Cyclists consider their bicycle a friend, their partner, a loyal steed to carry them to unknown places on exciting adventures, or maybe just to work. Like any good companion, you can usually tell when something’s wrong.
It may start with a faint tick, squeak, or creak that turns into constant knocking or some other noise that quickly drives you crazy.
Where the heck is it coming?
Here are ten potential places to start looking to fix that creaking.
QR skewers and thru-axles
Disc brake bikes these days use thru-axles, and rim brake bikes use quick-release skewers. There are some exceptions for disc brake bikes between 2015 and 2018 with quick-release skewers, such as the S-Works Tarmac SL5 and Cannondale Supersix Evo and CAAD12.
Remove your skewers/thru-axles and give them a good look.
Are they black with goo and grease? Or perhaps dry as a bone and showing a few oxidized patches?
You can bring them back to life with a good scrub (dish soap and water are fine), dry them thoroughly, and apply a thin layer of grease to the rod and threads before reinstalling.
Cassette lock ring
Remove your rear wheel and check your lock ring.
Does it move?
Can you dislodge it with finger strength alone?
Even if you can’t, grab your cassette tool and remove it. Inspect the lock ring threads and the cassette for damage or dryness. Make sure they are clean, then add a speck of grease and reinstall.
Water bottle cage bolts
We tug on the water bottle in all directions to remove it and slam it back when we’re done as we try to hang onto the group. In the end, bottle cages take a lot of abuse.
That abuse travels through the cage down to the bolts, which loosens them over time. Maybe they just need to be tightened.
Unless it’s a custom build, most shops don’t take the time to grease cage bolts during the assembly process. Remove them to check, and a little dab of grease and tighten them up.
A 2Nm of torque is usually enough.
Pedals and cleats
Remove your pedals and examine the threads on the spindle and crankset. Clean them before applying fresh grease and reinstalling.
Cleats can be noisy too. Check the clears for wear. Usually, the side you unclip at the traffic lights will wear out much faster.
Remove the cleat bolts from your shoes and wipe them clean before adding a smear of new grease on the threads and reinstalling. Make sure to mark your cleat position on the shoe before removing it.
Don’t forget to check your bolts in a few days. They may need to be tightened to 4-5Nm using a torque wrench.
Saddle and seatpost clamp
Mark your saddle position with a pen or tape. Clean off any exposed surfaces before spreading a sparse amount of grease onto your saddle rails, the rail beds, and the threads of any bolts you can access in the clamp before reinstalling.
Are your rails made of carbon? Read the label on your grease before applying it to verify it’s carbon safe.
Make sure to torque the bolts to the manufacturer’s specifications. It’s usually printed next to the bolts.
The cups of your headset are installed in the frame by force, a perfect storm of metal on metal that is a common cause of the noise.
Check the cups too. Are you able to twist them in the frame with your fingers?
If so, this might be the source of your noise or the sign of a bigger problem that needs to be inspected by a qualified mechanic.
The last recourse is to remove the cups, clean around their outsides and inside the frame before adding a smear of grease and reinstalling.
Stem and handlebar
The stem and handlebar are a pair with plenty of metal-to-metal contacts.
Mark the precise location of the handlebars and stem before removing the stem’s end cap.
Clean all the surfaces and apply fresh grease on the threads before putting everything back in place. Tighten the end cap in a cross pattern in two or three passes.
The same goes for the pinch bolts on the steerer clamp. Secure each one little by little until tight. For best results, use a torque wrench set to the value shown by the bolt.
Internally routed cables have been around for a while now. Cables that hit each other or whack against the frame (inside or out) are common.
Use small strips of electrical tape spaced a few centimeters apart to hold the cables together. Wrap a bit around the portion of the housing that strikes the frame too to dampen any noise. Cable ties are another option, but to me, that’s one more thing to hit against the frame.
For internal cables, noises usually come from the entry and exit points. Give them each a jiggle to find your culprit. Once you’ve found the source, block up the entry with a small piece of foam or weather stripping, or follow this DIY method.
If those fail, internal hose dampening kits exist, but you’ll have to disconnect all your cables to install them.
Chainring bolts and spider
The bottom bracket isn’t the only spot down there susceptible to creaking. Think of the sweat, sticky hydration drinks, and moisture that drip down and work their way into your chainring bolts and spider as you hit those pedals.
Like bottom brackets, chainring bolts aren’t usually greased directly from the manufacturer. They leave it up to you.
Remove the bolts you can to free the chainrings. Some may be pressed or riveted onto the spider.
Clean and re-grease the chainrings and bolt threads. If loose chainring bolts are chronic on your bike, use Loctite on their threads.
The knocking sound from a bottom bracket in distress is a bother you’ll want to remedy as quickly as possible. Before removing it, check your crank bolt on both sides to make sure it’s tight, as this sound is similar to one caused by a problem bb.
If it’s tight and the noise is still there, remove the bottom bracket. Depending on your bike frame and model, you’ll need special tools.
Remove the bottom bracket, inspect the shell and threads for any damage. Clean the bearings thoroughly and apply a fresh layer of grease before reinstalling. For best results, use a torque wrench and tighten to manufacturer specifications.
If all of that doesn’t work, you may need some retaining compound that will slightly expand and take up any space between the bottom bracket shell and the frame that’s causing the irritating creak.
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