Finding That Creak by Roy Cervantes
Today's carbon bicycles are stiff, lightweight, and fast. They can also creak. We often get requests to service creaks. Many times, the first thought is that the creak is coming from the crank or bottom bracket area. This may not necessarily be the case. Creaks can travel from one end of the bike to the other end, especially with carbon bikes. If you've ever ridden next to someone with a carbon bike equipped with mostly carbon components and deep dish carbon wheels, you've probably heard that distinctive carbon rumble; that's sound resonating through the carbon frame, wheels, and components. In order to save us time (and you money) we have developed (and continue to develop) a method to systematically find out where a creak may be originating, and we'd like to share it with you; hopefully, we can help you quickly identify where the creak on your bike is coming from.
Be aware that creaks sometimes occur when a frame or components have failed or are about to fail, so be careful when you are doing the testing, or bring your bike to us.
This discovery process goes from easy procedures to those that are more complex. You should follow the process step-by-step as far as you can to eliminate each possible creak-producing culprit in logical fashion.
Eliminate the easy stuff
Step 1 (easy)- Ride your bike using just sneakers. If the creak goes away, it's probably originating from your cleat/pedal interface. Perhaps your cleats are worn. An alternative to testing with sneakers would be to try a different pair of cycling shoes, if you own another pair. Spray a little dry lube on the cleat and pedal.Tighten the cleat bolts per the manufacturer's recommendations.
Step 2 (easy)- Check to make sure the pedals are sufficiently tight on the cranks. If they are loose, take them off, apply grease to the threads, and re-install them.
Step 3 (easy) - Ensure that your wheel quick releases are tight. Many lightweight aluminum quick releases can creak. Spray some lube on the cam mechanism and wipe clean the frame and fork dropouts.
Step 4 (easy) - Swap the rear wheel for another one. Many times, creaks happen at the rear wheel hub/spoke interface or the area where spokes cross and touch. A touch of lube can eliminate the creak temporarily. If your rear wheels have cassettes with different speeds (i.e. 10-speed on one, nine-speed on the other), don't worry about it. Just set the chain on one cog and pedal- remember you are only checking to see if the wheel creaks. Try swapping the front wheel as well. If you hear a regular ticking sound when you are not pedaling, it is often a valve stem ticking against a deep-section rim's valve hole. Try wrapping some electrical tape around the valve where it may touch the rim's valve hole.
Move on to the harder stuff
Step 5 (easy)- Do you hear the creak only while you are sitting on the saddle? It might be the saddle rails, saddle/seatpost interface, or the area where the seatpost is inserted into the frame. Check that aluminum seatpost clamp on the frame as well. Lube as necessary.
Step 6 (moderate)- Do you hear the creak only while you are standing on the pedals? At this point, your weight is on your cranks and handlebars. Check your fork steerer tube/stem, stem/handlebar, and shift lever/handlebar interfaces to see if bolt tightness needs attention (use a torque wrench) or if the interfaces need to be greased or carbon-prepped. Prep those carbon spacers too.
Step 6 (moderate to difficult) Check to see if there is play at the crank/bottom bracket interface. If yes, tighten the crank to the bottom bracket. If there is still play, the crank and bottom bracket may need to be serviced or replaced.
Other things that can cause creaks:
The deeper we have to get into the discovery process, the more time it takes, and the more expensive it gets. If you are able to do most of the things above in the order we recommend, there's a very good chance you can determine where the creak is coming from, so that if you have to bring your bike in, we can cut to the chase and deal directly with the problem.
We will keep adding to this process as we discover more ways that creaks can develop. If you have found something that produces a creak that we have not listed, don't hesitate to let us know.