A long winter of wet conditions or a summer full of dusty shuttle days is almost guaranteed to make your bike develop some unwanted noises that never seem to magically fix themselves in-between rides, no matter how long you leave it.
Here are a few tips on where to find where some of those annoying sounds are coming from, and what you can do to shut them up.
Grit loves to work its way in-between parts over time, and if there is the slightest bit of play present it can create enough noise to keep you awake at night and make you question your sanity. Carbon frames can amplify the noise and even make it sound like it's coming from somewhere else.
Sometimes all you can do is run through a process of elimination until you find the real source of the creak. You might not find the true culprit straight away, but you'll be making your bike feel a little bit better with every step.
In this blog we will cover:
- Creaks when pedalling
- Creaks when moving around on the saddle
- Front end creaks
- Suspension Linkage
- Squeaky brakes
What you'll need:
- Bike work stand
- Clean rag
- Grease rag
- Isopropyl alcohol/brake cleaner
- Chain lube
- Thread locker
- Fine sandpaper/wet & dry
- Allen keys
- Cassette tool
- BB tool
- Torque wrench(optional)
- Silicone spray (optional)
- Air compressor (optional)
Creaks when pedalling
- Symptoms: Intermittent creaking when pedalling under load
- Potential Culprits: Bottom bracket, chainring bolts, chainring direct mount interface, cassette rivets, freehub body.
- Remove cranks and BB
- Thoroughly clean BB cups, crank spindle and BB shell
- Check bearings for wear, repack with grease or replace if necessary
- Regrease BB cup threads and crank spindle
- Torque to spec.
"Removing the cranks and giving the spindle and BB shell a good clean and regrease is often enough to make it run silently again."
A basic bottom bracket service is pretty easy to perform if you're lucky enough to have a bike with a threaded BB. Simply removing the cranks and BB for a good clean and regrease is often enough to banish most creaks.
Pressfit bottom brackets require more of an investment in specialised tools and you might have to replace the BB after it's been removed.
If you can't justify the cost of buying a bearing press yourself you can always get a shop to do it for you, or combine forces with a group of mates to purchase a quality press that will work on all of your bikes and last forever.
Chainring bolts/direct mount system:
- Remove cranks from frame
- Remove chainring from cranks
- Thoroughly clean contact points between chainring and cranks including threads on chainring bolts/direct-mount system
- Consult the manual and reassemble with grease/thread locker where required
- Torque up to spec.
- Check that the lockring is torqued up to spec (normally somewhere around 40Nm)
- If creaking persists, remove the cassette and clean it thoroughly
- Apply a drop of light oil to each rivet and allow to penetrate overnight, clean off any excess
- Grease the Lockring (Shimano), or driver body threads (SRAM XD)
- Reinstall cassette and torque to the manufacturer's spec
"It just might be the rivets on your cassette making all the noise when you're powering up that big climb."
Creaking from a cassette can be caused by a loose lockring, allowing the cassette to move around when under load. Most cassettes will need around 40Nm of torque (which is quite a bit) so setting this to the correct spec can often solve the problem.
Other causes of creaks can include threads that need greasing, or tiny movement of the pins/rivets. Applying some light oil to the rivets and allowing it to penetrate overnight can often work wonders. Just be sure to clean off any excess as it'll be a magnet for dust once you hit the trails again.
XD setups will need grease on the driver body threads before the cassette is fitted. Shimano, non-XD SRAM, and Sunrace etc will need grease on the lockring threads.
- Remove end cap and freehub body
- Clean out any grit and old grease
- Regrease and reassemble (check the service manual and use the specified grease)
- Make sure the thru-axle is tight enough to hold the wheel in without any play
All that torque produced by your legs puts a lot of stress through the hub, and grit between the different contact points can cause creaks when under load. A good clean and regrease might be all that's needed, but many hubs require quite specific grease to function properly so be sure to look up the service manual before you get stuck in.
