Friday Group Ride #130

A bicycle, functioning properly, sounds something like a finely cast fishing rod or a baritone cricket. And at some point, you become so accustomed to the regular zip and hum of your bike, that you don’t actually hear it at all. You should treasure this time for deep in the micro-dermis of every well-running machine are the beginnings of failure.

Generally what brings you back around to hearing your bike is something aberrant in the regularity, a squeak or pop or groan or creak. It becomes, in the silence, a dripping faucet, a non-event, an innocuousness that threatens to crush your brain.

I have dealt with these sounds both with patience and with the frenzy of a werewolf at dusk. I have worked methodically through the multiple causes of a creak in the works, tightening, greasing and adjusting, and I have also broken down almost completely, pulling cranks and bottom brackets, applying grease like a finger-painting toddler and breaking down in tears when the creak creaked on, unimpressed.

I have watched YouTube videos of people doing battle with bike noises, and I have read the unabridged Sheldon Brown. I have chased noises from hub to hub, BB shell to seat post. I have won some and lost more. The best trick I know for eliminating a noise is to isolate it to the offending part, remove that part, leave the bike in pieces for a few weeks and then put it back together. That strategy is usually good for two to three days of annoyance free pedaling, and I don’t recommend it.

This week’s Group Ride asks: What is your worst noise story? Where did it end up? How did you fix it? And how much can you actually tolerate before the tools come out and the gloves go on?

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28 comments

  1. A-Trav

    First road bike. Giant. Creaky headset that kept loosening up. After about the fourth tightening I pulled the fork and found the steerer-tube had backed about 1/4″ out of the crown. Internet check found recall on Giant forks with carbon steerers. They FedExed a new one the next day. I don’t ignore headset noises as much as I used to anymore:^O

  2. Bill

    I’m in the middle of the process. My current noise: sounds like the pinging you get when you first roll on a new wheel. Then it goes away as all of the spokes and nipples settle in. But this time it’s happening in reverse. It started with an isolated ping. Then another and so on with increased frequency until I started removing parts to isolate it. I was sure it was one of the wheels. Or was it the crank? Saddle? Seatpost? It turned out to be something with the front wheel. I cast it aside. Put a spare front wheel on. It has been weeks since I cast the offending front wheel aside. I’ve picked it up a couple times. No loose spokes. The rim is clean. It’s the hub. I don’t want to deal with it…

  3. Ransom

    It seems like these days it’s always the saddle clamp. I dig the Thompson-style clamps (which I have on both bikes, one actual Thompson, the other not) for their fine adjustability for pitch, and for their apparently solidity once tightened down. Currently the non-Thompson ticks.

    I don’t know whether they’re more prone to this, and how much the issue is amplified by my all-aluminum fleet at this point, but the ticking is going to drive me mad.

    It comes and goes. I contemplate grease or a slackening-tightening sequence to remove bind and let things settle. I contemplate whether losing 25 pounds might be the most elegant answer. Now I wonder whether it’s the same laziness which is responsible for both the 25 pounds and the still-unremedied clamp.

  4. ChrisC

    My most worrying was quite recent. A loud-ish knock when braking hard, followed by a quieter knock when pulling on the bars to accelerate. Finally tracked it down to a very slightly loose headset and the knock was the stem slipping forward over a small ridge on a headset spacer during braking and snapping back when pulling the bars. A quarter turn of the top-cap and it’s gone.

    I’ll second Ransom on a preference for Thompson-style seat clamps. Nothing else holds as well or as quietly. Ticks galore from anything with a bonded clamp head.

  5. matt

    Had two creaks on different bikes. One was a creaking in the BB area on a bike that eventually was replaced due to cracks in the BB area (2009 Cervelo R3). Removing the chainrings and greasing the bolts solved that issue. Other issue was something that sounded like it was related to the front wheel on a new wheelset. Thought spokes, so lube nipples. Checked hub lube. Looked fine. Removed and re-lubed headset. Checked bars, stem, etc. Sound still there. Problem ended up being in the saddle itself at the junction between the metal rails and the plastic mold of the saddle (Fizik Arione). Replaced saddle. Sound gone.

