listen up! your bike is trying to tell you something

Accoustical Radar

When it comes to riding your bike, silence is golden. If your bicycle is striking up a band of unusual noises, it may be trying to tell you something. And it’s important to listen, because mechanical problems can cause hassles on your bike ride, or worse, endanger your safety on the road. Here’s what to listen for:


Squeaky brakes are generally not a sign of an unsafe condition but more an annoyance.

  • Old brake pads: The first thing to check is the condition of your brake pads. Is the rubber on the pads as old as your vintage bike? Is it hard as a rock? If so, it’s a good time to get some fresh pads for your brakes.
  • Brake pad angle: Next up, check the angle of your brake pads in relation to your rims. They should be “toed in.” This means the front of the pad should be angled slightly closer to the rim than the back as if both pads formed an arrow pointing forward. On most modern brake pads you can adjust this by loosening the nut that fastens the pads and realigning the pads. On old brake calipers found on 10-speeds from the 80’s and earlier, you can actually bend the arm of the brake with an adjustable wrench to angle the pad forward. Just exercise a bit of care when using this method.
  • Glaze on rims: Lastly, check your rims. Over time, the brake pads leave a glaze which can cause squeals. Break that off by running fine-grit sandpaper or emery cloth on the braking surface.  Follow up the sanding with a good cleaning using a bit of rubbing alcohol and a rag. This should only be done on aluminum rims, not steel. Use a magnet if you are unsure which type you have.

Chirping Birds

If you have what sounds like chirping birds coming from your drivetrain as you pedal, there’s a good chance you are in need of a little lube. Also lube the bushings of the pulleys on your rear derailleur. Using chain lube, apply a few drops to the bolt at center of the pulleys as you spin your cranks backwards. This should take care of your chirps.


If your creaking when your cranking, it’s usually an issue with your bottom bracket or cranks. You can first try tightening your cranks by using either a 14mm socket or 8mm hex wrench, depending on the type of crank bolt you have. If this doesn’t help, you will most likely have to bring your bike to a shop and have a mechanic service your bottom bracket. He or she can remove the cranks and bottom bracket, clean, and re-grease threads in your frame and pedals, and reinstall tightly.

The Dreaded Ka-Chunk

If you hear a loud ka-chunk and feel a slip when starting from a stop or when pushing hard to go up a hill, congratulations, you have officially worn out your chain and cassette! What happens when your chain wears out is that the little rollers in the center of the chain get smaller and smaller making the space between them bigger and bigger. At the same time, the teeth on your freewheel or cassette (gears on back wheel) get pointier and the grooves between teeth get wider. This combinations makes it impossible for the chain to hold on to the teeth, causing slippage under pressure. Time to bring it into a shop for a fresh chain and cassette.

Remember, if you have concerns about strange sounds emanating from your bicycle, check with a trusted mechanic who can help you identify and fix the problem.

— by Susan Lindell

credit for photo above

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