Before getting into finding and
eliminating noises, it's important to realize that modern bikes
are not the silent, stealthy machines they were back in the day.
Nearly all of the improvements to the modern bike, including
more-aerodynamic wheels with fewer spokes, dramatically-improved
shifting and disc brakes, add a fair amount of background noises
and clicks. Indexed-shifting in particular has created a lot of
clicking noises, sometimes more-prominent under heavier load,
sometimes different gears.
rider weight... there's no question that someone 6'2 and 210
pounds is capable of bringing out noises on a bike that's silent
for someone 5'8 and 160. But for many noises, the information
below should be of help. But again, there are some noises that
are simply beyond the ability of a shop to get rid of, because
they're essentially built into the system.
Keep in mind many noises could be eliminated if bikes weren't
designed to be as repairable as possible. Look at all the
different items that you can separately replace on a bike.
Cranks, for example, could be quieter if they were built with
fewer pieces, but when something wore out, you'd have to replace
the entire unit instead of, say, just a chainring or bottom
bracket. There are clearly compromises that have to be made to
have a bike that's serviceable, reliable, efficient, quiet and a
good value. --Mike Jacoubowsky, Partner, Chain Reaction
A few basics first-
first thing you need to realize that there may be multiple noise
sources, and if you bring in your bike to have a mechanic check
it out, don't get too annoyed when he/she starts finding various
things that you're positively sure are not the noises you were
hearing. You've got to take things one step at a time and rule
out everything you can. Also, if you're used to a bike from
yesteryear that ran silently, the gospel truth is that you'll
never get a modern bike to run that quietly, at least not one
with gears. The very things that have been done to improve gear
shifting (primarily to the cranks and rear cogs, where a lot of
machining has been done and sometimes even pins riveted in)
result in quite a bit more drivetrain noise these days. Even the
move to more gears, requiring ever-narrower spacing between
sprockets and cogs, has been a factor.
Noises frequently sound like they're coming from someplace
other than their actual source. This is because just about
any material under tension tends to be an excellent
transmitter of noise and vibration, including chains, spokes
and even the frame itself.
Many noises aren't even coming from the bike, but rather
accessories that are attached to the bike. A very common
non-bike source of noise is the interface between a cleated
shoe (the type that click into the pedals) and the pedal.
Whether it's LOOK, Time, Speedplay or SPD, this can be a
definite source of noise, which is why our mechanics will
frequently ask that you bring in your shoes along with your
Another source of noise are the very shoes themselves!
Recently we've had two cases of noise that seemed to be
coming from the drivetrain but was, in fact, coming from
loose cleat hardware embedded in the shoe. The solution was
simple...we glued down (using silicon sealant or bathtub
caulk) the loose fittings.
When describing noises, you need to categorize them as
either high-frequency "clicks" or low-frequency "clunks."
This is very important, since they indicate very different
potential noise sources! Also note whether you actually feel
something happening or just hear it.
Noises are not always an indication of impending trouble.
The rear cassette (or freewheel on older bikes) will vary in
loudness through its life...in general, being somewhat
noisier when new and quieter as they age (and the internal
parts become a bit less violent in their springiness).
There will be some gear combinations where a certain amount
of grinding or scraping noise is unavoidable. Typically, on
a 2-chainring (double) bike, this will be in the small
front/small rear gear combination, as well as large
front/large rear. On a 3-chainring bike, it will come from
the middle front/small rear, small front and 2 smallest rear
cogs, as well as large/large.
Now we're ready to take things on one at a time!
especially where the brake levers attach to it. This is
extremely common, on new bikes as well as old. Keep in mind that
the handlebar is constantly flexing and, especially on road
bikes, the part that the lever mounts on is a veritable
noise-magnet. The easiest way to tell if this is a noise source
is to try flexing the bars around and listening for noise, and
then loosen the screws that hold the brake levers to the bar and
try again. If the noise is still there with the levers loose,
then that's not likely the source. When re-tightening, make sure
the threads on the bolts are lubed!
Make sure the binder bolts that tighten the handlebar to the
stem are well-lubed and tight. Also, pull off the stem and
lightly grease the surfaces that contact the fork (or, on an
older bike with a "quill" stem, the wedge that contacts the
inside of the fork), and especially be certain the you grease
the underside of the allen bolts, since that interface itself
can be a source of noise. It can sometimes help to put a thin
layer of grease on the part of the stem that grips the
STI Road Bike brake levers.
Check out our
separate article on this topic. Applies only to
1998-and-later Ultegra and 1999-and-later '105 equipment.
Check to make sure that not only are your chainring bolts (the
five bolts that hold the chainring to the crank) tight, but that
they are lubed as well. This means backing them out, one at a
time, and applying either a very heavy oil (Phil Tenacious, for
example) or a lightweight grease (just about anything marketed
for bikes) to both the threaded surfaces of the nut & bolt as
well as the areas where they contact the chainrings. Also,
especially if you're using aluminum chainring bolts (which we no
longer recommend for most people), check them carefully to make
sure they haven't developed cracks. They will fail eventually
(aluminum just isn't strong enough for long life in this
application) and, prior to completely breaking, they will make
pretty severe ticking noises.
