Is Your Bike Too Hard To Pedal? SOLVED in 5 steps!!

I got on my bike after cleaning it last weekend, and I could barely get the pedals to turn. It turned out that I didn’t install the wheel correctly and the brake pads were touching the disc, and the bike was constantly braking without me touching the lever. This got me thinking that some small mistakes and tweaks can make a huge difference when it comes to the pedals being too hard to turn.

A bike is hard to pedal because it’s in the incorrect gear for the terrain or because of excessive friction. Changing to a smaller gear or reducing the friction makes riding easier. The cause of friction can be brake pads rubbing against the rim or disc, insufficient chain lubrication or low tire pressure.

Let’s see how you can identify what causes your bike to be too hard to pedal and what you can do to make it easier.


How to identify if this is the problem?

If the chain is too rusty, it can make pedaling your bike hard. This is because of increased friction, and also because a rusty and dirty chain also means a rusty and dirty gear set and drive train, and imprecise shifting. 

Since your chain is exposed to the elements, it requires some maintenance, which includes cleaning and lubrication. How often you should do this depends on where you live and what weather conditions you ride in.

Bicycle chains look shiny when new and clean. When you see oil, gunk and mud on your chain you know it’s time to clean it. If you see rust appear on the chain, you know that it’s soon time to get a new chain.

How to fix this problem?

Cleaning and lubing your chain removes the gunk and results in the chain moving with as little friction as possible. 

Park Tool Bicycle Chain Cleaning System

This Park Tool kit includes everything you need to keep every bit of your chain clean.

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02/04/2021 10:26 pm GMT

You need a chain cleaning tool like the Park Tool chain cleaning system and a good lube like the Muck Off hydrodynamic chain lube.

All-Weather Option
Muc Off Hydrodynamic Chain Lube

This chain lube is an ultra durable, low friction bike chain lubricant suitable for use in all weather conditions.

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In dry weather, you may only need to lube your chain once a month if you ride your bike a few times a week. In wet and cold weather, you may have to clean and lube weekly, or even more often.

If you see signs of rust appear on your chain, it may be time to take your bicycle to the local bike shop to have the chain replaced. A new chain costs around 15-20 dollars and having it installed can cost 15-20 more. 

The riding experience after having a new chain on the bike is comparable to having a new bike.

Tire pressure

Low tire pressure can also make pedaling harder. Unlike a stuck brake pad, a tire with insufficient pressure turns without problems, but there is too much rolling resistance when riding. 

When the tire pressure is low, you feel that you lose speed too fast when rolling on flat.

If the pressure is very low, the tire bulges where it meets the road when you sit on your bicycle.

There is an added problem when it comes to excessively low tire pressure. The likelihood of having a pinch flat increases a great deal. This occurs when you ride over an object with a sharp edge (e.g. a curb or a pothole) and the inner tube gets pinched between the object and the rim, leaving two small holes on the tube.

How to fix this problem?

It’s quite normal for bicycle tires to lose air over time, and fixing it is as simple as topping up your tire with air.

The pressure you should inflate your tire to varies from tire to tire. Check the recommended tire pressure printed on the sidewall of your tire, and inflate it to a pressure that falls within that range. 

BV Bicycle Ergonomic Bike Floor Pump with Gauge

This floor pump is compatible both with Presta and Schrader valves, which means that you can use it with MTB tires as well as road bike tires.

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Make sure that you use a pump with a gauge, like the BV pump. You can inflate your MTB as well as road, hybrid, gravel or any other type of bike. It is capable of inflating any tire to its highest recommended pressure.

I like inflating mine to the maximum recommended pressure because it gives the best rolling performance and the most protection against pinch flats.


How to identify if this is the problem?

The gears on the bicycle are meant to optimize the effort and speed for the terrain you’re riding on, your weight and level fitness. 

When you put your bike in a low gear it’s easy to pedal, but you can’t go too fast because it takes too many turns of the crank to get up to speed. The low gears on your bike are meant for riding uphills or if you ride with heavy loads. 

When you put your pedal in a high gear, it’s hard to pedal, but in return you can go faster when you ride on flat or on a descent. 

You can figure out what gear you’re riding in by looking at the number on your shifter. The higher the number the higher the gear, the lower the number the lower the gear. 

