The most common cause is dragging
brake pads. The wheel may need to be centered between the brake
pads or the brake may need adjustment.
A problem that's often overlooked is a wheel that's positioned
sideways in the frame, causing the tire to rub on a chainstay.
seating. If suspected, deflate and reinflate. Better yet,
try another tire.
Check spoke intersections. The spokes
can rub and create creaking and clicking noises. Squeeze pair of
spokes around the wheel and see if you can duplicate the noise.
A drop of light oil at each intersection will generally stop the
sound. Of course if you have loose or broken spokes, you can
expect noises from that.
You may have a hub problem. Remove the
wheel from the bike, and spin the axle by hand. It should be
smooth and not loose. If it is, a hub problem is unlikely. If
not, you probably should overhaul
Rear wheels:Does it happen in every gear? If so,
then it is probably one of the problems above.
If not: Look for foreign matter caught between
sprockets - a stick or bunched up leaves, fishing line, etc. Look for a damaged sprocket tooth. You may have cassette or freewheel
One of the most common causes is a
loose crank arm. If your system is
cotterless, as most are
these days, you'll find a large nut or bolt in each crank arm
that holds it to the axle. This should be kept tight. In fact,
it should be checked for tightness every couple of months, or
more often if you ride in cold weather. If a crank arm has come
loose, even a little bit, there is a very good chance that it's
inner surface has been distorted. If so, you may have to tighten
the crank bolt often, yet the crank will continue to come loose.
It will have to be replaced. If you really let it go, the axle
will become misshapen also, and also need to be replaced. If you
have let a crank arm become loose, you can try removing it with
a cotterless crank extractor, clean and grease the surfaces of
the axle and crank, reassemble it, tighten the bolt, and recheck
it every couple of days until you see whether it is stable or
will need to be replaced.
Note that some mechanics will tell you
NOT to use grease between the crank and axle interface. That's
ridiculous! Their theory is that the grease makes the crank slip
too far on the axle. I've never seen that happen. But, without
grease, your crank and axle can become stuck due to
electrolytic action, and you
can actually invite the loosening and distortion we've been
If you have an older bike with
cottered cranks, you may find that the cranks become so loose
that you can feel movement. The cotters should be replaced. If
the distortion of the cotters is slight, you can file them flat
and reuse them.
A bike with a one-piece crank won't
have this problem, so if you have noise that's not pedals or
chainwheel, the problem is going to be in the bottom bracket
bearings. These one-piece cranks often have bearing problems
because the bearings are not well sealed against weather and
On any kind of crankset, if you have
screeching noises, it will be dry or damaged bottom bracket
bearings most of the time.
This generally means there is a
problem with the pedals, bottom bracket or chainwheel, but don't
rule out handlebar/stem or seat/frame issues since you pull on
the handlebars and exert pressure on the seat that corresponds
to revolutions of the pedals. You might remove the stem, grease
the handlebar where it fits in the stem, grease the stem where
it fits the fork, and grease the nuts and bolts, and see if the
problem goes away. Same with the seatpost. Seats with springs
are particularly prone to noises. Sometimes a spray of light oil
will fix the problem.
One of the best way to check pedals is
to borrow a different pair and see what happens. Pedals can have
problems in the bearings, plates and screws or rivets, or toe
clips. The most common source of pedal noise is the plates and
fasteners. If held together with screws, try tightening them. A
spray of light oil may reduce the noise on riveted pedals.
Chainwheels can produce squeaks or
clicks if the chainwheel bolts are loose.
The problem is in the chain - no doubt
about it. Look the chain over carefully for a bent, stiff or
damaged link. A stiff link can often be lubed, and worked free
by hand or with a couple of pairs of pliers. Try bending the
chain just a bit laterally, as well as the way the link is meant
to move, to free up rust or dirt. If the link is bent, it should
be replaced. You should also wonder why it was bent. If the bike
was thrown carelessly in a car or if it fell over that may explain it.
But if not, it may have suffered some sort of shifting problem
that could bend other links - and that should be investigated.
In the meantime, don't force the shifting if it is not working
well. If the link has come partially disassembled, run, don't
walk, to the nearest bike shop and get a new chain! Unless you know that
specific link has been mistreated, you can suspect that the
entire chain has a problem and should be replaced. The thing you
want to consider is what happens when you're pedaling hard up a
hill and the chain suddenly breaks. This can be a serious
You may have a new problem when you
replace a chain however. The chain and sprockets often wear
together. As the chain stretches, the trailing edges of the
sprocket teeth wear accordingly. Then, when you put a new chain
on, it skips because it doesn't match the wear on the sprockets.
This is more common on bikes made 20 or more years ago, but
still can be a problem that requires replacing sprockets as well
as the chain.
Generally this is a suspension problem. Try lubricating
pivots and tightening bolts. Look for loose accessories, or ones
in which metal parts slap together such as luggage carriers and
fenders. Chainguards are frequent noise-makers. Generally
repositioning or bending the chainguard will fix the problem.
Sometimes, the chain is too loose, and pulling the rear wheel
back a bit will fix the chainguard problem. This is similar to
chain slap, a problem in which the chain crashes down against
the chainstay. Chain slap can
be caused by a sticky freewheel or cassette. That will require
replacement or overhaul. Many rear derailleurs can be adjusted
to add more tension to the chain. On many bikes, some chain slap
is natural. A layer of tape or plastic glued to the chainstay
will reduce the noise and protect the paint.
Quite often a drop of light oil
applied to the right place will fix the problem. Lubricate brake
pivots (keeping the oil away from the rims and brake pads),
seatpost parts, spoke intersections and so on.
On coaster-brake and
internally-geared bikes, the chain may be too tight.
One of the best ways to
find random noises is to temporarily replace items. Go with your
suspicions. For instance, if you think it is in the seat or
seatpost, borrow another seat and post and try them out. If that
doesn't fix it, and you think it may be pedals, try another pair
of pedals next. And so on, until the problem goes away.
You have the biggest challenge with
noises that happen only seldom. It can be like the proverbial
car problem in which when the owner takes it to the shop, it
doesn't misbehave, so the mechanic doesn't know what to fix.
When test riding to find a noise that occurs infrequently, try
pedaling hard up hill in every gear. If the noise is an
occasional clunk, the chain and rear sprockets may be worn out
and need replacement. That's because the chain is slipping a
link at a time over the rear sprockets. This will most often
happen in the smallest rear sprocket only. Depending on your
tolerance for annoyance, it can be ignored for a while. This problem
is not dangerous, but will get worse in time until it happens on
larger and larger sprockets, and more and more frequently.
Try turning hard left and right when
looking for an occasional noise. Sometimes the problem will be
exaggerated by the chain hanging at an angle, the wheels bearing
weight off-center, or the accessories flexing into an unusual
There's good news in small, infrequent noises: They seldom
indicate a serious problem that needs immediate attention. If a
thorough investigation turns up nothing, you can continue to
ride the bike, and wait to see if the problem slowly gets worse,
goes away, or ceases to bother you.