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Why Is My Bike So Hard To Pedal?

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Cycling is a fun and exhilarating form of exercise.

Until it’s not.

One way that cycling might not be fun is when your bike is hard to pedal.

Struggling to turn the cranks on a bike is never a great feeling, no matter what the cause might be.

But if you can identify the cause, you can often fix it.

So, what kinds of issues make a bike hard to pedal?

We’ll get into that in this article.

This is a problem you should address as soon as possible.

Why “Heavy Pedals” Could Be Bad

That feeling when your pedaling is labored and the pedals seem heavy is disheartening.

It can also create or indicate problems.

Knee Injury

One of the most common forms of pain among cyclists is knee pain.

This is caused by various things, including incorrect saddle height, poorly set up cleats on cycling shoes, or an overuse injury where you suddenly ride much farther or harder than usual.

If you’re constantly pushing hard on the pedals, you’re also more likely to hurt your knees.

A fact about cycling and its impact on your knees is that riding in a low gear carries less risk of a chronic knee injury.

And it still builds your aerobic fitness.

One way professional cycling has changed over the past 30-40 years lies in the force pro cyclists exert on the pedals.

They can exert more force than most amateurs, and for longer, but there’s been a trend towards lighter, faster pedaling.

Even if you’re young and feel no pain in your knees when pedaling hard, you have a better chance of preserving them into older age if you err towards easier gears.

This doesn’t necessarily mean going slower on the bike.

Unidentified Mechanical Problems

Mechanical problems are often hard to pinpoint on a bike.

You might be able to hear them or feel them, but locating the source is sometimes a process of elimination, starting with the easiest and cheapest tweaks.

If a mechanical problem makes your bike hard to pedal, it might need fixing urgently.

It’s likely to come from a vital area of the bike like the drivetrain or the brakes.

In some cases, mechanical failure may be imminent.

When there’s a mechanical reason for difficult pedaling, it usually means there’s excessive friction in a key area of the bike.

Bike parts like the chain, derailleurs, or brake pads (disc or rim) are always prime suspects.

A grinding feeling when cycling may have a mild effect on how hard you need to pedal.

This is usually caused by worn or unlubricated bearings somewhere.

It’s unfavorable to the mechanical efficiency of the bike if it’s the bottom bracket or a wheel hub.

If it’s not mechanical, a sudden feeling of having to push harder than usual on the pedals may indicate a problem with your tires.

Rider Fatigue

If you ever go on a long bike ride and find yourself “bonking” or “hitting the wall”, as cyclists and runners call it, pedaling suddenly feels much harder.

It’s almost like you’re riding a different bike.

In this scenario, the pedals feel heavier, like they’re offering more resistance, even though you’re in the same gear you were in half an hour ago.

Bonking occurs when glycogen levels deplete and you haven’t eaten enough to fuel the rest of the ride.

It begins at moderate to high exercise intensities after about 90 minutes.

You wouldn’t suffer the same if you went for a gentle stroll.

When this phenomenon occurs, your blood sugar levels drop, your energy drops and your heart rate often drops as you’re unable to summon any effort.

Eating high-GI foods (sugary foods, energy gels) on a ride prevents this by boosting energy stores.

Read more: What to eat before long bike rides

Video: Why Bonking Is So Bad For You

Rider Morale & Confidence

Most of us enjoy riding a bike, so we never want to feel like it’s beyond us or too hard to do.

Of course, we’re all at different fitness levels and may be restricted in what we can achieve by age, training level, or medical conditions.

Few things about riding a bike are more fundamental to the rider’s confidence than turning the pedals.

If that feels too hard, you’re likely to be put off cycling and will miss out on a great way to stay healthy.

It’s important, then, that you remedy any problem that makes the bike hard to pedal.

5 Reasons Why Your Bike Is Hard To Pedal (And How To Make It Easier!)

You Need A Lower Gear

Most bikes on the market come with a selection of gears, and if you’re new to cycling it may not be obvious how they work.

You need to choose the right gear, taking into account the prevailing terrain, weather, your strength, and personal preferences.

A low gear is an easy gear that makes your pedaling lighter and faster.

Exactly how easy the lowest gear varies from bike to bike.

A mountain bike tends to have very low gears because it’s designed to climb uphill over rough terrain.

A high gear increases pedaling resistance and enables hard pedaling.

You might use this if you want to ride at high speed on flat terrain or downhill.

Read more:

How To Fix It

Many bikes have a gear shifter on the handlebar. Just like in a car, gear 1 is the “easiest” gear.

Higher numbers equal harder gears.

Click into a smaller number if the bike feels hard to pedal.

On a road bike, you normally won’t have a numbered gear shifter on the handlebar.

Instead, you change gears with the brake levers and their inner paddles.

To shift to an easier gear on a road bike, push the whole right-hand lever inwards towards the center of the bike.

Pushing only the inside paddle shifts to a harder gear.

The left-hand lever is the front chainring selector.

The correct gear at any given point is the one you’re comfortable with in terms of resistance and cadence (i.e., how fast your legs are spinning).

