Pedalgate? Broken Peloton Pedals

Broken Peloton Bike PedalBroken Peloton Pedals: freak accidents, or the start of “Pedalgate?”

Recently, a Peloton rider posted an emergency room photo of a painful-looking laceration to her ankle. She reported that one of the pedals on her Peloton bike had sheared off while she was riding. Soon there were literally a thousand comments to this social media post, with some other riders telling stories of broken pedals, and the question was in the air: are Peloton pedals dangerously defective?

This week, Peloton responded with a post that said, in part:

We have no reason to believe that the recent issues flagged in this group were caused by a product defect. Every model of pedal ever included with a Peloton Bike has been tested and certified as compliant…. That said, pedals on any stationary bike need to be replaced on regular basis…

This is where I started to get interested. Is that true, that pedals need to be replaced on a regular basis? Most bicycling resources do not list pedals as wear items (like brake pads, tires, or even chains). Do they need to be replaced? Did the fact that Peloton specifically mentioned “stationary bikes” mean that they’re different in this regard?

Before I attempt to provide my thoughts on the subject, let me state firmly that I claim no special knowledge or expertise, and you should not consider calling me as an expert witness at your product liability trial. This is armchair analysis, but hopefully thoughtful armchair analysis.

The Defense’s Argument: Peloton has exercised due care

Peloton's note to bike ownersSo, let me start with the most obvious question, whether or not one should expect a bicycle pedal to break and that they should not be considered “lifetime” components of a bike. The answer is that if you ride your bike enough, eventually your pedals will break. This is pretty basic materials science. What you have, in the pedals, is a metal rod that is subjected to a shearing force repeatedly (once per RPM, and maybe even twice if you want to consider the effect of the “upstroke”). Man has not created a material that will last through an infinite number of cycles of stress. Pedals break, as do crank arms and any other component that is stressed when you ride.

So, if pedals don’t last forever, we’re left to ponder the expression “regular basis,” as in, “pedals on any stationary bike need to be replaced on a regular basis.” Peloton didn’t exactly specify what they mean by “regular basis”, but elsewhere on the site they recommend replacing them every 12 months. I did a bit of digging to see if any OEM bike or pedal manufacturer has a recommended interval for replacing pedals, and while I did see other notices that pedals do suffer from stress fatigue, there is very little in the way of guidance as to what the right interval is. In fact, I found only one (bicycle) manufacturer who even ventured to give a number, and theirs was 5,000 miles. 5,000 miles in 12 months is not a completely unreasonable number (I’m on track to do that myself this year), particularly for a bike that is shared.

So, my informal investigation seems to lead to the conclusion that Peloton is probably OK here. They say that their pedals have been tested and certified, meaning that they meet the minimum acceptable standards, and that should be enough to protect them in court. Whether they did enough to educate their users that pedals need to be changed out occasionally is something for the lawyers to argue.

Now that I’ve concluded that, based on the currently available evidence, that “Pedalgate” is not a thing, let me argue the other side for just a minute. If I were the prosecutor, my case would be based on the following…

The Prosecution’s Argument: Peloton could have done more

Peloton pedals may be certified as meeting at least the minimum performance standards required, but consider this: Peloton knows (or can know) with astounding detail exactly how much stress is being put on those pedals. Every RPM is counted, and the power being applied to the pedals is calculated at least as frequently as every RPM. Peloton should be able to tell you precisely how many stress cycles your pedals have been through, the magnitude of the stress, and how many more they should withstand. For all intents and purposes, the Peloton world is one giant laboratory for such things. With the sort of data they collect, Peloton could alert customers that it is time to change their pedals, just as your car reminds you to change your oil periodically. With the sort of data at hand, there should never be a pedal failure, because there are no unknown variables. Any pedal that fails in the field is presumably not a pedal that would have passed the certification tests, and by that logic Peloton would have some responsibility in selecting pedals that they know (or should know) cannot withstand the workload.

I’ll update this post if there are any noteworthy developments. Until then, be warned that Peloton expects your pedals will last about 12 months. In the past, they have offered free replacements after the first 12 months of ownership, but it is unclear if that policy will continue.


