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Why does my road bike creak when I pedal?

December 16, 2016

We've all been there, you're out for a ride with your mates and 10 minutes in it starts, first as a faint squeak, then it gradually builds until it becomes loud enough for everyone around you to notice.

If you're like me, you take pride in your bike, and to have it making a noise that attracts numerous cheeky jibes from your mates leaves little to be desired.
But where is it coming from, and why the heck does it decide to do it on a day you are thinking about taking out the sprint at the end of your ride?

Well, there's no simple answer, unfortunately with today's modern bicycles the need to go lighter and stiffer to increase performance, also means they require more regular maintenance to ensure squeaks and creaks don't occur.

The composition of road bikes acts like an amplifier; this makes noise sound like it's are coming from everywhere and anywhere and makes it difficult to locate unless you know where to look.

The good news is, that noise may not be as difficult to rectify as you think. The following 5 tips could save you time and also the potential embarrassment of having your local bike mechanic discovering you forgot to tighten your front wheel.

1. Check your front skewer: Yes it's obvious I know, but if I had 20 cents for the number of times I've been out on a ride with someone who had a skewer that wasn't torqued correctly, I'd have at least $2.80!!

Most skewers have an eccentric cam to lock the wheel in place, if the skewer is old or dirty, it will feel like it's locked tight but can still allow some movement.

The squeak will often occur when climbing or when the rider is working the front of the bike out of the saddle. Because of this motion, it can sound like the cranks or pedals are the problem.

Regular cleaning and small amounts of lube applied to the moving parts of a skewer will help keep it working smoothly.

When re-installing the wheel always check that it's sitting squarely in the forks. If necessary apply downwards pressure to the bars to make sure that axle is sitting firmly in the dropouts before closing the skewer.

2. Check your cleats for wear: I used to work as a bicycle courier and had an old mountain bike with road pedals, (I have no simple answer for this) but because I was stopping and starting all the time, I wore my cleats down rapidly, this caused a creak when I pushed down on the pedal.

It also caused an odd vibration through my foot which felt like a bearing had died in my bottom bracket. I fitted some new cleats and it felt like I was riding a brand new bike!

3. Check your saddle rail: saddle clamp bolts and seat post: Creaking from the saddle can sound like it's a crank or pedal issue because it's noticeable while pedaling, however, it's clear that this is not the case when the rider stands up and the sound stops.

Riding on wet roads often leads to water ingress down the back of the seat tube and up under the saddle. This causes grime and oxidisation to occur which often leads to friction and eventually creaking.

If you ride an alloy or steel frame, it's always good to occasionally pull out the seat post and look at what's happening down inside the frame, (once a season is enough) give it a good clean and apply a thin layer of grease to the post and the frame before re-instillation.

The clamp bolts and mounts can also suffer and become worn or loose without the rider noticing.
A quick prevention for a creaking saddle is a squirt of some water dispersant on the rails and clamps after a wet ride, then a wipe down. Make regular inspections of the rails and clamps to ensure they are in good order and not loose.

If you ride a carbon frame, removal of the seat post should only be done if you have a torque wrench and know what the correct torque settings are for your frame. The same should be done for alloy and steel also, however, it's less critical. Over torquing will usually break the bolt rather than crack seat post or frame, still it's never good, just not as expensive.

Carbon seat posts can be cleaned but NEVER USE GREASE!! carbon specific paste is fine but again, only attempt if you have a torque wrench and know what you're doing, your wrist does not have a built-in torque setting!

When in doubt check with your local bike shop!

4. Clean and Maintain your pedals: Pedals are often overlooked by the average rider, mainly because they're standing on them all the time. You usually don't look down at your pedals when you're riding so generally take little notice of them, and as a result, they tend to suffer.

Take your pedals off and give them a good going over, spray some lube on the moving parts and give them a good clean. Now this is the most important part, grease the pedal axle threads. So many people install new pedals in their bike without applying grease, this leads to creaking.

The problem is the different metals used for pedals and cranks, it can cause electrolysis when they get wet, especially if riding near the coast where there is more salt around (not as much of an issue in Castlemaine).

This electrolysis leads to oxidisation and creaks, greasing the axle thread creates a nice barrier between the two surfaces and alleviates the probable cause, it also makes them easier to remove. If you're running Sram cranks, ensure you are using the supplied pedal washer, this is a common cause of pedal creaks with these brand of cranks.

5. Check your stem and headset: The last check on the list is the easiest, it's very important that you check over your stem and headset on a regular basis to make sure it's safe and to ensure you don't leave your face on the road at any point during your next ride.

For a headset, check apply your front brake and rock your bike back and fourth, if there is any headset wear you will feel or even see movement.

However don't confuse this with fork or wheel flex, to be sure wrap your hand around the headset spacers to feel the movement better.

For your stem, have a close look at the upper and lower side of the front plate, ensure the gaps are even between the top and bottom. Then straddle your frame and rock your bars as if you were sprinting.

Next face the bike and hold your front wheel between your knees firmly and try and turn your bars ( don't over do this movement or you may put your wheel out of true) this will indicate if there is anything loose.

If there is movement it should be apparent, again, any adjustment to the fixing bolts should be done with a torque wrench, especially if you are running carbon bars or stem.

So there it is, the 5 checks you can do yourself in the comfort of your own home, I must stress, that you should have a moderate amount of mechanical knowledge before you try any of these fixes.

Rushing in blindly can often lead to your undoing or even worse an extra expense to fix something you broke.

Remember, it's worth coming down to speak to the guys at The Bike Vault they are always happy to help out and the knowledge and experience they have can't be purchased online.



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