Written by Jenny Andersen, bike mechanic at Bicicli Cycling Society in Berlin.
What do you do when you are on the road and your tire is hissing or every pedal stroke is grinding or creaking? Often it’s just small things having a big effect. With the following tips in mind, you will continue your ride quickly.
Flat tire... the tube change.
A flat tire has made many of us curse at least once I guess! Especially with roadbikes, because the narrow tires are not always easy to take off and put on again. But if you know what you have to watch out for, the swearing is limited :-)
Have two tire levers with you as a precaution in case one breaks. So, what to do? First, it’s important to let the air out completely and to flex the tire properly from the rim wall. Then push the tire lever under the tire bead and the tire lever down. Okay - I think at this point a video is somehow easier to understand.
If the hole in the tire is too big and you can already see the tube, it helps to put a piece of foil from your energy bars between the tube and the tire. Or even a bank note, if you have one with you.
It grinds... adjust the brakes.
What's that noise? First of all, it is important to find out the origin of the grinding.
If it is rather a rhythmic grinding, then it could be because the wheel has a blow. If you have a disc brake, it doesn't matter whether the wheel has a blow or not. That doesn't bother the disc. However, the disc may also be uneven and therefore grind rhythmically. If the wheel has a stroke, it should be re-centered. The brake disc can also be straightened.
Adjusting disc brakes is a bit trickier than adjusting rim brakes, but basically you can't do much wrong. If you don't loosen the wrong screw. Please only loosen the two screws that hold the brake caliper. Usually these are 5 Allen screws. What works very well with Shimano brakes is to loosen the two brake calliper screws, pull the brake lever and tighten the screws again. Often you are lucky and the brake runs smoothly again. If this is not the case, you should go to your local bike shop.
It's a little easier with rim brakes. If the brake pad on one side is just too close to the rim, you can adjust it with the upper small grub screw. Just turn it in or out and you can see where the brake is going. You should also check whether the brake pads really sit on the rim, so that you get the optimal braking performance. If they are set too high, they drag on the tire and you will need a new tire very soon. If they are too low, you drive a nice edge into the brake pads, which is not dramatic - but if the edge is big enough, the brake likes to get stuck when braking, and does not release again. You will at least have an additional training effect :-)
It squeaks... oil the chain.
Sounds super trivial, but is super important for all co-riders, for you and your bike. Nothing is more annoying than the permanent squeaking during a ride. And your chain will thank you, too! Before the squeaking comes the rattling when the chain is already very dry. Not quite as annoying but also quite loud.
For preparation, it is best to pull the chain through a cloth beforehand. It is best to lean the bike against a wall so that you can turn the pedals freely. So you can - while turning the pedals - clean the chain roughly. Then lubricate the chain. Simply turn the crank and drizzle or spray the oil on one point of the chain. Depending on what you have. If you have a spray bottle, just make sure that no oil gets on the brake! One day later you should go again with a rag over the chain. So the dust and dirt doesn't stick so fast. And there you go, it runs wonderfully quiet again. You should usually do something like this before a tour, but of course you don't always think about it. There are also small oil bottles that you can put in your saddlebag. Or just clench your teeth and do it post ride, like I did last time. Yes, this happens to me too!
It creaks and cracks... exclusion procedure.
What is at least as bad as a squeaky chain is a bike that cracks or creaks with every pedal stroke. There can be many different reasons for this. By the way, it is also one of the most popular questions I get by e-mail or phone. It is best to apply the exclusion procedure directly.
If you notice it while riding, you can immediately do a few tests:
- Is the noise only audible when you’re running at full power?
- Or if you only pedal lightly, for example downhill?
- Does the noise occur when you bounce back and forth a little on the saddle?
- Does it creak when you're freewheeling?
- Does it make any noise when you put some weight on the handlebar / stem?
In case of doubt you do these tests better standing up.
Even if the noises often sound loud: In most cases, the only thing missing is grease, something is not really firmly tightened or dirt has accumulated. Or a little bit of everything.
If you have a carbon frame, the search is even harder, because the carbon passes the noise more through the frame than with an aluminum or steel frame. Sounds coming from behind often sound like they come from the bottom bracket.
If the crackling doesn't occur when out of the saddle but only when sitting, then the saddle and/or the seat post probably causes the noise. Simply loosen the seat post, clean it with a cloth, grease the seat tube in the frame as well, re-grease and re-fasten everything. Then also loosen the saddle from the post and clean everything - that's where dirt accumulates. Screw everything together again, ready.
If the noise only occurs when pedaling, it is most likely at the bottom bracket and/or the pedals. If grease is missing there, the minimal rubbing of the materials against each other creates a crackling noise.
However, it is also possible that pedals or the bottom bracket are no longer screwed tightly enough. Then the material will also work noisily. For the bottom bracket, special tools are needed which you rarely have at home, so go to your trusted bike shop.
A noise can also come from the handlebar or stem area - for example if the screws are not tight enough there or some dirt has piled up there. Proceed in the same way as for the seat post. It is best to remove the handlebar from the stem, clean it and reassemble it. Test afterwards with proper pressure on the handlebar ends whether the handlebar is still twisted or firm enough. For carbon parts it is best to work with a torque wrench. These are now also available in small sizes for home use.
So, that’s it.
Photo: pd-f.de / Christian Mang.