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The Answer to a Bicycle’s Minor Clicks, Creaks, and Rattles…

In all seriousness, there’s nothing worse than a creaking, clicking, rattling bike, unless it’s old and the rider doesn’t care.  A cyclist does care, and therefore is mortified riding a bike that develops a creak or a click.  They happen, of course, especially when riding in the rain, and there’s nothing to be done (usually) until we get back.  Now, there’s a shotgun bazooka approach to this that I’ll cover later, but for now, I want to cover some of the things I’ve come up against.

Clicking crank:  In certain cranks, I’m looking at you FSA with your wavy washers, they tend to collect a little grime and road gunk in between the crank arm and the cups or at the spindles.  This will produce a clicking sound that has no rhythm to it, and you’ll be able to tell the clicking is coming from the bottom bracket.  Let it go long enough and you’ll feel the click in your pedals.  It’ll most likely start quiet and will be barely perceptible at first, but it’ll get worse over time.  Remove your crank, clean it and the bottom bracket bearings, lube everything properly and reassemble the crank.

Not all cranks are created equal:

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The Specialized S-Works Crank – one of the simplest, best cranks available today.  Simple, and not noisy.

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The Shimano RS500 (See also, darn-near the full line of Shimano cranks); Simple, and it works… quietly, though it must be installed correctly, and hopefully without the wavy washer.  If you need the wavy washer, throw all of that stuff about quiet in the garbage.  The flaw is the wavy washer as they allow dirt into places you don’t want dirt.

Creaking crank:  In my case, the cause of this was a loose crank bolt that I accidentally didn’t tighten down enough after cleaning out the clicking crank above.  Once I tightened it down to the specified torque, problem solved.

The Shimano Flaw – RS500 (and Up) Crank Line:  There is a flaw in the Shimano crank line that you have to watch for.  First, make sure you’ve got the shim properly located on the left crank arm.  Then, make sure you torque the left crank arm bolts properly (12-14 Nm if memory serves).  Finally, the center cap bolt, that doesn’t get cranked down.  Too tight and the system will creak.  Too loose, it’ll creak.  It’s treated a lot like the stem cap when tightening down a headset.  Finally, the bolts used to pinch the left crank arm to the spindle are notoriously soft – they are soft because it’s better to strip a bolt than the crank arm.  Be careful with those bolts.

Thudding Threadless Headset:  If you go for the loosest possible pressure on the headset when tightening down the stem cap, you can leave it loose enough that you won’t feel it with the rocking test, but you’ll feel it and hear it when you hit a decent bump on the road, say those annoying stress cracks in asphalt roads.  More important, you won’t feel it when you hit the brakes, a thump that’s the obvious sign of a loose headset…  This one is a bit pernicious.  To fix this, loosen the stem and the stem cap.  Try to keep the wheel and the stem lined up, and tighten the stem cap like you normally would, then keep going.  Give it a good quarter-turn and check the operation of the steering.  Is it slower and more labored than normal?  Back it off that quarter-turn and tighten the stem bolts.  If the steering isn’t grabbing a little bit, tighten the stem cap another quarter-turn until the steering is obviously too tight – then back the stem cap bolt off a quarter-turn until the steering moves freely.  Then tighten the stem bolts, and Bob’s your uncle.

Creaking Quill Stem Headset (Threaded):  My 5200 has a threaded headset has an old quill stem.  While its simplicity is quite awesome, dear GOD is it creaky when it’s not clean and properly lubed.  With the quill stem lube job, this will be the only instance in which I recommend anyone be liberal with anything.  When cleaning a quill stem headset because it’s creaking, clean it very well and liberally apply lube to the metal on metal parts and put everything back together.  You should be good, at that point.

Loose Chainring Bolts:  Chain ring bolts are an interesting little piece of the clicking/ticking puzzle.  You’ll wonder how they could possibly loosen, but they do, so if you hear a clicking from the bottom bracket area that isn’t dirt in the crank, the chainring bolts is where to start.  If they’re loose, take them out, one by one, clean them, lube them and reinstall them.  Lubing the threads will give you a better “tight” on the bolt when it’s tightened.  Tight on dry bolts often give a false tight and will creak after a couple of hours of quiet.  Always lube bolt threads unless a manufacturer recommends against that, for some crazy, unforeseen, unknowable reason.

Loose Seat Post Collar:  The seat post collar bolt should be tightened (to the proper torque recommended by the manufacturer) every week.  These bolts will come loose over time and the creak will drive you up a wall looking for it.

Seat Post Phantom Creak:  This is almost like the loose seat post collar but much harder to find… especially if you regularly tighten the collar bolt – had this happen to me once, I was ready to throw my Venge in the ditch and walk away down in Kentucky.  I threw the kitchen sink at this problem and still couldn’t find it.  Just as a fluke, I loosened the seat post collar and worked the seat post up and down a bit before tightening the bolts back up (this should go without saying, make sure the saddle height is right before tightening everything back down).  The next ride, and every ride since, has been silent.  Sometimes you just have to work the carbon paste around a bit.

Grime/Sweat/Gnarliness in the Shifter Cable Guide (under the bottom bracket for exterior routed cables):  This one can cause all kinds of trouble because that bottom bracket area is exposed to a lot of road garbage, drips of sports drink from water bottles, sweat that runs down the bike… all kinds of nasty stuff.  Keep the guide clean or it’ll affect your shifting if it gets bad enough.

Rattling Cables:  They make cable keepers that’ll hold your cables apart so they won’t rattle.  Use ’em, it’s better than a rattling bike.

Clicking Loose Derailleur Hanger:  This is a rare one, but it does happen.  You’ll hear a click in the rear of the bike and it probably won’t have much rhyme or reason to it.  Always good to check the bolts a couple of times a year when cleaning the bike.

Clicking Wheel/Cassette/Cassette Hub Body:  Clean out the wheel – and hope you have sealed cartridge bearings in your wheels.  The loose bearing wheels aren’t all that bad, but sealed cartridge bearings are the cat’s pajamas.  Simply take the hub apart, clean everything, lube the important connection points and put everything back together.  Your wheel should be quiet again.

Clicking Spoke Junctions:  Over time where spokes cross, usually only on the rear wheels nowadays as most front wheels have gone to radial,  they can develop a notch because the spokes load and unload.  It’ll be a pernicious little click and it’ll be hard to pinpoint.  Now, what we do to find out if we even have a problem in the first place, is we pinch the intersecting spokes to see if they’ve developed a groove.  Then, the easiest way to really know if this is your problem is to take a piece of paper and put it in between the spokes where they cross.  Ride the bike, if the noise is gone, you’ve found your problem.  Take a flat file (or better, use sandpaper) and, ever so slightly, file or sand the groove out of the spoke.  Then take a little dollop of lube and get in between the spokes.  That’ll fix the problem.  Obviously, don’t take too much off of the spoke.  You don’t want to find out the hard way, at 40 mph, that you did.

Now, with those out of the way, I promised you a bazooka method to fixing creaks and clicks in your bike.  Well, here you go:

The Bazooka Method to curing a bike’s creaks, clicks and rattles:

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Rebuild the whole flippin’ bike from the ground up.  The only original parts on that bike are the frame, fork, brake calipers and chain ring bolts.  Seriously, that’s it.  Everything else is new.  That 1999 Trek is as quiet as my immaculate 2013 Specialized Venge.

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