Video: Cycling Gears Explained

Single Speed Bikes

Just as its name suggests, a single-speed bike is a bike with one gear.

A “fixie” is a type of single-speed bike.

A single-speed bike does have some benefits as far as easy pedaling goes.

There is no derailleur or diagonally positioned chain (aka “cross chaining”) to create extra friction.

There are fewer parts to get gunked up and the bikes are generally lighter.

The problem is, a single-speed bike needs an “all-round” gear to fulfill its purpose, so there’s not huge scope for change if pedaling seems much too hard.

How To Fix It

Although you’d always want a single-speed bike to have a multipurpose gear, it is possible to make pedaling easier with a lower gear.

You could install a smaller chainring at the front and/or a slightly larger sprocket with one or two more teeth at the rear.

Note that switching the chainring or rear sprocket may also require you to adjust the chain length accordingly.

Tire Pressure

If a bike feels harder to pedal than it should, a likely cause is low air pressure in the tire.

In other words, the tires are too soft.

An unduly soft tire creates a larger contact patch with the road, which increases rolling resistance.

Extra rolling resistance means you have to push harder than usual to maintain the speeds you are used to.

Riding on excessively soft tires also increases the risk of “pinch flats” and in extreme cases may risk damaging your wheel rims.

A slow puncture is one way your tires may deflate without you immediately noticing.

Often, the object causing the puncture stays lodged in the tire and lets more air seep out as you ride. Eventually, you get a flat tire.

How To Fix Tire Pressure

Pump your tires up regularly and consider buying a pressure gauge so you can keep your tires at optimum bicycle tire pressure.

This pressure will take into account rider weight and load as well as the width of the tire and riding surface.

If you buy a “track pump”, there’ll usually be a pressure gauge attached to it.

Work out what your tire pressure should be and aim for that optimal pressure every time you pump the tires up.

Once you’ve got into a routine of pumping your tires up and using a pressure gauge, you’ll be able to spot potential problems.

A tire that deflates more than usual in a given time frame is likely to have a slow puncture or leaky valve.

Read more: How to pump up a bike tire

Brake Rub

Brake rub of any sort could increase pedaling resistance, though it’s usually too minor to make an appreciable difference.

Still, it’s something worth checking.

This phenomenon occurs when the brake pads or shoes catch the wheel rim or disc rotor during part of each non-braked revolution.

On carbon wheels with rim brakes, brake rub is a common occurrence when the wheel is under load (especially the rear wheel).

Unlike alloy wheels, carbon wheels deflect laterally at the top of the wheel rather than flex at the bottom.

How To Fix It

The quick way to fix brake rub is often to center misaligned brakes.

With rim brakes, this may mean unscrewing the caliper assembly from the rear with an Allen key and tightening it so that the brake pads are an equal distance from the rims.

On disc-brake bikes, brake rub is often fixable by simply backing out the caliper bolts, squeezing the brake lever to center the caliper, and re-tightening the bolts.

If you have the bigger problem of a bent disc rotor, you can use a rotor truing tool to carefully bend the rotor back into place.

Out-of-true wheels may cause brake rub with rim brakes.

You’ll need to fix this if it’s severe or have the local bike shop do it for you.

A regular cyclist might deal with brake rub on carbon wheels by undoing the brake’s quick-release lever before hard efforts.

You can also position the brake shoes a little farther from the brake track than you otherwise might.

Video: Simple Way To Center Disc Brakes

Mechanical & Chain Issues

Any friction in the drivetrain makes you work harder to ride at your desired speed.

If you have a bent or misaligned front derailleur, you’re likely to experience chain rub in all but a few gears.

This slows you down and can quickly lead to a broken chain.

A dirty chain and drivetrain will also slow you down a bit, which may cause you to pedal harder as a countermeasure.

Mud and grime in general on a bike create more friction and resistance.

How To Fix It

One way to keep the drivetrain efficient is to clean your bike regularly, especially during winter or after riding in muddy conditions.

Clean your chain regularly, too.

If you want to be thorough, you need to take the chain off the bike to do it, but a chain scrubber or cleaner does a fair job on the bike.

Avoid a rusty chain by drying it after rain, and keeping it lubricated.

If you suspect the front derailleur is rotated out of true, eyeball it from above to check that it’s parallel with the chain.

If it’s not, you need to loosen the clamp bolt and rotate it slightly until the chain travels cleanly through it in all gears.

Read more:

Conclusion: Don’t Let A Hard Pedal Cramp Your Style

Nearly every problem related to pedaling too hard is fixable.

You can alter a bike’s gearing, for instance, to make it easier to ride.

Bicycle tire pressure is a key thing to watch.

With a softer tire, you’d need to push a little harder on the pedals to maintain your usual speed.

Good bike-cleaning practices and a little mechanical knowledge will also go a long way toward making pedaling easier.

We hope you enjoyed this article.

Please feel free to leave a comment or share!

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Glenn Harper
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When Glenn isn't writing for BikePush, he can often be found cycling on his local rural roads. If he can help you benefit from bicycling in some small way, He’ll consider it a win.

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