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The Sounds Your Bicycle Makes

In May 1979, Roger wrote an article which was published in Bicycling! magazine. 
Here is a transcript. Vol. XX, Number 5, p.16.


LISTENING TO YOUR BICYCLE: The Sounds You Hear Coming From the Moving Parts of Your Bike Could Be Early Signs of Trouble. By Roger Bergman

The visual spectacle of the operating bicycle is very satisfying but also very distracting when trying to track down mechanical problems. Bicycle parts, moreover, move very quickly, and you can't watch them while you ride. But you can listen and besides those (sounds) you actually hear, you can also feel many as vibrations.

As a general rule, for all sounds, normal and abnormal, the cadence of the sound is as important as the quality of the sound. Try to match the tempo and rhythm of the sound to the tempo and rhythm of some rotating part of the bicycle by movintg different parts separately.



It is perfectly normal to hear a soft, rapid, clicking noise from a rear derailleur hub while coasting. This is the ratchet mechanism within the gear cluster that enables you to coast or freewheel. Pedal forward and sound should stop while you engage the ratchets (called pawls.)

If the chain runs forward by itself while you coast with the pedals stationary, then you have a friction freewheel.....(edited out because these systems are obsolete. RB 01-05)

You may, on the other hand, hear abnormal sounds. If you hear a clickety-clack similar to the freewheel ratchet but louder and with a distinct rhythm, there is probably something wrong. Does the noise quicken as the wheels spin faster and slacken as the wheels decelerate? Do you hear it both while pedaling and coasting? Spin the wheels separately to determine if the sound is from the front wheel or the rear wheel. Look for something striking some of all of the spokes as the wheel spins. Check the end of your kickstand, a stray gear or brake cable, or even the edge of a three-speed chainguard. A reflector bracket, babyseat or basket part can also make this clickety-clack, which will persist while pedaling and while coasting as long as the wheel is moving spokes past the noisy item. (Ed. Also check cyclo-computer pickup magnet. RIB 01-05)

A slower ticking accompanied by a muffled vibration, both pedaling and coasting, is rubber striking metal somewhere as the wheel spins. You can usually feel this problem while pushing the bike slowly a few yards. Look for a wheel out of true where a rim catches a brake pad one or more times in every revolution. The tire can also touch a fender or the frame and make a similar sound. Don't overlook inaccessible places such as the reflector bolt sticking through the rear fender on a three-speed.



Other noises do not persist while both pedaling and coasting. If the sounds stop while coasting, we can eliminate wheel problems since the wheels are still turning. Remember that we are matching the rhythm of the sound to the rhythm of some moving part of the bike.

A clank that you hear exactly in phase with rotating the cranks obviously implies that something is hitting the crank. The clanks can be caused by the kickstand, chainguard and also by bent chainrings. You can usually hear these problems while rotating the cranks in either direction , and occasionally you will discover a loose bottom bracket at the same time. When the clank takes on a scraping quality, check the front derailleur cage (chainguide.)

Clanks that do not match the rotation of the cranks and that stop when you coast are almost always caused by the chain. Check the entire chain including the chainguard if you have one. Remember that the chain usually has enough slack so that gravity will deflect it downward when not under tension. I can usually crouch behind the bike and sight along the chain to examine it. Also investigate the bottom of the large chainring if you are cross-chaining.

A crunching clank heard only while you pedal may be the chain trying to decide between two ambiguous gears. Adjust the gear levers including wing nuts if you have them. Other derailleur adjustments may also be necessary.

Straight crunching at any time, or as some people describe it, cracking, is very bad news. Crunching will be accompanied by looseness or by variations in the resistance of the bad part, or both. If heard only while pedaling, examine the bottom bracket, rear hub and pedals. Otherwise, check the headset and both hubs.

You will find ball bearings ground into hemisppheres and cubes, gears without teeth, dented cups, and other masticated parts. Unfortanately, parts that have deteriorated to this point will require replacement. Resolve to lubricate and adjust more often.

Squeaks are the hardest category of noise to track down. Those that you hear all the time, regardless of the motion of the cranks or chain, are usually in the hubs and require lubrication. Once in a while they are benign, such as saddle springs or spokes rubbing together in your wheel. Check the headset by turning the handlebars while you lean on them.


Squeaks that stop when you coast are one of the following and can be cured with lubrication: bottom bracket, pedals or rear derailleur pulleys. It is probably easiest to oil the derailleur first before you start taking things apart, but since these squeaks may appear only under pressure, you may wind up greasing all three before you finally find the culprit.

A groan each time you push down hard on the pedals may be from another cyclist trying to keep up with you, but it is probably a pedal asking for lubrication or your cotterless crank coming loose.

People sometimes complain of squealing brakes. Explore the adjustment of the pivot bolts or through-bolts, but do not ever lubricate the rims. Ordinarily, the vibration of the brake pad against the rim when the brakes are applied my be embarrassing, but will not afftect the efficiency of the brakes. If the brakes work, I suggest not tampering with them, although there are two cures for the squealing.

One cure is to bend the calipers slightly so that the front part of tthe brake pad meets the rim before the rear. (Ed. DO NOT DO THIS WITH LINEAR PULL, OR "V-BRAKES." The brake shoes themselves should be adjusted. RIB 01-05) Since the calipers are designed to be stiff and to resist bending, you risk snapping the calipers. A safer solution may be to remove the pads and shave off a few millimeters at the rear of the brake pad, again so the front of the pad meets the rim first.

Some noises emanate only when going over a bump and do not correspond to pedaling, coasting, or anything else. These noises are mostly rattles. Check such features as fenders, chainguard, lights, reflectors, and accessories. Three-speed bikes often have a noisy ornament on the front fender. I usually tap each part of the bike with the fleshy part of a finger until I track down the rattle.

Many rattles are benign, but others can be extremely dangerous: a loose bolt that lets a fender rattle may be the same bolt that secures your brake calipers; a loose kickstand may fall into the spokes; a loose basket may jam your wheel and throw you headlong into traffic.

By and large, noises from you bicycle are warning signals to take action for safety or maintenance. Take them seriously.

(WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS ARTICLE FROM 1979? To leave your comments, click here.)

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