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Home » Cycling » Open Crank Surgery – A Creak Too Far… A Noob’s Guide to Bicycle Wrenching

Open Crank Surgery – A Creak Too Far… A Noob’s Guide to Bicycle Wrenching

June 2013
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The fear of the crank.

I’m all about doing minor adjustments on my road bike, but generally speaking I haven’t liked messing with the big things because in the end, I ride it too much to be okay with any down time in having to take it to the shop because I screwed something up. It’s come time to change this attitude and as I’ve become more comfortable with my bike, learned to seek guidance from my Bike Repair App, and watched the mechanics at the bike shop, I’m finding that it’s high time I grow up a little bit and start with the serious tinkering.

Last year I installed a new 30 tooth granny gear chain ring with the help of the owner of my local bike shop so I learned then that tinkering with the crank, at least a self-extracting Ultegra crank, is ridiculously easy – as long as certain steps are not missed. Well fast forward to about three weeks ago and I began to notice a clicking sound when I really got on the pedals. It developed into a mild creak before long and then morphed into a clacking sound every time the pedals went round under extreme watts (say anything over 400). Now let me make this very clear, under normal riding conditions there was no noise whatsoever and I’m not cranking out the big wattage all that often so this was a very fleeting problem at first, barely enough to raise a concern. In fact, it sounded like my recurring quill stem creak and at first I was led in that direction because it only occurred when climbing. The first day that I got the clacking sound I had a very good idea where I needed to look – it started in the middle of a 30 mile Saturday ride. The first sign (within a mile), I pulled over and got out my handy-dandy multi-tool from my bike bag and checked the chain ring bolts to make sure they were tight (there was one that took an eighth of a turn) so I hoped for the best and headed on. Within another mile I knew that this wasn’t going to be so easy.

On getting home, I pulled out the big gun Allen wrench (8mm) and went at the crank arm bolts… Sure enough, the left side was loose. Not much, but enough. Once that was tightened down I had a feeling I’d be re-addressing the issue. If I’ve learned one thing about bikes it’s that if I’ve got a metal on metal creak, click or clack, tightening alone will not solve the problem. The parts must be disassembled, cleaned, greased and put back together to really get rid of the noise. The noises are caused by stress between metal on metal parts. Still, I had hope and crossed fingers on my side – which, that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee (in other words hope and crossed fingers isn’t worth much).

Sure enough, the clicks started again last week on climbing hills – so I had a pretty good idea what needed to be done (I just didn’t want to do it). Well yesterday I pulled out my big-boy pull-ups and got to work. This post has been fairly descriptive (and verbose) thus far for a reason – first, if you recognize this problem but can’t figure it out, now you’ll have a new (and more likely) place to look. Second, these phantom clicks and clacks – if you’re a noob (like me), aren’t always easy to find and diagnose. At this point, if you find you have this problem, use the Bike Repair App to complete the repairs – it has a full photo guided, step-by-step tutorial for each step (in case I miss something) and it really is a simple fix that should only take about 10-15 minutes if you’re slow and deliberate like me. In the end it took me two hours though.

At first, it was just going to be the crank arms but once I got the crank arm off of the left and then the right (with the chain rings), I thought, “hey, I might as well do this right and clean the chain rings really good while I’ve got this off the bike”. Then I thought, “hey, while I’m at that, I might as well pull the chain rings apart and clean and lube the whole assembly”. Then I thought, “Jeez, it would be a shame to do all of that work just to put a dirty chain back on – I should clean the drivetrain too”. Then I thought… No, I’m just kidding – after cleaning the entire drivetrain I put everything back together:

Chain ring side removed

Chain ring side removed

See, a wee bit gnarly.  Not nasty, but can use some love.

See, a wee bit gnarly. Not nasty, but can use some love.

Disassembled - and CLEAN

Disassembled – and CLEAN

Lube threads liberally - the only time liberal is okay (just so you know)

Lube threads liberally – the only time liberal is okay (just so you know)

That's SHINY, baby!

That’s SHINY, baby!

Note:  The stamps on the chain rings line up - the small two on the back

Note: The stamps on the chain rings line up – the small two on the back

...and the big on the front (the pedal is down - the stamps are up) - THIS IS IMPORTANT

…and the big on the front (the pedal is down – the stamps are up) – THIS IS IMPORTANT

On to the stand...  I built mine - for like $7

On to the stand… I built mine – for like $7

...and Bob's your uncle.

…and Bob’s your uncle.

He's still your uncle.

He’s still your uncle.

Now, here’s the deal and it really isn’t that difficult. First, my Ultegra crank is what’s called “Self-Extracting”. You don’t need a puller to take this apart and put it back together (brilliant!) so I’m just going to stick with what I know so I don’t write something stupid and get caught by someone who really knows what they’re doing… Now, ready? Take off the first crank arm (may as well start with the one that doesn’t have the rings on it, eh?). Take off the dust cap, lube all of the threads and put everything back together. Now, make sure that the pedals line up properly before you start cranking this down please (!!!). Then do the other side. It’s that easy dude. 10-15 minutes if you take your time.

If you think I’m a little kooky about all of the cleaning (I do go to a rather extreme length to keep the chain and drivetrain clean – I degrease and clean the chain every 200-250 miles rather than every 350-400 as recommended and do crazy things as detailed above)… See that chain? It came on the bike and I’ve put 8,000 miles on it. On my last check two weeks ago, there was about 1/32 of an inch of stretch and it depends on the angle at which you look at the ruler (1/8″ is time to change the chain or 4 times my current measurement). It is suggested to replace a chain ever 2,000 to 5,000 kilometers – that’s 3,100 miles. Figure the normal mechanic’s suggestion to replace things about 25% sooner than necessary and you’re looking at about 5,000 miles – and I’ll easily get this full season in on that chain (figure around 11,000 miles on the chain?). A clean bike is a happy me.

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6 Comments

  1. kruzmeister says:

    I downloaded that app ages ago but haven’t been game enough to use it. However on today’s mtb ride I noticed my gears are not aligning when they shift (sorry don’t know the technicial jargon). I also noticed a creak coming from the vicinity of the crank, but not overly sure. It got pretty muddy out there today in the rain, but I have never hit anything large, so I’m wondering if tomorrow I should have a play with the app and my bike tool, or just put it in for a good service. It is well overdue.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Sounds like the derailleur needs to be index adjusted and there are a few of possibilities with the creaking… If it were me (and I didn’t know my way around the bike, I’d was it and take it in – but I’d make an appointment so I could watch the mechanic work on it – that’s how I learned A LOT, by watching the mechanics. The guides in the app help to not miss an important step. Good luck.

  2. bikevcar says:

    I like your DIY bike stand. Might have to do one myself (trust the design isn’t copyrighted!)

    • bgddyjim says:

      Sure isn’t. The base was simple, but tricky – it’s a friction fit 2-piece construction. Alternating blocks allow the main stem to slide in but stay upright. The fact that I can remove the base means a smaller footprint in the garage. 😉

  3. Another cool post. I want to take a bike maintainace course but time has not been on my side lately. I down loaded the app and it looks good. I will learn from those around me at the moment.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks man, and good luck. The app helps a ton, but like I wrote in an earlier response, I always hang out when the mechanics work on my bikes so I can see how they do what they do. Many shops may not allow this, but I ride with the owner and he’s a fantastic asset to our community – I’ve even worked with him on my bike before. Learned most of the really good stuff at the shop.

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