There is nothing more annoying when you get out on the open road or trail for that long-awaited ride, you are excited and ready to commit and then you hear the noise coming from your bike. It’s a creaking noise coming ‘somewhere’ from your bike. You hope it will go away, you try to ignore it, but in the end, you have to find out what it is.
There is a real possibility if you do not find out what the problem is and repair it before you go any further it could cause serious damage. So how do we work out where the noise is coming from?
Firstly, is the noise there when you are pedaling? If so, stop pedaling, coast along and see if you can still hear the noise. This can help eliminate potential areas to be investigated. If the noise is only there when pedaling, this may give you some clues as to what or where the problem lies.
Secondly, take note if the sound is repetitious when you have one full turn of the wheel, as this could be an indicator that there is a problem in the hub. Check that the wheel is secure and tightened correctly and in line with the bicycle.
Other clues can be the type of noise it is and how it sounds. Is it a scraping, grinding or squeaking noise? Is it coming from the front, back or the middle of the bike? There also may be more than one issue. You need to isolate where the sound is coming from and solve the issue by checking that everything is tight, clean, not worn and sufficiently lubricated were necessary.
What to look for and how to fix it;
Loose Presta Valve Nuts
Solution: Snug them, but don’t over tighten or you’ll have trouble getting them off when you need to repair a flat tire. You can also remove them. The tires and tubes will work fine without them.
Placing O-rings on or beneath the valve nuts to silence them and prevent water entering the rims may help and or slipping a rubber O-ring sleeve over the bottom of the valve to prevent it from vibrating against the rim.
Noise in the Headset
Play in the headset bearings allows the fork to rattle when you ride over bumps.
Solution: Adjust the headset to remove the play and tighten the headset so it can’t loosen again.
Loose Cassette Cogs
Solution: Feel for play by trying to move the cogs laterally with your fingers. Use a Shimano cassette lockring tool (like this one on Amazon) and a large adjustable wrench to tighten Shimano cassettes by tightening the lock ring. This also works for Campy cogs using a Campy-compatible lockring tool (Amazon link for that one is here).
To tighten Sun Tour and older Shimano models, remove the wheel, place a chain whip (like this one from Park Tools) on the smallest cog, and turn it clockwise. Other issues and solutions may be to tighten loose bottle cages, bend cages to grip bottles more firmly, make sure seat bag tools can’t hit each other and/or strike the seat post, and stuff foam helmet pads into the handle of a frame-fit pump to silence the rebound spring.
Poorly Lubricated Chain
Solution: Inspect yours. If the rollers are dry and shiny, apply drip or spray lube. On extra dry ones, it may take a while for the substance to penetrate and silence the noise. Then keep the chain quiet by lubing it every 2 weeks. Always wipe off the excess to minimize sludgy build-up. (We have an article here that gives some suggestions on how to maintain your chain)
The faster you pedal, the louder and faster the pulley squeaks.
Solution: Rest your bike on its side and apply a few drops of oil between the pulleys and side plates to silence them. Wait a few minutes for the lube to penetrate, and then wipe off any excess.
If it is still squeaking, you’ll need to remove them, take them apart and grease each part before reassembling (I like this grease on Amazon). It is a good idea to do one at a time since they are often dedicated to the top or bottom position and you don’t want to get them mixed up.
This can be caused by the brake pads vibrating against the rims.
Solution: For quiet operation, pads must be in good condition and “toed-in,” which means that the front of the pads contacts the rim before the rear. If the pads are several years old, replace them. If they’re striking the rim flat, carefully adjust them so that the front touches before the rear.
Most brake pads feature a mechanism for making this adjustment. If your brake pads are in good shape and toed in and still squeaking, it may be because residue has built up on the rims.
Clean them with a solvent, such as lighter fluid and then lightly sand them with medium emery cloth to scuff up the surface of the rims and break up any rubber deposits on the rim.
The brake or gear cable housing may rub when you turn, causing a squeak.
Solution: Try lightly greasing the reflector’s edge, wrapping the offending section of housing with cloth tape or zip tying the housing to the bracket loosely so you can turn without restricting the housing.
Loose Bottom Bracket Or Pedal
Solution: Check the latter with a pedal wrench, tightening both pedals (A quality wrench like this one) is highly recommended if you don’t already have one). The right one is turned clockwise to tighten the left is turned counterclockwise.
If you ride clipless pedals, a loose fit between the pedal and cleat can cause clunks when you’re pedaling. Look for a cleat tensioning screw on the pedal and tighten it to remove the looseness.
To adjust the bottom bracket, remove the crank arms and, with the appropriate tools for your type of bottom bracket make sure it’s held fast in the frame by tightening the cups and/or adjusting the bearings.
Another clunk when pedaling is caused by a pump brushing the crank arm on each pedal stroke. Pumps are often made of plastic so you might not think it can cause a noise, but it can.
Solution: Simply reposition the pump so there’s more clearance.
The spokes cross each other and can touch over time, causing the spokes to wear. This can lead to them getting very dry and to start clicking as you roll down the road and the weight of the spokes can make them move slightly and click.
Solution: To stop the noise, apply a drop of oil at each spoke intersection. Then go around and squeeze pairs of spokes with your hands, which will let the oil work between the spokes. Finish by wiping off any excess lube. (I love this lube and has great reviews on Amazon)
It may be slightly loose or inadequately lubed; this will make the noise when you pedal.
Solution: Tighten/or, if that doesn’t work, remove the crank arm, lightly grease the axle and reinstall. If yours are held on by nuts in the sides of the crank arms you can also remove the crank arms by riding the bike, but you must do this very carefully to avoid damaging the crank arms. Loosen the bolts, but don’t remove them.
Then ride a loop on flat ground around your neighborhood so you stay close to home. Pedal with regular pressure. After a few laps the arms should loosen up and you should be able to remove them by hand. Don’t damage the crank arms by pedaling on them when they’re loose.
So keep checking when you’re riding to see if they are loose enough and don’t ride too far and damage the crank arms because they’re expensive to replace.
They may loosen or be inadequately lubed and click intermittently.
Solution: Check to make sure they’re tight, if there is still clicking, try removing, greasing and reinstalling the chainring bolts.
Tightening the stem on the handlebars made no difference to the creak.
Solution: Check the handlebars for any signs of cracking at the stem interface and replaced the handlebars if I found any cracks or other signs of metal fatigue.
Squeaking noises are common, do a total overhaul, turn every nut and bolt on the bike, but it could just be the seat post, put some grease on it.
Solution: The seat post may be the source of the squeak and greasing it made the noise go away.
As you can see, the above list can be endless. The most important point I can offer you is; the rule of thumb is to check one thing at a time and eliminate the possibilities as you go. This is the best solution, as if you address multiple issues at once, you could miss the problem and cause yourself even more time and frustration.
Bicycles need regular cleaning and servicing to work efficiently, so keeping your bicycle serviced and clean can save you a lot of heartache and time off the road in the long term if neglected. Happy Riding.