June 19, 2010
Locating a creak coming from your bike can be a tricky thing to do. While the noise almost always seems to be emanating from the bottom bracket, there are also a handful of additional suspects that are (fortunately) easier to fix.
Why should you worry about a creak? For one, it could indicate a loose bolt, a crack, or an un-lubricated metal-on-metal contact surface. To me, it's a nuisance while I'm trying to take in the quiet scenery while pedaling along smoothly. If you find that your bike is talking to you in a way you aren't fond of, here are a few common places to check that don't require a lot of mechanical know-how.
Handlebars: The point where the stem clamps to the handlebar can often cause some noise. You can test this location by putting placing your hands closer to the stem. This cuts down on the handlebar flex, and noise if it's coming from here. To fix this problem, loosen the stem clamp bolts with an Allen wrench and slide the handlebar over so you can see the surface. Wipe it down with a clean rag, and clamp the stem back in place.
Pedals: What often sounds like a bottom bracket creak is often a pedal creak. Using a 15mm pedal wrench (or adjutsable wrench), remove the pedal and check the threads. Wipe them clean, apply a small amount of grease to the threads, and install them back on the crank arms. Keep in mind that the non-driveside pedal (left side of the bike) is reverse threaded, and loosens when you turn it to the right.
Seat Clamp: If you don't have fenders or a saddle bag, your seat clamp is subject to a ton of water spray, dirt, and debris. Over time, this will dry the clamp out, and require a quick cleaning and re-greasing. Using an Allen wrench, remove the saddle from the seatpost, clean the contact surfaces with a rag, and apply a small amount of grease. It's not a bad idea to make some marks on the saddle rails to indicate its position on the clamp so you don't lose the bike fit you're used to. While you're looking at the seatpost, make sure the section of the seatpost that resides in the frame is lightly lubricated, and again, make a marking on the post before taking it out so you get your exact position back.
Misc Bolts: Using an Allen wrench or screw driver, check the bolts on your bike, especially the ones holding your racks in place. A loose bolt can create some unwanted noise, as it work its way out over time. Don't over tighten anything, just make sure they are snug. Don't neglect your chain ring bolts, as these can do a good job of imitating a bottom bracket creak.
Cracks: Chances are that a crack is not the cause of your creak, so don't panic. That being said, it's worth your time to make a quick inspection of your frame for any signs or cracking.
If none of these are the source, you may have a creaky bottom bracket. It's likely that you won't have the proper extraction tools with you on tour, so a bike shop is your best bet to pull it out, re-grease it, and put it back in. While they are examining the bottom bracket, have them check out your freehub body as well, as this can sometimes be the culprit.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.