Trouble Shooting a Creaking and Squeaking Drive Train
Level of Difficulty: Simple to intermediate
Creaking and squeaking noises that occur while riding are some of the
most irritating bike problems. They often appear to come from the drive
train but because they are transmitted through the structure of the bike
can actually start in many other places. The secret to diagnosing them
is to methodically inspect the whole bike, not to assume that because
a noise coincides with pedalling it is coming from the drive train.
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Creaking and squeaking noises can be a sign of more serious problems.
Damage to component parts may result if they are left unattended. Creaking
is usually caused by two things rubbing together, such as a crankarm rubbing
on a spindle. Many of the solutions below rely on adequate torque on the
parts. For more on torque see Park
Tool's torque table. Thread preparation is also critical.
Correctly diagnosing the source of the noise can be difficult. It may
help to have a friend assist you. Have them flex the parts while you listen
and feel for noise. Creaking will often resonate enough to be felt as
well as heard.
If during a ride you hear a creak or squeak once per revolution, it is
probably located in the crankset and pedal area. If the noise is once
every 2 - 3 revolutions, it may be in the chain. There can be several
causes of creaking. You may need to proceed through the drive train step
by step, part by part to eliminate potential problems. Here are some of
the possible sources and remedies for drive train creaking.
The most common
cause of creaking is the crankarm being loose on the spindle. Remove the
crank bolts, lubricate the threads and under the bolt head, and re-install.
Tighten the bolts to the manufacturer recommended torque. Use a torque
wrench if possible. Typically, 300 inch-pound is considered a minimum
torque, which is 50 pounds of effort holding a wrench six inches from
the bolt. This is surprisingly tight - using a torque wrench a few times
to 'educate' your hands is good practice even if you don't use one regularly.
are held to the cranks by chainring bolts. Use a hex key wrench and check
each bolt. Hold the back chainring nut from spinning with a chainring
nut wrench. Again a mild thread locker or grease on the threads is
a good idea. Secure steel chainring bolts to about 60 inch-pounds, which
is about fifteen pounds of effort holding a wrench four inches from the
Pedal shoe cleats
If you have
riding shoes, the cleats under the shoe can loosen and also cause noise.
Use a mild grade of thread locking compound or grease on the bolts, and
tighten them fully. Even regular "street shoes" on a platform pedal can
cause noise. A shoe lace can tap against a crankarm, and the rubber can
move and squeak under the sole.
into crankarms. The torque typically recommended is 300 inch-pounds, which
is about 50 pounds of effort hold a wrench six inches from the pedal.
Pedal bearings can also creak. Spin the pedal and listen for noise. Different
makes of pedals have different bearing service options.
Chainring cassette to crankarm
Some cranksets use a chainring mounting arms (spider) that is removable
from the crank arm. There is a lockring on the backside of the arm that
may need tightening. Remove the crankarm and then remove the snap ring
with a screwdriver. Install a lockring
tool on the ring, and loosen counter-clockwise. Drip some mild thread
locker onto the threads, then tighten the ring to 400 inch-pounds. Use
a torque wrench or apply 66 pounds of effort holding a wrench six inches
from the ring.
The bottom bracket may not be properly secured into the frame. Most
bike frames use a threaded bottom bracket shell. If the bearing cups or
retaining lockring are not tight, there may be movement between the internal
and external threads.
Adjustable bottom brackets - Remove both arms and check both cups for
Cartridge Type - Check cups or lockring for security. Tighten to at
least 300 inch-pounds.
for dry links by spinning the chain in a repair stand. Lubricate as necessary,
with a drop of lubricant on each roller and rivet. Look at each and every
rivet to check misalignment in the chain plates. Inspect for twists in
side plate, or burrs, cuts or other damage to the side plates. Place chain
in a gear combination that relaxes the rear cage, and spin chain backwards.
If the chain hops as it passes of the pulley wheels, it may have a tight
link. This can be fixed using the tight link cradle of a chain
splitting tool, or by pressing on the tight link and flexing the chain
from side to side (that is, perpendicular to the way the links articulate).
Derailleur pulley (idler) wheels
The two pulley wheels of the rear derailleur spin as the chain turns.
Use a light lubricant to quiet them.
Wheel and Spokes
Creaking can be the result of loose spokes in the rim. Spokes may be
moving in the rim or spokes may rub one another at the spoke interlace.
In either case, increase spoke tension, using a spoke tension meter if
possible. For more detail see Wheel Truing.
Some rims are made with a hollow section, and junk can collect in this
hollow area causing a rattling.
Housing End Caps
If there seems to be a creaking when the handlebars are turned, inspect
the housing end caps where they enter the frame. These end caps are often
metal, and may creak inside the frame fitting as the housing is moved
side to side. Lubing is a temporary fix. It is sometimes possible to shim
the cap for a tighter fit.
It is possible non-drive train creaks will masquerade as coming from
the drive train. After checking other possibilities, check the frame itself
for problems. A crack in a weld or a glued joint that is separating can
also cause a creaking sound. If you suspect a crack, stop riding the bike
and take it to a professional for further evaluation. The images below
show a crack above the derailleur mount, a chain stay that has failed,
and a fork crown cracked. None of these bikes were crashed or wrecked.
Once a crack has developed, repair is difficult and is often practically
The saddle may also be loose on the seat post, causing a creak as the
saddle rails move and rock. Check security of the saddle rail binder bolts.
The seat post can move slightly in the frame seat tube, especially in
the fit inside the frame is marginal. Knurling the post, or even cutting
off excess post may help.
The headset connects the main frame to the fork and front wheel. Some
headsets rely on a tight pressed fit on parts into the frame or fork.
If the fit is not properly tight the parts may move and creak when stressed.
In some cases the fit can be improved using a "retaining compound". It
may be best to consult a professional for this repair.
Stem and handlebars
A loose stem or bar bolt may also cause a creaking
sound. If the bolt's threads are dry and without lubrication, they may
not secure properly. Remove bolt, grease the threads and under the bolt
head, and re-secure. Some handlebars use a center section that is pressed
on, called a sleeve. This sleeve may become loose with use, and may begin
to creak. Replacement is the best repair in this case. You may try a penetrating
thread locking compounds if you have one, but it is likely to keep creaking.
A center sleeve is seen in the left image. In the above, the bar had no
center sleeve. However, the bar developed a crack where it was held by
the stem. A catastrophic failure was imminent.
The rear cogs are not a likely source of a creak, but they should be
checked in the interest of thoroughness. For cassette cogs, check security
of lockring. Inspect teeth for burrs and wear, which may cause a pop noise
rather than a creak.
Content for this page courtesy Park Tool. For more on Park's range of
tools and workshop supplies, and further repair and maintenance help see:
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