Diagnose and fix bike noises
There's nothing worse than a bike that isn't playing your game, and sometimes noisy, creaky, clunky bikes just make you want to give up and chuck it. But don't!
Noises coming from your bike can be a sign of a problem that will only become worse, and potentially more expensive or dangerous, if left to linger.
We've taken a look at some of the common noises bikes make, and how to fix them...
Noises from the Wheel
Wheel noises can be caused by the wheel rubbing, or by a problem with the actual wheel. It may be constant, or you might only notice it when you stop pedaling and freewheel.
Diagnose the noise your bike is making
Constant whir and heavy pedaling could be the wheel not spinning freely: This could damage the wheel if it becomes worn, and will play havoc with your average speed. Simply spin the wheel, if it doesn't turn more than once, it's dragging on something.
The wheel may be sitting crookedly - in which case remove it, and put it back in straight
- Rim brakes or disc brake pads could be off-centre, causing the rim or rotar to catch on the brake, in which case adjust your brakes. Leaving this to continue could result in rim wear
- If you have rim brakes, the brake could be rubbing on the tyre - in which case the brake needs adjusting so that it sits over the rim. Rubbing on the tyre, over time, can cause a "blow out" (sudden puncture) and ruin the tyre
A 'bump' noise and feel every time the wheel spins a full revolution could mean it's not spinning straight: Your wheel should run in a straight line when you spin it. If it's not...
- Start by checking the tyre for bulges. If there is an obvious area that is bulging, deflate it, refit the tyre, and see if this fixes it when in inflated. If the problem area is still there, you may need a new tyre.
- If the tyre is fine, but the wheel itself is not running straight, it's probably out of true - and will need adjustment at your local workshop.
Constant clicking from the wheel that you can hear whenever the wheel is spinning: Wheel hubs contain bearings and these can become worn over time. If this is the case, you may notice that when you spin the wheel, it feels gritty and grainy. A trip to a local bike shop may be in order, though some hubs can be serviced at home with a few tools.
Whobbly wheel: Make sure your wheel is actually sitting tight in the frame - give the quick release skewer a little push - it shouldn't budge. If it does, this needs tightening.
Noises from the Drivetrain
Noises coming from the drivetrain are very common, and could have a number of causes.
Diagnose the noise your bike is making
Constant grinding noise could be chain rubbing the front derailleur: If you're chain is rubbing on the front derailleur then the noise will be constant as long as you're in the big chainring. Jump off the bike and spin the pedal, if this is the cause you'll see the chain very close to the piece of metal that shifts it between chianrings.
Either the front derailleur needs adjusting, in which case follow this guide, or by your derailleur is bent. This will be apparent by eye - you can bend it back yourself, but be very, very gentle- and if you're at all concerned, ask your local workshop for help.
Clunking when changing gears could be rear gears in need of indexing: This noise will become familiar once you're used it it - it will only happen when you try to shift, and will be a series of clunks and winges from the chain, which will probably then fail to move into the next gear as requested - in this case, the rear derailleur needs adjusting.
Clattering could be a loose cassette: If this is the case, you'll notice a clattering when you ride over uneven surfaces. This is easy to spot - grab hold of the cassette, and wiggle the cogs left and right - they shouldn't move. If they do, then nip to a workshop to have it tightened, unless you have a cassette tool and chain whip.
Chain is just really dirty: A dirty chain will be clunks and inefficient when shifting - if this is the case, follow our chain cleaning guide.
Noises from the Brakes
Noises from the brakes can be disconcerting, even if they're not actually preventing you being able to come to a halt.
Rim and disc brakes are very different - so we've looked at them separately.
Diagnose the noise your rim brakes are making
Rim brakes are usually fairly simple and quiet when they're set up correctly, so any noises definitely indicate a problem.
Squealing or scraping noise: This is often caused by some sort of dirt, grease, or a sharp object on or in the brake or the braking surface - the rim. A sharp object can create grooves in the rim, which weaken it - so this does need fixing before damage takes place. Give your bike a bath and pay special attention to the brake pads and rims.
Clattery, clunky noise: This is likely caused by something in the area being loose - check the brake caliper by wiggling it, it shouldn't move. If it does, it can be tightened with an allen key. It's also possible that the noise is actually coming from your headset, in which case this needs adjusting.
Diagnose the noise your disc brakes are making
Howling disc brakes can seriously ruin a ride - even though you know they're still working, you find yourself petrified of every descent, or desperately hoping the lights don't change on your commute.
The brakes are new: If the bike is pretty new, then give it a couple of rides - disc brakes do need to be 'ridden in' and if this is the case the noise often goes away on it's own.
Squealing or scraping: As with rim brakes, the most common cause here is that some grease, grit, or even particles of non-bike-friendly soap are causing the problem. Give the pads and rotors a very careful clean, using proper disc brake cleaner.
Grinding noise: The disc brake pads may not be properly set up, causing the wheel to be off centre in the pads and rubbing on one pad more than the other. Remove the disc brake pads and return them, making sure they are straight. The other option is that the wheel is not sitting straight in the frame, so remove and return it too.
Miscellaneous Creaks Bicycles Make
Is your trouble still undiagnosed? Never fear - there are other causes of mysterious bicycle noises...
Creaking when you brake or climb out the saddle, and unsteady steering: All of these symptoms can be caused by a loose headset. This is easy to spot - get off the bike, stand over the bike, and wiggle the handlebars. If they move, your headset needs adjusting. A loose headset isn't all that safe, so sort it as soon as you spot it.
Creaking or banging that begins when climbing, but eventually starts to happen with every pedal stroke: Your bottom bracket needs replacing or servicing. The bottom bracket sits between the cranks, and when the bearings become worn, they either need replacing, or the whole part can be replaced. Spot this by wiggling the cranks - if you feel a lot of movement, you know you're bottom bracket is unhappy. Once fixed, you'll notice pedaling is much easier.
Creaking from the pedals: Pedals have bearings in too, and they don't last forever! If your pedals move when you wiggle them, start by seeing if they need tightening up, if not, the bearings may be gone and they could need replacing.
Creaking from the rear of your bike: Many a cyclist has pondered over noises from their bike, only to discover the cause was indeed a worn saddle. Give your saddle a good prod, wiggle it around a bit, put your weight on it with your arms to see if you can recreate your noise - if so, you either need to tighten the bolts, or buy a new saddle.
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