Looking for, finding and fixing irritating bike noises

How do I identify all those irritating noises on bicycles I hear you asking?

This is one of the most common complaints when a cyclist speaks with a bicycle mechanic. First thing I then do is ask the owner, “What sort of noise/s are you talking about?”

Most commonly and sometimes incorrectly, most think a creaking or clicking noise is coming from the bottom bracket area. This is a common area for noise as the weight of the rider and pedalling motion all happen predominantly through this area. If the bottom bracket fittings are loose, they will creak, clunk and moan like there is no tomorrow.

Because the crank arms, chain rings and pedals attach to the bottom bracket, noise from these parts can “travel” to the bottom bracket area giving the rider the sense that this is where the noise is coming from.

To give you a little story I like to re-tell but Not remember so fondly :), this is something that happened with a bicycle service some 15-18years ago. Chasing “noises” can be an “experience” for anyone :)

A regular customer of ours had us build up the latest light weight mtb with titanium fittings etc for him and had been riding the bike for about a week when a “Creaking” sound appeared. The shop owner suggested it would be the bottom bracket as the titanium axle and hardware may need more lubrication or re-tightening. Off came the cranks and out came the bottom bracket. Re-fitted all with correct fitting and lubricants, testride, noise still there. HMMMMM!!!!

Well after basically removing everything on the bike from the headset to the rear derailleur tip/hanger, and spending about 2-3hours looking for this bloody noise, you would not believe what I found.

We had overlooked one part of the bike as a possible cause, and that was the chain ring bolts. Yep, you guessed it, after removing, greasing and re-fitting the chain ring bolts the noise was GONE :). Guess what is one of the first things I check since when riders complain of noises when pedalling :)

Noises when pedalling, or “under load” can come from many locations and may include;                                                                          Loose pedals or pedals incorrectly fitted with no grease on the threads. Good idea to check the plate screws on your pedals for tension and check for movement in the pedal on the axle as well.

Crank arms can need regular tightening and should always be tightened to manufacturers torque values. Check the chain ring bolts are tight and greased too ;)

The bottom bracket should be fitted with grease on the threads and grease on the surface where the cups sit if the cups are aluminium. Again, tighten the bottom bracket cups to manufacturers specifications.

On to the drive train now and a worn chain, chain rings and cassette can and will make noise. Mostly a grinding noise when pedalling due to the worn chain “sitting up” on the teeth before grinding it’s way onto the curved lower section of the teeth. If your chain seems to catch occasionally, check it for a partial broken link. Not only can this be noisy but also very dangerous WHEN the chain does break.

The rear derailleur will make noise if not aligned correctly, as in, if the cable adjustment is incorrect the chain will “sit” in between gears and want to skip on or off gears depending on whether too much or too little cable tension is used. The rear derailleur mounts to the frame via a tip/hanger and the fixing bolt/s for this part may need tightening and or greasing. The tip itself will sometimes move minutely under load and I have had to grease the surface where the tip/hanger meets the frame during installation on some aluminium bikes.

The rear wheel will make noise if the Q/R skewer is not tightened enough or correctly. The hub cassette body will make noise as it wears and it is very common to need to service a sealed hub cassette body regularly to eradicate noise from a build up of grit and grime. There have been times when I have had to disassemble a new hub and lubricate the fittings because the hub was bone dry from the factory. The spokes and nipples of a wheel can creak through low tension. Worn spokes can creak from wear at the cross point of the spokes.   Something to look for in your wheels if you cannot get rid of annoying creaking noises is, take a look at where the spoke nipples protrude from the rim. You are looking for cracks or splitting in the rim, these will cause no end of noise and once the rim splits at these points it is time to replace.                    Another thing to check at the rear wheel is the cassette lock ring. If the lock ring isn’t firmly tightened your gears will make noise when shifting and the gears will rattle when you ride. Very annoying and potentially dangerous if the lock ring unwinds from the hub cassette body.

Loose brake caliper’s will cause noise by allowing the brake to rub on the rim or on a disc rotor if you have disc brakes. Re-centering is covered in previous blog posts and quite easy to do.

Moving up to the seat and seat post. Check the seat post clamp binder bolt for correct tension and check the seat post is fitted with the correct solution for the material it is made of. If you have an aluminium frame and seat post, grease works best. If you have a carbon fibre seat post then you MUST install the post with a special compound. This helps the seat post grip in the frame and wont cause oxidation between the materials. YOU MUST ALWAYS tighten the seat post clamp to manufacturer torque specifications when installing or using a carbon fibre seat post. If when tightening a carbon fibre seat post in a frame you here a “crack” sound, you have just damaged your seat post and MUST replace it. There have been instances of riders hearing “creaking” noises when riding and the post has sheared off. PLEASE, if you see a crack or think your post is damaged, get it checked by someone who knows at your LBS.

The special compounds are readily available from manufacturers like this one from FSA                                                                                      http://www.jensonusa.com/!D-zu2RBOXx0S!chOvL2P9g!/FSA-Carbon-Seatpost-Installation-Compoun

or this one from Tacx                                                                                                                                                                http://www.amazon.com/Tacx-Dynamic-Bicycle-Assembly-Compound/dp/B000MAMR4U

Check the seat mounting fittings are tightened properly as your seat will creak and groan when sitting on it if it isn’t firmly tightened. Sometimes a little grease applied to where the seat rails are clamped by the seat mount fittings will eradicate creaking noises here. Something that can happen but is not wide spread, is for the seat rails to crack and then break. This normally is indicated by the seat rails starting to bend first.

Next the handlebars, stem and headset region.                                                                                                                                                                               A loose headset will “knock” when you rock the bike forward and backwards whilst holding the front brake on. The headset will creak due to dry or worn bearings, which can be caused by de-greasing, sweat trickling down the frame into the headset, road grime and water getting into the bearings or really rough riding conditions. If this is the case then your headset will either need servicing or replacing.

The handle bar stem can creak if the bolts that attach the bars to the stem are loose or if the bolts  that tighten the stem to the fork steerer tube are loose. Again, if any of the fittings, whether the fork steerer tube, stem or handle bars are carbon fibre you MUST ALWAYS tighten these fittings  to the manufacturers torque specifications. Failure to do so can result in cracked fork steerer tube and or cracked handle bars. Both of which I see all to often and neither of which you should continue to ride on.

One other noise I came across years ago was in the front fork-wheel fixing point at the fork drop-outs/tips. Some aluminium wheel fittings will creak when they sit against aluminium fork drop-outs/tips. I found that by smearing a small amount of grease on the fork tips and the axle locknut ends this eliminated the creaking. If your Q/R skewer is not firmly fastened or fitted incorrectly your front wheel will creak too.

Lastly, here is a video showing some of the things mentioned in this article;                                                                 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl-C2eIdN-U

I hope this helps you identify and fix any creaking noises you may have in your bicycle :)


SR Bike Works

Mechanical Editor www.veloreviews.com