3 thoughts on “Pedalgate? Broken Peloton Pedals”

  1. I purchased a Peleton as a Christmas gift for my spouse. On his second ride the right pedal fell off. We have not been able to reinstall it. Luckily, he was not hurt. We are pretty disappointed and this is not a great way to start our experience with the bike. It’s New Year’s Day so customer service not available but I will call tomorrow to see how we can get this fixed.

    1. Deb,

      Head over to consumer affairs and read the reviews of others, who experienced the same thing as your husband.

      There’s no way that Peloton doesn’t know that there aren’t numerous issues with the bike in general…but specifically the pedals. Of course if they come out and admit they knew or that there is an pedal issue (a recall) they would have to “give” free pedals to those who already have bikes and then spend money to retool the manufacturing process…All of which costs money.

      I would be interested to know how many bad reviews you and your u=husband read on this bike and then still ordered one. I’m not trying to insult you at all, I just think many people get taken in by the hype and commercials and decide to “treat” themselves to something that seems great and amazing. They only read the umpteen bad reviews, AFTER their $2000+ dollar bike breaks or worse injures them.

      1. Brent, thanks for reading and for your comment.

        I don’t have any stake in Peloton and no particular reason to defend it, but let me chime in here. One thing to note is that the pedals themselves are almost certainly third party pedals with Peloton branding. There is nothing particularly proprietary about the pedals or the crank arms (the part of the bike the pedals screw into), and I can’t imagine Peloton would pour money into R&D for something so basic. Now, is it possible that the pedals they’ve sourced aren’t good enough quality? It’s possible.

        Second, when Deb talks about the pedal falling off, that suggests to me that the pedal literally unscrewed from the crank arm, which is different from the pedal failing (the injury described at the top of the pedal was caused by the pedal literally shearing off). This would indicate an assembly problem, not so much a quality problem with parts. I have seen other anecdotes from people claiming that their pedals were cross-threaded (screwed in improperly so that the pedal isn’t secure and, at the same time, damaging the threads so the pedal can’t be reattached if it comes out), and that was the first thing I though of when I read her reply.

        There are many complaints on the message boards about Peloton’s delivery service, XPO. In my case the “installers” didn’t seem very knowledgeable and that is echoed by a lot of posts in Facebook. If memory serves, the Peloton bike arrives with the pedals attached, so maybe you can’t blame XPO for that. If XPO is attaching the pedals then I’d be even more suspect about bad assembly as the root cause of this problem. (You reference consumer affairs reports… note that most of the bad reviews of the Peloton refer to peoples’ experience with XPO and not with the bike itself.)

        I am aware of at least one instance of Peloton sending free replacement pedals to a customer within the first year. I don’t believe their cost is more than about $50 a pair so I don’t think they’d really sweat it if they identified a problem. In my experience, the plastic water bottle holder on my bike broke, as did one of the buckles on a shoe, and Peloton cheerfully replaced both for free. I have heard from several people who have received free replacement heart rate monitors from them (street value, $30 or so). Then again, this is all probably missing the point. If the pedals are unsafe, the big liability is the medical bills of injured customers, not the replacement cost for pedals. IF Peloton is trying to downplay “Pedalgate”, it’d be to avoid injury lawsuits, not to get out of having to send people new pedals. Is that what’s happening? I am not qualified to say.

        (Personally, I replaced my own pedals after the first year — at about 5K miles. I did this partly out of an abundance of caution (see article above about the service life of a bicycle pedal) and also because I wanted pedals with a bit of float and ones that were easier to clip in and out of. I never liked the stock Peloton pedals but at the same time I was never particularly concerned they’d break off.)

        Again, I am not a Peloton employee or stakeholder, and I really have no skin in the game here. After reading your comment, though, I did want to respond to say that I believe that the Peloton bike is a very good quality bike (and it SHOULD BE for that price!), far nicer than the Echelon bike (which a relative of mine owns) and your run-of-the-mill gym bike. You can argue that the bike isn’t worth $2000 or that other companies offer a better value, but I really don’t see much evidence that the Peloton bike is poorly made in general.

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