1. Home » Bikes and Tech » Technical FAQ » Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Creaking bike part solutions

Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Creaking bike part solutions

By Lennard Zinn

The source
Dear readers,
I received a boatload of great responses on creaking noises from the March7 column, and it is something so commonly plaguing all of us as cyclists that I’m running a whole list of the fixes for them that I did not mention.

It’s the headset
I also have a Basso Diamante that I occasionally have creaking issueswith. Like many creaking issues, it’s hard to track down where the noiseis coming from. I suggest it isn’t coming from the seat area with the riderwho sent you the question. I would check the front of the bike. First,make sure the quick release skewers are tight. I’ve had creaking when theyaren’t, but this is a common fix for many different frames that your readerprobably has ruled out. What might be unique to the Basso is the Microtechfork and headset. I’ve found I get creaking if the compression loosensa bit. The solution is to loosen the steerer clamp and then tighten upthe top cap and retighten the stem bolts. This has solved creaking forme in the past. Surprisingly, the creaking was happening when I was pedalinghard, so I always thought it was the bottom bracket.

It’s the housing
Another possibility could be where the housing ferrules enter the down-tubeadjusters. A friend of mine had a “creaking issue” a few years ago.We tried everything from seatpost, saddle rails, bottom bracket,headset – you know the list, and nothing worked. At one point weinadvertently moved the bars and heard the creak. We were able totrace it back to the housing ferrules. He has a “rocking” riding styleand we realized that with each pedal stroke he turned the bars just enoughto produce the creak. A dab of grease in the adjusters and on the ferrulesand the sound went away.

True Grit
After trying everything else, I tried a different set of pedals andthe noise went away. I then took apart my original Shimano 105 Look-compatiblepedals (carried over from a previous bike) using the included plastic tool(which lasts for about two uses) to take them apart. The right pedalhad a small piece of grit in the bearings closest to the inner axle.Removing it solved the problem. I would encourage anyone having asimilar problem to try riding their bike with another set of pedals justlong enough to rule them out.

The creak was a crack!
I had a similar noise happening mostly during out of the saddle efforts.After my husband checked the bottom bracket, pedals and headset with nochange, I came home to find my bike apart. He had found the noise – a crackedseat stay.

Tune in and drop out
The wheel axle/dropout contact is another possible source of creakingthat should be checked. I’ve eliminated this creaking on a coupleof my bikes by cleaning and lightly greasing the axle ends and dropoutswhere these parts contact each other. A disclaimer is probably neededhere:


This creaking can occur on my steel bike, but it is more noticeableon my Trek 5900 because the carbon frame magnifies the sound.

Head(set) trips
Working as a wrench for the past four years, I came across a lot ofclients who had a creak and kept pointing to their seatpost, saddle, bottombracket or rear wheel. I found many times after re-greasing those,it was still hanging around. Many times it turned out to be the headsetneeded either extra, or fresh, grease and the problem was gone. Sometimeswhen the headset makes a creaking sound, it shoots down through the framestubing and echoes out by the seat post/bottom bracket area causing manyto think it’s one of those. Another possible idea is sometimes the outercable housing can create clicking noises that are rather annoying. It mightalso be worthwhile to check the rear wheels tension and lube the nipples/ cross sections of the spokes.

Another vote for the headset
I had an exact duplicate issue with an all aluminum frame and it wouldcreak when on the trainer. I would have bet $1000 that it was the crankor bottom bracket, but definitely down there… Drove us nuts. Tookit to Pacific Bikes in San Francisco and Eric (guy with way too much experiencefor his own good) replaced the headset and it was cured. I thoughthe was nuts. He gave me that look and started talking about the propertiesof sound and blah blah blah…. He was right. It does make senseas tubes are hollow and can carry sound best. Still, it was a shocker.
PeterI had a creak on a carbon Orbea. Turned out it was the cable guide underthe bottom bracket. I brought it into the shop, and I even told the guy thatI’d accidentally over-oiled that spot (yeah, I learned later that I wasn’tsupposed to oil it at all…).

Don’t forget the skewer!
From my experience I have found that certain brands of skewers andskewers that are not tight enough are a common source of creaks.However, skewers tend to make noise when out of the saddle rather thanwhen seated.

Chainring bolts
Recent troubleshooting of a pedaling creak led me through all the bottombracket, chain, pedal, cranks, handlebar, seat and post stuff and finallyleft me with nothing to investigate but the chainring bolts—remove, clean,apply a little grease and tighten. That was all it was.

Grease where it shouldn’t be
Before I bent them I had a pair of Kooka cranks with the old squarebottom bracket spindle. The bottom bracket was Titanium and lockedin to place using a spanner and lock rings. Anyway, the cranks wouldgo through phases where they would creak and after hours of taking stuffapart, mucking with it, putting it back together and testing I finallyfigured out that it was grease/oil on the spindle where the crank armsattach. Cleaning off the grease/oil solved the creaking problem.

Dry cleat syndrome
I weigh in at 210-215 lbs and had a “creaking” problem that I was surewas due to bottom bracket or seatrail/seatpost issues, turns out the noise was dueto “dry cleats”. The contact area where my cleats interfaced with the pedalswas dry, the problem was instantaneously resolved with a quick spray oflube. Almost any “slippery” substance can be used i.e, Armor All, bearinggrease or White Lightening, to name a few, however any/all should be appliedin a scant amount, too much can be messy and/or cause unintentional disengagementfrom the pedal especially those with float. GregoryAnother place to check is the point where the saddle rails are attachedto the rest of the saddle. On many models this can be a molded socketthat fits around the rail, which can creak when flexed. I’ve hadthis happen with several saddles, and a little lubricant sprayed in thesocket every few months will quiet it.

The rim?
My race bike creaked when seated and got louder as I sprinted, whenI stood it went away. After disassembling and reassembling almostthe entire bike without solving the problem I discovered small cracks inmy low-spoke-count rear wheel near the spoke holes. When I stoodit redistributed my weight towards the front and stopped the creaking.This problem was confirmed when I switched to a different rear wheel.
NickolausClean it!
When a creak happens in sync with crank rotation, we tend to assumethe problem must be in the bottom bracket or pedals. On my bike, such acreak can come from the dropouts. Simply cleaning and greasing the dropoutseliminates the creak.

Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com),a former U.S. national team rider and author of several best-selling bookson bikes and bike maintenance including Zinn& the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance, which is now availableas a 4-hour instructional DVDZinn& the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, and Zinn’s Cycling Primer:Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. Zinn’s regular columnis devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, theircare and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficientlyas possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directlyto Zinn. Zinn’s column generally appears here each Tuesday.

Related Articles