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Home » Cycling » The Sweet Sound of Silence:  The Art of Keeping (or making) Your Bicycle Quiet.  A Comprehensive List of Common Problems I’ve come Across…

The Sweet Sound of Silence:  The Art of Keeping (or making) Your Bicycle Quiet.  A Comprehensive List of Common Problems I’ve come Across…

June 2017

If you have an older bike, mine at 25 years old, 18, 9, 4, 4, and 3, you pretty much accept that there are small creaks and clicks that develop over time.  Still, nothing beats a quiet bike, and a creaky bike sucks!   Following are some of the things that make a good bike annoying…

  • Dirt in bottom bracket:  This causes a distinctive, random clicking sound in certain bottom brackets – simply take the crank out, clean the dirt out, lube it, and reinstall it.  My FSA crankset with a wavy washer was notorious for this problem (same crank, same problem on my wife’s bike).  The S-Works crank I have now is sealed up tighter than a frog’s butt so I don’t have problems anymore.

See the wavy washer? Dirt gets in there and makes noise

Tighter than a frog’s butt.

  • Loose headset:  Stem bolts and lock nuts will loosen up from time to time.  Tighten everything up and you’ll be good to go.
  • Loose chain ring bolts:  This is commonly the problem for that random clicking that I mentioned pertaining to the dirty bottom bracket/crank.  These do loosen up over time and the clicking can drive you mad trying to locate it…  This should be culprit number one when you have a click or creak that sounds like it’s coming from the bottom bracket.  Either tighten the bolts, or take them out, one at a time, and clean the threads, lube and reinstall them.

  • Spokes grooved:  Where the spokes cross over on the rear wheel (usually on the cassette side), over time the spokes can become grooved.  Take a small file or piece of sandpaper and get rid of the groove.  Lube at the intersection, between the spokes helps too..

You can see the grease on the intersection of the crossing spokes

  • Loose quick release skewer:  They should be tight, but not ridiculously tight where it becomes exceedingly difficult to operate the skewer lever.  You shouldn’t have to use the fork or chain stay for leverage to open the quick release, but you should have to put some muscle into it.
  • Loose brake bolt (torque wrench):  Loose brake bolts will make noise…  Always tighten with a torque wrench per the frame manufacturer’s specs!
  • Loose threadless stem:  Threadless stem bolts should be tightened once a week with a torque wrench.  They can loosen over time if the Loctite on the threads wears out.

  • Cable housings:  These can knock together and cause a noise but most people aren’t picky enough to require correcting this.  I did say most.  I am not most when it comes to the Venge.  If you happen to be that picky, you can pick these up at the local shop for cheap:

A cable spacer makes a happy me.

  • Loose/dead shifter springs.  Your shifters will rattle a bit every time you hit a bump.  Install new shifters or live with the noise….  Unless you’re running Campagnolo components.  I’ve heard they can be rebuilt.  I reserve the right to be wrong on that. 
  • Loose cassette:  This is a rarity, but worth remembering when you get a rattle you can’t track down.
  • Loose cone race/bearings:  You’ll feel this in the wheel if you give it a vigorous shake side to side.  Just remember, a certain amount of play isn’t bad – “loose is fast”.
  • Rubber grommets at certain wheel hubs:  These will make a weird “whooshing” sound….  A little light lube (Boeshield T-9 is what I use) will quiet that down.
  • Plastic spoke protector*:  This little piece of uselessness can be the cause of noise, rarely.  See below, and the photo above, of my cassette.
  • Reflector mounts*:  Loose reflector mounts.  See below, but tighten them up or replace them if necessary.
  • Loose derailleur mount:  This is a tricky one but not uncommon.  I’ve had a few friends derailed by the derailleur mount.  It’ll make some funky noises and it’s not easy to nail down.
  • Seat Post/Saddle Collar:  No matter how well you maintain your bike, you can develop a creak in the seat post or saddle collar at any time.  I maintain my Venge impeccably and mine started creaking wildly.  The problem here is that the more you care for your bike, the easier it is to overlook the seat post.  The creak will have no rhythm to it, it can creak whether in the saddle or out and no matter where you are in the pedal stroke….  Simply loosen your seat post clamp, work the seat post up and down a few times and tighten the clamp up again.  This one drove me nuts for more than a week.

    * If you didn’t know this already, fast, racer type people who only ride during daylight hours remove their reflectors.  Most cycling-specific clothing and shoes have enough reflective surfaces you don’t need more reflectors… besides, they add weight.  And they’re ugly.  Chuckle.  I don’t have one reflector on any of my… one, two, three…  Five bikes.  Riding without reflectors may be “illegal” where you live – and I would NEVER suggest flouting the law!  Me without my muff!  That said, do what you wish – I choose lights over reflectors when I ride near dusk (once a year).  If you feel reflectors will make you safe and more visible, definitely leave them on.  Now, the plastic spoke protector is a lawyer-required item.  They’re installed to protect shop owners and manufacturers from cyclists being stupid.  The sure mark of a noob is a plastic spoke protector still on the bike, behind the cassette.  I don’t have a spoke protector on any of my bikes because I know enough to not let my shifting get so far out of whack that the derailleur could shift the chain into the rear spokes.  If what I wrote just now makes your eyes glaze over because you have no idea what those words mean, leave your protector on.  You need it and we need to be able to identify you when you ride with us.  Call it a win/win.


    1. Brent says:

      I agree about reflectors — they’re useless. But I am concerned about being seen by cars. So I now ride in broad daylight with a front flashie (Specialized Stix rechargeable) and a rear flashie (Giant $20 special which runs a long time off AAA batteries) which I think helps people give me enough room on the road. I do all my training rides by myself so I’m probably less visible than a group of 6-8 people. I haven’t felt like a car has come too close since I started using it.

      The front flashie is nearly invisible when it’s not operating (small, lies flat against handlebar, right under the Garmin) so it doesn’t make me look too dorky and the rear is just below the saddlebag so it’s not particularly prominent either.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I use a rear blinky myself, a Serfas Thunderbolt. Good stuff, brother. Ride safe.

      • MJ Ray says:

        IMO people on group rides with blinkies are only slightly better than the nuts riding around with strobes on.

        And no battery light competes with the sun, so you’re wasting money and helping motorists become complacent, arguably endangering other cyclists and walkers.

        • bgddyjim says:

          Yeah, I disagree. Also, it depends where you put the blinkie. On the lower seat stay by the dropout works great in a group.

        • MJ Ray says:

          Lights at dropout level aren’t legal at night over here on non-vintage (post-1986) bikes. Lights have to be at least 350mm (about 14 inches) above the ground, so about halfway up the seat stay is as low as you go. Annoyingly, this means some reelight and magnic lights can’t be used on some folding bikes.

    2. MJ Ray says:

      Chainring bolts: after lubing with grease, do them up (not tight) and undo them, then reinstall them. That should ensure any grit gets moved out of the used bit of thread and you don’t get creaking soon. Also, don’t tighten adjacent bolts after each other. So on a 5 bolt ring, tighten in order 1-3-5-2-4.

      Don’t sand spokes. Don’t rub lots of small grooves into a bit of the bike that’s under tension. If you’ve let them go without lube long enough and slack enough to wear grooves, it’s probably spoke replacement time.

      • bgddyjim says:

        That “sand the groove” tip came from the owner of our local bike shop. I think he knows his stuff enough to trust him. I see your point though.

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