Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

The source of unwanted sounds

Back in the days when everyone rode steel frames, they made noise quite often because everything required frequent maintenance. Bottom brackets had loose bearings in them. Headsets had loose bearings in them. Pedals had loose bearings in them. Freewheels had loose bearings in them. One ride in the rain was sufficient for most bikes to contaminate at least one of these and cause noise.
I remember Saturday morning bike fixing when I was at university. There was always something that either drew attention from noise, or because it felt loose, tight or rough. High end gear was better, but it still needed a lot of TLC.
If you were a regular cyclist, you got in the habit of continuous maintenance just to keep your bike running well. I never knew a regular cyclist in those days who wasn't their own mechanic, so I don't know how someone went getting their shop to do it all for them - saving things up might well have ruined something or left the bike stranded.
But I digress. One thing you could count on with a skinny-tube steel frame is that it wasn't overly annoying to have a creak in it. Those thick, skinny tubes didn't amplify noises.

Fast forward to today. Everything is sealed. Sometimes beyond even replacing/adding grease to it. Headset and bottom bracket bearings are sealed collections of bearings that simply drop in in the case of headsets and press in with bottom brackets (even the threaded bottom bracket units have the bearings pressed into them - the current Shimano bottom brackets can have the bearings pulled and new ones pressed in for less $$ than a whole new assembly as an example). And everything is installed in a super-oversized thin-walled carbon frame. These bike frames isolate the sound from its source (where did that noise originate?) and amplify it to the point it cannot be ignored.
On the plus side, even when making noise there is seldom damage being done. These cartridge units can wiggle and make noise in the frame but be perfectly fine doing this for thousands of kilometres. Noise control is not about perfect adjustment - in fact there is seldom any adjustment possible. Instead it is about getting just the right compound in just the right place so that the motions continue silently.

Take my recently departed Checkpoint. It was an absolutely brilliant commuting bike. Comfortable. Speedy. Light. Top of the line gear in the form of mechanical shifting Campagnolo Record 12 speed. But it was noisy. For almost every ride over the three years I rode it. I made lesser and greater efforts to exorcise the noise. New bottom bracket bearings. Different cranks. Lubricate the adjustable dropouts. Check the torque on everything. Grease the headset. Grease the chainring/spider interface. Lube the through axles. And more. I went over absolutely everything at least 2x in 3 years. Then the shop had it for a total of 2 weeks where they did one thing I couldn't do (replace the bearing seats for the bottom bracket) and re-did everything I did do (lube everything and check the torque settings). And still it creaked. We could only conclude that perhaps there was a flaw in the carbon construction, somewhere invisible, that made a noise. Trek agreed and offered me a replacement frame.

Thanks Trek!

Even my racing bike, a Trek Madone, makes some crazy noises from time to time. I think that is just the way it is. This large volume, thin wall, carbon structure is light and fast and noisy. It has an almost identically Campagnolo Record mechanical 12 speed build as the Checkpoint had. Nothing is ever loose. And it almost never gets ridden in the wet. But it can make a noise sometimes.

As a bike shop mechanic there were many times that customers brought in weird ghost noises. Once it was one particular spoke crossing in the rear wheel - once lubricated with one drop of oil, the bike was silent. But it took hours to get to the spoke crossings.

Mountain bikes are even more prone to it with their suspension systems moving all over the place. I have two noises in my Ibis. One seems to come from the shock itself. Is it internally dry? Probably time to replace the seals on it just in case. The other comes from pedalling, but does not seem to be related to the mechanical components. Maybe a derailleur hanger? That was an early noise on the replacement Checkpoint on its first rides after it got damp - there is an aluminium derailleur hanger than interfaces on bare carbon. A touch of heavy grease made it quiet. Time to investigate the same pieces on the Ibis for noise.

On my single speed MTB, the dropouts move to provide chain tension. The eccentric bottom bracket alternative is a constant source of noises, and they tend to rotate and wreck carefully adjusted tensions. The sliding dropouts are a nice alternative. They also must move slightly in use. Every time I remove them, clean them, lubricate them and reinstall them at torque spec, they are quiet until they get wet/dusty again or about 3 rides, whichever comes first! I don't want to exceed specified torque for fear of breaking anything. So I have to put up with some noise in between services. This brings me back to where I started this entry - I could be doing this servicing after every second ride to prevent the noise from ever occurring. Lazy? Perhaps. But I also always have a backlog of much needed bike work to do so I don't want to do this non-vital work as well. Need time to ride!

The Canyon Sender DH bike also has a little "tick" noise in the drivetrain. I strongly suspect it is dropout related. The dropouts are many pieces permitting wheelbase adjustment. I think when moist/dirty, the pieces make noise. Given how little actual pedalling happens on the DH bike, I've been happy to ignore it. But not forever. I will get around to covering the pieces in grease to see if it quiets the noise.

My favourite no-longer pro rider, Phil Gaimon, even did a video on creaks. His TL:DR was that it is never the bottom bracket. And with current equipment this is 99.99% true. It really always sounds like, but never is, the bottom bracket. So do not start there. Unless you have a press-fit bottom bracket that isn't press fit properly. They can make noises. I put a thread-together bottom bracket in my first Slash not long before I sold it - instead of just pressing in, the two halves thread together in the middle ensuring they are parallel with each other and provide a good support to the axle, as well as ensuring they're tight in the frame. I didn't think the noise was the bottom bracket then either, but the replacement unit did make the bike quiet. At least until I sold it.
Suspect everything, except the bottom bracket. Even if you get through everything and the only thing left is the bottom bracket it is still not likely that. They basically don't seem to make noises any more. Hoorah.

Postscript: Today I got rid of a creak noise in my Ripley trail bike by snugging up the drive side bottom bracket cup. It was finger tight and that's why it creaked. So it can be the bottom bracket.

Good luck and good hunting.