If you’ve ever experienced creaking on a modern bicycle, determining cause can be very difficult. If you suspect that your wheels are the cause of the annoying creaking sounds, you’ll want to first confirm that suspicion then try these steps to cure the creaking issue.
The first step in confirming your suspicion of the wheels causing the noise: try replacing them with another set of wheels. If you don’t have a second set of wheels, borrow some from a friend or pop into your local bike shop and borrow a set. Be sure that the second set isn’t known to creak.
Once you’ve confirmed that your wheels are the culprit, try the following:
- Check the skewers. Often times with higher end titanium skewers, the source of the creaking is the skewers. This may be due to skewers set too loose, or may be too dry. Lubricate the skewers at the wheel contact points and lubricate the frame dropouts. A lightweight lithium grease will do. Reinstall the wheels and check for creaking.
- It wasn’t the skewers. So, next remove the wheels and lubricate with a dry lubricant or very lightweight lubricant, the spokes as they cross each other. This is a particularly common area of creaking on most modern wheels with higher spoke tension, and is most commonly a source of creaking on black spokes due to the oxidization process used to blacken the spoke. It is also a more common source of creaking with aero bladed spokes.
- It wasn’t the spokes crossing. Okay, so now you’ll want to determine if the creaking is only the rear wheel. If so, then the next place to check is the cassette. Often times cassettes are mounted at much too low torque. The recommended torque setting for Shimano Cassette lock-ring is between 30 and 50 Nm. I’ve seen cassettes installed that can be spun off by hand. Check that your cassette is tight, but before doing so, remove it and lightly lubricate the spider and cassette free hub contact points. The aluminum on aluminum can be a source of creaking.
- Not the cassette? Okay, so now it is time to carefully inspect the rim. The source of the creaking may be at the nipple contact point with the rim. Check for cracking of the rim, cracking of alloy nipples. Lubricate the nipple-rim contact point by dripping lightweight lubricant in between the nipple and rim and spin the wheel. Wipe off excess. Test ride.
- Rims and nipples okay? So, now start looking at the hubs. Check for too much free play – the ability to wiggle the wheel back and forth when tightly mounted on the frame. If there is a lot of free play the bearings may be worn and may be allowing creaking at the axles. Have your local bike shop service the hubs.
- Still have creaking? Have an experienced wheel builder inspect the wheels to ensure that tension is correct and that the rims and hubs are not in need of repair.
Finally, do remember that like any other mechanical part of your bicycle, wheels need TLC and regular servicing and inspection. I highly suggest a quick inspection of your wheels as a regular service routine after your regular bike wash up. When you’re re-lubing your chain and other bits, take the time to re-lube contact points on your wheels and generally inspect for loose or damaged spokes, rim cracks, brake track wear, and wearing or worn bearings. Even the most expensive wheels on the market are not maintenance free, and often higher end product requires more TLC than the cheaper stuff.