Thursday, January 19, 2012

BIKE REPAIR: Our Epic Quest To Find & Silence Every Bicycle Noise!

Hello Spokespeople,
I hope your 2012 is off to an exciting start with fun rides and bike projects. I've kicked off the new year by updating my Keep It Quiet, Finding and Silencing Clicks, Squeaks, Clunks, Rattles and Other Annoying Noises webpage. This comprehensive encycleopedia of all those blasted bicycle noises that drive us nuts has grown and grown since I first made it live about 10 years ago.

Maybe the best bike noise webpage going
Today it's among my longest, most visited and most helpful webpages and I don't know of another resource like it online. You might want to bookmark it on your computer and mobile device for easy access the next time you're frustrated by a click, tick, pop or clunk on a ride.

And you helped
While I wrote this page and steadily add to it and improve it, many of the tips came/come from you, the readers. So I like to think of it as our page - sort of a low-tech wiki on quieting noisy bikes. You've provided some excellent bike noises and clever solutions for them. Please keep them coming and I'll continue adding them to the page and slowly but surely maybe we'll fix every ride-ruining noise!

3 great noise-busters from you
Here are a few helpful bike shutter-uppers that you sent in.

First is Josh Naylor's elegantly simple solution for a noise that a lot of cyclists pedaling to work and around town usually just try to ignore, figuring there's nothing they can do about it.

Rattle, rattle
Even if you realize where it's coming from you might just accept it as inevitable, since it's built into the design of your U-lock (and you've got to have a lock to prevent your bicycle being stolen so you're willing to put up with it). The crossbar fits loosely and as you ride over bumpy roads, the U-lock shakes and makes a loud, distracting rattling noise.

U-locks are often carried in mounts/brackets/holders attached to the frame where the lock rattles away over bumps. And they'll rattle worse if they're hanging on your handlebar or rack. Tuck them in a pack and they'll quiet down but that's not convenient for every rider.

Ingenious fix
Josh realized what was making the noise and came up with a nice fix: wrapping elastic bands around the ends of the U (photo). This looks simple but it's actually pretty ingenious engineering and an idea that the U-lock companies might want to consider. In essence, Josh added rubber ends to the U so that when the lock is closed the separate pieces are held apart and kept from moving by the way the rubber elastic bands compress and expand. It's a clever solution, quick to add to the lock and completely free. Thanks, Josh!

Creaking on every pedal stroke
The next one is from Chris Watkins of  Adelaide, South Australia who writes,
"My noise happened on every right pedal stroke - a creaking noise driving me and my riding buddies nuts. They could hear me 200 meters away! 

It only happened when I was sitting, not standing!!! Bloody annoying and it got worse as the bike "warmed up!!" It sounded like it came from the bottom bracket/seatpost area so I got that overhauled. $130 later the creaking was still there. I checked the seatpost, cleats, pedals and it did no good.

Finally, I tried removing the bolt in the seatstay/dropout intersection (photo) near the rear wheel axle (I ride a Fuji Team carbon road bike). I took it out, greased the bolt and mating surfaces, reassembled and tightened, and voila, no noise. I'll now do it again but use Locktite to ensure the bolt stays tight and my bike stays creak-free!"

Thanks, Chris! Your noise and solution provides one of the best tips when trying to find and quiet bicycle noises, which is to realize that they can travel and sound like they're coming from a completely different part of the bike. So don't be surprised if your first guess doesn't turn out to be the source and you have to keep looking.

Try to isolate the noise
There are a lot of basic tips for tracking down noises in the beginning of my webpage so be sure to read that part first. A super helpful one is a way to isolate the noise so you can be sure it's coming from the part of the bike you think it's coming from. For example, if you think it's from the rear wheel, to be sure, ask a friend if you can borrow their wheel, replace yours with theirs and see if the noise goes away. If it does, you can be pretty sure the noise is coming from your wheel and you only need to inspect the wheel to find and fix it.

A nifty tool for finding and fixing bike noises
Speaking of ways to isolate and find noise-causers, I'll close with this tool tip from Steve Bales (I haven't tried this yet, but it sounds very promising). Steve uses an inexpensive auto mechanic's stethoscope, resting its tip on the part he thinks is making the noise. If it is, it will sound off loud and clear. In this fashion he has found and fixed squeaking (from a dry derailleur pulley), clicking coming from the rear axle locknuts against the frame dropouts and ticking (from his seatpost). One of these stethoscopes might be a good tool to add to Your Home Bicycle Workshop.

