How to Diagnose and Fix Bike Noises — Bicycle Repair

Squeaks, rattles, and clicks annoy and frustrate every cyclist. Use these tips to troubleshoot and silence unwanted sounds.

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How to Diagnose and Fix Bike Noises — Bicycle Repair

As cyclists, we hear a lot of sounds when riding. Usually. the noises come from chirping birds, the wind rustling leaves or your bike’s tires rolling over the trail on your favorite trail. But sometimes the noises sound bad and come from your bike. And those noises can range from annoying to anxiety-inducing as you ponder the cause.

Bicycle components are moving parts that wear out and sometimes need adjustment. These squeaks, creaks, clicks, and other strange sounds are often a sign that something on your bike needs repair or replacement. And if your bike seems extra noisy, it might be time for some routine maintenance.

Noises on bikes are sometimes frustrating and mysterious. It’s often a challenge to figure out exactly where the sound originates—especially if it’s hard to reproduce when not riding. So first, you’ll need to know how to diagnose it.

The most common noise makers are loose parts or bearings requiring adjustment, cleaning, or replacement. Performing regular pre-ride bolt checks helps keep components tight and from working loose and causing noise complaints. Several spots on your bike use bearings to rotate smoothly, including your headset, bottom bracket, hubs, and suspension linkages on mountain bikes. Keep these bearings properly adjusted to cut down on squeaks and knocking sounds.

Below are the most common culprits of pesky bike noises—Use these suggestions to help you narrow down and silence them. If you lack the proper tools to fix an issue (or fear a fix is above your skill level), seek assistance from your local bike shop or a trusted bicycle mechanic.

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That creaky squeaking you hear as you pedal might mean that your bike’s chain needs lube. Cleaning and lubing your chain is usually a good place to start with any weird noise, but if it doesn’t solve the squeak, you may need to do other drivetrain maintenance or replace the chain.

Your chain should also be the first thing you check if you hear a rattling sound while riding. It could mean the loose, excess chain is contacting your frame (this is commonly called “chain slap”). It can also mean your derailleur is out of adjustment and not shifting properly.

A worn chain can also cause noise. Bicycle chains wear out with use as the bushings and rollers in the chain become worn down by grit and grime. This causes slop to develop and the distance between the pin centers to increase. (This is commonly called “chain stretch”, though the metal in the chain hasn’t actually stretched.)

Generally, when a chain “stretches” by 0.5 percent, it is time to change it. If you ride a lot, a chain checker is handy for knowing when it’s time to replace your chain.

Pro Tip: You can also use a ruler to check chain wear. A fresh chain measures 12 inches from pin center to pin center. If it measures more than 12-¹⁄₁₆ inches, change your chain.

If you notice a noise with every pedal stroke, it might be the pedals themselves. To remedy this, remove your pedals, grease the threads, and reinstall them on your bike (remember, both pedals tighten to the front of the bike). When installing, replace the washers (if any) between the pedal and crank arm.

Another source of squeaks might be your shoes’ cleats. Check that your cleats are tight—A loose cleat bolt can cause headaches. While checking the bolts, check for excess wear. Sometimes, the sounds are a sign that the cleats need replacement. An occasional drop or two of wax-based lubricant on two-bolt cleats can help keep the squeaks at bay.

Pro Tip: If your cleats and pedals get squeaky during a ride, a quick squirt of energy drink or something sugary like Gatorade can sometimes quiet them down until you get home and apply lube.

If your bike has internal cable routing, a rattling noise emanating from inside your frame when going over bumps (or knocking when turning) is commonly caused by derailleur housing or hydraulic brake lines. While the sound is rarely cause for concern, it drives riders crazy and can take you out of the zone when training.

Unfortunately, the fix for this issue isn’t usually quick or easy and requires some advanced mechanic skills (especially if dealing with hydraulic brakes). On some bikes—like Trek’s Boone, which has a port on the downtube for this purpose—it could be as simple as adding a zip tie to hold the cables. Other bikes might require the disassembly of the brake hoses and shifter housing (and even the stem and headset on some bikes) to apply sound-damping foam tubing to the lines.

Thankfully, the fix is much easier on bikes with externally routed cables and hoses that have rattling cables. This noise is usually caused when the housing slaps together over bumps on the trail or rough road surfaces. Some pro mechanics heat-shrink the housing together to prevent the sound, but electrical tape can also be used. Another solution is cable clips that keep the housing and hoses from contacting.

Before checking if the noise originates from your bottom bracket, check that the crank bolts (which affix the crank arms to the BB on many bikes) are sufficiently tight. You might hear a clicking when these bolts loosen. And if a crank bolt entirely backs out, it can cause a crankarm to fall off while riding or damage your crank or frame. Grab a torque wrench and tighten the bolts to the manufacturer’s recommended specification.

