Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Few things ruin a ride faster than annoying ticking, clicking, creaking or squeaking noises. At first you might barely notice. Then it happens again and again, and soon it’s the only thing you can think about.
Noises frustrate cyclists so much that I’ve been on a mission for some time now to compile a list of noise-makers and solutions for them on my personal bike website. I published the story (photo) around 2000 and since then readers have been sending me their noises and fixes. Every time a new one comes in, I update the document.
Here’s the link in case you have a noise you’re trying to shut up or you have a great noise story to share: https://jimlangley.net/wrench/keepitquiet.html .
You Need to be Sherlock Holmes
The reason noises are on my mind is because of a couple of recent ones that were especially challenging to solve. Both cyclists tried every logical fix yet the solution eluded them. When they finally fixed it, they told their stories to me.
Paul’s Clicking Vintage GT ZR 2.0 Road Bike
Paul shared his tale in a comment to my recent YouTube video on 6 common wheel noises (I told you noises were on my mind). I’ve included that video below in case your wheels are bugging you.
“Early this past summer I bought a 2001 GT ZR 2.0 road bike from an individual. He had back issues that had made riding it uncomfortable. The back problems predated his purchasing of the bike new, so it had hung in his storage shed for most of the years that had passed. He told me when I was looking to buy it that he doubted he had even 250 miles on it.
Shortly after I bought it I began to get intermittent clicking sounds during my rides, appearing to occur during the left downward pedal stroke. I removed the bottom bracket, cleaned threads, the shell, lubed and re-assembled, torqued it to the appropriate setting. At first that seemed to resolve the problem. Later in the next ride the clicking came back.
I thought I heard it coming from the front quick release–it’s one of the newer designs with the aluminum cam and plastic washer head. I lubed it, and thought for several miles that I got it. Nope.
I had removed the chain shortly after I bought it for a good cleaning. I didn’t think to add a quick-link, and found the chain had stiff links where I attached it again, as well as one other place that must have been there when I bought the bike. Shifting improved, and for a mile or two the ticking, clicking, creaking disappeared.
I noticed when I torqued the handlebars while honking up a hill the noise was loud and clearly coming from the steering tube and stem area. I serviced the bearings, races, cleaned and lubed the steering tube, stem, and spacer. I even applied retaining fluid to where the stem clamp held onto the handlebars. This had to finally be it, I was sure, because when I honked on the pedals after that, torqued on those bars, no more noise! But still during the ride: click, click, click, creak, and louder yet.
One day, I had the bike cross-wise in front of me, my left hand on the seat, my right on the handlebars. I put my right foot onto the pedal and put all my weight on it. It creaked! But there was nothing more I could do in the bottom bracket and crank–it was perfectly lubed, set, torqued…so I did it again, and again, and then it occurred to me that the noise was further back…and higher up. I took the saddle in both my hands and twisted. I got the loudest click and creak ever. The saddle, I thought!
I removed the saddle, drizzled 3-in-One oil between the rails and the shell sockets. I twisted the saddle and…it still creaked! Argh! How could this be? There was nothing left to look at.
Paul Finds the Problem!
As I brought my ears closer to the saddle while torquing it, I came to realize the sound was not coming from the saddle, but from the seat post, specifically around the pinch bolt clamp. I removed the seat post, cleaned the darkened grease from its length, applied a molybdenum anti-seize paste along the post length that I knew would be inside the seat tube, cinched it down, and twisted the saddle again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I went for a spin. Nothing. And every subsequent ride since then…nothing. Whisper quiet, every ride.
The front QR, the bottom bracket, the crank arms, the play in the saddle’s rails, the steering tube, the headset, the stem clamp, the stiff chain links: all contributed to some noise during my rides. The loudest protester, though, the ring leaders that strove to lead me to wanting to drink, was the post rubbing against the pinch bolt clamp and moving around inside the seat tube. And it only took me a month and a half to solve this mystery. May you all fare better than I did when it happens to you.”
Thanks for the great write-up and congrats on finding and fixing it, Paul!
Steve’s Chirping Bike
The email thread on this puzzling noise between me and my friend Steve lasted almost two months. Here’s his first message describing the problem in great detail,
“I’m having a problem with my Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub on my commuting bike.
There is a “chirping” sound coming from the rear wheel for about the last 1,000 miles. It’s not a terrible thing, but it is annoying and I’d like to figure it out. So… I’m reaching out to my experts!
These are the properties of this sound:
- It is only heard when I am on the bike and riding, not when it’s up on a stand.
- It occurs once per wheel revolution.
- The sound actually comprises two extremely short chirps; the first is higher in pitch than the second.
- The pitch of the sound is independent of road speed (ie, it does not increase with speed).
- Pedaling or coasting makes no difference.
- Changing gears has no effect, either pedaling or coasting.
- The rear wheel was removed and lack of fender interference verified.
- The sound is unaffected by wet conditions (rain vs. dry).
- The chain was replaced (new wheel position) to no effect.
- Spoke tensions checked; all proper, and wheel runs true.
- The sound occurs independent of brake function. Rear brake cable was disengaged and shoes allowed to hang well out of contact with rim. No change.
- The hub performs normally; oil has been changed twice. Total mileage is approaching 10,000 miles. There is no play in the hub bearings. Hub has never been opened.
Here is the interesting thing: increasing the tire pressure eliminates the sound. When I got home from work today, I checked the tire pressure. It was about 15 PSI below what I normally run, which is 60 PSI (Schwalbe Marathon Plus). I pumped the rear tire to 60 PSI and went for a ride: no sound. I have noticed this change on other occasions.
The simplest explanation would be that the tire has a spot that is touching something on the fender, frame or brakes. Yet I have checked every possible interference and found none. I’d expect a sound caused by this mechanism to be altered by the presence of water, or to have disappeared by wear over the roughly one thousand miles, or altered by changing the position of the wheel with a new chain. Also, I’d expect increased tire pressure to increase the tire’s overall size, making any interference worse, yet the opposite seems to be the case.
I’ve considered other, stranger, possibilities such as a loose spoke or a cracked rim. If the sound comes from inside the hub, it can’t involve the gear assemblies… and how could increasing tire pressure affect the hub? I know that spoke tension varies with inflation pressure.
Any suggestions will be gratefully received and tested. Thanks!”
I sent Steve down numerous rabbit holes trying to help him stop the noise. But nothing worked – sorry, buddy!
Steve’s not one to give up though. And he finally discovered what was making the noise on his own. It turned out that it was definitely caused by drops in tire pressure.
And the culprit was a problem with the tire. Steve found the issue when he removed the tires and carefully inspected them. The tires have wire beads (metal is inside the rubber). At one small spot the rubber covering the metal had worn away. And at the “right” tire pressure the exposed metal in the tire came in contact with the metal rim producing the annoying chirping sound!
Bravo, Steve, well done!
My Wheel Noises Video
Here’s my latest YouTube feature I mentioned that shows 6 common wheel noises and how to deal with them – just in case your hoops are sounding off.
If you have an interesting bike noise you found and fixed, please share it in a comment. New noise-makers occur all the time and your fix just might rescue a fellow roadie.
10,158 Daily Rides in a Row
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 cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.