Solving Those Pesky Creaks

creak

/krēk/

Verb

(of an object) Make a harsh, high-pitched sound when moved or when pressure or weight is applied: “the stairs creaked”.

Noun

A harsh scraping or squeaking sound.

Synonyms

verb

squeak – grate – jar – scroop – rasp – grit – scrape

noun

squeak – gride – jar – scroop – scratch – crunch

Now that we’ve got a clear definition, let’s talk about how to fix the issue. We’ve all had it, and it seems to happen at the worst times. Then, when you take it into your local bike shop, they can’t recreate it.

First things first, stand up. It may sound silly, but if you stand up while pedaling, and it stops creaking, the noise is coming from your seat or seat post. Try taking your seat post out, dabbing a little grease in the seat tube (unless it’s carbon), reassemble and tight seat rails. If it’s still happening, you may need to replace the seat or post, but probably the seat.

If you have determined that it’s not in the seat and it is in fact in the drivetrain, here are the things I would check in order of likelihood of them being the culprit. We’ll talk about how to check them below.

  • Pedals and cleats – these are actually not the most likely, however, they are the easiest.
  • Bottom bracket
  • Chainring bolts, derailleur hanger, and skewers
  • Cassette, headset, handlebars and stem – unlikely
  • Cracked frame – more unlikely but possible.

The first thing you want to do is ride with different shoes on. They can be regular tennis shoes if you would like. If the creak is still there, move on. If it’s gone, take your cleats off (make sure to mark their position on the shoe) and drop a little lube in the bolt holes and reassemble. Also drop a little lube where the cleats contact the shoe and the pedal. If it continues, get new cleats. If it still continues, take a look at some new shoes.

After you’ve made sure it’s not your cleats or shoes, the next easiest thing to do is to take your pedals off, put a little grease on the spindle and re-install with a pedal washer.

If you’re still hearing it after all of that, check your ears! Just kidding, that would make it time to overhaul your bottom bracket. Believe me, it sounds a lot harder than it is. Most bikes now have sealed bearings in some sort of cartridge so you won’t be rebuilding any bearings. So with the right tools, this can be pretty simple. We’re not going to go over all of that now, but know that you need to remove the BB, clean it and the shell thoroughly apply grease and reassemble. A good, local bike shop should be able to help you identify which bottom bracket type that you’ve got, and show you the right tools to purchase. I would recommend leaving your bike with them if it’s a press-fit style bottom bracket.

The bottom bracket is normally the what’s squeaking but if it’s not, make sure to check that the chainring bolts, derailleur hanger, and quick-release skewers are all tight.

After all of that is tight, some unlikely but possible sources of creaks are a loose, dry headset. Even more unlikely are the handlebars or stem being a little loose. Usually, if they’re loose enough to creak, they will move around.

Last but not least (maybe the most expensive) is a cracked frame. You won’t have to worry about this if it’s carbon.

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