A quality road bicycle that is well maintained is a remarkably quiet machine. There are only five sounds that one should expect to hear. The chain should make a soft ‘brr’ sound while you pedal. When you stop pedaling the ratchet mechanism in the freehub makes a soft ‘clicking’ noise. The tires roll along the pavement with a subdued ‘swish’. And when shifting gears there is a distinct ‘click’ followed either by a ‘thunk’ or a brief rattle before the derailleur settles the chain into perfect alignment.
The 5th sound, of course, is my labored breathing as I try to keep up with my friends climbing Stoney Creek Road. This noise was quite audible yesterday. As I rode along in the company of four strong riders, I was struck by how little noise our bikes were making. Since there was very little wind and few cars, we could hear each other’s labored breathing quite clearly (some more labored than others). But the bikes made not a sound out of place.
This is not always the case. When a club rider’s bike is making an unwanted noise it is quite noticeable. The other day my rear brake make a very loud squeal whenever I applied it, irritating me and my companions. I tried cleaning the pads and the rim, without success. A new set of brake pads eliminated the problem.
Other times, the source of some unwanted noise is harder to diagnose. Over the years I have gotten pretty good at figuring out what is wrong and how to fix it. Chain noises are obvious and simply cleaning and lubricating will eliminate the noise, unless the chain is worn out (about every 2000 miles). Sometimes there are little squeaks or clicks that most people wouldn’t even notice, but if they come from my bike they sound as loud to me as a heavy metal band. And the offending component can be hard to identify.
Speaking of metal, and carbon fiber, there are many places on a bike where two surfaces are held together under tension or pressure, and any of those is a potential source of the offending noise. And there are multiple sets of bearings, any of which may become contaminated with dirt or moisture, or simply wear out and start to make noise. Some examples from my own experience:
Saddle rails might squeak or click. A thin layer of grease on the rails before tightening the clamp can fix this.
The quick release skewers have a cam that is metal on metal under tension. A little Tri Flo will eliminate the noise.
If noise is coming from a chain that is clean and well lubricated, check the cassette and make the lock ring is screwed on tightly. This requires a special tool (about $5).
Squeaky pedals? Clean the cleats and the pedals, and check the bolts holding the cleats to your shoes and make sure they are tight. I like to put a thin layer of grease on the bottom of my shoe when I install new cleats since that interface can be a noise maker.
Bottom bracket creaks and squeaks and clicks are the worst. Sometimes you need new bearings, or sometimes lubricating the threads and crank spindle will to the trick.
Loose bolts anywhere can be the problem. Check the bolts holding your bottle cages; for some reason these seem to come loose and will make a mysterious rattle or click when you hit some rough pavement. And when you install bolts it is a good idea to use a thin layer of grease on the threads unless the directions say not to do so, or specify using thread lock compound. And yes, it is an EXCELLENT idea to read the directions that come with the parts!
Those are just a few, and if I sound like a bike mechanic let me assure you that I am no such thing. But I don’t want to take my bike to the shop when there is a quick and easy solution at hand. So I will keep playing noise detective and try to keep my bikes quiet. The gasping is another matter; I can’t do much about that.