If you are new to cycling, a clicking sound when you pedal can be unnerving. In my fertile imagination, clicks imply wear, expensive damage, or even failure of the bike.
In reality, of course, this is unlikely to be the case – most likely you will get home, but it is a good idea to find out what is causing the irritating click. It may well be a simple thing that you can fix with minimal mechanical expertise.
The clicking sound as you pedal usually comes from foreign objects stuck on the frame, excessive chain friction or worn bearings, or poorly indexed shifting. Most of the time they don’t need immediate fixing, but they are signs that your bike needs maintenance, which can be done at home.
Often cyclists assume that the click comes from the pedal itself. This may be, but there are some other simple things to check first before you get that far.
I was once advised to pick up my bike by the handlebars and shake it before a ride to check for any loose fixtures. This might lead you straight to the source of the problem. If not, here is a list of possible problems to check before taking your bike to your local mechanic
Let’s go through the different possible sound sources, and how you can fix them.
Visible Foreign bodies
The first thing you should always check for is whether there are visible objects that can rub or hit against something on other parts of the bicycle (e.g. spokes, pedal cranks).
Some years ago I bought a new bike. On its second ride, it started clicking. I panicked and called the bike shop. In fact, it was the metal cap on a brake cable that was catching intermittently in the spokes, which was then bent away from the wheel. Twigs or leaves can also do this, especially in rural areas. Stones or even glass in the tire treads can also make a clicking noise as you roll.
How to fix this problem
Pick up your bike, or put it on a bike stand, and spin the wheels by hand, without using the pedals. It is surprising how often debris from the road can get caught in your wheels or round your frame then catch, causing a click.
Often you can see and just pull out the stick, leaf, or another offending article. A good bike wash and re-lube will also likely remove any of the kind of debris that you can’t see immediately.
This is a sturdy bike stand that makes bike maintenance much easier than flipping the bike upside down. Some tasks, such as working on the headtube, cable routing or truing the wheel are made really simple with this stand.
Leading on from visible debris, small bits of muck, sand, or dirt which are difficult to identify by sight can lead to a noisy bike. It is a good idea to wash your bike regularly anyway, especially in poor weather and if the roads are dirty.
Look particularly at the chainrings, gears, and the chain itself, but the wheel bearings, saddle, and headset can also start creaking or clicking if dirt is catching intermittently.
Disc brakes can also get dirty and cause clicking as the wheel spins through the brake pads. You’ll know if your bike is really dirty, but if you haven’t washed it in a while then this may well be an easy fix. If you do need to take it to the bike shop, your local mechanic will thank you for doing it too.
How to fix this problem
Washing a bike isn’t difficult but is worthy of a full article in itself. Degrease your chain and drivetrain, then spray the whole bike with a hose.
Next using warm water with suitable detergent wash the frame with sponges, the drive train, cranks, and so on with brushes. Concentrate on the chain, chainrings, gears, and derailleur.
When the bike is dry, relubricate your chain and drivetrain thoroughly and carefully. This will cure an awful lot of the clicks with minimal effort and expense. Grit may also be washed out of disc brakes, which can be another source of the clicks.
This follows on from the wash in many ways. As a rather lazy cyclist, I lube my chain more than I wash my bike, but last time out I did a thorough wash and forgot to re-lube the chain. The clicks were awful.
Lift your bike and spin the pedals. The chain may look unlubed on sight or it might seem a bit rusty. If you touch the chain you may also be able to tell that there isn’t enough lube. The clicking will be loud and obvious too and it may be that it doesn’t pass freely through the derailleur pulley wheel.
How to fix the problem
Re-lube the chain as usual, then leave it to soak in. After about 15 minutes, wipe off any excess lube with a dry rag and try pedaling again. Once again, it may well be a cheap fix to that annoying click.
Poorly indexed gear shifting
Sometimes you may find, especially with older, less well-maintained, or cheaper bikes, that the chain does not move smoothly between the gears when changing either up or down.
If the chain doesn’t move the full distance to fit into the chainring then you may not change gear at all or may start a regular click. If this happens suddenly during a ride, you’ll realize when you seem to miss a gear and the clunking and clicking starts. If you are rotating a bike’s pedals by hand, then when you change gear you will hear a crunch, and clicking may start.
How to fix the problem
There is a small knob called the barrel adjuster near the chainring on the front and rear derailleur, if you have both, attached to the gear cable. This knob controls how far the chain has to move to switch between gears.
A small adjustment with your fingers, along with a bit of practice pedaling should make your gear change smoother and your pedaling quiet again. If you rotate the pedals with the chainset on the smallest ring, turn the barrel adjuster slightly and you will hear the click get better or worse.
A quarter turn should make a big difference. It is then a quick fix even for the least technically minded cyclist as you check the shift right up and down your gears. If this doesn’t work, but it is obviously the gears that are causing the click, it may be an old cable that needs changing or a worn chainring. For me, those are both bike shop jobs.
Wheel quick release
Dirt can accumulate on the wheel axles, and the quick-release skewer can even sometimes corrode over time, particularly in periods of bad weather. If your clicking starts when you are standing up on the pedals and pedaling hard, this might be a good place to look.
How to fix the problem
Pull out the quick release skewer or pull-through bar, wash and re-lube it if necessary, which you can do with ordinary chain lube or grease. If the skewer or the bar on which the tire is held is visibly corroded then you may need a replacement. If it is merely dirt and lack of lube, you will be on the road again in no time.
If the creak is obviously coming from the pedal itself, then it may be a similar problem to the wheel quick release. Pedals can also be removed, cleaned, and reattached, but you’ll probably need a wrench to do this, so it may be a job for your mechanic.
It is also worth checking that the pedals are attached tightly to their levers and that the fixing bolt in the center of your pedals attaching them to the chainring is also tight. You may need a wrench to do this, which again may make it a mechanic’s job.
Ultimately a click on a bike suggests something which is loose, dirty, rubbing, damaged, or corroded. Loose and dirty are usually easy to fix, but damaged parts will need replacing.
If none of the above work, it is worth taking your bike to a professional for a service. In the long run, it may save wear and more expensive repairs to the moving parts and regular servicing can keep your bike in perfect working order through years of use. Try these checks first, though – you may surprise yourself with how easily the majority of clicks are cured.
My favorite bike commuting products
Here are some of the products I love using for bike commuting. They make riding so much more fun and enjoyable.
Ergon GP5 Bar End Grips: These are super comfortable, ergonomic grips that offer me two extra hand positions on my flat bar bicycle. They also offer a much more comfortable grip that helps distribute my weight on the handlebar better.
Bar end mirrors: If you ride much among cars then a bar end mirror can make riding much safer. You don’t have to turn around every single time to check on the traffic coming from behind.
Bike lights from Cateye. This is essential year round. I recommend going for a more powerful light than just a to-be-seen light. I like the 800 lumen ones from Cateye because they are affordable, portable and still give out plenty of light so I can see where I’m going even in pitch dark. The battery lasts for a long time too, and it’s USB rechargeable.
Bike rack. This bike rack from Dirza is great because I can put it on almost any bicycle regardless whether they have mounting points for racks or not. I can leave it on my bike for commuting or take it off for weekend rides or whenever I don’t need a rack.
If you want to check out my full list of recommended products, you visit my recommended gear page.