Stopping your bike from squeaking

Illustration from the London Cyclist Handbook

A persistent squeak, creek or click can be a torturous experience for a cyclist. All bikes suffer from them, from time to time and they are a good wake up call that something isn’t quite right.

Today, I’ll be sharing part of the maintenance section of the new London Cyclist Handbook. Whilst there are cyclists out there that are really good with bike maintenance, there are many more that find it a bit fiddly and a bit of a pain. The “Lazy Cyclists Guide to Bicycle Maintenance” section is written with the latter in mind. It’ll share some great tips for making bicycle maintenance painless, as well as guide you through the most common repairs.

Anyway – enough with the self promoting and on to solving annoying squeaks..

Bike noises will generally fall in to two categories.

Creaks and ticking noises are caused as two surfaces, which haven’t been cleaned and lubricated in a while, come in contact with each other.

Deeper clunking and more worrying noises indicate a bigger problem. Often, this can be traced back to the bearings. They are either worn out or they require fresh lubrication.

Whichever category the noise falls into, one thing is clear: When you take your bike to the mechanic to demonstrate the problem, the noise will disappear.

So, let’s track these illusive noises down..

Saddle

Pedalling 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.

Seatpost

This is one of the components that should be regularly cleaned and lubricated. Pull the seatpost out of the bike frame, clean it thoroughly using bike degreaser both inside and out and then re-apply quality grease.

Seatpost clamp

This can also sometimes be the source of problems. Try doing some detective work. When the creak appears doesn’t it continue if you move off your saddle and rest your weight on your pedals?

The seatpost clamp should be a tight fit. Quick release seatposts are more prone to problems. For most London cyclists, replacing them with bolt seatpost clamps not only removes creaking issues, but it also makes life harder for thieves.

Bottom bracket

This is a little more complicated to remove, clean, re-grease and tighten. Of course, it is sods law that many bike squeaks can be traced back to here. Either get a bike shop to take a look at it, or consult with a bike maintenance manual.

Pedals

Loosen 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.

With the pedals removed, clean them 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 them, on the correct side, remember to firmly tighten.

If you are using cleats then these too should be cleaned and greased.

Chain

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 then replace it.

Brakes

If when you apply the brakes you hear a squealing sound, then you should clean your brake pads and rims.

You should also check the surface of the pads. A bit of sandpaper can help smooth up rough surfaces, but if they are worn too far, then it’s inexpensive to replace them and you’ll save yourself a costly wheel replacement.

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.

Wheels

If you are getting rattling noises while your wheels are turning, then check for loose spokes and nuts. Clean and apply a small amount of lubricant to spoke nipples and eyelets.

Remove the skewer, wipe it clean and apply grease.

If problems persist then it may be the hub bearings. Consult a bike shop.

Chainring bolts

Over time these can dry out and can cause noises as a result. Remove them, clean them thoroughly and put them back together, remembering to add grease.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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8 Responses to Stopping your bike from squeaking

  1. Mike 12/07/2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Thanks for the tips Andreas, nothing more annoying than a persistent, unexplained noise. I had an intermittent ticking noise which had me (and my local bike shop) totally baffled for weeks. I tried everything I could think of without any joy. Because the sound tends to transmit around the frame I couldn’t be sure where it was coming from, and it was nearly driving me insane on long rides. Eventually, after a chance reading of an article in a bike mag, I greased the joining surfaces between the pedals and crank arms (not the threads, but the side of the arm and the surface at the end of the thread on the pedal where the two components tighten up against each other) and problem solved! I make a point of greasing these surfaces well every few months now.

    • Andreas 12/07/2012 at 9:36 pm #

      Just goes to show quite how tricky these things can be to track down. Exactly as you said, the sound transmits through the frame so can be tough to trace. Sometimes its worth putting your ear to the saddle and trying to re-create the sound as you’ll get a clearer reproduction of it.

  2. Michael Aknum 13/07/2012 at 9:49 am #

    Kudos to the article! A great and concise collection, it helped a lot! My brakes where squeeking like crazy, the tip with the sandpaper fixed it immidietly, thanks again!

  3. barton 13/07/2012 at 2:34 pm #

    As I have a replacement seatpost on my bike (catastrophic failure on the original during a very rainy descent – good to know that I can unclip standing up and panicking though), it doesn’t fit quite as well as the original, leading to MUCH clicking/squeaking. The not-so-perfect fit of the seatpost also results in more gunk getting inside the bike (also exasperating the clicking/squeaking). I now remove the seatpost, clean and grease it at least every two weeks (about the same frequency I thoroughly clean my bike).

    Granted, this noise isn’t truly a problem, but I prefer to have a quiet bike and not announce my coming/going except by bell/voice.

    • Peter K 13/07/2012 at 7:17 pm #

      you should get a seat post that’s the right size, clamping around a too small one will damage your frame. there’s quite a number of different sizes.

  4. bfg67 15/07/2012 at 12:40 am #

    Great article

    See this post as well, from another excellent biking website: http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/keepitquiet.html

    • Andreas 01/08/2012 at 4:39 pm #

      Know about that site but hadn’t spotted the keep it quiet article – great resource!

  5. Mike H 17/07/2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Just as an aside, a few years ago I developed a squeak round the pedal area. It seemed to be every time i turned the right crank arm. But try as I could, I was never able to re-create the noise when off the bike. It was crazily frustrating and went on for about a week. Then that weekend I happened to buy new trainers and the squeak was gone! I couldn’t believe it. So I put on the old shoes again, and magically, the squeak was back. Closer inspection revealed it was actually my shoe rubbing against the crank arm! Doh!

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