How Important are Noises ???

This entry was posted in Racing on by .

Back when there was friction shifting, hearing your bike was super important. You can somewhat feel when you are centered on a cog, but it is really listening that verifies it. I think that riders that started racing before the index shifting came about, all listen to their bikes much more than riders after.

I thought of this as I was working on my car yesterday. A main way to discovery issues with automobiles is through sounds. I can’t believe how many friends I have that pull up in their cars, or I’m getting a ride, and I hear a “bad” noise in their car. 90% of the time they say they can’t hear it.

As a cyclist, I can’t stress how important it is that you know what your bike sounds like when it is working perfectly. That is the sound that you have to know. Then, any other sound that comes from you bike is something that is wrong. It might be just a little, small thing wrong, but it could be something huge. Either way, the odd sound is never good.

I know almost all weird sounds that bikes make. All bikes, steel, ti, carbon, they all make their own sounds when they aren’t happy. I have to admit that the creaks that carbon frames make are sometimes super hard to figure out. I don’t like any weird sounds. I hate it when people race with their valve stem knocking on their carbon rims. I don’t know how people can stand it for the whole race.

Hearing is perhaps more important in MTB racing and cross. I’m constantly listening for disastrous noises, especially when I’m riding through thick mud or brush. Hearing a stick in your wheel might just save your race. I remember racing The 12 Miles of Hell a long time ago, and Megan Long, a cycling phenom, started beside me. She had her iPod on, music blaring. I couldn’t understand how she was going to race a technical MTB race with no ability to hear the noises her bike and the ground were making.

The same think happened a few years later in Redland’s Stage Race. I was riding for the British National MTB team and Liam Killeen was riding great. The stage that finishes up Oak Glen was important. I told Liam I knew the finish well and it was super important to be out of the wind the last few miles before the corner turning up the climb. I told him that I would look after him for those few miles and get him as far up the hill as I could. There were the normal bad crosswind leading up to the climb and we were doing great, in the front echelon, never in the wind. About 1/2 a mile before the left turn up the climb, right when it is critical to hold your position, Liam sits up, riding no handed and pulls his headphones out of his pocket and starts messing with his iPod. We lost a ton of slots by the time he was ready to race again. I got Liam around the corner and rode up the gutter and dropped him off right at the back of the front few guys that already had a gap. Liam went right by them and the last thing I saw was Liam pulling 4 or 5 guys up the climb.

When I got to the top, I was anxious to find out how Liam did. I saw him and he said he finished 2nd or 3rd, was jumped by surprise at the end. He said he didn’t hear them come by. I was thinking, “No shit, you were wearing headphones!” I can’t imagine sprinting at the end of a road race listening to music on headphones. Completely unimaginable. Listening in a sprint is nearly as important as seeing. Actually, hearing all the noises from behind is much like having eyes in the back of your head.

Anyway, if you don’t know your bike’s sound, then learn it. And learn it every time you put on those fancy carbon wheels too. If you know those sounds, then you’ll be able to recognize that something is amiss. You might not know exactly what it is, but you’ll know you need to get it fixed. And then do that too. One of the negatives of riding all this super light, carbon, exotic material, is that you don’t want to be riding it when it is compromised the slightest. And nearly the only way to diagnosis a lot of the potential disasters is though sound.

Here’s list of noises that a bike might make when it is not correct, courtesy of Sheldon Brown.

If you ever raced with these, then you know how important that hearing is during a race. The tactics and importance of shifting at critical times was something that decided many races.

18 thoughts on “How Important are Noises ???

  1. channel_zero

    Should your racing situation ever permit it, I’d be very interested to see you dust off an old downtube index-shifting bike and race it.

    Courtesy bikesnobNYC, he says the modern method of dealing with sounds on a bike is treating it like a leased BMW, take it to the shop!

    No disrespect to the industry guys visiting your blog either. Having been there, done that, sometimes the requests were ridiculous. Maybe that’s why I’m not in it any more??

  2. AT

    This is why I dont like the sounds of SRAM drivetrain. Makes a lot of noise even when it is proper adjusted!

  3. ED

    Every once in a while I take out my old Bianchi Superleggera, which I raced in late 70s and the early 80s. The Super Record/Regina drivetrain is nearly silent when clean and lubed. I love the silence. It still moves along pretty well, too.

  4. SB

    lol @ the earbuds story… when USAC banned them, I was surprised that anyone above cat 5 would ever use them anyway, just for safety and awareness reasons.

  5. Dave

    Great post!! You are right about the old school riders. You always hear sounds that others don’t. I have actually trained my wife to listen to sounds when she rides. Now when her bike makes a sound other than silence, she NOTICES and I fix it!

  6. Jeff

    Doing a mtb race years ago I was rolling pretty good up a steep rocky technical climb. A kid was up ahead and and moving much slower. Called out, ‘passing!’ and he didn’t budge off the primo line. Called a few more times until I was on him. I said something like, ‘ARE YOU DEAF OR WHAT?!?!” The kid behind ME laughed and said, “Yes, that guy IS deaf. He can’t hear you at all.” The kid was deaf. About then he realized I was there and jumped out of the way. Felt great about that one.

  7. Dale

    I remember some pros not liking index shifting when it first came out as it, they felt it telegraphed their intentions to competitors by the sound.

  8. Calvin Jones

    Interesting thoughts. It is important as well to be discriminating, meaning it is always good to know the source of the noise, even if you decide to ignore it. Discriminate, don’t just agitate.

    You recall Phil Anderson at the Coors. He would drag the front derailleur on the chain to the point where I’d yell off the scooter, “Phil, pull the left lever toward you”. But that’s his style and he was sticking to it.

  9. Wildcat

    Totally don’t get the people who feel like they need to be listening to music all day long no matter what they are doing.

  10. Aubree

    Steve, I have to say, this post is a bit of a relief for me. I notice just the very small differences in sound or even feel on my bike and my fiance thinks I’m being overly particular or dramatic when it’s not 100% normal. Thank you for the justification! 🙂

  11. Mark Teruki

    Love this post Steve. So true. I remember when I was a junior hearing a creak develop in my bike when pedalling, it was bothering me but couldn’t figure it out, and then one day out riding get out of the saddle and next thing I’m on the deck…broken pedal spindle…I now know what the sound of metal fatigue/pending failure is.

  12. Formerly Jim

    I have found the most difficult thing to keep quiet is a Brooks that needs some leather treatment under the nose that must be applied with a chopstick, you know one of those crazy double-sprung looped up frames with nuts and bolts in inaccessible places that you have to hold in your hand to drop Triflow in on a 360 swivel. Sometimes I’ll pre-bake it in the oven for a bit to help things along.

  13. Observer

    Excellent post and also one of my cycling pet peeves being an ex-bike mechanic having to ride with someone who is oblivious to the noises coming from their bike telling the rider that it needs some technical attention.

    And if we are being particularly particular about proper adjustment, those Campy shifters in the photo are set up wrong. The left and right shift levers need to be swapped on the downtube clamp-on, we are looking at the back sides of the lever.

  14. Mike Rodose

    My bicycle makes many noises. All indicate maintenance is required.

    I hear them clearly. I know how to performbthe specific maintenance to eliminate those noises.

    But I don’t do it.

  15. ken hillier

    the guys riding at redlands level let a knob put headphone buds in and “zone out to music ” while racing ?man when that happens even in a training bunch here in oz its get to the back or go away a race “unthinkable”what a selfish slob!


Comments are closed.