Thursday, January 21, 2010

Q&A: What's That Clicking Noise? and more

Tech Q & A: What's That Clicking Noise? Spokes, Shifters and Tricycles

Q: Jim -
I have a Diamondback Deluxe bicycle and as it rolls it goes click, click, click, click. It has 21 speeds and has Shimano components. If you pedal it does not click. As soon as you stop pedaling and coast, it clicks. If you pedal backwards the amount of clicking increases. If you go faster it clicks faster too. I assume it has something to do with the gears? Is there any way to stop it from doing this?

A: Great question, Tim, and you're not the first to ask me how to stop this noise. To help explain, here's a photo I took of a disassembled freewheel to show you what makes bicycles click (click to enlarge). Almost all bicycles with gears do this. And, it’s an important part of the bike that’s making the clicking so you don’t want to try to stop it.

If it really bothers you, it's possible to lubricate the bearings inside the freewheel/cassette (the mechanism that clicks) with slightly heavier oil to make the clicking quieter. But it's a little tricky to get the oil in there as freewheels and cassettes are usually semi sealed at the factory. So, it's usually not worth the effort just to make it a little quieter.

Hope this helps,

Q: Good morning Jim,
Hello from a sunny but cool Costa Blanca. I have just dug my mountain bike out of mothballs (been working in UK for 2 years). All seemed fine except whilst riding up a slight incline the rear derailleur seems to be jumping a cog every 3 or 4 revolutions I have tried altering the settings, but to no avail. I should point out that it only does this in 3rd to 6th on each of the gear settings Hi through Med to Low. Any ideas what I am missing (apart from a brain!)?

Your assistance would be appreciated,

A: Hi Peter,
Have you checked to see if the shift lever is loose and not holding the derailleur in gear? That’s a common cause of what you describe. Depending on what type of shifters you have on your bike it might be as simple as tightening a tension screw on the shifter clockwise to keep the shifter from moving and allowing the derailleur to shift out of gear.

If this is what’s wrong you should be able to see the shift lever move about the same time the derailleur skips out of gear. Take a look at that and maybe it will solve the problem. You can also check this page on my website that provides a step-by-step on rear derailleur adjustment.

Hopefully something here will help. I’m happy to offer more help if needed,
Jim, from now, windy, chilly and wet Northern California

Q: Hello Jim,
I came across your website and am looking forward to referencing your bicycle workshop book! Question: Is it possible to order one and two spokes rather than a whole box? I am looking for spares, but find that most online stores only carry full boxes, varying in quantity. Seems like a headache for a sub-dollar item to be shipped I suppose. And then my LBS's only had misc spokes on hand and some had none, but could order for me entire boxes of a given size. Curious as to your experience. Thanks for the online reading and expert insight!


A: Thanks for the email, Justin. Any good bicycle shop should be happy to sell you however many spokes you need. They might be out of stock of a certain size sometimes, but most good shops should have spokes in most common sizes in order to fix wheels. Some top shops even have the precision +/- $3,700 Phil Wood spoke cutting/threading machine that lets them "make" spokes in any size they want (photo).

Still, I know it isn’t like it used to be and that there are some shops that don’t even do any wheelbuilding since they buy all their wheels already built and don’t do major wheel repairs. But you should still be able to find a shop with spokes and they should be happy to sell you what you need. I’d just call around until you find a bicycle shop with spokes. Since you're somewhere in Wisconsin, have you tried Yellow Jersey in Madison?

FYI: Online places can’t make any money selling individual spokes so they require you to buy the whole box in most cases. Hope you can find the right shop for those spokes.

Happy wheelbuilding,

Q: Jim, don't know if you can help, but here goes -
I work for a city in Arizona and recently we were given a Mead Cossack tricycle by a man who was throwing it away. The man told us it was his 84 year old wife's bike as a child and she no longer wanted it. The tricycle is in great shape for its age. missing only the fabric off the seat and the right pedal. The rubber on all the tires is still there, only cracked on the main wheel. The body is in great shape, just faded. The questions we have are: is it worth anything and if the city wants to restore it for the city hall, where do we begin? Any history would help!

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide,

A: Hi Scott,
I’m not a tricycle expert, but I can give you a link to a site that seems to be helpful, though they don’t list the Mead you have. It’s

You’ll see they claim to answer questions so maybe you can send a photo and get some help with your bike. You can also check, look for trikes similar in age or style to yours and watch auctions to get a feel for value. In my experience, vintage trikes go for $50 to $75 if they’re excellent, original, all-there examples, but they have to be pretty special.

Sorry I can’t offer more help but I hope this gets you started,


Tony said...

Jim, regarding the first question... Why are some freewheels much quieter or almost silent when you coast or pedal backwards, and others are so loud you can barely talk to your neighbor?

Jim Langley said...

Another great question. Thanks, Tony. How quiet (or loud) a freewheel or cassette clicks, has to do with many things. On the basic models found on most bikes the designs are similar and the click is too. As I mentioned, you can make it quieter by putting a thicker lube inside (tips on that in a minute). As you get into higher priced models you find different materials used, like aluminum and titanium, and these change the sound too. And, something that usually causes the loudest clicking is when the manufacturer puts a 3rd pawl in the cassette (kind of rare). They do this for durability and to ensure that when you pedal, there's no lag in the time it takes for your effort to reach the ground. Now, on lubing - Paul Morningstar of Morningstar Tools used to make a tool called a Freehub Buddy that made it easy to clean and lube a cassette. With that tool you could put in a nice motor oil and it would really help quiet a loud cassette. Here is a link to his website to learn more about this cool tool. Some bike shops should have it and you can order it online. Just search on Freehub Buddy.


Phil Wood said...

Hey, Phil Wood here...

You can order limited, custom cut spokes direct from us if you can't find a shop. The cost of the spoke includes having it cut to size, and the minimum order is one spoke. :) As always, please check with your LBS first!

Jim Langley said...

That's a great service Phil. Thanks for letting everybody know!