In the Bike Shop: The Mystery Creak

I hate it when a customer brings a bike in and asks if I can stop their bike’s creak.

I’m sure it’s just a simple fix, can you do it while I wait?

What I hate is when people have no idea of the time involved in discovering and fixing an intermittent noise, and then they don’t want to pay people to do it for them. Diagnosing creaks that only happen under certain conditions is even more maddening. Sometimes a mechanic can get lucky or have a burst of intuition, but often times it takes a lot of greasy trial and error to root out the cause. The average customer-thinks-it’s-the-crank squeak takes a long time and frequently requires expensive tools that usually only a shop has on hand.

Let me tell you a story about my bike. One day I discovered that it had a creak on EVERY pedal stroke. I’m going to condense the story down from the scores of fixes I attempted, just touching on the highlights: 2 crank swaps, 3 BB swaps, 2 pedal swaps, 2 rear wheel swaps, 1 chainring swap, and re-greasing every bolt that touches the crank. Six hours spread out over 5 days later, I discovered that the water bottle cage was rubbing the front derailleur clamp. The recent sand on the road had put grit all over my bike, turning the cage into a squeaker. One .75 mm washer later it was fixed.

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As frustrating as the experience was, it could have been worse. On a previous bike there was a creak that occurred occasionally under medium power. It turned out that I had cracked the frame, but the crack was very difficult to see on the back, bottom of the seat tube.

Squeaks and creaks can be caused by so many things. Sometimes you can find a cure that fixes it permanently, but sometimes you just clean and re-grease something with the full knowledge that it’s gonna start creaking again within 2 months. Some bikes/parts are just prone to being noisy, even when they are otherwise in perfect working order. Life can be full of disappointments, but an occasional creak isn’t necessarily worth launching a crusade. In terms of maintaining your bike, a shop is interested in your enjoyment of the sport as well as your personal safety, but I don’t think it reasonable to expect them to completely remove any irritant associated with your bike.

If the creak is in fact driving you crazy, and you don’t want to pay for the labor at the bike shop, may I suggest a substance that cures any and all distracting sounds from your bike? It’s called iPod.