  6. redcliffs

    would have to be the seatpost clamp that i happily solved by replacing a cheap kalloy that came with the bike with a far nicer nitto, only to discover that it was actually the front bolt on the brooks saddle i was using. +1 for the beautiful post, -2 for not actually checking my hypothesis before buying…

  7. Les Borean

    “KAPOW!!!!”
    A blowout while descending Deer Creek.

    The rims got so hot from braking that the plastic rim tape softened to the point that, under pressure from the tube, it protruded through the spoke holes to so that one of the protrusions blew open. So there I was on a mountainside 50 miles from home with a blowout.

    Shielded the broken part of the rim tape, dropped in a new tube and got home on a prayer. Later switched to good old canvas rim tape. If I can get this photobucket link to work, you can see the resultant dimpled rim tape:
    http://i163.photobucket.com/albums/t306/lesiz/Rimtape.jpg

  8. Nick

    Had a ticking noise for months when I applied mild wattage to my pedals. I tried everything I could think of. Checked/cleaned/tightened/loosened/applied grease/removed grease from the pedals, cranks, bottom bracket, and just to make sure double-checked my saddle clamp. I got called out for it in a race and finally hung my head in shame and took in into a shop after my third dismantle/clean/relube/retighten didn’t work. Shop guys couldn’t figure it out for hours, then finally an old vet said to check the rear skewer. My cheap quick release was having trouble holding the wheel in. All that work and it was a skewer. Lesson learned. Listen to the old guys.

  9. MCH

    First – great post! Just the topic for sommeone with obsessive-compulsive tendancies and a decade+ wrenching in shops. It also implies that we’re in tune with, and care about the machine between our legs.

    I’ve got 2:
    The first one was a creak from the headset / bars / stem area. I pulled the Chris King cups, greased and re-insalled, pulled the stem out (pre a-head) and greased the shaft, anti-seize on the bolts. Torqued all the bolts, tightened the levers. Finally, while cleaning the bike before the weekend industrial park world cup, I found that what I’d thought was a little piece of stringy gunk on the underside of the Ibis titanium stem, and right behind the bars was a crack approx 1/2″ long. The thought of what could have happened while torquing on the bars in the sprint that weekend still gives me chills. Big bullet dodged.

    Number 2 involves a front wheel creak. Attacked all the usual suspects: pulled the DT Swiss hub apart and greased everything; lubed the nipples at the rim; tightened the QR, etc. Turned out to be micro cracks in the rim around several eyelets.

    So, lessons learned:
    - keep your bike clean – it’s a lot easier to spot problems
    - let the little guys ride the super light stuff – a couple of grams saved isn’t worth the loss in durability and safety

  10. Kelly

    The worst sound I ever heard was the crunch when I was tightening the clamp of my repair stand around the top tube (instead of my seat post) on my 2003 XL Carbon Bianchi. A crack on the top tube developed from the squeeze. Anyway I lucked out because Calfee repairs carbon frames. Took about a month, cost about quater as much as a new frame.

  11. K

    I think I’ve had all of these and more. Headsets, gears, wheels, anything with the letters GXP written on it. I had the ticking from the stem area years ago. Getting the bike out of the back of a car I noticed the stems welded seam was slowly cracking. It was the last welded stem I ever owned.

    I’ve had the creaking seat post as well. It usually culminated in the seat post bolt snapping, a truly unpleasant sensation. I’m Thomson style all the way now as well. Out one day, my other half was digging the feeling of riding no handed when her seat post bolt snapped. Her seat slumped backwards and she was left leaning back, desperately clawing at the bars that were now just out of reach. Somehow she miraculously managed to stop the bike without crashing.

