Silence those persistent mystery creaks

By James Huang

If your bike is audibly objecting to your every pedal stroke and you can’t seem to find the source, here are some areas to check out plus suggestions on how to keep them quiet.

Most of these inspection targets recall my days as a shop mechanic, many of which were spent frustratingly chasing down stubbornly intermittent noises. I’ve also enlisted the help of Jim Potter, owner of Vecchio’s Bicicletteria — a now-legendary service-focused shop in Boulder, Colorado.

“I often say we are noise-attenuation technicians these days,” he said. “People don’t always come in because something isn’t working or adjusted, but just to make their bike shut up”.

Potter says that the way modern bikes are built can make creaks harder to track down, too.

“Carbon bikes resonate the sound around more than older bikes,” he said. “A creaky Mavic front hub can sound like it’s coming from the back.”

Here are 5 areas to check and how to fix them.

 

1. Creaking chainrings and spider

Chainrings can move ever so slightly against the mounting tabs, particularly under heavy pedalling efforts. Many new cranks are assembled without grease or thread retaining compounds, which exacerbates the issue. 

Undo the chainring bolts and remove the chainrings from the crankarm. Thoroughly clean the mating surfaces between the chainrings and crankarm spider tabs, apply a very thin layer of grease, and then reassemble using either grease or medium-strength retaining compound on the bolt threads and heads.

In addition, many modern cranks now have separate chainring spiders that are either bolted or pressed on to the arm — another potential source of creaking. For bolt-on setups, undo the bolts, remove the spider and then reinstall with green Loctite 609 (or a similar medium-strength sleeve retaining compound) on the spline interface plus blue Loctite 220 (or equivalent) on the bolt threads.

For press-fit spiders, dribble a bit of Loctite 609 at the interface and allow it to wick into whatever space might exist between the parts. Allow to cure overnight and then reassemble.

2. Creaking pedals

Pedals aren’t often removed, which makes them a prime candidate for inspection, especially if you regularly (and aggressively) wash your bike. Chances are that whatever grease was originally applied to the threads is long gone.

Simply remove the pedals, clean the threads on both the pedals and crankarm, and reinstall with a fresh coating of grease.

You can also get creaking from cleats. Wipe down both the cleats and pedals with a wet rag, and then spray both with a light coating of silicone spray or wax-based furniture polish. 

3. Creaking saddle and seatpost head

Does your bike only creak when you’re sitting down? It’s very likely that the noise is coming from up top, not down below.

Mark your saddle’s fore-aft position with a permanent marker and then remove the saddle from the seatpost. Wipe the surfaces clean and then apply a thin layer of grease to the rails and seatpost head. If your seatpost has carbon rails, make sure whatever grease you use won’t damage them. 

While you’re at it, clean and grease the other interfaces on the seatpost head, including the saddle cradles and bolt hardware (with the exception of Thomson seatposts; the company says greasing the bolt threads is okay but the bolt heads should be left dry).

The saddle itself can also creak where the rails insert into the shell. Turn the saddle upside down and apply one small drop of heavyweight oil (like Phil Wood Tenacious Oil) at each anchor point. Let it wick in for a few hours and that should quiet things down.

4. Creaking seatpost shaft

If you’re running a long seatpost, but only a small part of it is extending out of the frame, it’s possible that the extension is moving against the inside of the seat tube under load.

To start, mark your seatpost height with paint or permanent marker, remove the seatpost, and then wipe everything clean (including the inside of the seat tube as best you can).

For metal-on-metal contact, grease the inside of the seat tube as far down as the seatpost will reach. If either the seatpost or frame (or both) are carbon fiber, use friction paste instead. Grease the seatpost clamp bolt and then tighten to spec.

5. Creaking headset

Headsets are rife with metal-on-metal interfaces, each of which is prone to creaking.

To start, slide the fork out of the head tube and then clean and grease all of the contact surfaces. If that doesn’t quiet things down, considering removing and reinstalling the cups and crown race with some grease or green Loctite, too.