Shimano XTR 12 speed hubs require a thin plastic spacer to be installed behind the cassette and are known to creak a fair bit if this is missing. We've heard of people accidentally throwing them away as they almost look like a bit of packing material rather than a required part. If you have an XTR cassette and it's making a lot of racket, pull it off and make sure the little plastic spacer is installed.
- Remove pedals from cranks
- Clean threads on cranks and pedals
- Check for any play between the pedal body and axle. Tighten/service/replace bearings as required.
- Reinstall pedals with some fresh grease
- Try a bit of silicone spray or dry lube on your cleats if they are squeaky. Scuffing up any polished/shiny areas with some sandpaper also helps
- Are your cleats bolts snugged up tight?
- Remove the derailleur and hanger from the frame
- Give all contact points a good clean
- Lightly grease interface between hanger and frame
- Apply some medium strength thread locker and reinstall
"It's probably not the first place you'd think to check, but derailleur hangers do get a bit creaky sometimes."
- Check spoke tension is correct
- Give spokes a clean, especially where they cross over each other
- Consider applying a tiny drop of oil to each nipple and spoke crossing (maybe not if you're riding in dusty conditions)
"Check that all your spokes are tensioned properly and try adding a drop of oil to the nipples/eyelets."
Creaks when moving around on the saddle:
- Symptoms: Creaking when you sit on the bike, shift your position, or while pedalling
- Potential Culprits: Saddle rails, saddle clamp on the seat post
- Try to blast out any dust with an air compressor or can of compressed air
- Apply some lube to the rail/shell interface
- Flex the shell a few times and give the lube some time to work its way in
- Wipe off any excess to stop it from attracting more dust
Saddle shells are designed to flex and things can get pretty noisy if/when dust works its way into the interface between the rails and the shell. High-end saddles are just as prone to this as more budget-friendly options, so you're bound to experience it at some stage.
Cleaning and lightly lubricating where the rails enter the shell should help quieten things down (at least for a while). Just be careful to wipe off any excess so it doesn't attract more dust.
Saddle clamp on seatpost:
- Remove the saddle and disassemble the saddle clamp
- Clean saddle rails and small parts of saddle clamp, including the bolts
- Apply a small amount of grease to contact points and bolt threads (be quite sparing if it's super dusty where you ride)
- Reassemble and torque up to spec
"Out of sight and out of mind. The saddle clamp is an often neglected part of most people's bikes."
Front end creaks:
- Symptoms: creaking when braking, cornering, compressing fork, heaving on bars.
- Potential Culprits: headset, stem faceplate, fork CSU (crown steerer unit)
This can be pretty hard to pin-point and most people will blame the CSU on their fork, but a gritty headset or a loose faceplate on the stem is often to blame and is thankfully much easier (and cheaper!) to fix.
- Remove stem, spacers, and fork (be careful as the lower bearings might fall out and roll away somewhere)
- Remove upper and lower bearings
- Give everything (including the headset cups in the frame) a good clean to remove dirt and old grease
- Lightly grease the bearings, headset cups, and the upper assembly seals
- Reinstall parts in the order they were removed
- Ensure that preload is applied to the headset by tightening the top cap bolt BEFORE tightening the stem bolts
- Tighten all bolts to spec
The headset really cops a pounding on a MTB and over time they can come a bit loose and ingest a decent amount of dust. A creaking or ticking type sound when you compress the fork or heave on the bars is a good sign that your headset is in need of some love.
- Note the position and angle of your bars, add reference points with a marker if you like
- Remove faceplate and handlebars from stem
- Clean all contact points on bar and stem, including the bolts, the interface between the bolts/washers, and the faceplate
- Apply friction paste to clamping area if using carbon bars
- Does your stem use a "no gap" system or should the gap be even at each bolt? Look up the manual so you know you're doing it right!
- Apply fresh grease/thread locker to bolts and torque up to spec
"A good clean and some fresh Loctite please!"
Some stems use a "no gap" system where the top two bolts are tightened down until the faceplate meets the stem before the bottom two bolts are torqued up. Others require an even spacing across all four bolts.
Some manufacturers also prefer grease while others specify thread locker on the bolts. Look up the manual for your stem online to find all this out, as well as what torque settings you should use.
