11 reasons why bike pedals lock up (And how to fix it!)

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Imagine the annoyance when your smooth bike ride turns into a struggle with pedals that just won’t budge – we totally get how frustrating that is. 

If your pedals feel stuck or tougher than usual, it’s probably because your cleats aren’t aligned right or your pedal and crank got rusty – those are the usual suspects. But wait, there’s more to this. 

This article delves into the 11 reasons why bike pedals lock up. We’re talking about everything from faulty bearings to cable problems.

Keep reading to find answers to why bike pedals lock up and how to fix it!

1. Stuck Chain / Derailleur

If your chain or the derailleur (the part that shifts the chain between gears) gets stuck or jammed, it can make your pedals harder to move.

This extra resistance can feel like your pedals are stuck because the normal smooth movement becomes harder because of the chain problem. 

How to fix this: First, stop pedaling and check if the chain is stuck. Gently free the chain if needed. If the derailleur is the issue, you might need to fix it.

Shift the chain to the smallest front and rear gears, then turn the pedals while shifting. This might help free the chain. If it’s still not working, it’s a good idea to take your bike to a mechanic for help.

2. Faulty Bearings

Inside your pedal, there are small bearings that allow it to spin smoothly. If these bearings become worn out, damaged, or contaminated with dirt and debris, your pedals might not move smoothly, and it can feel like they’re stuck.

How to fix this: If the bearings are worn out, you might have to replace them with new ones. This means taking the pedal apart, removing the old bearings, and putting in the new ones.

3. Worn Crank Arm Interface

The crank arms connect your pedals to the bike’s drivetrain. If the connection between the crank arm and the bottom bracket becomes old, worn or loose, it can make your pedal movement wobbly or even make them feel stuck.

How to fix this: If this happens, you might need to replace the crank arm if it’s too worn. But first, double-check that the crank arm is properly tightened to the bottom bracket.

If the problem doesn’t go away, a bike mechanic can decide if you need a new one.

4. Stuck or Rusted Pedal / Crank 

If the pedal or crank (the part that connects the pedal to the bike) gets stuck or rusted, it can interfere with the smooth rotation of the pedal.

Rust or mechanical problems can stop the pedal from moving smoothly, making it feel stuck.

How to fix this: If the pedal or crank is stuck, give it a gentle wiggle or use a bit of lubricant to loosen it up. If the rust is bad, take off the pedal or crank, clean it, and use a rust remover or oil.

5. Loose Axle Nuts

The axle holds the pedal in place. If the axle nuts are loose, the pedal can shift or wobble, which can make your bike hard to pedal.

How to fix this: Check the axle nuts on both pedals to ensure they are properly tightened. Use a wrench to properly secure the nuts.

Be careful not to overtighten, as this could cause other problems. Regularly inspect and tighten them to prevent future issues.

6. Cable Tension Issues

For bikes with gears, improper cable tension in the shifting system can cause the chain to jump between gears unexpectedly. This can create some resistance in the pedals and make it feel like they’re locking up.

How to fix this: If you’re experiencing gear shifting problems due to cable tension, you can adjust the tension using the barrel adjusters on your bike’s shifters or derailleurs.

Turning them clockwise usually increases tension, while counterclockwise reduces it. If you’re not familiar with adjusting cable tension, your bike mechanic should be of help.

Related Post: How Long Do Bike Gear Cables Last?

7. Brakes Rubbing the Wheel

Sometimes, your brake pads might be too close to the wheel rim or rotor and are rubbing against it even when you’re not applying the brakes.

This extra friction can slow down the wheel and make it harder to pedal, which can make you feel like your pedals are stuck.

How to fix this: Spin the wheels while looking closely at the brake pads. If they’re rubbing against the rim or rotor, you’ll need to adjust the brakes. Most brakes have screws that help you adjust or control the pad’s distance from the rim/rotor. 

Turn these screws slightly until the rubbing stops. If the brakes are stuck closed, give the brake lever a few soft squeezes. If that doesn’t help, check if the brake cable is too tight or if there’s some debris causing the problem.

8. Internal Hub Gear Problems

In bikes with internal hub gears, problems with the hub can make the pedals feel stuck. This could be because the gears aren’t working right, or the hub needs some maintenance.

How to fix this: Internal hub gear issues might require specialized tools and knowledge. If you suspect a problem with your internal hub, it’s best to take your bike to a professional mechanic who is experienced with these systems.

9. Inadequate Lubrication

Lack of proper lubrication in pedal components can lead to friction and resistance, causing the pedals to feel like they’re locking.

How to fix this: Using the right lubricant (like the Finish Line Premium Pedal Grease) is crucial to stop pedals from getting stuck due to friction. Clean the pedal parts and apply an appropriate bike lubricant. 

Finish Line Premium Grease 1 lb, Tub

Make sure you use the right type of lubricant for each specific component (e.g., pedal bearings, crank arms). Regular maintenance will help prevent this issue.

10. Front or Rear Wheel of Bike is Stuck

If something is obstructing the front or back wheel, like a twig or a rock, it can prevent the wheel from turning freely.

Since your pedals are connected to the wheels, a locked wheel can make it feel like your pedals are also locked. It’s like trying to pedal while someone is holding onto the wheels of your bike to stop it.

How to fix this: If the front wheel is locked, stop pedaling and check for any obstructions like sticks, rocks, or debris. Remove anything that’s blocking the wheel’s movement.  

Also, see if anything’s stuck between the wheel and the frame. If that’s not the issue, check the drivetrain (chain, cassette, derailleur) for any jams.

If the problem persists, it’s best to have a bike mechanic take a look to avoid potential damage.

11. Foreign Objects

Sometimes small objects like pebbles, twigs, or even bits of clothing can get caught in the pedal, when this happens, it will prevent your pedal from spinning freely. 

A foreign object in your pedal may not cause it to completely lock up, but it will cause some resistance and prevent smooth pedaling. 

How to Fix: Carefully inspect your pedal to check if foreign objects like debris or clothing are causing the lock-up. If you find anything, dislodge or remove the object.

12. Faulty Clipless Pedal Systems

Clipless pedal systems use cleats to engage and disengage. If the cleats are damaged, not aligned properly, or if the pedal mechanism malfunctions, it can lead to unexpected pedal lock-ups.

How to fix this: For clipless pedal issues, start by checking if the cleats are properly aligned and tightened to your cycling shoes. If the pedal mechanism is malfunctioning, it might require professional servicing or replacement of specific parts.

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