Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Bike creaking solutions

Even more solutions for cyclists plagued by mystery noises on their rides.

Dear Lennard,

Recently I have been encountering significant crank “creaking.”  I have an Orbea Orca with SRAM Force components (compact cranks with GXP bottom bracket). The bike is about a year old with about 1600 miles. I weigh about 160 lbs.

The creaking started primarily when climbing when more force was put on the cranks. Recently the creaking has become more constant.

When installed, Phil Wood grease was placed in all places recommended by SRAM. Additionally I placed anti-seize on the threads of the bearing cups and crank case.


Dear Tim,

As always with a creak that sounds like it’s near the bottom bracket under load, switch shoes and pedals first and ride it hard, to ensure that it’s not a cleat or pedal. Still creaking? Then grease the chainring bolts (threads and heads of both bolts and nuts) and retighten them.

If it’s still creaking and you’re sure that you’re following all of the rules and that it’s not just your bike rebelling because you’re not, then proceed with some of the suggestions below. Otherwise, Obey the Rules.

– Lennard

Dear Lennard,

I have a 2008, 56cm, Lynskey 420 custom.  I weight in at 187 lbs.  Have Shimano Dura-Ace cranks with an Ultegra bottom bracket bearing.

I get a very frequent BB creaking.  I remove the bearing and ALWAYS notice a dry, (no grease), section on the left leg side of the bearing itself, approximately 1/2-inch wide.  I’ll clean and relube the races and the bearing and the creaking will STOP for a couple of days, then, here it comes again, creaking!

Is this an engineering problem with the frame?  A defective bearing, (it’s only two years old)?

Do I weigh too much or what?  My shop tells me that if I keep taking the BB out the taper will be worn out and ruined!!!!


Dear Gerry,

If it keeps clearing away the grease just in that one section, I would venture to guess that the bottom bracket shell is not faced properly (i.e., the ends of the bottom bracket shell are not parallel with each other and perpendicular to the bore of the shell). Get the shell faced by a good bike shop and see if it doesn’t go away.

It sounds like you’re using an old Dura-Ace square-taper crank and loose-bearing Ultegra bottom bracket from the 1990s or earlier. If that’s the case, then yes, continually removing and replacing the crankarms onto the square spindle will wear the hole in the crankarm slightly larger so the arms will move inboard slightly further each time they are brought up to the same torque. The worse problem is if you just once don’t tighten the crank bolt to the recommended torque; in that case, the arm will wobble on the spindle and wallow out the square hole much faster than you ever could taking it off and putting it back on ad infinitum.


Dear Lennard,

I have a 2009 Cannondale CAAD9. I’ve put nearly 2,600 miles on her, and I’m starting to hear a creaking sound around the carbon fork and head tube. I notice it more when I’m out of the saddle, and not as much when not. The bike is wonderful; however, I don’t want something simple to not be addressed if it needs it and turn into something big. I didn’t know if the steering tube needs to be slightly lubed or if this is just what she’ll sound like from now on.


Dear Randy,

Sounds to me like you simply need to remove the headset cartridge bearings, slather grease all over them, and replace them. There may be some headset cups supporting the bearings in that integrated headset, and if there are, by all means remove them and grease both sides of them as well.

The chances are high that it is simply movement between the headset parts and the frame that is causing the creak. It could also of course be in the stem, where it clamps to the steerer or the handlebar, or any of a myriad other places throughout the bike. See below.


Dear Readers,

I knew I’d be opening a can of noisy worms again by answering some questions on creaking last week. There have been times in past years where this column could have been renamed “Creak Q &A with Lennard Zinn!” (Editor’s Note: Many of Lennard’s columns that touch upon creaking, mystery noises and other audible annoyances have been collected on one page.)

Since creaking is such a popular subject with cyclists, here is a bunch of additions from readers:

One tool that I have found indispensable for locating the source of annoying creaks, clicks, and rattles on my bikes, is a stethoscope.  I purchased an inexpensive one from a medical supply store.  I replaced the drum that would normally be placed on a patient’s chest with a short section of brass tubing.  By pointing the brass tubing at different locations on the bike, or even touching it to different parts, I can listen for the exact source of the noise.  It is also helpful for listening to wheel bearings by touching the brass tube to the axle while the wheel is spinning, to determine if they need to be overhauled.


One creak source not mentioned is a Campy (in my case 10-speed) cassette. Campagnolo cassettes can creak and it is infuriatingly difficult to trace the source.  My titanium frame will make a sound like a seatpost, stem or particularly bottom bracket creak.  My experience is that this creaking occurs when the cassette becomes totally dry, particularly the freehub body.  So, I paint a thin coat of grease on all contact surfaces, freehub, cogs, and spacers.  Quietness.


About creaks, I have another one that might come in handy. I call it the “syncopated pedaling creak,” usually a sign that the locknut on a campy cassette is not tight enough. The creak doesn’t appear on every pedal turn, rather every 2 or 3 depending on the gear (usually larger cogs + small chainring combo).


Don’t forget the nipples on the rear spokes …they click in sync with stand up and pedal too!


There’s one more. It’s the bolt-on rear derailleur mounts.


I had a creak by my bottom bracket; I thought it was my bottom bracket, but as it turns out the frame was not faced properly.


I tried everything with no avail… then I removed the rear derailleur hanger and greased the frame where the hanger fit.  Presto, no more noise.


For effort-related creaks, my most common cure is to open up the QR, apply some light grease or chain lube to the contact surfaces with the fork or dropout (inside and outside of the fork/dropout) and then close them fairly tightly.


One other item subject to creaking that most people overlook is pedal cleats.  I’ve had it happen a couple of times with Speedplays.   I actually replaced the bearings and bottom bracket on a Campy Ultra Torque crank to only find out it was a loose screw on the cleats.  It sounded just like a creaking bottom bracket!


The last two major creaks I have had were 1) from the rear quick release and 2) from the front of the saddle.

The former occurred when I didn’t tighten the QR in the rear dropouts enough with alloy QR closers.  A little WD-40 and slightly tighter tension cleared it right up (this was with vertical dropouts, so the wheel stayed in place, it was just noisy, in time with my pedaling).

The latter was with a new saddle.  I couldn’t find it for a while then realized it came from the front of the saddle, where the resin shell floats over the rails where they enter at the front.  Again, a little WD-40 stopped all the noise.

Look Keo pedals tend to squeak at the cleats after riding in the rain.  A good cleanup and WD-40 on the mating surfaces works wonders.


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Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (, a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Zinn’s column appears here each Tuesday.