"pipe-style" cranks (as found on nearly-all bikes over $500) the
axle needs to be lubed where the left arm slides onto it, as
well as all bolts. Tru-Vativ, SRAM, Bontrager, Shimano & FSA
cranks should be tightened to spec with a torque wrench.
older square-taper cranks, remove the crank arms and check to
make sure there's no distortion of the square-cut surfaces.
You're looking for any rounding of the edges where the crank arm
mates with the spindle. Also, make sure somebody didn't apply a
bunch of grease to the flats...this is not recommended, since
the crank's machined surfaces will "ride" on the grease instead
of making strong contact with the bottom bracket spindle, and
this will rapidly accelerate wear of the mating surfaces (please
note that, on this point, there is great disagreement on the
'net, while most experienced bike shop mechanics insist that the
surfaces not be greased).
A great number of creaking bikes can be traced to pedals that
either aren't quite as tight as they should be, or haven't been
removed & regreased in a very long time. Pedals need to
generally be installed a bit tighter than most believe. The
dangers of a too-loose pedal are not just added noise, but
movement of the threads which can damage the crank. In addition,
the sprung part of a clipless pedal (the movable part that snaps
around the shoe's cleat) can be noisy if it's dry or worn out.
Try some lube first, but old pedals may simply need to be
With the advent of cartridge-bearing bottom brackets, noise
problems are more common here than before. Two things are going
on...first, you have a design where your bearings are sitting in
a cartridge, and that cartridge sits on top of the axle. Problem
is, the axle flexes, changing the amount of contact between it
and the bearing, which causes clicking noises. The other problem
that shows up with cartridge bottom brackets comes from the
interface between the cartridge shell and its bearing. This
problem can sometimes be alleviated by removing the bearing from
the shell and using anti-seize compounds on the contact points.
We've had many customers who were absolutely, positively certain
that the creaking noises were from the bottom bracket. Turns out
quite often to be the front quick release! Took awhile to
isolate it, but sure enough, that was the source of the
noise...it just had to be reinstalled a bit tighter and the
noise went away. We had another customer who'd been complaining
about noises on her bike for some time, and we just couldn't run
them down, even after pretty much tearing her bike apart and
reassembling it. And then, on one of my Tuesday/Thursday rides
up King's Mountain Road, I just happened to catch up to her
riding up the hill and, thankfully, the noise was there, quite
audibly so, and it was quickly apparent it was from the spokes
in the rear wheel. They were "unloading" as they approached the
ground as they rotated, and then regained tension as they moved
away. We added just a bit more tension and all seems to be fine
now (and Laura, if you're reading this and hearing noises again,
please let me know!).
reflectors can be another cause of wheel noise, especially if it
comes and goes as you go through corners. Make sure the
reflector is solidly wedged into the spokes (which usually
requires sliding it up towards the rim as far as it will go).
A BIG source of noise trouble, and frequently saddle noises will
mimic crank noises since both tend to occur at the exact same
frequency (same part of the pedal stroke). Sometimes the noises
occur from the saddle rail/seatpost interface, in which case you
should disassemble the seatpost, grease all threaded surfaces
and the underside of the head of each bolt, and
reassemble. Also put a bit of grease on the saddle rails
themselves, where the seatpost clamps onto them. Rarely, the
noise comes from the part of the rail that goes into the saddle
itself. We haven't found a permanent cure for this, but
dropping some oil into the affected areas helps for awhile.
Freewheels & cassettes (the rear
Unless you've got a single-speed trackbike, your bike has gears
and a freewheel in the back that allow your wheel to move while
your pedals remain stationary. We call this "freewheeling"...in
the old days it was simply coasting.
method used to allow this involve ratchets in the rear wheel
mechanism...a very simple device that allows for free movement
in only one direction, allowing you to either coast or pedal
without needing to engage any levers etc. These ratchets are
very much like what you'd find in any tool set, and when you
spin them, they make noise, usually at the rate of about 18 or
so clicks per revolution of the wheel. In some designs, the
ratchets are quite noisy, either because they're located closer
to the outside of the hub mechanism, or because they're
extra-strong. In other hubs, these ratchets are very quiet,
perhaps because they're located further inboard or packed in
freewheel that started its life fairly quietly will become
noisier over time, and this is rarely cause for concern. In
general, a noisy ratchet is a happy ratchet, provided that you
don't notice it binding if you try to turn it by hand. Please
note also that the tone of the noise can change depending upon
what gear you're in, even when you're not pedaling.
This is because the chain is exerting a pull from one side of
the rear cogs or the other, depending upon what gear it's
sitting on, and this affects how the bearings and ratchets are
carrying their load. This is perfectly normal.
the scariest of freewheels is one that has suddenly decided to
go quiet. This may be an indication of ratchet failure or
near-failure (there are two different ratchets in each
freewheel, so one can fail and the freewheel will still function
for a time), and it would be wise to bring the bike in to the
shop to get checked out.
Some frame designs use elastomers (rubberized bumpers and
vibration dampeners), and since these are essentially moving
parts, they require lubrication and are susceptible to drying
out, especially if ridden in the rain. Also, anything that
clamps or mounts onto a frame can be a suspect, including the
the bearing race that sits on the front fork.