After you are sure the noise is not from a loose crankarm, stand next to your bike and grab both brakes. Then, put your foot on the pedal closest to you and press inward. If the bike still creaks or ticks when you put weight on the pedal, the problem likely comes from your bottom bracket.

If the clicking sound isn’t from your drivetrain or pedals (see below), your BB may be loose, or the bearings may be worn. Many bikes use a non-adjustable cartridge or press-fit BB that must be replaced when the bearings wear out. Some systems (such as SRAM Dub and RaceFace Cinch) use a preload ring to add preload to the bottom bracket bearings. These rings can loosen and cause a click while pedaling. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to tighten it back up.

If you don’t hear anything, the problem is likely the bearings in your headset, hubs, or suspension parts. Bearings can wear out after a season, especially if you live somewhere wet or sandy. Your local bike shop can help you order and install new ones.

Not long ago, disc brakes were almost only found on high-end and mountain bikes. However, these powerful stoppers are now common on almost all genres of bikes and at all price levels. And disc brakes make some unique sounds that can drive cyclists bonkers.

A chattering sound coming from your rotors might indicate a loose rotor. Check that the rotor bolts or lockring are sufficiently tight. Most disc brakes with 6-bolt rotors use a T25 Torx to tighten. For Centerlock rotors, a cassette lockring tool is used for internal-style lockrings. For external-type lockrings, a rotor/external BB wrench is used.

If your disc brakes are squealing and screeching when you apply the brakes, the brake pads or rotors may be contaminated. This commonly happens from oil residue thrown up from the road when you ride in the rain, contamination from aerosol lubricants, or any one of dozens of other causes.

If the contamination is not too bad, it can often be cleaned off. To do this, remove the wheel and thoroughly wipe down the disc rotor and pads with a clean shop rag or towel and isopropyl alcohol. If you notice significant discoloration of the rotor or grooves in the pads, either or both may need replacement. Your local bike shop can help get you the correct replacement pads and rotors for your brake system.

Pro Tip: If you swap wheelsets on your bike for different rides or races, recenter the disc brake caliper each time you change the wheel. It takes a few extra minutes but helps ensure brake pads wear evenly and reduces rotor rub.

The occasional zing and ting from disc rotors are normal, and these sounds often come and go during a ride as the rotors heat up under hard braking and cool down afterward. If you hear a continuous pinging noise from the rotors, your rotors might need straightening. Head to the below story for more detailed info on diagnosing and fixing common disc brake issues.

A loose headset usually makes a rattling or thunking sound. And a headset that’s too loose can make your bike handle poorly or even damage your frame or fork beyond repair. To tighten a threadless headset system, loosen the bolts on the side of your stem, then tighten the top cap bolt. Tight the bolt enough to pull the fork, headset, stem, and any headset spacers snugly together (but not so tight that the bars can’t turn freely).

After everything is snug and turns smoothly without play in the bearings, retighten the stem bolts. Use a torque wrench to bring the stem to the manufacturer’s recommended spec (this is sometimes noted on the stem in N/m). Since you have the torque wrench out, this is also a good time to check that your stem’s faceplate bolts are sufficiently tight.

If the rattling doesn’t go away after tightening the headset, take your bike to the shop to be safe. Sometimes, the headset might need a shim spacer—but it’s important to check that it’s not a problem with your fork or steerer tube.

Another common source of creaking is your seatpost—particularly if it occurs only while seated. To fix it, remove your seatpost by undoing the quick release (if there is one) or loosening the hex bolt at its base where it enters the frame.

Pro Tip: Before removing your post, measure the seat height (from the center of the crank bolt to the top of the saddle) with a tape measure. Or, mark the position with electrical tape on the seatpost where it meets the seat clamp or frame.

After removing the post, wipe off any grit on the seatpost and inside the seat tube with a rag, and apply a thin layer of grease or fiber grip compound (if you have a carbon frame or are using a carbon post) inside the seat tube. Finally, reinstall the post, tighten the binder bolt to the correct torque, and check if the post still creaks.

If the post still creaks after applying grease and retightening the binder, the noise might be coming from the head of the post or the saddle rails. To check this, undo the hardware that clamps the saddle and the seat from the post. Then, wipe down the hardware and saddle rails with a rag to remove any grit or grime that built up. Finally, reinstall the seat and hardware and tighten them to the manufacturer’s recommended torque.

