Besides the annoyance, squeaks are a warning sign – a plaintive cry for help as it were. A persistent squeak, creek or click can be a torturous experience. Many bikes suffer from them. However, they are a good warning sign that something needs your attention. Unfortunately, figuring out what that something is can be a pain. Especially as noises travel through a bicycle frame.
You can generally classify bike noises into two categories. Creaks and ticking noises are caused as two surfaces come in contact with each other. Often they make a noise as they haven’t been cleaned and lubricated in a while. Deeper clunking noises indicate a bigger problem. Often this can be traced back to bearings. They are either worn out or they require fresh lubrication.
Whichever category the noise falls into, one thing is clear: When you try to demonstrate the problem to someone else, the noise will disappear. Follow the suggestions in this guide to get your bike running relatively silently once more, with nothing but the sound of wheels gently cutting through the air to keep you company on your ride. Note: If you have carbon components then you’ll need to use a special lubricant and grease.
Seat and post
Pedaling related noises can sometimes be traced back to the saddle. The slight rocking movement as you move your bodyweight side to side, can create an irritating noise. You should note the position of your saddle on the rails and then loosen it, clean it and apply a small amount of lubricant along the contact points, but not so much that the saddle moves when tightened.
The seatpost is one of the components that should be regularly cleaned and lubricated. Pull the seatpost out of the bike frame, clean it thoroughly and then re-apply quality grease once it is completely dry. On a Brompton it is particularly important to keep the seat post clean so you don’t sink while riding. You should not put lubricant on a Brompton seat post.
The seatpost clamp can also sometimes be the source of problems. The clamp should be a tight fit, but don’t go too far as it could become damaged and crack the post or the frame. Quick release seatposts are more prone to issues – they should be tight enough to leave an impression on your palm, but not impossible to do up.
Remove the pedals one at a time. Note that each side has different threading. A counter clockwise turn on the right pedal will loosen it. Meanwhile, a clockwise turn is needed on the left pedal. By only taking one off at a time, you don’t get them mixed up. Clean each pedal and apply a thin coat of grease to the threads. You should also add grease to the crank arm threads. When you are re-installing the pedal, on the correct side, remember to firmly tighten. If you are using cleats, then these too should be cleaned and greased.
If when you apply the brakes you hear a squealing sound, then you should clean your brake pads and rims. Rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit) is perfect for this job, or you can get specific brake pad cleaner from your local bike shop. Start by applying some cleaner on both sides of the rim, as you spin it around slowly. Spin the wheel around and gently apply the brakes, which will get them cleaned. The horrible road muck will run off down the rims so you’ll need a rag to wipe it away.
You should also check the surface of the pads. A bit of sandpaper can help smooth up rough surfaces. If they are worn too far, then it’s inexpensive to replace them and you’ll save yourself a costly wheel replacement. This should also vastly improve your braking performance. V-brakes in particular can sometimes benefit from being toed in. This is where the front of the pad meets the rim before the back. Consider tweaking this if you are hearing squealing as you brake. Finally, check the brake cables and housing is clean and well lubricated.
If your chain is squeaking as it moves around, then it needs cleaning and oiling. Use degreaser to thoroughly clean the chain, allow it to dry and then apply either a wet or dry lubricant. If after a clean you can see the chain is rusted, replace it as soon as possible.
Over time chainring bolts can dry out and cause noises as a result. Remove them, clean them thoroughly and put them back together, remembering to add a small amount of grease and wiping away any excess.
If the gears are giving you a headache, adjust the cable tension or re-index the gears. Also, make sure the chain isn’t rubbing against the derailleur cage. There’s instruction on how to do this in our Derailleurs section of the Bike Doctor app.
A dry or rusted jockey wheel can frequently cause problems. Either lubricate it or, if problems persist, replace it.
Handlebars and headsets can also often be the source of knocking sounds. Check for play in them by following our bike safety check. If you can feel notches as you turn the bars, then the bearings are worn and will need replacing. Also, check that the bolts are tightened. However, be aware that this is a sensitive area of the bike and shouldn’t be over tightened.
The bottom bracket is a little complicated to remove, clean, re-grease and tighten. Of course, it is Sod’s law that many bike squeaks can be traced back to here. The Bike Doctor app has a section for this and we will be posting a full guide in a few weeks. If you have narrowed your squeak to the bottom bracket, consider taking your bike to the shop.
These steps are often completed while doing a safety check or a full clean and lube. However, it is good to know the areas most likely to cause funny noises. If you ignore these noises it can cause excessive wear on the bike and part and lead to it needing replacing. You definitely get to know what noises your bike makes which are of no consequence and which ones are a sign on something sinister.
What areas of your bike do you check first if you hear a funny noise? Do you have any quick tips for stopping things rubbing and clicking?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.