How to fix bicycle making strange sounds / noises

Bicycle makes strange sounds

Updated: 17/02/2019.

This post deals with a topic that creates much headache to cyclists and mechanics. “My bicycle makes strange sounds”. So: what to do when a bike starts creaking, scratching, clicking, squealing or something similar?

In my experience, it’s necessary to first determine the source of the strange sounds (obviously). Once the source is pinpointed, solution is usually obvious – usually involves tightening something, lubricating, adding mounting (anti-seize) paste to a connection/bolt etc. But how to find out what’s making the noise? That is sometimes not as easy as it sounds (pun intended). Here I’ll explain the system I use when some noise seems very mysterious and source can’t be figured out.

TLDR: problems with “bicycle making strange sounds” are sometimes trivial, while sometimes frustrating. I tried to systematically process this subject, hoping it will help someone. All the details are in this article.

Contents:

  1. Connected parts – introduction
  2. When does the sound occur and what does it sound like?
    2.1. Sound occurs without pedalling, on a flat, good road
    2.2. Sound occurs only on rough terrain
    2.3. Sound occurs with any kind of pedalling
    2.4. Sound occurs only when pedalling with force
    2.5. One scenario at a time
  3. Testing without riding
  4. Testing by riding
  5. When all else fails


1. Connected parts – introduction

Fact: hollow bicycle frame tubes (whichever material it was made of) are perfect for transmitting sound! This needs to be stressed. A noise from the rear end of the bicycle can seem to be coming from the bottom bracket, or the front end when riding, because the tubes can transmit the sound all too well.

Bearing the afore mentioned in mind, now I’ll list the bicycle “part sets” in terms of noise making – which I use for eliminating probable sound causes one by one:

  • Wheels (front and rear separately) – spokes can make pinging sounds, tyres can rub the frame, bearings can be damaged and noisy.
  • Brake pads can rub on the rim, or discs, making rubbing, or squeaking sounds.
  • Fork – bad, or misadjusted headset bearings can create creaking, or clunking noises.
  • Shock absorbers, whether on the forks, rear wheel, or seatpost must be clean and lubricated, or they will squeak.
  • Stem and bars – if they aren’t tightened properly, or if no mounting paste was used, they can produce crunching noises.
  • Brake and shift levers (as well as brake calipers) can get loose and make all sorts of noises – especially on bumpy roads.
  • Cables and housings can scratch and hit the frame, especially when turning bars, or riding on rough terrain.
  • Seatpost can make creaking noises, especially when pedalling hard. Reason for that can be that it’s too short, too long, too narrow (improper size for the frame), or it just needs a bit of mounting paste coating before re-insertion.
  • Saddle can be not tightened enough to the seatpost and make creaking sounds. Or the top part of the saddle can get a bit loose from the rails it sits on, making squeaking sounds. Saddles with springs can squeal if the springs and their pivots are not lubricated.
  • Bottom bracket can be loose, or mounted without mounting paste, or press-fit BB that doesn’t fit tightly enough, or have some dirt in the bearings – cracking sounds usually, when pedalling hard.
  • Chainring bolts that are loose, or tightened without mounting paste, can make cracking noise.
  • Chain that isn’t lubricated enough makes a characteristic sound (known to most cyclists), while a dry chain squeaks.
  • Misadjusted derailleurs can cause the chain to rub derailleur cage, or make constant clicking noises while trying to skip from one sprocket to another, without ever making the gear change.
  • Any loose bolt, or a bolt tightened without a mounting paste, can make rattling, or creaking sound, especially if it holds something in place: water bottle cage, mudguard, rack etc. Sometimes the sounds happen only when pedalling under load (and the frame flexes).
  • Damaged (cracked) frame can make creaking sounds when under load.

