Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy Troubleshooting

In this article, you will receive the answer to the question"Why is my bike so hard to pedal?" - from rust-related problems to changed tire pressure
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Last updatedLast updated: April 25, 2022
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If you’ve ever used the wrong gear on a bike riding session, then you know how difficult pedaling can get. It takes all the fun from the activity and leaves you struggling to catch your breath. So, when this happens, and you’ve done everything right, you are left wondering, ‘Why is my bike so hard to pedal?’

Well, there are several reasons why you’re having a hard time pedaling your bike, including the maintenance aspects of bike ownership. In other instances, it could simply be that the bike is new. Whatever the case, this is a relatively common challenge, but the good news is that you can easily troubleshoot and fix the problem without visiting a mechanic. In this guide, we’ll highlight everything you need to know about difficulty pedaling your bike, including the most common causes and their fixes. Let’s dive in!

What to Look for When Cycling’s Hard

Cycling is an exciting activity which is why it’s not surprising that more people are engaging in it recreationally and for exercising purposes. You should, however, abide by the safety rules to avoid getting in crashes. According to the NHTSA Trusted Source Bicycle Safety | NHTSA As you might expect, when a crash occurs between a vehicle and a bike, it’s the cyclist who is most likely to be injured. www.nhtsa.gov , the number of bicycle crashes has increased, which is why they have started safety initiatives. They also advocate for cyclists to follow road rules and watch out for each other as this will significantly reduce the number of accidents.

There are several reasons why your bike is too hard to pedal, and in this section, we’ll cover all the main causes as well as the best fix.

Chain rust

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingA dirty and rusty chain can significantly affect your ability to pedal because the grime increases friction. Chain rust is fairly common because the bike part is regularly exposed to the elements. This is why it should be frequently maintained through regular lubrication and cleaning. How do you know that it’s time to give your chain a clean? Well, when you get a new bike, the chain is usually clean and shiny. It will not stay like that for long, especially if you’re a regular cyclist, so if you start noticing mud, oil, and gunks on the chain, you should clean it. If, on the other hand, rust is the dominant element, you should get a new chain instead. Rusty chains are easy to identify because your bike starts making annoying grinding sounds.

How to fix

Fixing a rusty chain is easy because you only have 2 options; clean and then lubricate them to reduce friction or change the entire chain. If you don’t clean your bike, the gunk will accumulate and eventually cause too much friction. Lubrication also protects your bike against rusting and reduces friction allowing you to deal with ease. The frequency of cleaning and lubrication should be dependent on how often you cycle and the conditions of where you live.

According to multiple reviews, the Finish Line Bicycle Chain Cleaner is highly effective. It contains both cleaning and degreasing abilities, and it clips directly on your bike chain. This allows you to clean your chain without removing it, which is highly convenient. It also comes with scrubber pads and a unique brush that enables you to clean your bike in less than a minute.

If the rust is already noticeable, it’s too late to save your chain, and we recommend that you get a new one.

Brakes alignment

Misaligned brakes start running against your bike’s wheels and rims, making it difficult for you to pedal. This is because it increases the resistance of the brakes or rotor friction and ultimately makes cycling feel like a chore instead of an exciting activity. This problem can affect both the front and rear wheels. To find out whether your bike has brakes misalignment, there are 2 methods you can use;

  • Looking at it: ideally, if you view your bike from the back, the gear, pads, brakes, and wheels should be in alignment and fully parallel.
  • Spin the wheels: if you notice that the parts aren’t parallel, you should then lift the wheels up and then use your hand to spin them. If your brakes aren’t aligned, the wheels will have a hard time spinning, and you’ll notice that the brake pads are making contact with the disk or rim.

How to fix

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingIf your bike has mechanical disc brakes or rim brakes, you should simply loosen the cable tension. This process is fairly simple and highly depends on the bolts your bike has. Use a small spanner or Allen wrench to loosen them, and then adjust the cable tension. Once this is done, you should then tighten the bolts again.

If your bike has hydraulic brakes, the process is a bit more complex. You need to physically adjust the brake pads, and you have to remove the wheel first. While this may sound straightforward, you need to be attentive so that you don’t squeeze the brake lever in the process.

Tire pressure

Your bike wheels may still turn when they have low tire pressure, but you’ll face increased rolling resistance, which will make pedaling difficult. You’ll also notice that your speed significantly decreases, and when you sit on your bike, the tires tend to bulge due to your weight. Low tire pressure also increases your risk of getting a pinch flat. This happens when your bike rides over potholes, curbs, or things with sharp edges, and the inner tube gets stuck between the rim and the object. The end result is holes in the tube.

How to fix

Low tire pressure is common, especially when you frequently use your bike. The good news is that fixing it is as simple as checking your tire’s air pressure and then using a bike pump to top them up. According to expert reviews, the BV Bicycle Ergonomic Bike Floor Pump is one of the best models in the market. It has an ergonomic design that fits perfectly in your hand and comes with a steel barrel which is highly durable. Most importantly, it has a smart valve head and a gauge that’s easy to read. Be careful not to overinflate your bike.

