Noises On Your Bike

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I’ve written a couple times about noises a bicycle can make and how important it is to know the sounds you bike makes.  When you hear something that isn’t normal or doesn’t sound right, it is important.

Yesterday we were out riding for a long-ish ride and a guy had a China rear carbon wheel that was Campy, with an off brand titanium cassette that weighed nothing.  His cassette was coming loose when he got to our house and it took me a while to find a tool to tighten up the lockring, which surprised me.  I almost never don’t have the correct tool to work on a bicycle.

Anyway when we were heading back towards Lawrence, his bike was making a bunch of noises that I didn’t recognize.  I’m not sure if it was a combination of titanium and the weird wheel or what, but nearly every time he shifted, it creeped me out.  Very rarely do I hear a noise coming from a bicycle that I don’t recognize.  It was unsettling.

I looked at post I did a few years ago about bike noises.  Since it is nearly Spring, well a month from now, but if it is warm enough to get out, then make sure your bike isn’t making any weird noises.  Even the slightest strange sound can make a huge impact.  Especially with carbon.  A small carbon crack, which normally wouldn’t make a much of a noise, could be disastrous.

Here’s my previous post  (The best part of the post is the link at the bottom to help diagnose your noises if you aren’t up to speed on what noise is from where.)  –

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.


Tucker is getting braver every day. He finally got up the nerve to visit Dickens, the dog that lives in the yard behind us.

Tucker is getting braver every day. He finally got up the nerve to visit Dickens, the dog that lives in the yard behind us.

7 thoughts on “Noises On Your Bike

  1. jeffc

    Fully agree, I hate noises as well. I typically ride with the music blaring,but lately I’ve been so bored of my little tune box that I’m tuning out of the music thrill. I’m hearing all sorts of noises from my ride, shifters and seat post. So, I managed to fix them up. The seat post still makes a touch of noise, I’m not certain what it is. Maybe a hairline crack, I’m not sure yet. Time to put some grease on it to see if it goes away.

    I used to race La Ruta (, that race does a number on ones bike due to the mud, the kerosin they use to spray the bikes after the race (they call it a wash, yah right… total destruction, even to my Ti parts..), etc…
    One year I put my bike away without cleaning and replacing the bearings. The spring rolled around and started doing 100 milers (, come Sept my bearings were starting to go. I heard a slight noise, but paid not much attention to it. So, I started the race and just 10km the rear wheel seizes up. The loudest noise ever echoed through the Ti airborne frame. It got harder and harder to spin the wheel. I reached down to spin the hub, it was hot to touch. Bearing seized up completely.
    Walked back 10km and got another ride then gunned the 100miles to catch up… not good.

    so important to listen, inspect once in a while, and wash thy ride 🙂 I’m really bad at that one… lazy I get.
    all in all lessons learned, some the hard way. Walking back for miles and miles is painful at times… esp in the dead of winter.

  2. Bill K

    Back in the day, friction shifters worked pretty well except if you were on a fast group ride and you had to stop quickly for a stop light. You were often in a large gear, and because you had straight cut cogs in back, your chain did not like to shift under high load. You had to grunt it out until you could ease off to shift. Same for the trick of fiddling with the “D” ring before a climb, so the bike didn’t “auto-shift”.

    Those were the days.

  3. Todd

    I once had a ticking that I couldn’t diagnose for months and it drove me absolutely crazy. Tried every possible thing I could think of to fix it and it wasn’t until I removed my seat post that I found a foam grip shoved into the bottom of it with a monofilament line and a few washers dangling in my seat tube near the front derailleur. It was perfect mechanical sabotage and had been in place for so long that the guy who did it forgot all about it until I finally discovered it.

    Long story short, don’t mess with your co-workers when you work at a shop.

  4. Niki

    I went to the Indy Velodrome to participate in mock races preparing for the real races coming up. I took my Felt TK2 which I had raced just a month before at Red Hook Crit and hadn’t touched since. I started riding around and heard creaking coming from my bike. I could not figure it out and even got off and felt the crank and the headset. Hurried to get back on so I could line up on the rail for my “mock” race getting ready to go off. Dean Peterson (Marian University coach) came onto the track and rode up next to me and asked if I had heard the noise my bike was making. I said yes but I didn’t know what it was. He told me to safely exit the velodrome and get a loaner bike. Loaner bike was nothing like mine but I toughed it out, feeling frustrated with my bike.

    It was a track bike – what all can possibly go wrong? Got it home and after replacing the entire crankset, lubing, etc and got it all back together, it was still making the damn noise. Finally figured out it was the seatpost and the saddle creaking on it. Even untightening/retightening only worked for awhile. Time for a new seatpost.


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