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What’s that creak? How to identify and fix annoying noises coming from your bike

There’s nothing worse than going out for a bike ride in the beautifully silent countryside and something on your bike ticking or creaking. And almost equally annoying, it can be tough to identify where the creak is coming from and how to silence it.

However, fear not! Read on to help diagnose some of the most likely causes of the troublesome noises, and suggest the best way to address them:

Bottom Bracket

DIAGNOSE:

Is the sound coming from within the bike, particularly near the bottom of the frame?

It’s common to think that it’s your bottom bracket that’s squeaking and creaking in this situation, as there are several moving parts in that area, and because your hollow frame can carry sound from other places.

If you think that the bottom bracket is the culprit, it’s worth also checking the chainring bolts, as these can easily move against their mounting points under strong force.

FIX:
First, as the chainring and spider are just as likely to be the source of the noise as the bottom bracket, undo the chainring bolts and remove the rings from the crank arm. Give the bolts and contact points a clean, grease the bolts, then re-install.

Next, get to work on the bottom bracket. It’s likely that the bearings are dry and / or dirty. So, take the crank off altogether, thoroughly clean the bearings, grease them, put it all back together, torque it up, and hopefully your next ride will be silent!

Pedals and cleats

DIAGNOSE:
Is the sound coming from around your feet, and worse on one particular side? Easy: it’s one, or both, of your pedals and cleats.

FIX:
As the area around your pedals is exposed to water and dirt more than others, it’s likely that the area around the pedal thread (the part that you screw into the crank) is dry and dirty. Take the pedal off, give it a clean, grease it, then reinstall it.

It can also be possible that the internal workings of the pedals, such as the axle, springs and bearings, may need a clean and lubricate.

A very common source of noise is the cleat, particularly if they are either particularly old or very new. If they’re new, you may not have tightened or greased the bolts that attach the cleat to the shoe sufficiently, or if the cleats are old, the bolts may be mucky.

You typically will just need to remove and clean the bolts, then give them a grease. Noise can sometimes also be caused by the cleat grinding against the sole of the shoe as well, so make sure the face of the cleat that contacts with the shoe is clean. We also find that spraying a little GT85 or other lubricant around the area where the cleat meets the shoe once it has been installed can help as well.

HEADSET

DIAGNOSE:

Does the sound seem to be coming from the front end of the bike, and sometimes is more noticeable as you turn your handlebars? It’s more than likely to be your headset: there are quite a few bearings and moving parts in here, and these could be causing the pesky sound.

FIX:
You guessed it, you gotta get that headset dissembled, cleaned and greased!

Take the forks out of the bike and clean and grease all the contact surfaces in the headset, and give the inside of the head tube a clean too. It’s easy for grit to get down into the head tube if you’re riding off-road a lot. One of the best ways to get in to this part of the frame is to wrap a rag around a stick or spanner, coat the rag in a cleaning fluid, push it into the head tube and give it a good rub around!

When you re-assemble the headset, make sure you get the forks fully flush with the frame, ensuring that there’s no gap! Also make sure you torque everything up to just below the recommended maximal Nm reading (check the numbers printed on the component or on the manufacturer’s website) to make sure the handlebars don’t start moving independently from the wheel.

Stem / handlebar interface

DIAGNOSE:
This one can initially be hard to separate from the headset creak discussed above, as it comes from a similar part of the bike.

However, if it’s the faceplate connecting your stem and handlebars that’s the issue, you may feel the creak coming through the bars up to your hands. Also, you may notice that the creaks are more particularly evident when you push down on the handlebars when you’re not pedalling.

FIX:
The creak coming from this area can come from one or both of a stem faceplate that isn’t tightened adequately, or the bolts that connect the faceplate being dirty.

In both the scenarios above, you simply need to undo the bolts and fully unscrew them. Before you take the bolts out, make sure you mark the bar location so that you can put it all back together at the exact same position and angle as you started with.

When the bolts are out, give them a good clean, ensuring you get right into the thread and don’t miss any dirt deep in the grooves. When they’re all clean, lightly grease them, then re-assemble the handlebar and stem using the markers you made previously. Make sure you use a torque wrench to tighten them the correct amount and not too much.

Saddle and seat post clamp

DIAGNOSE:
If the noises are only occurring when you’re sitting in the saddle rather than when you’re standing in the pedals, it’s likely to be your saddle, or more specifically, where the saddle rails clamp into the brackets on the seat post.

This area is particularly prone to dirt and grit kicked up from your rear wheel, and bits of grime between the saddle rails and clamp can make noises.

FIX:
Firstly, make sure you mark exactly where the saddle rails are clamped into the seat post, so that you can replicate the position later: a slight change in the fore-aft of the saddle from what you’re used to can cause knee pain.

Now you need to clean not just the bolts around the saddle clamp, but also the saddle rails and cradles where the saddle rails sit. Once they’re all clean, give them a light grease, and reassemble!

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