September 1, 2015 8:57 pm

A new or recently overhauled bike can be a joy to ride. There’s the wind, the sound of the tires on the pavement, the quiet hum of the gears and not much else. Inevitably though, minor creeks and squeaks will develop. Some riders will choose to ignore the extra noise as most of these sounds really don’t indicate a serious issue with the bicycle. Here is why you should not give in to this way of thinking.

 The Mask

A discussion I once had with a rider that had just snapped his chain and taken a hard fall due to the failure went something like this:

Me:  Was there any indication that your chain was about to snap?
Rider:  No, it just snapped. No warning at all.
Me:  Your bike wasn’t making any strange noises at all?
Rider:  Well, there was this one clicking noise.

That one clicking noise was the damaged link passing through the derailleur and skipping on the cogs. The click is similar to a number of other sounds that can occur, however it occurs at regular intervals, not on every pedal stroke and usually at different points of the pedal stroke. I have saved myself from the same fate a few times simply by being able to identify this noise.

Seat Clamp

Seat clamp

The volume of a sound unfortunately says nothing about the severity of the issue. Some of the more quiet noises can be indications of a pending critical failure. If your bicycle is generating a whole orchestra’s worth of odd clicks and pops, you are never going to be able to identify that one noise that really needs to be paid attention to. Besides this, how much did you spend on your bike? We don’t spend even the price of a “starter bike” for it to sound like a worn out dishwasher. A little extra care will not only make your rides a more peaceful zen like experience, it will provide extra safety and peace of mind.

Identifying the Cause

Testing for noises in seat post clamp or saddle clamp.

Pulling on the saddle can help identify noises coming from the seat post clamp and the saddle clamp.

The most commonly heard noise is a click that is heard on each pedal stroke. The most common cause is a loose bottom bracket shell. Stepping alternately on each pedal while standing next to the bike, can sometimes confirm this as the cause, however there are many other possible causes for the noise. The seat post, saddle rails, headset, or wheel bearings might cause a similar noise. Pulling and applying twisting forces to various parts of the bike can help reveal where the noise is coming from. Pay attention to what locations could possibly be making the noise based on where you are applying force and do not apply force in any way that could cause damage.

Derailleur cables can also emit clicking noises. Since this noise is usually heard loudest when turning the bars really slowly, it’s often assumed the noise is coming from the bottom bracket area. The noise may be initially noticed while standing on the pedals since riders tend to turn the bars slightly back and fourth as the bike sways side to side while standing. This issue, while not a sign of a possible critical failure, will eventually lead to a decline in shifting performance if not corrected. This can be corrected by either replacing the housing or trimming the housing a little shorter to remove the exposed wires on the end of each section.

Testing for loose bottom bracket.

A loose bottom bracket will usually click when force is applied to the pedal like this. Alternate between both sides of the bike to effectively test for this.

Pedal noises can usually be felt directly under the foot on the side it is occurring. The pedals should be inspected to insure they are properly tightened to the cranks. If this is the case, the cause of the noise could be foreign material on the cleats or cleat surfaces or worn out cleats. Clean the cleats and pedals at the point where the cleats attach. A wax based dry lube can be used as well. Check cleats for excessive wear as worn out cleats can fail causing loss of control and injury.

Eliminating the Creek

How to test for a loose headset.

Testing headset for loose bearings. A headset will click when holding the bars from both hoods and rocking back and forth with the front brake applied.

Usually checking the torque and tightening the offending parts will remove the annoying noises, although sometimes it will be necessary to clean off the parts on their clamping surfaces.

Grease can be used on non-carbon parts though I now prefer to use carbon installation paste instead. Grease was designed primarily to allow parts to slip. Its use is usually to prevent parts seizing after being clamped together for long periods of time. Carbon paste was designed to prevent seizing and also prevent slipping when clamped.

Most mechanics will address the common causes without first checking. It’s sometimes faster than checking and might identify a loose component that was not yet causing noise issues. It is also frequently the case that several issues are causing noises that are being wrongly identified as a single noise.

Once all the identifiable issues have been fixed, it’s now time to consider the possibility of a more serious problem if the bike continues to make odd noises. Do not continue to ride a bike that is making odd noises that you can not identify.

Replace me!

This stem is dangerously close to failing

Some of the more exotic frame materials can amplify normal riding noises. You may find that you can hear sounds that are part of the normal operation. I have worked on bikes where the rider could hear the chain hitting the ramp pins on the chainring. This was part of the normal operation of the bicycle and only audible because of the frame material and the fact that the chainring was new. After putting several miles on the bike, the noise quieted down. Some titanium cassettes can cause additional noise when new but quiet down when broken in. Don’t feel bad about having your bike checked for a noise that turns out to be a normal operating sound. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Just understand that there will be some sounds, like the chain on the pulley wheels or additional gear noise as the chain crosses at a greater angle, that will always occur.

Inspecting the Bike

Regular bicycle inspections can identify problems before they cause a “situation” even if failure produces no annoying noises. Check the frame and other structural parts of your bike regularly for cracks or defects. I once discovered a frame failure due to cracking paint. Touch-up painting the affected area revealed that there was enough movement to cause the new paint to crack after just one ride.

Know how to work on your bike even in you prefer not to. You should have proficient enough knowledge about the operation of your bike to be able to identify when something is wrong. At the bare minimum, a rider should know how to change a flat tire and how to perform minor derailleur adjustments in the event of slight cable stretching. ?

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This post was written by Tom

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