If your shifter doesn’t have numbers, check which sprocket your chain is on on your rear wheel. This is counterintuitive and you need to apply reverse-logic. The smaller the sprocket, the higher the gear, the larger the sprocket the smaller the gear.

If there are more sprockets attached to your pedal crank, check those also, because they too influence the gear you’re riding in. These sprockets work the opposite way to the rear ones. A large sprocket means a higher gear, a small sprocket means a lower gear.

When you sit on your bike and you find that it’s too hard to turn the pedal, you should first check the gear it’s in. These conditions make riding a bike in a high gear hard.

  • You want to pedal uphill
  • You carry more weight than usual (maybe a fully loaded pannier or a child in a child seat)
  • You tow a trailer
  • You’re in the highest only meant for descents and you want to ride on flat

How to fix this problem?

Use your shifters to change to a lower gear, which makes pedaling easier. Once you’re up to a certain speed or the terrain becomes more favorable, you can change to a higher gear.

Brake pads

How to identify if this is the problem?

Brake pads touching the rim of your wheel or the brake disc can also make it hard for you to pedal your bike. This can happen both at the front and the rear wheel. 

To find out if this may be the case, lift up the wheel and give it a spin with your hand. If it spins without problems, then all is good. If you find it hard to turn the wheel, it’s a sign that the brake pads are touching the rim or the disc, and they need adjusting.

How to fix this problem?

On rim brakes and mechanical disc brakes the solution is usually as simple as loosening the cable tension. Depending on what type of bolts your bike uses, you’ll need an allen key or a small size spanner. Once the bolts are loosened, you can adjust the cable tension and tighten the bolts again.

On hydraulic disc brakes you need to remove the wheel and physically push back brake pads. It’s not difficult, but you need to be aware that squeezing the brake lever when the wheel is off, results in the brake pads being pushed too close to each other. If you don’t feel comfortable removing the wheel, you can take your bike to your local bike shop. They can sort this problem in a few minutes.

Wheel out of true

How to identify if this is the problem?

An out of true wheel spins in a pattern that describes an 8 when looked at from behind. If your bicycle has rim brakes an out of true wheel can touch the brake pads, which makes it hard for you to pedal.

If you spin the wheels with your hands and the wheel stops before it can turn around completely one full revolution, it means that the brake pad touches the rim at a certain point. 

You can also know if your wheel is out of true if you have someone look at it from behind while riding. In certain cases you can also feel this as you’re riding your bike: it’s as if your bike was shaking under your bum.

A wheel comes out of true because of a sudden strong lateral force hitting it: usually getting on a curb or riding through a pothole. 

How to fix this problem?

To fix an out of true wheel you need to adjust the spoke tension with a spoke key. If you’re new to cycling, this job is best left to the mechanic of your local bike shop.

You can do this

If your bike is too hard to pedal, there’s no need to panic. More often than you think, the solution is as simple as inflating the tire, lubing the chain or adjusting the cable tension. 

If fixing the problem seems too big a task for you to take on, you can always take your bike to your local bike shop. 

My favorite bike commuting products

Here are some of the products I love using for bike commuting. They make riding so much more fun and enjoyable.

Ergon GP5 Bar End Grips: These are super comfortable, ergonomic grips that offer me two extra hand positions on my flat bar bicycle. They also offer a much more comfortable grip that helps distribute my weight on the handlebar better.

Bar end mirrors: If you ride much among cars then a bar end mirror can make riding much safer. You don’t have to turn around every single time to check on the traffic coming from behind.

Bike lights from Cateye. This is essential year round. I recommend going for a more powerful light than just a to-be-seen light. I like the 800 lumen ones from Cateye because they are affordable, portable and still give out plenty of light so I can see where I’m going even in pitch dark. The battery lasts for a long time too, and it’s USB rechargeable.

Bike rack. This bike rack from Dirza is great because I can put it on almost any bicycle regardless whether they have mounting points for racks or not. I can leave it on my bike for commuting or take it off for weekend rides or whenever I don’t need a rack.

If you want to check out my full list of recommended products, you visit my recommended gear page.

Happy pedaling!

Bike Commuter Hero

When it comes to Cycling to Work, SAM IS THE MAN because he doesn't just talk the talk, but he also walks the walk - or rides the ride, to be more precise... Come, pedal with me and be a HERO!

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