What if the front end is still creaking?
If you're still getting creaks after all that it could well be a problem with the CSU on your fork (grimacing). Best to head into your LBS to get the workshop crew to help you out with that one.
- Symptoms: Creaking or squeaking when compressing the suspension, knocking sound when the bike is unweighted
- Potential Culprits: Loose pivot bolts, seized or worn out linkage bearings, brake hose or gear cable outer rubbing on guides/frame
- Check all pivot bolts and torque to spec
- Apply medium strength thread locker if the same bolt has come loose a couple of times before
- Put the bike in a work stand and remove the rear wheel
- Remove shock from the bike
- Unbolt rear brake caliper and derailleur and allow to hang freely below bottom bracket so they don't interfere with the movement of the suspension linkage
- Cycle rear suspension linkage by hand, listen and feel for any binding or notchiness
- Unbolt the linkage piece by piece and inspect the bearings
- Rotate the bearings by hand, identify any that feel rough, notchy, or seized
- Try flushing rough bearings with brake cleaner to remove old grease and repack with fresh grease
- Rotate the bearing multiple times with your finger to cycle the balls around and distribute the grease
- Reassemble linkage and cycle by hand to feel for any improvement
- Replace any bearings that are too far gone to revive
"Don't be afraid to unbolt a few things and get hands-on with the rear end of your bike. Suspension bearings won't last forever but they'll last a whole lot longer if you service them every 8-12 months."
Brake Hose or Gear Cable Outer:
- Compress rear suspension a few times and note any areas where housing moves through guides or rubs on the frame
- Check hose/housing for rub marks or gritty buildup
- Clean guides and contact areas, replace any zip ties or retainer clips as required
- Replace hose/housing if excessively gouged or worn in contact areas
- Apply some protective film to contact areas on the frame where needed
"Gritty or worn housing can make some funny noises when you compress the rear end. This housing could do with being replaced."
- Symptoms: Squealing or turkey noises when braking, intermittent scraping/squeaking when riding along
- Potential Culprits: Glazed or contaminated brake pads, dirty rotor, warped rotor, misaligned brake caliper
- Remove the brake pads and have a look
- Is there much pad material left? Toss them and install a new set if they're getting a bit thin
- If they have a glazed or shiny appearance, try gently sanding in a figure 8 motion until glazing is removed. 180 grit wet and dry works well enough, but drywall/plaster sanding sheets are better as they allow the pad material to pass through without clogging
- Spray pads and rotors with brake cleaner or isopropyl alcohol and clean off any black stuff. You should notice the colour change on the pads as they are cleaned. Use a clean cloth/towel. NOT your grease rag!
- Reinstall pads and head out to perform the brake bedding in procedure.
- If stopping power and noise aren't back to their best after 4-5 hard stops, (or it still sounds like a turkey being tortured) your brakes are probably contaminated and it's time to replace your pads and rotors
"These pads have experienced a whole lot of heat which has glazed up the braking surface. Rough the surface up with some fine sandpaper and they'll be good to go again. Even just rubbing them together with a bit of water helps if you're out on a ride and can't stand the shame of them squealing any longer."
Intermittent Scraping/Squeaking, Riding Buddies Getting Upset:
- Spin the offending wheel and look down through the brake caliper
- Does the rotor have a bit of a wobble, or is it consistently rubbing up against one pad?
- If it's got a wobble, try gently finessing it back the other way with a rotor truing tool, or a small (squeaky clean) shifting spanner. You can also do it by hand, but make sure your hands are clean and avoid touching the braking surfaces
- If the rotor is totally off-centre, try loosening both caliper bolts, then squeeze the brake lever to centre the rotor within the caliper
- Alternate between each bolt to gently nip them up without accidentally moving the caliper
- Spin the wheel and repeat steps as needed until it's “good enough”
- Remember to torque your caliper bolts back up to spec before you finish!
"Getting the brake caliper perfectly aligned is often easier said than done. A bit like trying to take this picture".
Have you got any tips that we've missed? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our online chat and we might just add it in.