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Madness is a Squeaky Bicycle

by Josh Lipton

There is a clanking, creaking noise in my commuter bike right now. I am pretty sure I know where it is, but laziness is getting the best of me.

Let me qualify my laziness. Where I think the clank is coming from is in a part of my BionX powered Xtracycle Edgerunner that is very hard to get at. I imagine it will take me around an hour to take everything apart, try and isolate and fix it and put it back together. And I only give myself a 50% chance of success. And honestly the clanking is occasional and doesn’t sound that bad.

clanking-drivetrain

When I first heard the noise, my first guess was that it was coming from my pedals. So after a few weeks, I tried out another set, but the problem did not go away. Now I am pretty sure this occasional odd clanking is coming from somewhere else in my drivetrain.

Becoming intimate with squeaking and creaking is a part of being a cyclist. Out there on the open road with our minimalist transport machines, our ears are tuned to the harmony of subtle noises that indicate a smooth running machine. And when something goes amiss, we can’t help to take note again and again and again.

Contrast this with the automobile. Imagine sticking your head in the engine while your cruising down the road going 40mph. I imagine in most well-used vehicles you’d be listening to a car-cophony of noises, rubbing, wheezing, hissing and squeaks of all varieties though most of these noises would be drowned out by the general roar of the engine, wind and tires on the road.

Riding in the cab of the car you are isolated from all but the worst of these noises. Unless that little yellow light comes on, you can continue rolling blithely along, content that everything is working well enough.

vehicle-dashboard-lights

Sometimes I wish I could have the same ignorance of the inner workings of my bicycle. The sources of my paranoia about my bicycle squeaks run deep though.

When I was first getting into mountain biking in the mid 90’s as a teenager, I would often go on group rides with my local shop, Absolute Bikes. Trying to keep up with the racers mechanics that lead these rides taught me how to race mountain bikes. They all had the best gear and the knowledge to keep things perfectly tuned.

I had neither the budget or the mechanic skills to own a high-end mountain bike. The result was that my scraped together rig was often not perfectly tuned and causing a racket as I hammered down the trail. Not only did I listen to my bicycle tell me its squeaky woes, I would hear commentary from every smooth-running bike mechanic on the ride.

My biggest issue at the time was a squeaky bottom bracket. I’m not sure what it was, but I always seemed to have a problem. I would finally get around to fixing it and a month later, the squeak would return.

Over time, I joined the ranks of my more experienced bike mechanic friends and learned to go after any bicycle squeak with a fury. Knowing the sounds of my bike and how to keep it running smooth and silent is a part of being a cycling enthusiast. There is something very zen about knowing and being apart of your machine.

But there is also a music to the old rusty bike with the squeaky chain being slowly ridden down the street.

rusty

 
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8 Responses to “Madness is a Squeaky Bicycle”

  1. Graham Wilkinson says:

    Your article made me smile. I know the feeling.

    However, the owner of the cycle in the picture should take better care of it. The lock looks very cheap and it would be so easy to steal that bike.

  2. John M. Hammer says:

    Yeah, the owner would have to buy a replacement textbook if that happened!

  3. Ted Johnson says:

    I have a squeaky bike. All it needs is some lube in the drive train, but here in Madagascar, I have not located where I can find good bike lube. So every day I commute to and from work, listening to that squeaking, and wondering when I am ever going to do something about it.

    I’ve heard there’s a motorcycle shop somewhere in Antananarivo that carries bike accessories, such as chain lube — and that made me wonder: Can I just use a product made for motorcycles?

    Your thoughts?

  4. Andy says:

    Yes. Motorcycle chain lube is generally black and messy, but will get the job done.

    Heck, Vaseline or vegetable oil would be better than no lube if it’s squeaking already.

  5. Jack says:

    Just swapped out a rear wheel for this exact reason. Took care of one noise, but now there is another. I put a new chain on last night, may have to pull the BB to clean and grease it if the chain doesn’t fix it.

    My wife laughs at me. She just doesn’t understand.

  6. listenermark says:

    @ted Nose grease for wet conditions, ear wax for dry.

  7. yany says:

    I know antique dealer who bought a rusty vintage bike for $ 5,000.

  8. Rick says:

    I purchased a folding mountain bike just on a couple of years ago. It started squeaking recently and was driving me mad. I tried lube on the chain but didn’t think to degrease it first. Once I did that and re-applied some lube the noise has gone, fantastic!!

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