How to: Silent Running

Cyclescheme, 01.06.2016

How to: Silent Running

If your bike is making creaking, clicking or rubbing noises, it's trying to tell you something: fix me! Here's what to look for.

Aside from the whisper of tyres on tarmac and the whirring of the chain, your bike should be pretty much silent. Noises aren't just annoying: they're a sign that something needs adjusting. Adjustment usually takes the form of tightening bolts or cable tension, or of removing, greasing, and refitting components. 

Grease is the word

Get some grease from the bike shop. You'll be applying it forever to bolt threads, bearing surfaces, and bits that fit into other bits. While anti-seize compounds are better in some circumstances, such as aluminium fittings in a titanium frame, common-or-garden grease is fine for most commuter bikes components.


Greasing threads will stop them seizing but isn't a licence to tighten bolts as hard as you can. In particular, be careful not to overtighten any bolt that bears down on carbon fibre – which can crack. A torque wrench is a wise investment for bikes with carbon parts.

Noise diagnosis

Finding where a noise is coming from can be tricky. Ride on a quiet road or cyclepath where traffic noise is minimal or non-existant. Try various riding styles. Is the noise present when freewheeling? (If so, it's probably not the drivetrain.) Does it stop when you get off the saddle? When you don't pedal with a particular leg? When you're in certain gears? Does it get worse when you're hauling on the handlebar?

It also helps to put your bike on a workstand and pedal the cranks by hand. It might become obvious then that a tyre is catching a mudguard or the front derailleur cable is flicking the crank.

Noise elimination

Here are some common problems. It's not an exhaustive list.

• Chain

To run quietly and efficiently, a chain needs to be clean, well-lubricated, and relatively unworn. If it's dry or dirty, chain care is required. If a clean and oiled chain skips and rattles, it could be one of two things: the chain is too worn and needs replacing; or the rear derailleur indexing is out of synch and needs adjusting. Adjusting the cable tension of the front derailleur is often enough to stop the chain rubbing noisily on the front derailleur cage – assuming the derailluer was fitted correctly in the first place and hasn't been knocked out of line.


• Cranks

Noise from the crank area can be the chainring bolts – in which case, remove, clean, grease and refit them. Much more commonly, it's the bottom bracket, the axle that the cranks turn on. Bottom bracket bearings have a finite lifespan. Traditional square taper bearings often last for years and can be regreased rather than replaced. External bottom brackets such as Shimano's HollowTech II are shorter lived; annual replacement is not uncommon. The latest pressfit bottom brackets can be abysmal and are a poor choice for a commuter bike.

Sometimes the bearings are okay but the cranks are loose or are creaking on the axle. If it's a square taper design, remove the crank(s) with a crank extractor, grease the axle taper, and refit. If the bike has an external bottom bracket or a pressfit design, tighten the lefthand crank onto the axle using the crank installation tool; you'll need to loosen the Allen bolts on the axle first and retighten them afterwards. Check that the cranks can still spin freely. Like the headset, the bearings are held in compression in these designs.

• Pedals

Pedals often creak. Remove them, normally with a 15mm spanner, and not forgetting that the lefthand pedal has a lefthand thread and undoes clockwise. Grease the threads. Then refit them. If the pedal won't rotate on its axle or is too loose, the bearings need adjusting or replacing; with budget pedals, it's simpler to replace the whole pedal.


Clipless pedals can become noisy as the cleat wears. If the cleat is loose in the pedal, adjust the spring tension. If it's tight enough but still creaks on the shoe sole, try spraying cleat area and pedal bindings lightly with silicon spray.

• Brakes

Check that the wheel is round. It might be buckled and need truing. Sometimes the pads rub because the brake won't release or centre properly, or because the brake is out of alignment due to a knock or wheel replacement. Try adjusting the brake.

• Saddle

Noise here might come from the saddle clamp at the top of the seatpost, from the seatpost clamp on the frame, or from the seatpost itself. Try the seatpost first. Remove it from the frame, clean and grease it where it fits into the frame, and reinstall. No joy? Remove, grease and refit the saddle clamp bolts, then the seatpost clamp. Note that the saddle will degrade eventually: the rails can come loose and rattle in the chassis of the saddle, or break altogether. A new saddle is the solution then.

• Headset

The commonest problem for bikes with threadless headsets is the headset feeling loose and 'knocky'. Apply the front brake and try to push the bike back and forth by the handlebar. If there's any play, undo the stem bolts where they grip the steerer tube above the headset, tighten the top cap until any play is removed but the steering doesn't bind, then tighten the stem bolts.


If there's a creaking or ticking noise from the headset, the bearings may need regreasing or replacing. To grease them, remove the headset top cap and stem so the fork can be removed from the frame. Liberally grease the bearings and refit the fork, taking care to put the headset parts back in the correct order. If the bearings need replacing, it's time to head to the bikeshop.

• Handlebar and stem

It's not uncommon to get creaks where the stem clamps the handlebar. Remove the stem bolts, grease, and refit. Tighten the bolts evenly and carefully. 

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