If you spend time watching professional MTB videos, you may notice that they all have crystal clear audio that makes it seem as though riding is done in near silence in an almost ethereal state. Well, if you’ve ever ridden a bike, you know that’s just not true. What about the heavy breathing? Or the wind howling in your face? Or what about those sounds coming from your bike? Today we are doing to dive into common bike noises and what they mean, along with what we can do to prevent these unsettling noises in the first place. Today we ask the question – What is your bike trying to tell you?
1) Learn Anatomy
In order to diagnose and potentially fix a bike noise, you must first learn the anatomy of your bike. This involves going through and learning all the different parts of your bike and, ideally, taking it one step further by getting familiar with what each part does.
Pro tip: there are no screws!
2) The Once-Over Wiggle
This is part of my pre-ride routine, and I recommend you also do the Once-Over Wiggle on a regular basis! Here’s how I wiggle….
☑️ Start up front, wiggle the controls and bars, making sure nothing is loose.
☑️ Check the headset by turning the front wheel sideways 90 degrees, placing your fingers where the headset meets the head tube of your frame, and rocking the bike forward and back to feel for play.
☑️ Wiggle the front wheel, then the brake caliper.
☑️ Give the saddle a wiggle, then check the cranks for play, and grab the pedals to see if they move from side to side or act wonky at all.
☑️ Squeeze your chainring and make sure it feels tight, then rock the back wheel checking for any unwanted movement at the axle or in the suspension pivots.
☑️ Finally, give that cassette and derailleur a wiggle!
Aren’t you glad you studied up on your bike vocabulary?
3) A Deeper Dive
On a regular basis, it’s important to find time for a more thorough bike check to make sure no bolts are loose. It’s not uncommon for bolts to loosen over time and it’s important to catch it before anything wiggles free. You can do this by going through with the appropriate wrenches, but don’t just start tightening everything down as hard as you can. First, learn how to use a torque wrench and then check your bike manufacturer’s website for torque specifications (the range of force that each bolt or fastener is designed for).
Pro tip: While you’re at it, check your axles and make sure everything is properly secured!
4) Timing is Key
Despite taking preventative measures to keep your bike in tip-top shape, you are still hearing a funny noise coming from your bike. First things first, you need to figure out the timing of the noise. Is it when you are pedaling, coasting, or braking? And is it only when you sit on the saddle, or when you stand, or both?
5) The Usual Suspects
Experience is a great teacher! Here are a few of the most common causes of unwanted bike noise, and some easy fixes:
Crunchy crunch when pedaling
Clean and lube your chain, then check your derailleur hanger to make sure its bolts are tightened appropriately! Check those pedals for any play or crunchiness.
Squeaky creak that only happens when seated
Clean your seat rails and apply a little grease or chain lube to them. Check those torque specs (usually 7-10 Nm) when you reinstall!
Snappy creak when you pedal hard, but only on one side
Your pedal may be worn out! Most pedals can be rebuilt pretty easily, but many require special tools and a rebuild kit that includes new bearings and seals. This happens to me a couple times every season, so I keep two sets of pedals with me so I don’t miss any rides while waiting for parts or a rebuild.
Wobble click when you move the bars around
Check if your headset is loose! If you ride a lot of steep trails or slabs, that headset takes a beating. Same as above, tighten to manufacturer torque specs.
High pitched squeal when braking
Your brakes are either wet or contaminated. Hopefully it’s just water, but if you think something may have made its way onto the pads or rotor, it’s time to decontaminate. Start by wiping the surface of the rotor and pads down with alcohol. Some people even put their pads in a toaster oven to burn off any contaminants, or even take a small torch to the rotor. As with all things involving torches, make good choices! If you know for sure that brake fluid got all over everything, you may have to just replace the pads and rotor.
Clunk when you compress the suspension
Something’s not right! Look for rocks trapped in your suspension linkage and check your shock pressure. If that’s not it, remove your shock and move the suspension through its travel to see if it’s binding up.
Hollow thunking sound with a slight grind when you move the bike
Boy howdy – this one could be a doozy. Sometimes carbon frames break and this is their cry for help. Check for cracks in the downtube, bottom bracket area, and top tube. My sincerest hope is that it’s not a frame issue!
