You may have noticed that some bicycles are very loud. I’m not even talking of old and rusty bikes, but shiny, spanking-new high-end bikes. When I first heard one, I thought there was a problem with the bike, but I soon noticed that there must be another reason.
A noisy chain isn’t the worst thing that can happen on a ride, and there are plenty of other reasons why our bikes make noise. Sometimes, a noisy bike is a sign that something is wrong. Other times, it’s just a result of high-end components doing their thing. But if you’re new to cycling, you might not know the difference.
Your bike may be loud because your freewheel was designed that way or because your carbon rims might be amplifying the road noise, but it might also mean that it needs some work, such as chain cleaning, bolt tightening, replacing broken parts or eliminating rubbing.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the reasons why your bike might be making noise. If your bike is making a loud or unusual noise, you’ll want to find out why. It could be dirt, damage, or simply that your bike needs some maintenance. But before we dive into that, let’s take a look at how high-end bikes sometimes make a loud noise when the freewheel buzzes or carbon rims amplify the noise of the road.
You are happily coasting down a descent, and a cyclist on an expensive bike flies by, sounding like an angry swarm of bees. What’s this noise? It’s the sound of the freehub, which is louder on some high-end bikes.
The buzzing sound happens when small, spring-loaded pieces called pawls disengage from the hub when the bike coasts, making a click each time it passes by the teeth on the inside of the freehub. When you begin to pedal, the pawls engage and stop making noise.
Not all high-end bikes make this cool, buzzing sound, but many do.
If your high-end bike has carbon rims, you might notice they are a little bit noisier than your aluminum rims. The design of carbon rims allows them to be lighter and sleeker, but it also amplifies road noise and freehub noise. Since different types of road surfaces have different types of noise and vibrations, your bike might sound different when you ride in different areas. Some people prefer aluminum rims because they just aren’t as loud.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons your bike might be noisy, and some of them need to be addressed for safety and efficiency. Keep reading to find out if your bike is making any of these noises.
A common problem for cyclists – both new and experienced – is a noisy chain. Dirt accumulates on the chain, causing squeaking. While you technically can ride on a noisy chain, it might drive you or your mates a little bit crazy.
Over time, a dirty or dry chain will cause damage to the rest of the drive train. It will also reduce the efficiency of your drivetrain, which will make you slower, so make sure you clean and lube your chain regularly.
If your headset makes a vibrating or rattling sound while you are riding, you need to tighten it up asap.
A loose headset can cause poor steering or, worse, a severe accident. A cycling friend of mine tells a frightening story about how the front end of his bike once fell apart – while he was riding! He almost had an accident because he didn’t have his headset correctly tightened.
If you suspect your headset is loose, grab the front brake and put your other hand on the headset. Rock your bike forwards and back. If the headset is loose, you’ll feel a sort of a klunk on the inside. Tighten it up immediately.
Noisy Bottle Cages
If your bottle cages rattle, the bolts holding the cages to the mounts are probably loose. You can tighten them with your bike tools and consider adding a few drops of thread lock to keep them from vibrating loose again.
Floppy Brake Cables
If your brake cables are too long, they might flop in the wind. This isn’t really a problem per se, but if the noise bothers you, you can have your local bike shop shorten the cables for you.
Dirty brakes are noisy brakes. Little bits of dirt and grime can get in between your pads and rotors and cause awful squealing, especially in wet and muddy conditions like cyclocross races. Also, things like brake rub or glazed and new brake pads can make noise, too. But these problems are easy to fix with a little bit of know-how.
Loose Stuff in Your Saddlebag
If you hear clanging, jingling, or scraping coming from your seat, it is likely your saddlebag! Stuff that’s loose in your saddlebag isn’t just annoying. If stuff is moving around in there, you run the risk of puncturing your spare tube or losing small pieces. So make sure your saddlebag is well organized and packed nicely, so things don’t move around.
Missing Nut on Your Valve Stem
A funny sound coming from your tires could mean the valve stem nut is missing, allowing your valve stem to move around when the wheel spins. Make sure to put a new one on so that the valve stem stays in the right place and doesn’t end up inside the rim.
If you hear a grinding sound coming from your gears, you might need them indexed. Over time, the cables can stretch a bit, preventing your bike from shifting smoothly. Check out this video from GCN on how to index your gears.
Creaking sounds can be any number of problems, from the seat post to the bottom bracket. If this seems out of your comfort range, you can always take it to your local bike shop for diagnosis and treatment. Or, you can watch this video from GCN Tech to get a better idea of what the problem is.
If your pedals click when you turn them over, you might need to use a pedal wrench and tighten them in the correct direction. Another common cause of clicking pedals is that your cleats need to be cleaned or tightened so that they can make firmer contact with the pedal itself.
Some bikes are just noisier than others by design, but in many cases, bike noises are the symptom of a problem that needs to be fixed. On the one hand, some noises, like a dirty chain, are more annoying than dangerous. However, other issues, such as loose headsets, can cause unsafe riding conditions. So if your bike is making a noise, be sure to get it checked out right away so you can keep riding safely and without causing damage to your bike.