Fix It Tip: What’s That Noise?

Probably the most commonly asked question when it comes to bikes is “what’s that noise?”

Sometimes noises are just annoying but fairly harmless. But since bikes are (relatively) simple machines, a noise is usually the first indicator that something is not working as it should. Most common mechanical problems can be correctly identified by sound alone, making fixing the problem that much quicker and easier.

A quick note on carbon frames: due to the physical properties of carbon fiber, carbon frames are notorious for transmitting some noises through the frame, making hunting down a squeak a little more difficult, since something that sounds like it’s coming from the headset could actually be coming from the rear wheel. In this case, your best bet is to go through a process of elimination until the problem is solved.

A quick note on safety: Over tightening bolts, over greasing parts, or toying around with moving parts can make the problem worse instead of better. If you’re unsure what you’re doing, please take your bike to the nearest Performance Bicycle shop and have them take a look at it.

Need help finding something on your bike? Check out our Anatomy of a Bicycle.

 

Common Noises

Metallic skipping sound when pedaling

Cause: You rear derailleur is out of alignment, causing the chain to not sit properly on the cogs

Other Symptoms: Your bike may also not be shifting properly, either moving to the incorrect gear, or not moving the chain at all when you press the lever

Fix: Adjust your rear derailleur cable tension using the barrel adjuster

Complications: If the skipping is more pronounced in the smallest or biggest cogs, it may because your rear derailleur hanger is bent. Bring it to your nearest Performance shop to have the Spin Doctor do this quick fix.

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

Skipping noises come from a poorly adjusted rear derailleur
Skipping noises come from a poorly adjusted rear derailleur

Metallic scraping noise when pedaling

Cause: Your front derailleur is out of alignment, causing the chain to rub against the derailleur cage

Other Symptoms: The chain may look like its vibrating as you pedal, chain may not stay in the big chainring

Fix: Reset your front derailleur cable tension by shifting the chain into the little ring, loosening the cable fixing bolt, pulling the cable until it is taut, and then tightening the cable fixing bolt

Complications: Your high or low limit screws may be improperly adjusted, restricting the derailleur from moving fully into position. If this is the case, adjust your limit screws to the proper setting.

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

A metallic scraping noise usually comes from the chain rubbing against the front derailleur, as seen here
A metallic scraping noise usually comes from the chain rubbing against the front derailleur, as seen here

High Pitched “Singing” Sound

Cause: Loose wheel spoke

Other Symptoms: The offending wheel may also feel wobbly, or be rubbing against your brakes

Fix: Tighten the spoke. You can either do this at home with a spoke wrench, or bring it to your local Performance shop to have you Spin Doctor take a look.

Loose wheel spokes often cause a high pitched "singing" noise when riding
Loose wheel spokes often cause a high pitched “singing” noise when riding

Squeaks & Creaks

Oh boy, this is a tough one. If you can’t identify exactly where the noise is coming from, your best bet is to go through each potential cause one by one until the problem is eliminated.

Squeak When Sitting (independent of pedal stroke)

Possible Causes:

  1. Seatpost

Fix: Mark seatpost height with tape, remove post, regrease, reinstall and tighten to spec

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

  1. Quick Release Skewers

Fix: Remove front and rear quick release skewers, grease the threads, reinstall and make sure they are nice and tight

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

  1. Saddle

Fix: Mark saddle position with tape, remove saddle, lightly grease rails, reinstall and tighten to spec

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

  1. Brake Rub (this can either sound like a squeak or a rubbing sound, depending on rim material)

Fix: Adjust brakes to ensure they are properly aligned. Ensure wheel is centered in dropouts. Check that wheel is true—if it’s wobbly bring to Performance store to have it trued.