An orchestra of squeaks and noises all over the bike
You’re due for a good cleaning and lubing. Check out the Bike Wash article and give that machine some love! If you ride a lot of water crossings or find yourself in the mud and muck, expect some noises! If your bottom bracket or hubs were submerged, they may need to be taken apart and serviced (See Step 6).
6) Call in the Pros
That guy or gal behind the service counter at the bike shop is an encyclopedia of weird bike noises. Get your machine into their hands, describe when it occurs, and let them work their magic. They’ve seen it all before, and have a tried and true system for tracking down and eliminating those pesky noises!
He’s a wild man with a wild plan, living the nomad life as a skills instructor and trail builder. With a background in moto and 15 years of mtb experience, he has tips for riders of all levels! You can find him leading Ninja clinics all over the country and on Instagram @vitabrevis
I felt so confident that I recently signed up for the Catalina MTB Gran Fondo!
I participated in the beginner skill clinic at Malibu Creek last Saturday, because I'm truly a beginner who couldn't stop...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I participated in the beginner skill clinic at Malibu Creek last Saturday, because I'm truly a beginner who couldn't stop falling down during each mtb ride. The class was small and super fun...and the instructors (Richard and Kris) were informative and dynamic. The clinic was small enough for each member to practice each learned skill and receive immediate feedback. I learned many new skills on that day and felt much more confident with my bike-body connection. I felt so confident that I recently signed up for the Catalina MTB Gran Fondo...the 55 mile route! Woohooo!! The next day, as I was road biking (training for the Solvang Double Century), I dodged a bullet on the Snake/Mulholland by applying my learned mtb skills--a long towing truck went over almost half of our lane on a blind turn as we were descending. Instead of fixating on the truck, I remembered the importance of looking for a clear path and keeping my eyes on where I want to go....Now I understand what people meant when they said that mtb will help improve my road riding skills too! I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn, and I look forward to the next clinic! ~ Uyen N.
I was so happy I could transfer what I learned in Sedona to my own trails.
I just rode on my local trails today after taking the Ninja clinic in Sedona. I was so happy I...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I just rode on my local trails today after taking the Ninja clinic in Sedona. I was so happy I could transfer what I learned in Sedona to my own trails. There is one drop and one off camber downhill section I never have had the courage or skill to ride until today. It was so fun to ride them and not get off and walk. Richard La China and Courtney Cowan were fantastic instructors. Not only did I up my technical skills in Sedona it was also a ton of fun! ~Patty Elliott
Took the mini clinic on jumping skills because I can't resist the urge to get in the air even though...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
Took the mini clinic on jumping skills because I can't resist the urge to get in the air even though I always knew I didn't really understand the mechanics of it, so it was a kind of "huck and hope" affair. The result was that I didn't land about 1 in 5 attempts. The clinic with Aaron was great! He explained the mechanics of how the bike is handled coming into, through and out of the jump and starts with individual small skills progressing step by step in a very manageable way (even for me, and I started this stuff at 45 and I'm not very coordinated). What I feel sets Aaron apart is his ability to communicate his explanations and demonstrate movements in a way that makes them easy to learn even for someone with little experience. He is also very patient and encouraging, which helps when one is starting out and struggling a little with some movements. I definitely intend to do more clinics with Ninja MBS. I feel like it will save me a lot of time and frustration as well as possibly a lot of money in medical bills! ~Jill M.
I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys.
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years I learned a lot from this clinic. The techniques covered ranged from reviewing basic skills such as basic body position to practicing more advanced techniques like switchbacks, bunny hops, and cornering. I was able to recognize, get instruction, and practice some skills where I was weak and instantly improve them. Even skills I thought I was pretty good at I was able to pick up useful tips. I also realized that deliberate skills practice is not something I incorporate into my riding, but now that I understand what I should be doing I will make sure to add this in! After taking the course my comfort on the bike has improved and I am more aware of my body position and movement of the bike. I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys. The instructors are knowledgeable and easy to work with. There is a lot of one on one help and they will make sure you understand the skills being taught and are able to perform them successfully. Plus the clinic was lots of fun! I highly recommend and hope to work with these guys again soon. ~ Michelle A.
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