There is nothing worse in cycling than rocketing down the road on a $5,000 road bike, virtually silent in every way… except for a “wreeet, wreeet, wreeet, wreeet” every other pedal stroke for 65 miles. It’ll make you want to take a shotgun to your offending foot. I’ve been there. Before we jump into the phantom creak (for which there are two fixes, by the way), I want to get into some of the initial causes for creaks that’ll drive you bonkers if you can’t pinpoint what’s going on.
The Dead Pedal
The simplest, your pedal is shot. I get between five and seven seasons out of a set of pedals before having to replace them. I want to be very clear here, too; by shot, I mean shot. The pedal on the right was so worn so bad I couldn’t clip out of the pedal by moving my heel away from the bike, I had to un-clip to the inside, toward the bike. Those pedals are done, cooked, kaput. Unless your pedals are truly at the end of their life, we’ve got options, so don’t fret.
Replace the Cleats!
A pair of cleats, depending upon how much you walk on them, should last a season – maybe two if you use cleat covers (I do). When the front lip that rests underneath the pedal loop wears thin, it’ll cause creaking. If the lip is worn too thin, replace the cleats. Clean the underside of the shoe. Take a construction pencil and outline the cleat. Get any dirt or rocks out of the bolt holes so the 3-mm Allen key fits in as it should (otherwise you can strip the bolt hole and have to resort to a flat-head screw driver). Loosen and remove the bolts and old cleat. Lube the threads of the new bolts and set the new cleat exactly where the old one was. Bolt the cleat down. Do the other cleat.
The Dirty Cleat and or Pedal
The next offender for a squeaky cleat/pedal interface is dirt. If you walk around in the grass or dirt, chances are your pedals are going to creak at some point. The easiest solution is to clean your cleats and pedals – especially where the pedals touch or lock into the cleats. Also, avoid walking in wet grass if you can.
Cleat Out of Alignment
Next, and this gets a little tricky, is a huge offender. When you replace your cleat, you mistakenly fail to correctly align the new cleat. The new cleat will work against the pedal when you clip in and pedal. The more watts you put to the pedal, the worse the pedal/cleat will creak. Now, the fix here isn’t as simple as move the cleat so your heel is closer to or further from the bike. You have to figure out how your foot wants to align so you can properly move the cleat. The most time consuming and expensive way to handle this is take the bike and shoes to your local shop and they’ll do the hard part for you. If you want to tackle this yourself, while riding, we want to figure out where we are in the float. Recently, I misaligned a cleat and the creaking was minor, but it was there and slightly annoying. When I pushed my heel out away from the bike, the squeaking stopped. So you’re thinking, adjust the cleat so your heel naturally goes outward a little, right? Wrong. That’s the opposite of what you want. When pedaling and not thinking about it, my heel wanted to go toward the bike. Pedaling naturally, I was all the way at the edge of the float with my heel in. I wanted to move the cleat so my heel could move in, toward the chainstay. Conversely, if you’re pedaling and your heel is pushing out against the float, you move the cleat so your heel will pushes out from the bike to stop the creaking.
I had to move my knees out of the way to get the shot, that’s not how one’s knees should look when everything is properly aligned.
Now, I can’t stress this enough; you don’t want big adjustments here. You want little adjustments, then check your work by tightening the cleat bolts down and take your bike for a test-spin. Go too far and you’ll blow right through your 4 or 7° float. A little move in the cleat will go a long way. And if you mess it up, set up an appointment at your local shop so you can breeze in, get your cleat aligned and get out.
Once you’ve done all of the above, if you still can’t figure out what the hell is going on with your creaking-ass pedals, fear not, there is a solution!
- Lube the pedal and cleat where they interface – a lightweight oil will do (think Boeshield T-9). This will work for a time, but as soon as the lube wears off, the squeak will come back. I don’t mess with lubing the cleat anymore. There’s a better solution.
- Better is candle wax. For the creak you just can’t fix, take a birthday candle and rub it over all of the parts of the cleat that touch the pedal. Then do the pedal surfaces that touch the cleat. You’ll be amazed at how well this works… and it’s going to last a lot longer than rubbing some lube on the cleats.