One of the most frequent issues we get reported in the shop when bikes are brought in for servicing is that “there is a creaking sound when I push hard on the pedals”
Often this is further clarified by stating that the creaking sound appears to be coming from the crank or bottom bracket area, and occurs most prominently when pedalling out of the saddle.
Understandably, and sometimes with good reason, the belief is that the bottom bracket bearing is the cause of the problem. However it is often not the cause of the creaking sound, so much so I thought it might be a good thing to scribble down a few of the other root causes of this symptom that I have seen.
To kick-off it’s useful to recognize that the hollow tubing used in bike frames can amplify a creaking sound, and the sound can travel along the tube walls giving a false impression as to where the sound is originates from.
Okay so onto some of the root causes I have come across.
Pedal Cleat to Pedal Interface
Many of the causes of creaking sounds will come from the interface between component parts of the bike or in this case bike and rider !
It is worth checking that the spring releases on your pedals are not the cause of any unwanted sounds, and similarly that the cleats in your shoes are tight. If your using SPD cleats and they are worn, we keep those in stock ; SPD Cleats
If you are unsure as to whether these elements are responsible for the noise, try riding the bike in trainers, and see whether the sound reproduces.
Pedals and Pedal-Crank Arm Interface
The pedal axles and their bearings take a hammering, particularly during Autumn and Winter, and can easily become the source of groaning and creaking noises.
Checking that the pedals are screwed into the crank arm tight, and that there is no obvious play or friction when the pedals are turned by hand are good points to check .
If you suspect that the pedals maybe the cause of the noise , then the best way to determine this is to switch them out for another pair (or temporarily borrow your some from a friend) to see if that eliminates the noise.
I have suffered from this one, more than once on my winter hack bike. The bolts that hold the chainrings paired together on the chainset can come lose. If they do, this can cause either of both of the chainrings to move slightly when put under pressure (eg. pushing hard on the pedals), and this can generate the dreaded creaking noise .
So a quick check to ensure the bolts are tight is all that is needed to either fix or eliminate this as root cause.
Front Wheel Quick Release
Now this is my personal favourite root cause !
I have suffered from this multiple times, and only last week , saw this on a bike brought into the shop with a “bottom bracket creaking issue”.
This is another one of those root causes that can be more prevalent during the Autumn and Winter months, as it is the result of the quick release skewer becoming corroded and hence sticking inside the axle.
The nature of this, is such that it can easily be mistaken for a creaking bottom bracket. Typically it occurs when pedalling out of the saddle, as you push/pull on the handlebars and so put force through the forks onto the front axle
The sound resonates through the frame, and can create the belief that it is coming from the bottom bracket area.
Of course it’s a simple one to check, and fix. If you remove the skewer from the axle , and its showing signs of surface corrosion then give it a good clean and coat it with think layer of grease before re-inserting.
One of my friends has a press-fit bottom bracket on his road bike , and these are notorious for generating creaking noises if they are not fitted well. Having started to suffer from quite loud creaking noises whenever he pushed down on the pedals, he leapt to the understandable conclusion that the bottom bracket needed either replacement or re-fitting, and so had the work done. Needless to say , when the sound remained afterwards , he was not happy. Thereafter started a process of elimination, in an attempt to identify root cause. Eventually the front wheel was changed, and the noise disappeared. From this discovery it didn’t take long to work out that the quick release skewer was causing the issue.
In a similar way to the front Q/R skewer generating noise when pedalling out of the saddle, the same can happen with the headset bearings.
Again these have a hard life, particularly during the winter.
Slightly more awkward to determine if they are the root cause, as really the only way to be sure is to remove them , inspect them, re-grease and/or replace as necessary.
Therefore I tend to leave this action as one of the final ones when working through the checklist of possible causes.
Yup, a worn or badly adjusted bottom bracket is certainly one of the common causes of creaking sounds occurring whilst pedalling.
A couple of things can help diagnose whether this is genuinely the case. Turning the crank arms by hand , particularly with the chain removed from the chainrings , can often show whether there is an issue with the bottom bracket. If you feel play or friction when turning the crank arms , or of course hear a creaking or grinding noise then it’s a pretty safe bet that the bottom bracket bearing needs attention.
Another good check is to grab both crank arms, one with each hand and check for any sideways play. Any play will not only cause the bearings to wear very quickly but can also generate noise when you are pedalling.
Press-fit bottom brackets are notorious for generating creaking noises under load. We stock a variety of Wheels Manufacturing Bottom Brackets which look to address this issue by having the press-fit cups screw together to hold them stable in the frame, or move the bearings outboard (outside the bottom bracket shell). See our range here Wheels Manufacturing Bottom Brackets
I'm sure there are plenty of other root causes that some of you will have come across.
If you have others, drop us a line, it would be good to share experiences, and I will add them to this blog item