The over-enthusiastic cyclist

If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…

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Curing the creak

I sometimes think I’d be a happier cyclist if I was deaf. Despite some road safety issues, at least I wouldn’t be tortured by creaks, clicks and other unwelcome noises coming from my bikes. Some riders will happily ride a machine that sounds like farm machinery, but like most obsessive cyclists, I can’t enjoy the ride unless everything’s blissfully silent. (see rule #65 for confirmation of this).

It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to ride up and down hills on a dark winter evening, but my beloved Uncle John had been making such an awful noise every time I got out of the saddle that a night of creak catching was the only option. As any experienced bike fettler will tell you, every noise that sounds like it’s coming from the bottom bracket, as any noise gets transmitted through the frame. In reality it rarely actually is the bottom bracket at fault, so here’s the list that I worked through to bring my bike back into favour:

  • Chainring bolts: I’ve had this before on another bike and was initially convinced this would be the problem. I removed them, cleaned them, greased them and refitted. It didn’t help.
  • Rear quick release / dropouts: I once had an Orange Five that sounded like a supermarket clunker unless I lathered grease round the rear dropouts. It didn’t help with this bike though.
  • Derailleur hanger: A new one to me, but the cracking sound as I unscrewed it from the frame had me sure that I’d discovered the cause. I cleaned and greased both surfaces, but it didn’t help. 
  • Pedals: Usually produces more of a click than a creak, but worth taking out to clean and regrease. No joy this time though.
  • Rear wheel: Last summer I was convinced that my Boardman frame was about to snap in half, but a splodge of grease in the rear hub completely eliminated the noise. If you’ve got another rear wheel, swap it out and see if the noise goes. It didn’t cure this creak though. 
  • Seat post: Even when out of the saddle, the frame is still flexing against the post so it’s worth making sure it isn’t totally devoid of grease. Mine was, but it didn’t solve the problem.
  • Headset: Strange but true, but just like the seat post, the head tube and bearings are all part of the frame. I stripped mine, cleaned and greased it all then refitted it. Lightly grease the  stem/bars interface as well whilst you’re at it. It didn’t help me this time though. 
  • Bottom bracket: If it sounds like it’s coming from there you might as well check it! I didn’t and as it turned out, it wasn’t the problem anyway….

After each of these processes I emerged from the garage and rode up and down the road – that’s the only way to determine what the problem is. Each time my hopes were raised and then dashed as the familiar creak presented itself. It might have given my neighbours some entertainment though, especially when riding with no seat post.

Eventually, I put another front wheel in and the noise disappeared. I rushed back and put the original wheel back in. The noise was still gone.

So after all that, it was most likely a little bit of grit in the drop out or quick release. It’s amazing how much racket a minor problem like that can cause, but the difference is incredible. The feel of the bike is now restored, the confidence and inclination to get out of the saddle and put some power down has returned. It would be easy to get annoyed at having spent so long finding such a simple fault, but the blackened grime that was cleaned out of each part of the bike I tackled means that I’ve effectively given my bike a full service that I probably wouldn’t have got round to.

I just need to eliminate the creak from my legs now…

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