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

Squeak When Sitting (Only when pedaling)

Possible Causes:

  1. Pedals

Fix: Remove pedals, grease threads, reinstall and tighten to spec

  1. Cleats (for clipless pedals)

Fix: Make sure cleat bolts are tight, lightly grease pedal interface (where cleats lock into pedal)

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

Loose pedals can cause a lot of noise
Loose pedals can cause a lot of noise

Squeak When Standing

Possible Causes:

  1. Loose Bottom Bracket

Fix: Remove bottom bracket, clean, regrease, reinstall and tighten to spec

Loose Crank

Fix: Check tightness of crank fixing bolt on non-drive side (SRAM/Shimano/Race Face/Travitiv) or in BB shell (Campagnolo)

Loose Headset

Fix: Loosen stem pinch bolts, tighten headset cap, retighten stem pinch bolts to spec. Also check to make sure you have enough headset spacers to headset cap to fully seat. Don’t over-tighten, it should still be able to turn smoothly.

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

  1. Loose Handlebars

Fix: Remove stem faceplate bolts, regrease, reinstall to spec

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

  1. Cracked Frame or fork

Fix: This is a very serious, and dangerous, issue. Stop riding bike immediately, and bring to your local Performance shop to be evaluated.

 

Rattling:

Possible Causes:

  1. Loose Bottle Cages

Fix: Ensure bottle cage bolts are tight

Loose Seat Wedge

Fix: Tighten straps

  1. Cable Slap

Fix: Ensure all cables have appropriate tension. If problem persists add mid-cable bumpers to prevent cable from rattling against frame.

  1. Cable Housing Rub

Fix: Cable housing is bouncing against headtube. Ensure brake and shift cable housing is cut to the appropriate length

  1. Loose Headset

Fix: Loosen stem pinch bolts, tighten headset cap, retighten stem pinch bolts to spec. Also check to make sure you have enough headset spacers to headset cap to fully seat. Don’t overtighten, it should still be able to turn smoothly.

CLICK HERE to learn how to fix it yourself

 

Again, a quick note on safety: if you’re not quite sure what your doing or how to do something, bring your bike to the shop and let the Spin Doctor mechanic take a look.

Let us know in the comments: is there anything we missed? Do you have any suggestions for quick fixes for annoying bike noises?

12 thoughts on “Fix It Tip: What’s That Noise?

  1. I had a creaking sound when pedaling for a long time, which drove me nuts. And as I shifted to smaller cogs in the back, it got worse. Turned out, after several trips to the LBS, that the cassette was loose, and the further out the chain got, it exacerbated it.

  2. Disc rub/misaligned calipers is always an issue. Also, I see the B-screw adjustment causing chain noise/shifting problems in the largest chain ring.

  3. I ride dirt jumps, and lately I have noticed an enormous amount of rattling going one when I land. I do have shocks, and everything seems tight. Does someone have an answer?

    1. Chain rattle? Well first off are you on a BMX bike, MTB or what? Could be anything from chain rattle on your rear triangle from chain tension, also check your cables for either abnormally loose cables or your may need to get you a couple rubber cable/frame protectors to put on your cables to prevent landing “rattling”

  4. Just had to add I diagnosed an intermittent rattling sound in a front wheel yesterday. The moron who put the bike together had dropped 3 spoke nipples into the double wall of the rim. Took me near 2 hours of cursing the get them out. I removed the tape around the rim, located the rattle and using a very small screwdriver slowly edged them around to the valve hole where they finally fell out.

  5. It’s a dull tic toc that comes once a pedal stroke. Now, I’d be looking at either a worn out cleat if I hadn’t changed them out. The noise isn’t there for the first several miles of riding and then it appears. This has made it more than a bit difficult for the LBS to trace down. With trepidation I’m thinking the BB (bike is carbon fiber) may have a crack in it that is coming into play.

      1. BB is def a probable issue, may not be “cracked” but the bearing could need adjusting/re-tensioning/re-greasing or replacing the BB. Also make sure you don’t have any frame damage/cracks anywhere really, but I’d start my inspection towards BB to your rear triangle, then back up to your drop tube.

  6. Rattling: turned out that the mechanic who installed a new cassette had cross-threaded it and my sprockets had a lot of play. Still in the shop and I’m anxious to get back in the saddle!

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