You get out your bike after cleaning and find that you just cannot turn the pedals. Upon inspection you realize that the brake pads are touching the disc, and you did not install the wheel correctly which is what makes the bike so hard to pedal.
It is often the small tweaks you make during maintenance that can often make pedaling so much harder if you are not careful. So..
Why Is Your Bike So Hard to Pedal
Bikes are usually hard to pedal because of either excessive friction in the drivetrain, wheels or brakes, loss of power, using incorrect gear for the terrain or other unusual riding conditions.
Bikes can become sluggish when some mechanical issues cause significant friction between components of the drivetrain or the bike itself. Components of the drivetrain that may be impacted by friction include
- Bike chain
In many instances you can resolve a hard to pedal issue by inspecting these components for any friction. You will typically need to ensure that each component does not lack lubrication and is not too tight, dirty, uneven or loose.
Still in some instances, difficulty in pedaling may be as a result of severe damage to the bike such as bent wheels.
Causes of a Hard to Pedal Bike
While there are many causes to a hard to pedal bike the following are some of the most common:
- Unadjusted Brakes
You can tell your brakes have a problem if they are producing rubbing sounds even though this is not always the case. The problem is more common with disc brake systems and you will need to test if this is the problem by testing true rotor trueness using a tool like this that you can get from Amazon.
- Hard Tightened Wheel
It is very easy to tighten your wheel too much especially on cone and cup bearing axle systems which are still common among some brands of bikes.
I have often found that I have turned the cone bolts to the tightening direction as the bearings in such systems tend to be sensitive to the tightness of the cones over the bearing balls making for hard pedaling.
- Damaged Cartridge Bearing
While this is very rare, it does happen and it may be worth it checking if you find the bike hard to pedal.
Low quality bearings often lose their smooth rolling and ability over time causing very glitchy and unpredictable turning which makes for hard pedaling.
The good thing is that these can often be made right by cleaning them with a degreaser followed by applying a new coat of grease.
- Dried or Super Rusty Chain
When your chain is not properly lubricated or it is rusty it will not flex as designed and hence it will be difficult to align it to the drivetrain sprockets.
This is one of the most common causes of hard pedaling. You can often spot the problem by listening to grinding sounds from the chain when riding. You can then lubricate the chain and sprocket with a high quality cleaner and lubricant such as Finish Line
- Over Tightened Bottom Bracket
You will typically not experience this with bottom brackets with cartridge bearings. Some bottom brackets employ a cones and cup bearing system which means it is possible to inadvertently hard tighten the ring lockers making the crank set spindle hard to spin.
You can often determine if this is the problem by giving the crank set a fast spin after removing the chain. If there is some resistance you can resolve the issue by loosening the lockers.
- Low Pressure and Wrong Tires
Different tires have different pressure specifications and having wrong tires or pressure can make pedaling that much more difficult.
It is always important to use the right tire for the terrain for which your bike was designed. Using the wrong tire could make your hard all that more harder to pedal. You should also ensure the tire is installed in the appropriate riding direction.
As for the tire pressure you can get a lot of rolling resistance when you have lower than recommended pressures on your tires. Luckily you can always check for the recommended tire pressure for your mountain, road or hybrid bike from the tire wall.
- Out of True Wheels
This scenario usually makes the bike less pleasant to ride and over time the bike will become slower and harder to pedal. Wobbly wheels especially if you have rim brakes may result in brake pads rubbing against the wheel which will make pedaling very hard.
Even though getting out of true wheel is normal after riding on roads with obstacles such as potholes and rocks, this problem can easily be fixed by a bike mechanic or by yourself if you have the necessary tools.
- Hard Tightened Pedals
Pedals that cannot spin freely and smoothly usually result from multiple things. Most bike manufacturers use a cone and cup bearing system which are sensitive to damaged ball bearings and tightening of the inner axle bolt.
You can check for such damage by spinning the pedals and if there is nay, you should remove the pedals to remove any grease and rust before repairing and greasing them before reinstalling them. For pedals that are too far gone, you may just have to get new ones.
- Rubbing Mudguards
Something as simple as unadjusted mudguards may result in a braking effect making pedaling harder. Combined with something such as a wobbly wheel this can make it almost impossible to pedal as they will constantly be rubbing.
If that is the cause of hard pedaling, you should remove the mudguard to remove the unnecessary braking effect.
- Wrong Gears
Most people including myself never think gears could be the reason for a hard pedaling problem. However, it is important to note that if you get the wrong gear combination, the bike will be harder to pedal on any given terrain. As such it is always critical to check that you have the right gear whenever you are riding a hard to pedal bike.
Things to Look at Before Riding
- Chains – Check that you have the right lubricant for the bike and apply it to the inside rather than the top of the chain.
- Gears – Tyr to shift through the gears to determine how smooth the shifting is
- Headset and Frame – Check that the headset is tight and that there are no cracks in the frame
- Cranks – Ensure that the arms which attach to the pedals are screwed on tight
- Brakes – These need to work independently, not engage before the lever reaches the handlebars, hit the rim in the right spot and the pads should not be worn
- Wheels – Spin the wheels and lift the bike to determine if they are rubbing anywhere on the frame or on the brake pads. The wheels should not have any weird noises and should turn freely
- Shifting – The rear derailleur needs to shift smoothly and evenly
- Air – Check that you have properly inflated tires
- Tires – Check for any nicks or cuts in the sidewall or any excessive wear and tear including cracks.
- Rims – Check the wheels to determine if there is any wobble
A bike that is hard to pedal; should not make you panic as this is a very common problem for cyclists. What you need to do is conduct a step-by-step inspection of your bike.
Check for all the things in this article that may cause a hard to pedal situation since your problem may be as a result of several things.
If you are unable to find the problem or cannot repair it, you can always get the help of a professional mechanic who will fix it for you.