I don’t wear headphones when I’m cycling — I don’t want to be insulated from the world that I’m riding in. Hearing the birds tweet and the farmers in their fields is part of the pleasure of cycling.
It means I can also hear the squeaks, rattles and creaks that, in the real world of cycling, can tell the experienced listener exactly what their next expensive trip to a bike shop is going to be about.
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I once made a list of the noises a bike can make, and it came to more than 20, signifying everything from a maladjusted bearing to imminent and complete frame failure. Here are just a few you might want to know about.
Contrary to what some perfectionists will try to tell you, rattling is a very welcome noise. It means that the component in question is still attached to the bike, all that’s wrong is it’s not attached very well. You simply need to tighten it up. There will then be a brief period of silence, followed by the resumption of the rattle. I advise you to live with it. Rattles always win in the end.
A loud bang
A tyre blowout. Cheap but dangerous. As you hurtle towards the tarmac, comfort yourself with the fact that this is marginally better than expensive but dangerous.
Irrespective of what the issue is, the creak will sound like it’s coming from the bottom bracket. In reality it can be any one of about 100 things from a slightly worn pedal cleat to a crack in an aluminium fork steerer getting gradually longer, waiting for its opportunity to kill you with a catastrophic failure on a fast descent. In short, creaking can be a symptom of the trivial or the deadly, and there is no way to tell which.
Probably the brakes, unless you’re on a tandem, in which case it might be your stoker. You can fix the first by waggling their shoes so they point in a little at the front. Feel free to try this on the second, but I’m making no promises.
There is no such thing as a good crunching noise. The positive is that it will be obvious what the problem is. The negative is that it might be a long walk home.
There are many things that can click, but most of them are in the transmission. This is annoying but not usually deadly. It’s easy to eliminate a clicking noise, but normally only at the cost of introducing a different clicking noise. Try a few different clicking noises, and see which one you like best. A good local bike shop will be happy to let you try several, but they will charge you for changing it from one to another.
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Probably the front mech. Fiddle with the gear lever a bit. If that doesn’t work, adjust the length of the cable. If that fails, use a 5mm Allen key to tweak the angle of the mech relative to the frame. Use a protractor if you think it will help. If it still scrapes, bend the bloody thing with a big screwdriver. Then just kick it and swear a bit. Finally accept that the noise means no one will ever come for a ride with you again.
A cross between squealing and creaking. Try lubing your chain. If the squeaking stops, you should be retrospectively ashamed of yourself, and we all hope your bike develops a creak.
Probably a stiff chain link or a bent chainring tooth. Happily you can fix one with a hammer — and the other with a hammer. It’s the perfect home maintenance project. If you’re reading this in 1968, it’s probably a crank cotter-pin. Great news! You can fix that with a hammer too!