Beat the Creak


bikeco chris king headset

Minimize creaks with quality bearings like Chris King. These provide excellent performance and service life.

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Whether you’re rocking a brand new rig or something with a few years on the trail very few things are more annoying than mystery creaks.

Isolating your creak is the first step.  This is often difficult while riding as your pedals, saddle and handlebars are your input sources while your creak may be originating elsewhere and traveling through the frame.  Take your time and investigate your bike section by section.  Often putting your hand near possible offending areas helps to determine where the creak is the strongest.

Some of the usual suspects:

Cable routing:  Cable creak it usually heard when you steer the bike.  However some cable routing noise may be attributed to suspension movement and applied load or stretch to cable housing.

Is your creak repetitive?  These are often drive train based.  Check the torque on your hardware.  Chain ring bolts, bottom brackets, crank arms, cassette, pedal spring system, cleats, etc.  All of these can creak and often lead to other problems.  Example:  Loose chain ring bolts not only make annoying noise but may lead to serious frame, crank or rider damage.

Saddle Rails: If your saddle rails are slipping from the saddle chassis the creak often masks itself as a drivetrain issue.  Pedal standing and seated to isolate.  Off the bike you can pull on the saddle to detect noise.  I have seen saddles in the early stages of rail failure that only creak if aggressively bounced on.

Possible DU bushing wear:  Remove the rear shock and check for play.  A seriously worn DU will be felt without removal.  Lateral and vertical play are often detected on a worn DU.

Rear axle tension:  With the propagation of thru axle rear ends it is more important than ever to understand proper torque.  Under or over torque on your rear axle will create creaks and excessive wear on the axle, hub and connectors.

Headset fit:  Typically this is only seen on new headset installation.  Check the bearings for correct installation as well as your cockpit and preload setup.  If everything seems on the up and up and you still have a creak you should investigate the chassis and headset body interface.  If you suspect your headset is rocking in your frame you should have it professionally assessed.  Untreated a rocking headset may create irreparable frame damage.

Suspension Linkage:  Similar to a rocking headset creaking suspension components may be damaging your bike.  Proper torque on suspension linkage is critical.  This is another area that will suffer from over or under torque setting.  Loose bearings are apt to wallow out their mounts and create permanent fit issues.

Hubs: Check that your hub fitment is laterally acceptable.  Worn hub assemblies are hard on forks and rear ends.  They also severely accelerate bearing wear.

Readers will note that many of these potential hot spots for creaks are bearing related.  Bearings in mountain bike assemblies are critical in motion transfer.  There are some basic bearing concepts that will help you understand why it is critical to have them operating correctly.

Bearings are typically quite strong in one direction.  This is the direction of bearing “roll” if you will which is the Radial Load. Bike designers work extremely hard to keep bearing loads applied in the radial direction.   Bearings are less likely to tolerate Thrust Loads.  Thrust loads are applied laterally through the assembly – think of looking at a bearing and pulling the interior race and exterior race apart from each other.  Compounding bearing stress especially in thrust load scenarios are Shock Loads.  Shock loads are instantly applied loads into the assembly.  If your connecting hardware is loose the vibration of your bike riding is applying thrust load back and forth across the bearings typically with a substantial shock load.  Loose hardware produces a jackhammer effect which leads to premature wear on bearings and retaining systems.  If your connecting hardware is too tight you will over torque the bearings causing damage as well.  PAY ATTENTION TO TORQUE SPECS ON BICYCLES!  Engineers work hard to provide you the information you need on this.  Use it.  Invest in a torque wrench if needed.

Finally adding to the stress loads bicycle bearings are typically located at the end of a lever – which adds to the mechanical loads applied in all directions.

These are some basic starting points to isolate your problem.  If you are unable to correct your creak reach out to a quality bike shop.

On your initial build it is critical for long term performance that the build is high quality.  There is a certain amount of settling to be expected on a new build – but stay on top of it.  It will be more fun to ride when your bike’s performance is maximized.

Hopefully this article illuminates the importance of staying on top of your bike maintenance.  Depending on your personality and the miles that you ride the level of service required will vary.  When in doubt reach out to a quality shop – don’t let a small creak turn into a big problem.  Build equity with your resource.  Be involved with the service write up, don’t be shy explaining the issues you are having with your bike and Demand More from you resource.

See you on the trails!


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