I think I haven’t missed anything. Oh, I have – kickstand. Bell. Anything on the bike can make the noise. Even a shoelace hitting the crank when pedalling. 🙂 Seriously, don’t disregard anything. Rider clothes, bag contents – literally anything on the bicycle can make annoying noise with a source not easily determined by the rider. Share your experience in the comments section below and we’ll update the list together… indefinitely. 🙂 The “nicest” thing is that one noise source does not necessarily exclude the others: often several things on a bicycle are not right in the same time. Patience, experience and elimination…


2. When does the sound occur and what does it sound like?

This is often the most important info when finding “the culprit”, because it helps to narrow down the list of “suspects”. Depending on the kind of sound, you can determine which parts could be making it (chapter 1). Likewise, situation when the sound occurs (pedalling, just riding, bumps etc.) can also help determine the cause – as I’ll explain in this chapter.

Here experience and intuition are the most important, but I’ll list some typical examples just as a starting point if you don’t know where to start:

2.1. Sound occurs without pedalling, on a flat, good road

Drivetrain (chain, sprockets and derailleurs) can be excluded from the list. Also, frame, seatpost and hadnlebars, as well as shock absorbers are not very likely to be the cause.

Check if brake pads are rubbing the wheels and if wheels are rubbing the frame first, then check the wheel and fork bearings.

2.2. Sound occurs only on rough terrain

Primary suspects: shock absorbers, frame, seatpost. All the bolts. Then headset bearings.

2.3. Sound occurs with any kind of pedalling

Here, the key info is that even pedalling with little force makes the sound.

Creaking: if it’s present, then don’t exclude the frame, bolts, and seatpost. But since it’s present when pedalling with little force as well, I’d first look into bottom bracket bearings and pedals.

Any other sound: drivetrain (chain, derailleurs, chainrings…), or any part of rider’s clothing, or equipment (look from the feet up).

2.4. Sound occurs only when pedalling with force

Most probably it isn’t the wheel, or steerer bearings.

If the sound is creaking: check the frame and all the bolts (stem, rack, mudguards…). Then the seatpost (or start with it, since it’s easy to check and apply anti seize just in case).

Chain skipping sound: shifter cable passing under the bottom bracket has no guide, or it fell out of the guide (“ghost shifting”). Chain or chainrings are worn, due for replacement.

Rubbing, or squealing: check shock abosrbers, then brake pads, then the wheels – are they twisting/tilting (rear one usually).

2.5. One scenario at a time

Of course, several problems can occur at the same time and it is often best to try all the noted 4 scenarios in order to find each culprit when its activated. Noted scenarios are used to determine when and under which circumstances the sounds occur. In order to find the source, continue with procedure explained in the chapter 3:


3. Testing without riding

Since when riding wind can be tricky and hollow frame tubes can mislead the sound source, first tests are done stationary.

If the sound occurs without pedalling: sit on the bike, stationary, lean against a wall (have a friend helping if needed). Shift weight from pedals to the saddle and back. Move the bars left-right and push-pull them up-down by pulling the left bar up and pushing the left bar down, then reverse (they shouldn’t move, of course). Test one thing at the time, since it’s all about ellimination.

Then spin each wheel (bicycle is on a stand, or hand lifted off the ground).

If the sounds occur when pedalling: lift the bicycle, or place it on a stand. Turn the pedals and listen. Shift the gears to the lowest, then to the highest gear. Stop the rear wheel. Start turning the pedals by hand with force, while it’s in the highest gear and listen.

If these static tests reproduce the sound, you’re in luck – it is relatively easy to hear where it comes from that way. If not – then read chapter 4:


4. Testing by riding

Find a quiet spot. Have a friend with a “non-squeaky” bicycle ride beside you. Those hearing from a side are a lot more likely to determine the source of the sound. Rider is easily deceived by hollow frame tubes that transfer the sound! Of course, you can do on your own, it’s just a lot harder sometimes.

Simulate the scenario when sounds occur and listen, what else? 🙂


5. When all else fails

Sit down. Drink a glass of water (or beer) and try again. Be patient and calm. This can get frustrating at times – my “record” is two full working hours. Finally, if all else fails, it’s down to disassembling each bolt/bearing, cleaning, placing mounting paste (or grease for bearings) and tightening to proper torques. That’s the worst scenario, but the good thing is you can test ride after each reassembled part – perhaps the sound will disappear after the first, or second part overhauled – if you are lucky. Also, it is good to do a complete bicycle overhaul from time to time, so it’s not a wasted effort.

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