Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Noises, like ticking coming from somewhere on the bike can ruin even the nicest ride. First it’s annoying, then you wonder if it’s going to cause a bigger problem or worse, something’s going to break.
So, I fully understood when my friend told me to take his bike and not to give it back until I fixed its “tick, tick, tick.” I asked him to describe it and he told me he thought it was coming from the bottom bracket. He said it happened whether or not he was pedaling. And he said it didn’t start until he hit about 20mph.
In hindsight, I can say now that all the clues were there to solve the mystery straight away. But, I didn’t connect the dots at first and told him to leave the bike so I could try to find it through the process of elimination.
I’m going to explain what I did to find the noise and to silence it because you can use the same approach to find most annoying bicycle noises whether they’re ticks, clicks, creaks, squeaks or clunks.
First, I rode the bike to see if I could hear the ticking noise. If you can’t hear it, it’s much harder to find it. But, just like he said, it started at about 20mph and once ticking it kept ticking whether I pedaled or not.
Since he said he thought it was coming from the bottom bracket, I decided to test that theory even though I would expect a BB tick to do it at all speeds and only under pedaling pressure.
Following Clues and Checking Likely Suspects
A good test for ticks or clicks or clunks coming from the bottom bracket is, while standing next to a bike holding it by the saddle and bars, to put one pedal at 6 o’clock and then push down and sideways on it towards the bike with one foot. This loads that part of the bike like a pedal stroke does and if the noise is coming from the bottom bracket or crank area, it should make the bike tick. No dice, though. His bike was noiseless.
Next, because ticks and clicks can travel and sound like they’re coming from somewhere they’re not, I tried tugging on the seat and handlebars in both directions and put a little pressure on the brake levers (not enough to move them out of position). It’s pretty common for seatpost bolts and the seat clamping parts to make ticking or clicking noises. The same goes for handlebars and stems and brake levers where they’re touching the bars. But again, crickets.
Reevaluating and the Old Switcheroo
Going back to the drawing board and focusing on the need for the bike to be at speed for it to start ticking, I inspected the wheels. They’re the things that spin up to speed after all.
There’s a lot to bicycle wheels and it can be time-consuming to check every possible noisemaker, from every spoke and nipple, to the rims (they can crack at the nipple holes), to the hub components.
So, instead of checking all that, I switched out one wheel at a time for another (luckily I had a set of disc wheels that fit his bike). Since the ticking sounded like it was coming from the bottom bracket area I tried a different rear first. On the test ride the tick, tick, tick was still there. But, when I switched out the front wheel and hit 20mph, bingo, the sweet sound of silence!
Now that I knew the front wheel was the culprit, I went to work to find the ticker. Spokes often move as they pass under your body weight with each wheel revolution. This can produce a tick or click noise, which comes from where the spokes touch each other at the cross. Squeezing pairs of crossed spokes on his front wheel definitely produced ticking-type noises.
Confident I had found the issue, working slowly and carefully so as not to get any on his disc rotor, I applied a couple drops of lube to each cross all around both sides of the wheel. Then I squeezed the spoke pairs again to get the lube to spread and coat between the spokes.
While doing this, the spokes felt a bit loose to me. Loose spokes can also cause noises. So, I went around the wheel one more time, turning each spoke nipple a full turn.
Certain I had fixed the ticking, I took off down my driveway to hit 20mph ASAP and was disgusted after all that fussing with the spokes to still hear “tick, tick, tick.” I was so frustrated in fact, that I called my friend up and told him he needed to find a better mechanic.
But, he’d have none of it. He asked what I hadn’t checked yet. I thought about it and realized I hadn’t looked at the tires that closely. He runs sew-up tires that are glued on the rims, which usually stick fast and don’t move around or make noises. So I had assumed they were not the problem.
But talking about tires reminded me of one possible noisemaker I had neglected to check, the valve. With my friend still on the phone, I went back into the shop and tapped on the front valve with my finger to try to move it. When I did this, it was so loose in the rim’s valve hole that it moved sideways far enough to hit the edge of the rim and make the exact “tick” that had been driving us crazy. Over the phone, I heard “That’s it!”
And it made complete sense. When the bike traveled slowly, the wheels weren’t spinning fast enough to move the valve. But, at 20mph the rotational force built up enough to swing the valve making it hit the hard edge of the carbon rim and the ticking noise
The fix took about 30 seconds. I just cut a little X in a piece of electrical tape so that the valve would make its own hole and be held tightly in place when I pulled the tape over it and stuck it to the rim. You can see this in the photo. It was just for the test ride to make 100% sure it would once and for all shut up the ticking, which it did.
After that I made a prettier version carefully cutting the tape so as to be less conspicuous. I made one for the rear valve, too, just in case.
Since that day I finally figured out how to fix that ticking noise, I have done a little searching and discovered that the innovative Italian company Effetto Mariposa, actually makes the “Shelter Wheel Kit – 35 Pre-Cut valve silencing / wheel balancing discs.” Here’s a link to it on Cantitoe Road.
Other Valve Issues
If you have valves that are threaded to take valve nuts, these valves and nuts can make noise if they’re loose. Usually it’s a rattle noise rather than a tick or click. The fix is as easy as snugging up the nuts so nothing can loosen and rattle. Only tighten them by hand. If you use a wrench you might not be able to get the tube out to fix a flat on the road.
The bike I was working on had glued on tires. Most bicycles have relatively easily removed tires. On these you can fix ticking valve issues by removing the tire and tube and putting something around the valve so that it fits tightly in the valve hole and can’t move and make noise.
One wrap of electrical or plumber’s tape will do the trick. I’ve also heard of people using silicone caulk, but you only need a small amount. Again, you don’t need to do these hacks if your valves can be tightened in place with valve nuts.
If you’re trying to shut up a noisy bike, I wrote a massive article on finding and fixing all types of bicycle noises on my personal bike website.
Ride total: 9,604
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.