I just pulled my old bicycle out of the garage. It's about 10 years old (a 21-speed mountain bike). It was working when it was put into storage.

When I tried to ride it today, the crank wouldn't engage properly to make the chain rings rotate; or more casually, when I pedaled nothing moved but the pedals themselves.

I flipped the bike over and if the rear wheel was spinning at a fair speed then the chain rings would engage when the crank was turned and the rear wheel had power driven to it as normally expected.

Is there a freewheel or freehub at the crank / chain ring junction that I should examine?

I read through a few dozen questions but I couldn't find any that addressed this specific issue; I hope this is a new question and not just a serious misunderstanding on my part!

I'll post a video shortly, but to give further clarification...

  1. The chain is on the gears; the chain does not slip
  2. I can backpedal and the chains and gears spin, as normally expected
  3. However, if I pedal forward, the gears which are located at the pedals will not spin; the pedals rotate freely. They rotate as if the thing they are supposed to be affixed to isn't attached.

Also, I'm certainly misusing terms here! By "chain rings" and "crank" I was referring to the areas of the bike as indicated in this diagram:

bike diagram

  • I think there are a few terms being used here which are not correct - a photograph / video of the situation would help. Is the chain on the gears?
    – Batman
    Jul 26, 2014 at 19:35
  • Thanks for the feedback, Batman! I added some clarification. I'll take a video of the problem this evening. Jul 26, 2014 at 19:55
  • Quite unlikely, but there have occasionally been bikes with an internal gear in the crank. But this would be quite rare, and not found on a "normal" bike. (Far more likely is the swaged crank coming loose.) Jul 27, 2014 at 2:52
  • I doubt anyone would come across one of those without specifically knowing that is what it is.
    – Batman
    Jul 27, 2014 at 17:29
  • As has been pointed out in a duplicate thread, there once was a Shimano "Front Freewheel System" which placed a freewheel mechanism with the front sprockets. See this skeleton Wikipedia article for some basic info. Note that the article claims that some specialized mountain bikes still use the scheme, even though it would have disappeared from regular bikes by 1990 or earlier. Jul 27, 2014 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


A quick search turned up this post, in which the OP is having the same trouble.

It sounds like your crank is swaged to the chainrings, as in this image:

Swaged crank

"Swaged" means the "spider" (the group of radial arms that hold the chainring) is press-fitted onto the crank arm.

A better design is to manufacture the crank arm and spider as one piece, like this:

enter image description here

It seems that on your crank, the connection between crank arm and spider has failed. With the bike upside down and the rear wheel spinning, the load is reduced sufficiently for the crank arm to turn the spider and rings. However, it is just metal-on-metal friction that allows this to happen. As you have seen, if the back wheel is stationary, the crank arm spins independently.

You need a new drive-side crank. I'd replace the whole chainset.

Edit: It sounds like you searched and found the same pages I did, and have gotten confused by the suggestions about Shimano's "freewheeling cranks". Rest assured, your bike will almost certainly not have any weird gimmicky technology like that. Just sounds like a not-so-common failure of a poorly-manufactured crank to me. Swaged cranks are cheap and nasty (no offence intended), but you can replace them with a forged set without breaking the bank.


Less likely than the above, but there's also the possibility if you have removable cranks (where the crank arms can be pulled off of the spindle, like the common JIS tapered spindle cranks many mt. bikes have) that both crank arm have come loose from the spindle. Take a look. If you have that type then there's a dust cap in the center of the crank set you have to remove, under that there should be a bolt that holds the crank arm to the spindle. Check that to see if it is loose. If it is loose, it is best to remove both crank arms and determine what's causing it to be loose. You may determine the taper profile on the spindle is damaged, and the spindle (or entire BB set, or possibly both the BB set and the crank set ) needs to be replaced.

  • 2
    I don't think so. If the OP has a square taper BB, the hole in the crank would have to be rounded off completely for the symptoms the OP described. For that to have happened the bike would have had to have been ridden for a few hundred miles with the crank practically falling off. More to the point, his crank would have fallen off if it was that loose. Jul 27, 2014 at 0:29
  • Not to mention that in case of such severe spindle failure, one of the cranks would rotate while the other won't. It would simply yield a complete diferent set of symptoms.
    – Jahaziel
    Jul 28, 2014 at 15:06

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