  12. Peter.Leach

    I’m with brucew
    I went through weeks (at least it seemed like weeks) of careful listening, checking, tightening, lubing – all to find annoying tick. Only when I put weight through the pedals. Eventually I asked my local bike shop, only to be told: “There’s a known trick with your shoes – just put a little bit of rubber in the spd cleat holes, that’ll fix it”
    Sure did :-)

  13. scaredskinnydog

    My worst noise story doesn’t involve equipment but another rider. There we were just rolling along on one of those rare(very rare) rides when everyone is tranquillo and there are no attacks, except blabber mouth just can’t keep a lid on it. Its a constant stream of “blah, blah, blah this race, blah, blah, blah,me, me, me”. Until eyes start to roll and someone launches a wicked attack just to quiet jabberjaws. I’ll take a creaky BB over a constant talker anyday.

  14. Derek

    Maybe grit from the open pot of grease is pre-contaminating your assemblies. Most shops like to keep it near the grinder for good measure. Grease guns for clean grease.

  15. tiny tim

    all plastic bikes make noise. it seems like every time i’m a watching a major tour going up a climb, what stands out is the craking of what should be finely tuned bikes. Sure these pros are putting out more watts than my shop vac, even though they only weigh 140lbs !!!??? One of the major reasons for creaking is super light weight magic black stuff interfaced to a 4mm clamp that is then held in place with carbon prep paste. I’ve never heard my alloy record seat post in my steel colnago creak. Not even when i ride home from the corner store with a soda keg of ipa in one hand and a box of slim jims in the other. Ive even seen a ritchy carbon wcs seat post break on my friend and perforate his rectum.

  16. Peter Lütken

    A friend of mine once tore a bike down to the bare atoms to find a noise, only to find out a loose bottle cage bolt was the culprit.
    Has served me as a reminder to check the obvious and easy to reach places first when finding the source of noises in the shop.

    As for myself, I think I might have one of the most embarrassing and expensive noise-stories:
    This year I’ve been a bit strapped for cash, so I’ve been riding my early 1980′s Eddy Merckx Professional for most of the season, just put my Zipp 303′s on and off I go.
    Lately it has made this horrible rattling noise when the surface is a little rough, but I have not been able to figure out why. I consoled myself with the fact that the bike is about as old as me and that I’ve been committing some horrible crimes against it (9spd Ultegra on a vintage Merckx..? Cramming a 130mm rear hub into a 126mm rear end..?). I finally went ahead and ordered a Focus Izalco Pro 4.0, and as I was changing cassettes on the rear wheel I noticed that the levers on the Mavic QR’s I had been using were really loose in the hinge/cam area.
    Now I ride around on a $2500 rattling noise solution with DT Swiss open cam QR’s.
    (The Izalco is quite a nice ride though, and according to Strava it’s a bit faster than my Merckx as well)

  17. Nathan

    I recently developed an annoying, high-pitched squeak in the middle of an 80 mile group ride, felt terrible forcing everyone to listen to my “squeak squeak squeak” 90+ times a minute. It would come and go, depending on my cadence and gear, so I tried to adjust my riding to silence it. Later I narrowed it down to what I thought was a bad derailleur pulley. Ordered some new ones, but that didn’t fix it.

    Turns out my cadence sensor was barely, just barely touching the magnet in certain instances. The cranks turned fine when loose, it wasn’t knocking, just ever too close. I listened to that squeak for 50 miles and all it would have taken to fix it was one finger!

  18. Spiff

    I’ve heard all the noises top to bottom, front to back. To to point where I can tell others what noises my friends bikes make.

  19. SL

    I took a corner too fast on my TT bars the other day and hit a bump, from that came a nasty, low-pitched thump throughout my ride. Turns out the bump moved the star nut ever so slightly making my steering tube loose. My hub is very quiet so I cannot tolerate any noise from my bike.

    The worst noise though, is the wzzzz->thwap of a bee colliding with, and ending up in, your helmet.

  20. GluteCramp

    Not, me, a friend, but easily the wost: bidon cage bolt. Cage not installed, bolt tight, yet somehow squeaky as a squeaky thing trapped inside a hollow carbon fibre frame can be. Reverberated from headset through to BB, very difficult to isolate because it sounded like it could be anywhere. Many weeks of back & forth with the LBS to resolve it. In the end, installation of a bidon cage (against the owner’s original wish) and problem solved.