Chainrings are noise makers when they loosen up and are often overlooked by riders. And if your bike has replaceable rings (with bolts vs. riveted together), tightening chainring bolts is an easy fix. Use the correct side hex or Torx wrench (often 5mm to T30) to the proper torque value. To help prevent the chainring bolts from coming loose again, apply some thread lock compound to the threads.

Pro Tip: Many chainring bolts use a slotted nut on the backside of the ring. If your chainring bolt spins and will not tighten, use a chainring nut tool to hold the nut while tightening the bolt.

If you hear a constant clicking (especially in certain gears) while pedaling, it might mean a shift cable is stretched. (This cable “stretch” is usually the cable housing and ferrules compressing). Cable stretch requires derailleur adjustment for the chain to sit correctly on the gears and not rub the derailleur cage.

First, ensure the derailleur is aligned and the hanger isn’t bent (see below). Then, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster (usually on the rear derailleur on road or gravel bikes and the shifter for mountain bikes). If this doesn’t solve the clicking, you might need to replace your shifter cable and housing.

A bent or misaligned derailleur hanger can cause a constant clicking sound while pedaling. This part (which connects your rear derailleur to the frame) can bend in a crash or incident. They are often replaceable and cheaper to replace than an entire frame.

A bent derailleur hanger might be easy to spot. However, sometimes, a slight bend can cause clicking and poor shifting. (This is especially true for 12-speed drivetrains where even the slightest bend can cause the chain to skip.) If the derailleur hanger isn’t cracked or bent too far to be saved, a hanger alignment tool can be used to straighten it out.

Sometimes, creaking occurs from the derailleur hanger rubbing against the frame where it’s mounted. To remedy this, remove the derailleur hanger, thoroughly clean the frame and hanger, and apply some anti-seize paste to the surfaces that touch.

Pro Tip: Derailleur hangers always seem to break at inopportune moments (like the night before an important race or a holiday when shops are closed). Hangers are relatively low-cost ($25-$50) so, it’s good to have a spare or two in your toolbox. is a good source for many hangers, especially for older bikes and out-of-business brands.

If you’re purchasing a new bike soon, look for ones using the new Universal Derailleur Hanger standard. Since this hanger is used on many bikes, it’s commonly stocked by many shops. (It also ensures frame compatibility with SRAM’s latest-generation Transmission drivetrains.) Most bikes using UDH are mountain bikes, but it is now popping up on gravel bikes (like the Santa Cruz Stigmata) and road bikes (like the Ritte Esprit).

A noisy thru axle or quick release might need to be tightened. But if tightening it doesn’t quiet the sound, it’s likely one of two problems. A creak or squeak is often a sign of a dry or dirty thru axle or quick release. Remove the thru axle from the frame or fork, clean it, and re-grease it with a thin coat of bike-specific grease. A clicking sound could signify that a thru axle or QR is cracked or broken—This requires immediate replacement.

Pro Tip: If you remove your wheels to get your bike to and from rides, put the thru axles in the frame or fork during transport. This protects your bike from side-load damage and keeps your thru axle from being left behind on your workbench or the trailhead (or getting lost under a car seat).

Far more uncommon than the issues listed above, a cracked or defective frame can be the reason for a persistent, mysterious noise. Frame defects or cracks sometimes aren’t immediately visible and can be hard to diagnose.

Frame damage (from a crash, shipping damage, etc) can also be the culprit. Hairline cracks in carbon frames can be hard to find with the naked eye. When in doubt, bring the bike to an experienced shop for a full inspection. Some companies that repair carbon frames also offer frame inspections. Ruckus Composites in Portland, Oregon, offers ultrasonic inspection to check frames for cracks and damage.

Sometimes, simply thoroughly washing your bike and cleaning and lubing the chain is all it takes to set everything right again. But if you can’t figure out the issue or aren’t sure how to fix it when you do, it’s always a safe bet to take your bike to your local shop or mechanic for service.

As Deputy Editor, Tara Seplavy leads Bicycling’s product test team; after having previously led product development and sourcing for multiple bike brands, run World Championship winning mountain bike teams, wrenched at renowned bicycle shops in Brooklyn, raced everything from criteriums to downhill, and ridden bikes on six different continents (landing herself in hospital emergency rooms in four countries and counting). Based in Easton, Pennsylvania, Tara spends tons of time on the road and trail testing products. A familiar face at cyclocross races, crits, and bike parks in the Mid Atlantic and New England, on weekends she can often be found racing for the New York City-based CRCA/KruisCX team. When not riding a bike, or talking about them, Tara listens to a lot of ska, punk, and emo music, and consumes too much social media.  

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How to Diagnose and Fix Bike Noises — Bicycle Repair

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