Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Creaks, Squeaks, and living in the moment. (or How I got rid of that Annoying Noise)

This past week or so I’ve been dealing with a creak that has shown up in one of my bikes as I pedal up the hill, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to throw out some suggestions for what to do and look for if you run across the same problem. Personally, creaks and squeaks when I am pedaling along drive me up the wall. They disrupt an otherwise peaceful and therapeutic ride with the nagging audible reminder that something on my bike is not functioning the way it should be.

The first thing to do is to clean your bike. Make sure you get all the little dirt deposits out of the nooks and crannies where all the frame tubes come together, the head tube area, the bottom bracket area, the top tube and seat tube junction, and where the seat stays and chain stays come together. You will also want to really make sure your derailleurs, chain, crankset, pedals, and cassette are clean too. Once you have completely cleaned and dried these areas, inspect all the frame junctions for cracks. A crack in the frame could possibly create a creak while pedaling and is a sign that your frame needs to be replaced. I have heard that mountain bicycle frames are really only designed to last about 5 years. Of course, depending on your riding style, your frame can last more or less than the recommended time. I have a bike that I purchased around 1994, and I have pounded it mercilessly for years…and it is still fully functional.

After checking the frame junctions, lubricate the chain and take the bike for a short test ride, just to make sure that the creak is still there. Do your best to recreate exactly what causes the creak to happen. It could be that there was a bit of dirt someplace that washing took care of, and now the offending noise is gone. If the noise is still there, do a visual inspection around the bottom bracket, chainrings (crankset), pedals, seatpost, and cassette. If you see any residual dirt, you will need to disassemble the parts and clean everything thoroughly. My suggestion is that you start with the easiest items first, for instance this order:

Cranks to bottom bracket
Bottom bracket (worn, loose or dirty)

I have had creaks and squeaks due to everything on the list. And just because it sounds like it is coming from the bottom bracket, doesn’t mean it is. Those annoying noises travel through the frame and seem to stop at the bottom bracket (I think it’s a conspiracy), making it hard to really pinpoint what is going on. Another word of advice, if you are taking the time to take something apart, clean it very thoroughly before reassembling it, even if it doesn’t look like it needs it. A few extra minutes of care may result in preventing another problem that was waiting to happen. Also, don’t use grease or oil on anything when reassembling, unless there are instructions to deliberately do so. Grease and oil are great, until you actually hit the dirt, then they just attract the dust like a magnet and those nasty creaks are back.

If your visual inspection doesn’t seem to show anything is amiss, start cleaning the things on the list in the order that I have given (easiest first). Do them one at a time, and after cleaning and reassembling each one, take the bike for a test ride to see if the noise is gone. There is no use in doing more work than you need, and it is a learning experience to find out what is causing that particular noise. The next time you hear the same noise, you might just be able to zero in on the problem immediately.

Of course there is nothing wrong with continuing down the list and cleaning everything. Sometimes it is the Zen of doing mountain bike maintenance that gives you that little bit of calm for the day in an otherwise hectic schedule. Losing yourself in the mechanics of repair and cleaning, being able to empty your mind of the other chores and stress of the day and focus on just the moment, can be worth the extra time taken to clean, repair, and ensure functionality….for both the bike and you.

P.S. If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them for me. I am always looking for ways to improve myself, and to help others get the most out of every day.....

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