Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sounds of a Bicycle

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
*Photo credit/found here
The sound was absolutely rhythmic, but driving me nearly insane as I couldn't seem to locate the source of the clatter. I'd stop pedaling, lean my head closer to the drivetrain and the noise would cease. I'd start to pedal again and the clicking resumed.

"Do you hear that?" I continually asked anyone riding along side me. Most often I received blank stares or the shake of my companion's head, but I was determined to find the source. "It's driving me crazy!" would inevitably blurt out of me, and then I'd proceed down the road, knowing full well there wasn't anything to be done about it in the moment.

After several rides like this, I purchased a new crank. It was time for a new one anyway as the crank I'd been utilizing had come off an older bike that had sat out in the rain with its previous owner. It had not been in the best of shape and I assumed that the noise must've been caused by rusty bits somewhere inside. But, after the installation of and riding around with the new, shiny crank, I quickly realized that the sound was still there, clicking along in unison with each revolution.

Perhaps it was the bottom bracket, I thought. But, when I inquired with the house mechanic, he mentioned that we had changed this out not long ago (a bit of information I'd completely forgotten), so it was likely not the source of this infernal clicking.

Being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, the story of The Tell-Tale Heart was running through my mind. It is the beating of his hideous heart! Or, in this case, clicking. It was all I could hear or think about while riding. The noise seemed to get louder and become the focus of all my rides. It was impossible to not hear the clicking. Try as I did to ignore it, the sound continued.

So, I stopped riding the bike. I have others, so there's no reason to torture myself. I figured over time we would deal with the issue and riding would resume.

One sunny day several weeks later, I stood in the bike holding area staring at the bike. Now why haven't I ridden you, I thought to myself. It seemed odd that I would go so long without riding a particular bike, so I decided that I'd take it as my transport around town that day - completely oblivious to the reality that I'd forgotten to follow up about the aforementioned clicking.

At first, I was happy to be back on this bike. I had missed it and didn't understand why I'd let it sit for an extended time unridden. Then, as I continued down the road I was quickly greeted by that methodical click, click, click. Argh. I pressed my palm to my head, realizing the issue had never been addressed. I could turn around and fetch another ride, but why? I didn't have far to go and I should be able to tolerate a little noise for a few miles.

The following day, I opted not to take this bike and instead chose another. I had no level of tolerance to deal with the clicking and I was still not entirely sure what the source of the noise could be. Hopping on an alternate selection, I pedaled down the street - only to be greeted by a new noise on this bike too.

The noise was much more faint on this bike, but I could feel a sort of clunk or bump with each spin of the crank. What in the world is going on with my bikes, I thought.

Fortunately, Sam was along for this ride and offered to check pedals and crank to make sure everything was tight. After a quick turn of a few bolts/screws, we continued on, but the clunking was still present.

With this, I now had one bike with clicking pedals (or crank, bottom bracket, or some other unknown part), one that was clunking with each pedal revolution, and another that had no pedals at all (they were removed for a test ride on another bike and never reattached).

Several days later, Sam was rained out on a ride and decided it was as good a time as any to check things out. As was soon discovered, both sets of pedals (the clicking and the clunking variety) had loose bearings which was causing the incessant noise or sensation when riding. Why they were different problems for the same exact issue, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's just the universe trying to teach me some sort of lesson - or, maybe I just need to be better about routine checks and maintenance. Either way, I was happy to have some relief from the clicking and clunking.

It reminds me, however, that there are certain noises we grow used to hearing and tend to ignore, and others that can be the sort that drive a person to madness. I know for a time I had a squeaking noise due to a slightly too tight bolt on a set of handlebars that had a way of irritating me on long rides as I grew tired. However, I enjoy the variety of sounds that come from different free-wheels spinning. Some are loud, some are softer, and others I have difficulty hearing at all.

Have you ever experienced a noise on your bike that drove you crazy until a remedy was in place? Do you have a system for determining where a sound is originating? Feel free to share your tips and tricks, if you have experience in this area. I do know that some sounds shouldn't be ignored as they can cause wear to parts and necessitate early replacement, but when the cause or origination point is unknown, it can be tricky to know what to do or where to start.


  1. Excellent comparison to the Telltale Heart! Ticks and clicks, we've learned to pay lots of attention to them. On occasion, I experience an innocuous ticking from my sprung saddle, but I can usually disregard it, knowing it's not a safety or mechanical issue. Here are what some of the tickings on our tandem have led to: broken rear free hub, broken bottom bracket, broken seat post, broken crank arm, and a cracked frame. Makes it sound like we're bad bike owners, now that I write it out, but we're not-- honest!

    Over time, we've become somewhat able to distinguish the different types of ticking, although it's still difficult. Sound seems to travel through the bicycle, making tickings and clickings difficult to localize.

    1. I think I posted sometime last year about my leather saddle that broke. It had been making all sorts of creaking noises and I thought nothing of it until one day we were messing around with the seatpost and realized that the rails themselves had split in half! It was not the fault of the saddle by any stretch, but rather that we had mounted it in an unusual manner... but, I have to admit, any time I hear saddle creaking noises now, I do become a bit concerned. :O)

      I have no doubt you are conscientious bicycle owners, MG. I think it's just that there are times when things happen that are (at least somewhat) out of our control.

      It is comforting, I must admit, to know that others go through similar happenings though.

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  3. I am dealing with two annoying sounds at the moment ... I had the tires changed on my mixte and the back tire is rubbing slightly against the fender, making a rubbing sound that is driving me mad. Also, the pedals creak sometimes when I push them forcefully. I do not have an in- house mechanic, so will have to take the bike to the bike shop :(

    1. Stephanie,

      Tire rub on fenders is one of my pet peeves, and because I ride smaller frames, it is tough to escape - particularly with wider tires. I've become so annoyed with it on my Hillborne that I removed them entirely because it was driving me batty hearing the constant rubbing, and try as we did, we weren't able to ever resolve it. I think the solution is to attach flat fenders rather than curved ones, but they don't protect as well as those that curve with the tire. Still, I may take the leap and buy a set for the bike because I don't like having to avoid riding it when it's raining (at least if I need to stay looking somewhat presentable).

      I have found that sometimes spraying a little WD-40 or similar helps with minor creaks on parts, but depending on what it is or where it's coming from, it may be an indicator of something else that actually requires attention - so, I think I'd have a mechanic take a look if it were me as well. I am fortunate to have one in-house. I try to resolve issues myself, but when it gets beyond my capabilities, it's often easier to let him take a look because I just end up frustrated and cursing. :O)


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