Broken Peloton Pedals: freak accidents, or the start of “Pedalgate?”
UPDATE (Oct 16, 2020): Two and a half years after this post was written, Peloton is recalling pedals on 27,000 bikes sold between July 2013 and May 2016.
Recently, a Peloton rider posted an emergency room photo of a painful-looking laceration to her ankle, which she blamed on a broken Peloton pedal. 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 to minimize broken pedals
So, let me start with the most obvious question, whether or not one should expect a bicycle pedal to break and whether or not they should 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 to avoid broken pedals
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, one could argue that 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.
Can I change my Peloton pedals myself?
Yes, you can. Changing out the pedals on your Peloton bike is no more difficult than changing the pedals on your road bike. For the Peloton pedals (at least, the ones on my own bike), you need a 15mm wrench. [UPDATE: It seems that since this original post Peloton may also be using pedals that fasten using an Allen wrench (probably 4mm), so you will have to examine your pedals to determine which you have.] Other pedals will go on with a 15mm crescent wrench or possibly a large Allen wrench, depending on the manufacturer. Remember that the left side pedal is threaded opposite the right pedal. The reason for this is because the designers don’t want your pedaling motion to be the same motion that unscrews the pedals. In the unusual case in which your pedaling transfers right to the post, you’d want your pedaling to tighten the pedal instead. Be sure to apply some grease to the threads so you can unfasten them a year from now (particularly if you put your bike on your lanai or the deck of your yacht where it’s exposed to the elements).
Your local bike store might be the best place for an inexpensive set of decent quality pedals. I don’t know what Peloton will charge to sell pedals to you, but I wouldn’t expect that to be cheap! (To be fair, Peloton has been good to me regarding broken parts including a buckle on a shoe and the somewhat dubiously designed water bottle holder.) If you change from the stock Peloton pedals, be prepared to change your cleats, too, even if your new pedals are made for delta cleats. My aftermarket pedals didn’t quite fit the Peloton-supplied delta cleats. Anyway, none of this is particularly expensive or difficult to change.
Update: April 2020
I have seen a number of anecdotes, both here and elsewhere, that suggest that pedal problems still remains an issue for Peloton. It’s difficult to know how widespread the problems are because, of course, everyone who doesn’t have a problem is not online tweeting that everything is fine.
I have noticed that the accounts of pedal failure that I’ve encountered since my original post seem to involve pedals that were incorrectly installed as opposed to pedals that may have a defect in manufacturing. It’s possible that these pedals were simply cross-threaded during installation, and if that were to happen the pedal could fairly easily work its way loose from the crank arm (and it would not be possible to reattach it due to bad threads either on the crank arm, pedal or both). Another cause might be over-tightening of the pedal at the factory, which could damage threads. A third (in my opinion) less likely scenario is substandard metals used in the crank arm and/or pedal.
EVERY 3 TO 5 RIDES: Tighten any loose pedal with the included 15 mm wrench. Pedals should be tightened to 25 lb-ft of torque. Turn clockwise to tighten the right pedal and counterclockwise to tighten the left pedal.— PELOTON owner’s manual
On the other hand, I have not heard recently of pedals that literally break off, as in the case(s) that started “pedalgate”, which I think is a good sign. It’s not that you can’t be injured by a pedal that comes away from the crank arm in any event, but at least without the fracture there would not be the sharp edges that apparently caused some of the lacerations that were reported early on.
I’ve had a couple of requests for instructions on how to replace the crank arms on your Peloton bike, so I created a post for that, with an official Peloton video.
Also, my SEO plug-in tells me I need an internal link on this page, so I’ll throw one in here for my animal-shelter fundraiser: TeamK9Buddy. I should also mention my most popular posts, one on the Peloton leaderboard and one that talks about all of the information on the Peloton screen (cadence, resistance, output, etc.)