Generally, different bikes have varying recommended PSI depending on the type of tires and the bike manufacturer.
Here’s a quick overview of the ideal PS dispensing on the type of bike you own.
Bike type Pressure
Road 80-130 psi
Mountain 25-30 psi
Hybrid 40-70 psi

Most of the time, the recommended PSI is usually printed at the tire’s sidewall. If you notice that the air pressure is always low after every cycling session, you should check the tires for leaks and patch them up.

If you’re in the market for high-quality bikes, we have compiled various reviews for the best bikes for heavy riders, the best gravel bikes under $2,000, and the best road bikes under $2,000.

Tightened wheels or pedals

Have you ever tried pedaling your bike only to realize that the pedals aren’t spinning freely or as smoothly as they previously used to? This is fairly common and is mostly caused by damaged balls or tight inner axle bolts. To determine whether your pedals are tight, you should spin them quickly, and if you notice any glitches,  hard spinning, or resistance, it’s time to service them.

You should also check the wheels for overtightened components. This mostly happens after maintaining or adjusting your bike.

How to fix

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingFirst, take your pedals off the crank arms and soak them in degreasers such as diesel. This will remove any grease and rust buildup, allowing you to fix them with ease. You should then loosen the axle bolt slightly and spin them. If the movement is smooth, you can put them back on your bike. If this doesn’t work, then you should inspect the ball bearings for damage and then replace them.

To fix the wheel, you should turn your bike over after switching it to the lowest gear. Rotate the wheel and if you notice some areas with extra tension, check them for overtightened components.

Gear

If you’re relatively new at cycling or have just bought a new bike, you may have a hard time differentiating the low and high gears. When your bike is in low gear, you’ll have an easy time pedaling, but you’ll have to make more pedal revolutions to ride at high speeds. This is why they are typically used for riding with extra weight or uphill cycling.

High gears, on the other hand, require you to use more effort for pedaling, which comes in handy when you’re using cycling as a form of workout or are pedaling downhill. When you’re on uneven terrain, riding on high gear may make pedaling very difficult.

How to fix

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingFind out the chain on which the sprocket rests by checking the gear sprockets at the rear. For reference, the largest sprocket is usually for the lower gears, while the smallest sprockets are usually for the highest gear. For the front chain rings, the opposite is true. Check the gear you’re riding on and then adjust it based on your terrain; we also recommend that you test out various gears until you find one that feels comfortable for you.

Cartridge system damage

This rarely happens, but you shouldn’t completely rule it out. If your bike has low-quality bearings, they will wear out over time and lose their rolling abilities either by changing their round shape or breaking. This causes them to have a hard time turning, making the wheels harder to spin.

How to fix

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingFirst, take out the ball bearings and spin them. If they have a hard time spinning, you should soak them in a degreaser bath and then grease them for lubrication. If this doesn’t work, then it’s time to replace them.

Small bike frame

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingIf you go for a bike with a small frame, your legs will have limited space to pedal efficiently. This will force you to adopt an awkward position which will make cycling difficult.

How to fix

Get the right bike frame. If you’re unsure of the ideal bike size, you should use the manufacturer’s bike size chart but generally, people between 5ft 7 and 5ft 11 should go for bikes with 16 -17 inches frames. If you’ve already bought the bike, you should try to adjust its frame by raising the handlebars or seat to create more pedaling clearance.

Mudguards

Why Is My Bike so Hard to Pedal? Easy TroubleshootingMudguards are extremely important when you’re riding in wet or muddy conditions as they protect you from getting mud or gravel as you ride. They can, however, become a nuisance, especially when they are installed incorrectly or they extend too far. This is because they rub against your back wheel, making it difficult to pedal or causing you to unintentionally break.

How to fix

Take out the mudguards and reattach them correctly. If you don’t need the mudguards, you can remove them completely.

How to Ease Pedaling in the Future

According to NCBI Trusted Source On your bike! No time for the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day? But have you got time for illness? Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cancer and a bigger risk factor for coronary heart disease than smoking, hypertension, or obesity. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov , pedaling has immense benefits, such as body weight control and reduced cardiovascular risks. In addition to taking care of your bike and maintaining it regularly, you should also;

  • Keep it indoors to reduce exposure to the elements.
  • Regularly inspect it for signs of wear and tear.
  • Remove debris and clean the bike after every cycling session.
  • Regularly check the chain heath.

If you notice any problems with your bicycle, you should fix it immediately or take it to your local mechanic for repairs.

Final Thoughts

If you constantly find yourself wondering, ‘Why is my bike so hard to pedal,’ the above guide is a great starting point. There are various reasons why you’re having a hard time pedaling, and the main ones include wrong gears, chain rust, tightened wheels or gears, low tire pressure, brake misalignment, and a small bike frame. The least common causes are improperly installed mudguards and cartridge system damage. Most of the above challenges can easily be solved at home, but if you have a hard time performing the repairs, you should contact a local mechanic.

References

1.
Bicycle Safety | NHTSA
As you might expect, when a crash occurs between a vehicle and a bike, it’s the cyclist who is most likely to be injured.
2.
On your bike!
No time for the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day? But have you got time for illness? Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cancer and a bigger risk factor for coronary heart disease than smoking, hypertension, or obesity.
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