Calling all suggestions
As helpful as my webpage is, I'm not entirely happy with it, though. And maybe you have some ideas how it can be improved. The problem is that, as it's gotten longer, with more and more noises and solutions, it's become an awfully lot to read. Yes you can always use your browser's search/find function and type in the component that you think is making the noise, or the word that describes the noise your bike is making.

But I keep thinking there has to be a better way to present this information to make it more readable, easier to find solutions and hopefully even more fun. Edward R. Tufte would probably be able to help. Seeing as how he's probably way too busy, feel free to offer suggestions and maybe together we can pump up the volume on our great online bike noise resource. Thanks for all the help so far.


Fred said...

I think I might have sent you this before, but it bears repeating. My MTB had an intermittent metallic clink-tick. It only happened when pedaling, but didn't happen all the time. Drove me nuts. Tried everything, FD adjustment, chain-ring bolts, etc, etc. It would seem to go away for a while, only to resurface.

Then one day I happened to glance down and discover what it was: the tip of my shoelace (technically, the aglet) was hitting the side of my water-bottle cage. It was intermittent because only my old pair of MTB shoes have laces plus the noise went away when there was a bottle in the cage.

I guess the lesson is, don't forget to check yourself in addition to the bike when tracking down mystery sounds!

Jim Langley said...

You did, Fred, but it's still a great bike noise tip. Shoelaces can make noise, rubber soled shoes rubbing the crankarm can make a squeaking noise, zippers on your clothing can make a metallic rattle and a jacket can flap in the breeze and might make you think something's wrong with your bike. So you're absolutely right that you need to check your clothing along with your bike when some noise is driving you batty. Thanks for the tip!

Jim Langley said...

Craig from Australia sent this email about a creaking noise from his seatpost and his ingenious solution, so I thought I'd post it as a comment in case it helps you out. Craig wrote, "Thanks for your site, Jim. I found it when searching for a solution to my creaking carbon seatpost and although I didn't find a solution, in the days following I found what seems to be a fix so here it is: My bike is a 2007 Look 585 Team and I have a 3T Dorico Team/LTD seatpost. After a particularly wet century ride my seatpost developed a creaking noise when I was riding in the saddle. My solution: After eliminating other sources of the creak, i.e. bottom bracket, pedals, cracked frame, etc., I narrowed down the source to the seat/seatpost area. I swapped seatposts but the noise persisted, I swapped saddles but still the noise persisted, I lubricated the seatpost binder bolt but with no luck. I reinstalled the seatpost with carbon assembly paste. Again no luck!

I discovered when I listened closely that the noise was coming from the point where the seatpost ended in the seat tube inside the frame. My initial thought was that as my weight went back on the seatpost it was causing the post to pivot very slightly at the binder bolt point where the frame is reinforced through the carbon lug, causing a slight deformation and rub in the thinner walls of the seat tube. My first try to fix the noise was to go from a 350mm to a 250mm seatpost. This only reduced the noise but at least I knew I was on the right track.

I then started thinking about the circumstances that had caused the noise. I figured the wet ride had maybe washed something out of the area that had been providing lubrication. Having read the warnings on using grease with carbon I had to rule that option out so I thought about what could have been there. I figured over time that due to use, a small amount of fine carbon dust had formed in the seat tube that had been providing 'lubrication.' I needed a substance to mimic this. So I went to the hardware store and purchased a bottle of graphite powder, squirted it into the seat tube and immediately the noise was gone! Hope this is of use to you and the visitors to your site."

Thanks, Craig!

Jim Langley said...

Some more helpful noise-busters came in from Professor Bill. He writes, "My local bicyle shop and others I've used wrap the white teflon plumber's tape you can get at hardware stores around the bottom bracket threads to keep the BB quiet. And I can tell you from experience riding them on my singlespeeds that only 2 brands of singlespeed freewheels are quiet or silent: Shimano and White Brothers (at $100, it better be). I have had only one click or clack out of many Shimano freewheels. Meanwhile Dicta, WCS and the others from India and wherever are worthless in my experience. One more thing that makes noise is worn SPD cleats. They can squeak. So replace them before they get to that point and keep them lubricated, too."

Thanks, Bill!