How Does A Bicycle Pedal Work? (The Mechanics Of Bikes)

Cycling is a popular pastime that combines exercise and the ability to get from one place to another much faster than using your own two legs. 

It’s easy to hop on a bicycle and get going without giving any thought to how the entire thing operates. Really, the pedal is the most important part of it all.

How does a bicycle pedal work? The pedals work along with the rotational force of your feet. As you push the pedals forward, they turn the gears that are attached to a chain. The chain then turns another set of gears at the rear wheel to get it turning and propel the bicycle forward.

Below you will learn a little more about all the parts that help your pedals move your bike as well as what different kinds of pedals you can have on your bike.

How a Bicycle Pedal Works

The pedals on a bicycle are what give it power. Without pedals, a cyclist wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. They are a small but essential piece of a bicycle that do an incredibly important job. Pedals work along with a few other parts to get your bicycle moving.

The parts that help a bicycle pedal do its job are:

  • Pedal
  • Crank
  • Chain
  • Chain Gear
  • Gear Wheel
  • Chain Stay
  • Rear Wheel Hub
  • Toe Clip (Optional)

Pedal – The actual pedal itself. This is where you place your foot and apply pressure so that the pedals rotate and move the bicycle. There is one pedal on each side of the bicycle for each foot. Pedals can be made in a variety of ways. (See more on that below.)

Take a look at this post where we explain the differences between types of pedals and how they affect your performance.

Crank – The pedal attaches to a crank which helps give it that rotation. The opposite end of the crank is attached to the chainstay. The crank is opposite on either side. While one side of the crank is up, the other side is down.

Chain – The chain is a set of links that fit perfectly onto the two different gears that help the pedal turn the wheel. It is what connects everything so that the power generated through the pedals can be carried to the wheel. It can also sometimes be moved from gear to gear depending on road conditions.

Chain Gear – This gear sits in between the pedals. It is usually several different gears that the chain can move between. The pedal rotates this gear, which moves the chain so that it can move the gear wheel.

Gear Wheel – At the other end of the looped chain is the gear wheel, which is located at the center of the rear wheel. When the pedal is moved, it spins the chain gear, which moves the chain so that the gear wheel moves. All of this causes the wheel to spin.

Chain Stay – The chainstay is a solid, unmoving piece of the bicycle. It is a metal tube that connects the crank and pedal to the rear wheel hub in order to keep everything lined up and in place.

Rear Wheel Hub – The piece at the center of the rear wheel that is connected to the chainstay. This holds the rear wheel in place while it spins around its axel.

Toe Clip – Not every pedal has a toe clip on it. These are used to help keep a cyclist’s foot in place while they are riding. It is usually made of metal and covers the end of the foot, making it easier to control the pedals than if your foot was just sitting freely on top.

These pieces help the pedal transfer the movement of your foot to the wheel of the bicycle. From start to finish, the process looks something like this.

Foot ? Pedal ? Crank ? Chain Gear ? Chain ? Gear Wheel ? Wheel

How Bicycle Pedals are Threaded

Bicycle pedals have threading on them that screws them into the crank. The way they are threaded can be a little confusing, though. That’s because the right pedal is threaded in the normal fashion, but the left pedal is threaded in reverse.

The reason they are threaded this way is because of a process known as precession. It is an extremely technical process that has to do with the rotation of a round part in a round hole and the way it moves because of the clearance between them.

It is a very complicated phenomenon that is difficult to explain and understand. All you need to know is that it is the reason the left pedal is threaded in the opposite way. Otherwise, your left pedal would unscrew itself while you ride, which no one wants to happen.

Different Types of Bicycle Pedals

Depending on need or preference, there are a few different kinds of bicycle pedals that a cyclist can have on their bike. They all serve the same purpose but are made and shaped a bit differently from one another.

3 Types of Bicycle Pedal:

  • Platform Pedals
  • Quill Pedals
  • Clipless Pedals

Platform Pedals

This category covers the plain pedal, or a flat pedal, that relies on only the placement of the cyclist’s foot to control it. The lack of any clip or cleat keeping the foot in place makes it much easier to quickly put your foot on the ground, which is ideal for newer cyclists.

Platform pedals typically have a larger surface area than other pedals, giving the cyclist plenty of room to position their foot. They also claim to be more aerodynamic than other types of pedals given their design.

Take a look at this post where we explain the differences between types of pedals and how they affect your performance.

Quill Pedals

These pedals almost always feature a toe clip and other straps to hold a cyclist’s foot in place while they ride. There is less of a flat surface for the cyclist to rest their foot against, as the pedal is made up of thinner pieces.

Quill pedals can be used with any kind of shoe, but they are most efficient when used with a cycling shoe with a special cleat attached. This cleat has a slot that clips onto the quill, a small protrusion from the side of the pedal. They give the cyclist much better control.

Clipless Pedals

A newer version of the bicycle pedal was developed to eliminate the need for a toe clip while still providing the same sort of control. A clipless pedal features a mechanism that connects to a special cleat on the bottom of a cyclist’s shoe.

With the cyclist’s foot firmly attached to the pedal, it’s much easier for them to have precision control over the pedals. All they have to do to free their foot is turn their heel outwards. 

Despite this, cyclists new to clipless pedals might find it difficult at first to disengage the cleat, leading to toppling over a few times before they get the hang of it.

Bicycle Pedals Are the Start of Everything

It goes without saying that without pedals, a bicycle is practically useless. The only way to get your bicycle to move forward is to use your feet to push the pedals. It makes cycling great exercise and a lot of fun.

If you watch the process of moving parts while the pedals are moving, you will find that it all works smoothly together. From the pedal to the chain to the wheel, you give an entire machine the ability to move forward and take you wherever you want to go.

Do you want to know more? Check out this quick guide that will help you understand the differences between the different types of pedals.

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