Creaks. Clicks. Knocks. We show you how to hunt down and fix those annoying and potentially dangerous bike creaks and noises.
Silence is golden. And all too rare on some mountain bikes. Here is our great big list of Creak Causes on mountain bikes. Good luck tracking yours down!
A silent bike is bliss
A creaking bike can be incredibly infuriating, and it may also be an early warning sign that there is something very wrong and potentially dangerous afoot.
The first thing you should do upon discovering a creak is to give your bike a good clean and inspect it for cracks. Pay particular attention to the bars, stem and any welds, especially around the headtube and bottom bracket shell. Although this may seem like a laborious process there is no point taking further steps if there are cracks present. If you do find a suspect crack it is worth getting a second opinion from your local bike shop.
If all seems to be in order, then resolving a creak can require a bit of trial and error. Some creaks can be easily traced, but sometimes the noise is transferred away from its source.
Some creaks can be very hard to find, and we have come across new bikes that have suffered from creaking problems which we have failed to resolve through conventional means. In one case it transpired after speaking to the manufacturer that the mitres of the frametubes were misaligned and this was causing the noise!
Full-suspension bikes make the whole process even more complicated. The vast majority of creaking issues, however, can be resolved by following the steps laid out here.
It is well worth investing in some good quality ‘anti-seize’ and applying it to the bolt threads and beneath the head. Clean all the parts you dismantle thoroughly as this will give you the chance to carefully inspect parts for damage.
Dry or dirty bolts
99% of bike creaks and clicks are caused by two components that have either gone ‘dry’ and/or have some dirt in there where their surfaces meet or in the threads.
So when you do locate the source of the creak it’ll almost certainly just be a case of cleaning it and then applying the appropriate substance before reassembling.
As weird as it sounds, lube helps keep bolts and other things tight.
Even if two components are not supposed to move against each other (eg. seatpost and seat tube) they should have some substance in between them. It’s not always the answer – some interfaces should be lube-free or have anti-seize in there – but it usually is.
You really should contemplate investing in a torque wrench too. Overtightening components causes them not to sit correctly up against their neighbouring components which can allow dirt in as well as cause stress riser creaks. Torque wrenches used to be expensive and hard to find in bicycle-relevant torque ranges but this is no longer the case.
How to pinpoint bike creaks
Sometimes it’s obvious where the noise is coming from. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes your frame’s tubes can act like a ventriloquist and make it sound like the noise is coming from somewhere when in actual fact the noise originates from elsewhere.
The key thing to work out when the noise happens. Once you know WHEN it’s happening you can progress quickly to WHERE it’s happening.
Does it only make a noise when you’re sat down? Yes – it’s your saddle or seatpost making the noise. No – keep guessing.
Does it only do it when pedalling? Yes – it’s something in your drivetrain, pedals or rear hub. No – keep guessing.
Does it only do it over rough ground? Yes – it’s possibly a loose brake calliper or loose/worn suspension pivots. No – keep guessing.
Does it only do it when braking? Yes – might be your headset, or brake calliper, or brake lever, or spokes, or wheel axle. No – keep guessing.
And so on.
Things that can cause mountain bike creaks:
Just a plain ol’ dirty bike.
Suspension pivot – especially the main lower pivot.
Stiff link in chain.
‘Dry’ chain that needs lubing.
Rear derailleur needs indexing.
Rear mech hanger isn’t straight.
Wheel axles not located in frame properly.
Bent disc brake rotor.
Creaking/clicking brake lever pivot (solve by a drop of oil in there).
Debris in brake caliper.
Disc brake pad spring displaced and touching the rotor.
Loose/worn/dry frame pivots.
Loose/worn rear shock bushing.
Loose brake caliper.
Worn/dry suspension fork bushings.
Loose saddle clamp.
Dirt in between saddle rails and seatpost clamp.
Dirt in between seatpost and frame seat tube.
Dirt in between seatpost clamp and frame.
Loose bottom bracket.
Worn out bottom bracket.
Dirt in between bottom bracket and crank arms.
Dirt in between bottom bracket and frame.
Frame bottom bracket shell not properly finished (AKA chased and faced).
Worn/dry jockey wheels.
Dry rear mech ‘plate hinges’.
Dirt in pedal threads.
Dirt in between pedal axle flange and crank arm surface.
Incorrectly tightened stem (ie. overtight, uneven tightness).
Dry hub seals.
Spokes rubbing against each other (clean and lube the spot).
Dirt in between cassette and freehub body.
Worn freehub body.
Bulged-out poorly seated tyre rubbing on mudguard.
Loose chainring bolts.
Dirt in the chainring bolts.
Dirt under any bolt head.
Dry underside of any bolt head.
Loose cassette lockring.
Worn or damaged cassette sprocket tooth.
Mixing old drivetrain parts with worn/old drivetrain parts ie. new chain on old cassette or chainring.
Excess gear inner cable ‘tickling’ the spokes or crank arms.
Poorly setup front mech.
Misaligned brake caliper.
Outer cables clicking against the frame (see video above).
Shoe soles (or shoe laces) making a noise against pedal body, crank arm or frame.
Loose presta valve locking nuts.
Loose bottle cage bolts.
Worn out or corroded nipples.
Cracks in the frame.
Cracks in handlebar.
Cracks in seatpost.
Corroded or worn-out pedal cleats and/or clipless pedal mechanism.
Dry or dirty hub ‘converting’ end caps.
Poorly aligned bike computer spoke magnet and/or sensor.
Chain incorrectly threaded through rear mech cage.
Frame mounted pump knocking against frame/bracket over rough ground.
Zip pulls on shorts.
Zip pulls on jackets.
Headset assembled incorrectly.
Insufficient amount of spacers on fork steerer.
‘Slammed’ short stem fouling frame headtube.
Any we’ve missed?
If you’ve had an annoying bike creak and its cause isn’t listed above, let us know in the comments section below. Don’t forget to include details of how you cured it!