5 Most Common Annoying Noises Bikes Make and What They Mean - Total Women's Cycling

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5 Most Common Annoying Noises Bikes Make and What They Mean

Bikes can make all sorts of humming noises - these are the most common complaints...

A silent bike is a fast bike – and let’s face it – a less annoying bike. There’s a wide range of noises that bikes can make and knowing what they mean can help you fix the problem and return to riding in peace. We’ve outlined the plethora of options here – but there are five really common complaints that present so often they’re well worth highlighting on their own.

For the definitive guide: Creaks, Clunks and Avoiding Catastrophes: Common Noises Bicycles Make and What They Mean

Here are the big five.. 

Rattles from the handlebars

A constant rattling from the handlebars very often means the headset is loose. You can confirm this by coming to a stop, holding on to the brakes and applying a forward pressure on the bike. The front end shouldn’t rock or judder – if it does, you’ve got your diagnosis: loose headset.

Fixing this is fairly simple. Loosen the stem bolts so that you can twist the bars easily from side to side, then tighten the top cap – this shouldn’t be super tight, use just enough force that you feel a slight bite. When you’re happy, check the wheel is completely straight and nip up the stem bolts. If you’d like a video guide, there’s a great one here. 

Test the headset by again applying the brakes and rocking forwards, you shouldn’t experience any movement.

If you find it’s not the headset, just double check any bottle cage bolts, pannier mounts and mudguard mounts are correctly tightened as these can create an absolute racket with just a little movement.

Clicks from near your feet

A tick, tick, click that seems to be coming from between your feet is likely to be the bottom bracket. This noise might initially only present itself when you’re loading the pedals, for example climbing, but over time it’ll get worse and more regular. News flash: it will not go away on its own.

A worn bottom bracket can be confirmed by getting off the bike, and wobbling the crank arms – they shouldn’t move, if they do, you need a new bottom bracket. Once upon a time nearly all bottom brackets were adjustable cup-and-cone affairs that could be removed, cleaned, regreased and refitted. These days most are fitted, will last for around a year, and then need replacing (frequency will vary depending upon style and how often you ride).

You can replace your own, but there’s a few different types – either ask a mechanic or check out the instruction manual for your style.

Swish, swish, swish rubbing

A constant swishy-swish-swish noise every time your wheel makes a revolution? Good news is you’re about to find riding a whole lot easier once you fix this, as the chances are your brakes are rubbing against the wheel rim.

Fixing this is generally a case of adjusting the brake calliper so that the wheel sits directly between the two pads (assuming you’re using calliper brakes). This should allow the wheel to spin freely. If not, then you’ll need to adjust the pads, which is easy to do following this guide.

If you find you don’t have rubbing brakes, another common ‘swish’ creator is a loose spoke – so check the tension by grabbing hold of two spokes at a time as you turn the wheel.

Clunks from the chain

If you’re mainly hearing clunking when changing gear, and the clunking is accompanied by an infuriating refusal to adopt the gear you’ve selected, then you probably need to index your gears so that the derallieurs feed the chain into the correct cog on the cassette or chainring. Check this guide for the front derailleur and this for the rear.

If the noise is more constant, it could be that the chain is rubbing against the front derailleur – in which case it still needs adjusting. Finally, if you can’t see evidence of either option, try giving the chain a really good scrub with a bike cleaning product, dry it down, and re-lube it – it could just be that you’ve let too much grit and dirt accumulate.

Clicks from the pedals

This one is personal. I once spent a week touring with my husband, it was great – except that he had this dodgy bearing in one of his pedals and it would go click, click, click with every pedal stroke. Man, that can get annoying when you’re going up a hill carrying 10kg of pannier luggage!

Pedals have bearings in, too – and eventually they get worn – this will happen more quickly if they’re frequently exposed to grit and moisture. Use this as an opportunity to treat yourself to some new pedals!

If it turns out the click isn’t in your pedals, it may also be in the wheel hub – in which case this might need servicing – check out this guide for more details. 

So – those are the top five major culprits. If you’re hearing something we’ve not mentioned, check out this guide for even more diagnosis options… 


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