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Diagnosing Bike Noises

Your bike is making weird noises and it’s just the worst. Before you chuck it in the bin and head to your local Norco dealer to pick up a new one, why not have a crack at diagnosing the issue yourself? Once you figure out the source of the issue, check out our list of how-to blogs to find the instructions on how to fix the issue!

There are four questions to ask yourself when diagnosing the noise, which should help you hone in on the source of the issue. First, figure out where the noise is coming from. Once you’ve determined what part of your bike is the source of the noise, diagnose what kind of noise it is- this can really help determine if parts need to be replaced or just adjusted. Then determine whether the noise starts or stops based on how you ride. Sounds pretty easy, eh?

Where on the bike does the noise come from?

This isn’t always an easy thing to diagnose, but it can really help you figure out what’s causing the issue if you can ascertain what part of your bike the noise is emanating from. Is the noise coming from in front of you? at your feet? Behind you?

Noises from in front of you will usually be headset/handlebar or front wheel/brake related. Noises below you will be pedals, cranks, drivetrain or saddle. Noises from behind you are usually rear wheel (hub or brake) or drivetrain related. Once you figure out where the noise is coming from, you can fine-tune by determining the type of noise.

If the noise is coming from in front of you, slow the bike to a stop, and while straddling it, lock your front brake and rock the bike back and forth. Do you feel a clunk at all? If so, turn the handlebar 90 degrees and try again. If the feeling persists, it’s the headset. If it’s gone away, it’s either fork bushings (if you have a suspension fork) or your brakes. Trace the wobble by hand to the offending area, and head to your local bike shop to have it looked at!

If the noise is coming from below you, see if there’s any side-to-side wobble in your cranks. You shouldn’t be able to feel any movement at all in your cranks and pedals, apart from them spinning.

To diagnose a noise from behind you, first shift gears to see if the problem goes away- if it does, you need to adjust your rear derailleur. If it persists in any gear, you could have loose or worn drivetrain components. Get off the bike, grab the rear wheel by the tire, and see if you can wobble it side-to-side. If you can, your quick release is loose or your hub needs adjustment. You should head to your local bike shop as soon as possible.

Check out this video illustrating how to diagnose sounds from different areas of your bike:

What kind of noise is it?

A squeak: If your bike sounds like you have a family of mice living in it, then you probably need to lubricate your chain. Squeaks are a great indicator of a surface needing lubrication. Break out your chain lube and see if the noise goes away.

A clunk: Anything that can move enough to make a clunking noise probably isn’t supposed to move. This is an issue of something coming loose. If the noise is coming from in front of you, your headset could be loose, your fork could need maintenance, or your wheel could be loose in the dropouts. Clunks around your feet are often worn or loose pedals, or loose cranks, and clunks behind you are either a skipping drivetrain or a worn hub.

Can you ‘feel’ the noise as well as hear it? Here’s a big one. If the sound is accompanied by a vibration, clicking, or other feeling while you ride, try to trace the vibration back to its source. A very common noise that you can ‘feel’ as well as hear is a loose pedal bearing.

A rubbing sound: Rubbing sounds are quite common- and almost always from the wheels. If a wheel gets put out of alignment, the rim surface can rub on the pads, or the tire can rub on the frame. In any case, if you notice a rubbing sound, check each wheel by lifting that half of the bike and spinning the wheel- anything loud enough to hear will stop the wheel from rotating quite quickly.

Crackling: If your bike sounds like a bag of microwave popcorn, it’s usually a bearing issue. If the noise starts when you’re steering, check that you can turn your bars easily. If you feel resistance or grinding, it’s time for new headset bearings. If your wheels don’t rotate freely, new wheel bearings are the solution.

When does it start?

Does the noise start when you’re pedalling? When you’re using the brakes? When you turn the handlebars? All these can indicate what part of the bike to check for wear or bearing play.

Can you make it stop while riding?

Here’s the big one. I don’t know how many creaky pedals I’ve replaced, only to find that the noise persists any time I’m seated. A little bit of lubrication on the seat rails, and the problem goes away! If you hear a noise from your bike, try pedalling at a different cadence. Switch gears, stand up and pedal, then just coast. If any of those make the noise disappear, it can help you track down the sound.

The solutions!

We’ve already made videos on derailleur adjustments, wheel truing, freehub body maintenance, and tube changes, and we’ve got more maintenance videos coming. As always, you should consult your local LTP Sports dealer– they can supply the tools and parts to do the work yourself, and are available with expertise when you need it. Having your bike repaired professionally also gives you the peace of mind to enjoy your ride to the fullest.