The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: The Godforsaken Unfindable Bicycle “Click”. How to Find It (BY Throwing the Kitchen Sink at It).
Let me start by giving away the ending to this post: I was absolutely wrong about the initial three causes and it was pure luck that I actually found the cause of my click in the end…
My problems began about a week and a half ago. I developed a “click” in my Venge, located somewhere in the vicinity of the bottom bracket. At first the click only appeared “under pressure” or when I was pedaling hard, and it grew progressively worse and more annoying. There was no rhyme or reason to the click… it didn’t happen at set intervals or a specific time in the pedal stroke.
I was certain it was dirt in the bottom bracket – even though my bottom bracket, with the most advanced crankset available for my particular bike, is sealed up just slightly less tight than a frog’s butt. The owner of the local shop had other ideas. Due to a flaw in the installation of my crankset, there is no removing said crank without drilling the bolt that holds the everything together – I am riding the bike till the bottom bracket bearings fail before we attempt to drill the bolt out to save the crankset… It’s a long story and I didn’t make much of a big deal about it, nor will I. It’ll be fixed soon enough. The point is, it’s not as simple as “just take the crank apart and clean it”. I can’t.
I started out with the easiest cause of “phantom clicks”, the spokes. Where the spokes overlap, over time they develop grooves that, when under pressure, will click. I found two sets of spokes that were bad so I put pieces of paper in between them to see if that would quiet the click. At first that worked. The click came back after 30 miles over two days.
Next I moved to the free hub. I’d noticed a while back that two of the teeth were sticking in the free hub the last time I had it apart. My thinking was, if they’re not fully engaging, that could lead to a random click. I took the hub apart, checked the sealed bearings, cleaned and lubed everything (two of the teeth were sticky when I took the free hub off of the wheel) and put it back together. The click went away. For 17 of 30 miles. The last 13 drove me nuts.
Next I checked the seat collet (the bolt-on apparatus that holds the saddle to the seat post). There was a little click in the saddle when I tugged rigorously on it. I took that apart, cleaned and lubed everything and put the rear wheel from my rain bike on the Venge. This was just before we went down to Kentucky for the Horsey Hundred over the weekend…. Wednesday’s easy ride was quiet. Mercifully quiet, so I was sure the problem was in the rear wheel. I tinkered with the spokes again, removed the free hub one more time and used a different lube and gave it a go on Thursday (we were leaving for Kentucky on Friday and I didn’t want to put the heavier wheels on the Venge – the hills are hard enough). Absolutely quiet, and that ride was a 19 mph average so I was into the gas a little bit… I was ecstatic.
Friday was a day off, driving to Kentucky (just shy of six hours from my house as a straight shot). Saturday, certain I’d taken care of the problem, and with my good wheels on my good bike, we took off. The first 60 of 104 miles were glorious and silent. Then, on a particularly hard and off balance pedal stroke, the clicking came back with a vengeance. My bike was clicking so much I though about tossing it into the woods and walking away a few times. I was riding with Mrs. Bgddy though, so I’d shoot ahead and try a new thing, then race to catch her again. First I put bits of paper between each overlapping spoke. Clicking. Then I checked the saddle again. Nothing. Then I had one of the shop mechanics check it at a rest stop. Nothing, “But if you can leave it here for two days I’m sure I can find it”. He was kidding, of course, and I got the joke. I resigned myself to riding with the click. It drove me up a wall… I stopped to check the front quick release, then the rear. I tightened each. I’d go for five miles of clicking, then silent for two. Three miles of clicking, silent for one…
When we got back to the hotel, after a shower and some food, I tore my rear wheel apart, cleared all of the paper from between the spokes, cleaned the free hub, then on a fluke, just to make sure I didn’t skip anything, I loosened the seat post collar and moved the seat post up and down several times. I removed it, looked for any debris other than the carbon paste that was on it, installed it to the proper height (I know exactly where it goes – not close, not almost, exactly).
The next morning I rode 52 hard miles without a sound. The seat post. Yesterday’s ride, 40 miles up front for all but a handful of miles and into the power often, absolutely silent and back to my favorite bike again.
Now, before you get too cocky and go off on an “I could have told you so” rant, I check the bolts on the seat post clamp with a torque wrench once a week as a part of my regular maintenance on my bikes. The seat post never moved, slipped, dropped, and the bolts never loosened…. So I was under the impression that everything was okay with the seat post – heck, with the exception of lowering it early last year and pulling it at the end of last season for yearly cleaning, the seat post hasn’t been touched. How it could develop a click as annoying as the one I’d had is beyond me, but it did. And I’d skipped over the seat post in favor of more obvious candidates because I take such good care of the post in the first place! I won’t be one of those with a fused seat post, let’s just put it that way.
Alas, the problem was the seat post – and the point is, if you develop a click in your bike, don’t do like I did and skip something that you regularly maintain because you regularly maintain it. I went through a week and a half of annoyance because I skipped the saddle post on day one – and that’s the first thing I thought to check. DOH!