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How to Address Strange Noises in Road Bikes

November 29, 2023

During road cycling, aside from navigating through complex traffic and weather, dealing with unusual bike noises can be particularly bothersome. In the age of integrated bottom brackets and internal cable routing, many assume any noise originates from the bottom bracket, but that might not always be the case. Drawing from years of experience, let's explore how to troubleshoot and resolve these noise issues.

1. Identifying Noise Types

In the era of disc brakes, rotor rubbing has become common. So, when encountering bike noise, the first step is to identify the sound category. Rotor rubbing noises are distinct and can be rectified by readjusting the caliper position or realigning the rotor. However, resonance-type noises might indicate cable housing or brake hoses hitting the frame or handlebars. For more typical "clicking" or "creaking" sounds, further investigation is necessary.

2. Locating the Noise Source

Identifying the precise origin of a noise in an open environment might be challenging and prone to misjudgment. The best approach is a process of elimination.

For frame-related noises, start by checking the quick-release levers, especially the ultra-light ones with minimal tightening, as they can often cause noises. Next, perform static handlebar twisting and compressions to determine if it's the cable housing, hoses, or headset causing the noise. Noises caused by cable housing hitting the frame may indicate missing foam tubing during internal routing, while creaking from the headset might signal dirt or water infiltration in the bearings. Disassemble, clean, and retighten the headset to likely solve the issue.

For noises in the middle section, differentiate between the saddle and the traditional system by alternating between riding and rocking the bike. If the bike rocks silently but the saddle makes noise, it's likely the saddle or seatpost causing the issue. Remove the seatpost, clean any residues inside the seat tube, and apply friction paste before securely fastening the seatpost. If the noise persists, especially in metal-railed saddles, consider switching to a carbon-railed saddle.

For traditional component noises, before rushing to check the bottom bracket, try tightening the pedals as sometimes that can resolve the issue. However, for LOOK pedals, noises might stem from tolerance differences; emulating professionals by wrapping a portion of the pedal with handlebar tape can help.

Also, for bikes with mechanical gearing, check if the front derailleur cable end is hitting the crankset or frame. Assess if imprecise shifting is causing noises due to chain rubbing against the front derailleur or cassette. After readjusting the gears and lubricating the chain, if the noises persist, inspect the chain's wear.

If the noise persists, tighten the disc rotor bolts or clean and reinstall the individual brake pads for two-piece calipers. If the bottom bracket noise is confirmed, attempts to salvage it can be made using products like RSP Interface Agent or Loctite 641 Bearing Mount. However, if tolerance issues persist due to repeated installations, replacing the bottom bracket might be inevitable.

For threaded bottom bracket noise... well, replacement might be the best solution.

3. Unusual Scenarios

Occasionally, there might be mysterious noises—such as the bike being silent when rocked but noisy when ridden or specific crank angles causing noise—that necessitate a systematic elimination process, likely pointing to bottom bracket issues.

While uncommon, wheelsets can also produce noises. Once, I mistook a hub tower issue for a bottom bracket noise. Problems within the hub mechanism causing uneven pawl engagement can generate noise. Loose spokes or the common issue of valve stems hitting the rim can also cause peculiar noises. Therefore, when unable to pinpoint the issue in the drivetrain, inspecting the wheelset might be necessary.

In conclusion, troubleshooting bike noises requires a case-by-case analysis. Simple problems can be addressed personally, but persistent issues are best handled by reliable technicians. After all, professionals are best suited for professional tasks.

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