The Case of the Creaky Bicycle
Your bike has developed some odd noises. Maybe it has always emitted odd sounds, but now they’ve worsened. There are no easy answers when locating the creaky culprit, but there are common places to look. We are going to go through a step by step process to eliminate any creaky noises.
Bolts are a good place to start. Metal on metal threads can be noisy if not adequately greased. Weather and time can dissipate grease and thread locking compounds and noises that develop thereafter are entirely normal, albeit dreadful. Do your best to locate the guilty bolt or bolts and go about removing them. If by removing certain bolts causes components to be moved out of correct alignment then take note of their position so that upon reinstallation, the bike will be as you last rode it. Measurements of saddle height and handlebar angle are the most common components needing this extra step. Once you’ve got those bolts out, clean them off with a rag and isopropyl alcohol or a basic degreasing solution. Simple Green is cheap and effective. A small dab of grease to the threads will suffice. There is such a thing as too much grease. Grease takes up space and excessive gobs of the stuff will attract dirt and dust and can lead to trouble down the road. Reinstall those bolts and torque them down to spec. Replace them entirely if they are rusty or pitted.
Saddle rails and bolts are the second suspects. Measure your saddle from the nose to the center of your handlebars. Jot this down for reinstallation. Remove the saddle from the clamp. Clean the rails and clamp, and apply a light lubricant, Tri Flo works wonders to the bolt and clamp cradles. Consider lubing the junction where the rail enters the saddle’s shell. Remember not too much grease again, this can attract dust and grime. Reinstall the saddle.
Take a quick look at your wheels. Check your quick release skewers. See that both your wheels are firmly clamped to the drop outs.
In all likelihood your bottom bracket/cranks/pedals is where your noises are coming from. The power you translate into forward motion on your bicycle is first pushed through the pedals, then cranks and finally the bottom bracket. Pull off those pedals and remember the left pedal is reverse threaded and labeled separately. Clean the threads and grease them for reinstallation later. Remove your cranks with the specific tools called a crank arm puller. Remove the bottom bracket (BB). Inspect the threads in the BB shell and clean the inside thoroughly. Use a wire brush if the threads are steel. Apply grease to the internal threads of the BB and the threads of your BB cups (this applies to standard threaded BB’s only). This might be a good time to determine if your BB cups/bearings are still usable or require replacement. Reinstall the BB if it is still fit for use. Remove the chainring bolts from your cranks, and wipe them off with some degreaser. Dab the threads in grease and reinstall the chainrings to the crank arm making sure to align them correctly. Typically there are markings to note proper orientation of the rings. Older systems might not have these, nor require a specific orientation upon installation. When torqueing the bolts down do so gradually in a crisscross pattern. Do not simply torque each bolt in a circle. The chainring can sit irregularly on the crank arm spider and alter shifting and performance. Reinstall the crank arms and apply grease to the spindle if splined. There is some debate as to whether greasing a square taper BB spindle is a good idea. I am in the camp that heeds the possibility of over tightening the crank arm due to the grease allowing the crank to press on further than it was designed to.
Determine whether the pedal bearings are within usable parameters. Replace or adjust as necessary. Reinstall with fresh grease. Get them on tight.
If you have a rear derailleur clean your jockey wheels. They get dirty and dry and can affect not only performance, but make a lot of noise. If they are dry they might require removal from the rear derailleur and disassembly for cleaning and greasing. Clean your chain. Apply chain lube and wipe off the excess.
Check the bolts on your stem. When riding lots of torque is applied to your handlebars and that torque has to make its way through your stem. Grease the stem bolts and install in a star, or back and forth pattern.
Is your chain rubbing the front derailleur cage? That is an easy fix. Either make an adjustment to the front derailleur itself or adjust its position using your shift lever.
If you’re bike is still making noise there are a number of other places to check. Creaks, clicks and noises can be hard to pinpoint. Inspect your frame for cracks or other damage. Hopefully it is not the case that your frame is flat out broken, but it happens. When all options have been exhausted, there is only one thing left to do. Ride fast enough so that all you can hear is the wind rushing past your ears.