  21. Kevin

    I had a friend of the family tell me that he had a creak that just wouldn’t go away. He took it down to the new LBS in town since the only other shop has a terrible reputation. They told him he needed to replace his chain. No change. Replace the cassette. No change. Replace the jockey wheels. No change. Replace the bottom bracket. No change. He said their next step was to replace the cranks. I ask him if the creak is always there or if it.goes away when he stands up. He said it goes away, so I told him to take his saddle off his post, his post out of his frame and clean the living veal out of everything. The next week when I bump into him again he says that solved everything.

    So guess what my opinion is of the new shop in town.

  22. dropoutdave

    0ut on a ride a click on every right hand pedal push had me fearing very bad news. After much stopping, starting and head scratching it turned out to be a loose shoe lace striking the down tube.

  23. DaSy

    The longest I have chased a creak was on my Litespeed.
    It was an erratic creak that seemed to only appear when sat in the saddle and spinning fluidly (I ended up pretending that it was okay because it indicated when I was pedaling well!). It seemed saddle or seat-pin related, so I started lubing said parts. When that failed I progressed to swapping pin and saddle, it returned, so I swapped the seat collar….still there!
    I then tried greasing the front mech clamp, it seemed to improve, so I installed a new Dura Ace mech…the creak returned next ride.
    In a fit of pique, I swapped the bottom bracket, pedals, cranks and wheels (including QR’s), the creak was there on the next ride, and seemed to be getting worse!
    I removed the headset, greased it and re-fitted, bottle cages removed, cables removed, calipers taken off and bike ridden round the block, and there it was again…
    I finally found the source when I nudged the bare frame that was fully stripped all but the seat-post (the new one), by which it was clamped into the work-stand. The creak I had allowed to rule my life on the road, was there in my workshop!
    The only thing left was the aluminium insert that is bonded in the Ti seat-tube. I clamped the frame upside down in the work-stand by the seat-pin, and sprayed penetrating oil into the frame through the bottle cage boss holes, and left overnight.
    After rebuilding the bike, I went for a ride, thoroughly expecting to hear the sound I dreaded so much…..silence!

    My bike suddenly took on a completely different feeling, it felt faster, smoother and I felt stronger!

    I now wait for the next tick to develop, then let the hunt commence once again…

  24. Hautacam

    Worst sound ever was the sound of my rear tubular rolling off and locking up my rear wheel at the apex of a corner at 25 mph as I transitioned from fresh chipseal to asphalt. Sort of a rrrrrip screech bang scrrraaaaaaaape as I slid from inside apex to outside curb. Left me with a gnarly case of road rash on one butt cheek that eventually formed a scab as thick as a turtle shell and about the same size. That’s why you let a freshly-glued tubular sit for 48 hours before riding.

    Oh, you meant mechanical noise. My old RB-1 develops a tick from the BB, drive side. I think it the drive side cup backs itself out a bit. I have a 1mm spacer in there which helps (the shell is slightly under-width) but a couple times a year I have to pull it, grease the exterior lip, and reinstall.

  25. Chris

    A friend’s Cervelo had a creak. Surely it was crank related. pedal, seat? bars, stem? seatpost?… We swapped them all. Nothing changed. Ended up being the derailleur hanger bolt screw! CF bikes must be ventriloquists!

  26. Full Monte

    I have bike noise OCD to the point my wife – a psychologist – suggests half-seriously that I get medicated. Any odd creak, tick, squeal, squeak cause my ears to perk up like a dog hearing his master’s whistle. And if it happens again, I’ll tear into the bike the minute I get home, with parts strewn across the garage, grease and lubes everywhere (mostly in my hair and smeared on my kit).

    The most recent: a click every time my left pedal started the downward stroke. I lubed everything and ended up slippery as a seal. But alas, click, click, click. Arrrrrgh!

    LBS to the rescue. They found the problem in the BB, and once everything was reinstalled and properly greased, the bike was back to stealth mode (it is, in fact, the quietest bike of the guys I ride with — a Jamis Xenith with Ultegra. Not terribly exotic, but shhhhhh, listen! Hear that? Tire hum and birds. Perfect.)

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