adventure. When you start to lose the sensation of smoothness, it’s a clear indication that you need to give your pedals some love. You’ll also notice that they spin almost too freely sometimes. 

This flag will let you know that your pedals will likely be dry, and they will be devoid of any grease. You’ll need to disassemble your pedals by removing the axles from the pedal body loosening the lock ring. You can usually remove them with a wrench, but some pedals may require a special tool from your manufacturer. 

Here is a fantastic tutorial on how to service your pedals:

How Do You Remove Stuck Bike Pedals?

To begin, make sure you’re spinning the pedal spindle in the loosening direction. The spindles utilize opposing threads on either side of the bike, loosening counter-clockwise on the drive side and clockwise on the non-drive side.

It’s time to lubricate the threads with a little lubricant to help them break loose. Spray the end of the pedal spindle with penetrating fluid when the bike is on its side and the pedal spindle is facing up. Before tugging on the wrench again, wait 10-20 minutes.

If you don’t have a pedal wrench (like this one from Amazon), tap the bottom of the wrench with a rubber hammer; without it, you won’t have as much leverage. By securing your wrench and hitting it with a rubber hammer, you may compensate for the lack of leverage and loosen the pedal.

Why Are My Bike Pedals Spinning?

If your pedals have ever started to spin or turn while riding, you know how frustrating it can be. I’ve had some nasty cuts and bruises myself because of spinning pedals. When the wheel is spinning, the friction between the bearings, pawls, and lubricant in a freehub or freewheel is generally enough to move the pedals. 

There’s probably nothing to be concerned about if you keep your foot on the pedal and the tire freewheels normally. Of course, examine the freehub bearings and pawls to see if the wheel stops freewheeling or the friction to prevent the wheels from spinning becomes evident. When the pedals are halted, increased resistance at the freehub/freewheel causes the rear derailleur to be pulled tight. 

It may be that the freewheel is pressing on the crank via the chain, which is being pushed by the rear cassette (if the freewheel is spinning and the pedals begin to spin). The chain could be stiff in certain places (perhaps due to corrosion), and your rear hub is malfunctioning (could either be a bent axle or a failing ball-bearings or both, from my experience).

How Do You Remove Bike Pedals Without A Pedal Wrench?

It’s pretty simple to remove a pedal without a pedal wrench! A 15mm craftsman wrench is the only tool you’ll need. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Set the wrench on the pedal spindle and backward-rotate the crank until the wrench is parallel to the ground.
  2. Support the bike against the handlebars and place your front foot on the pedal.
  3. Step down onto the wrench with your heel, using your heel to support your body weight. 
  4. The pedal should loosen sufficiently for you to remove it once you’ve put enough weight on it.

Thankfully, this method will work with the most stubborn pedals! 

Here is a great visual guide on how to do it:

How Do I Make Bike Pedaling Easier?

The answer to this question is easier than you think. In truth, a bike could be difficult to ride because it is in the wrong gear for the terrain, or there is too much friction. The following things can create friction:

  • Brake pads rubbing on the rim or disc
  • Inadequate chain lubrication
  • Low tire pressure

It may be a no-brainer, but keep your bike clean! Keeping dirt and filth off your drivetrain and cables, especially during the winter months, will improve the efficiency of your bike and save you money on replacement components in the long term.

A well-lubed chain will make your drivetrain more efficient, meaning that none of your bicycling efforts are wasted through mechanical inefficiency, and will also decrease the amount of grime that the chain picks up on wet rides.

QUICK TIP: Ensuring that your saddle height is the right fit can go a long way with pedaling becoming an easier job. 

What Causes Ghost Pedalling?

In most cases, ghost pedaling is caused by a problem with the back hub adjustment. Find the ideal point where the bearings glide effortlessly. You might have ghost pedaling if the pedal is either loose or too tight. In all situations, it’s best to use a chain that’s as tight as you can get

Other symptoms of ghost pedaling may be related to:

  • loose cranks
  • freecoasters
  • other loose parts

You may notice that your crank arms are coming loose or wobbling just a tiny bit. The axel studs on your hub would have come loose quite a bit as well.

It would be best if you also considered checking your freecoaster is either too tight or not tight enough. As you crush your bearings with your cones cranked down, they will spin with the hub. Similarly, if you haven’t done them up properly, you’d be more likely to notice the awful wobbling in the wheel caused by loose cones.

It’s also possible that the driver is stuck to the hub shell. Make sure it’s lubricated and glides smoothly back and forth.

What Are Some Other Bike Pedal Problems?

Cleats cause the majority of pedal issues. Worn cleats create slippage between the shoe and the pedal, as well as sticky and unexpected releases. Plastic cleats (such as Look) show obvious wear—the edges become uneven or chipped. 

Metal cleat wear is more difficult to detect. Look for sharp or extra-shiny edges. Your greatest indicator is how they perform. If your entrances and exits feel awkward, it’s time for new cleats. Apply a little lubricant layer to the pedal where the cleat (not the sole of your shoe) makes contact. 

Adjust the tension as necessary. If you have problems clicking in or out of your cleats because they aren’t worn, the tension may have become misaligned. Remember to grease the threads, too. Remove the pedal, clean the threads, then reinstall with a light coating of oil so that they never get stuck. 

My Bike Pedals, But The Tires Won’t Move!

The culprit for this problem may be because the chain isn’t on the sprocket, or the sprocket isn’t contacting the freewheel ratchet, so the rear drive isn’t engaged. It is usually the case if you can see the chain moving on the chainring, and the back hub is spinning but not pushing the bike.

If the transmission has a three-speed internal drive, the shifter may become stuck “between gears” and fail to engage. The gear cable may also need to be repaired or re-adjusted. The freewheel may also have been damaged and needs to be repaired or replaced. 

You may have a broken or just a loose freewheel if you have a chain and it is in the on position, even though the freewheel is the most dependable element of a bicycle. The screw that holds the freewheel to the hub may be loose on newer wheel hubs.

What Should Every Emergency Bike Toolkit Have?

Trouble usually loves to rear its ugly head when we least expect it. Every cyclist worth their salt knows the value of riding prepared, particularly with the right toolkit. Purchasing a pre-made toolkit is great because it will come with essentials, (like this one from Amazon), but they aren’t always the most cost-effective. 

In this case, the better option may be to prepare a personal toolkit so that you don’t overspend and don’t buy tools that you’re not going to use. 

A good cycling toolkit should contain:

  • Multitool – They have a range of hex keys, screwdrivers, and Torx heads that will allow you to adjust any important part of your bike.
  • Tire levers – Great for getting a tight tire off the rim to fix it
  • Chain lube and cleaner
  • Clean rags – To wipe the bike or your hands if needed
  • Tubes (at least a couple of spares)
  • Tube patch kit – For those nasty punctures
  • CO2 Canister – Compact and provides instant inflation to ridable pressure

Wherever you choose to cycle, make sure you are not caught unaware. Bring the necessary tools for those unforeseen quick fixes, whether your tires, pedals, or brakes. 

For more information on general bike maintenance, check out my guide here. Or for a full guide on bike maintenance equipment, including essentials every bike owner should have, read my article here.

Conclusion 

There are usually several reasons why a bike pedal won’t move forward, so making a quick list of the potential causes will help!  Ensure that you cross off the easy ones first to speed up the process and get back to cycling. Good luck!