Who hasn’t been bothered by awful noises coming from your mountain bike? It’s part of the sport as equipment has to endure quite some abuse and is bound to have issues at one time or another. Lacking maintenance and damage often lead to noisy side effects, that can hamper the joy of riding.
Mountain biking can be one of the most enjoyable and idyllic sports with time spent in the woods away from city noises. Birds chirping and the wind whistling through the trees mixed with the sound of tires rolling over natural trails.
And then there are those annoying sounds that can destroy the flow with awful noises no rider wants to hear. And often it’s not easy to even find out where they come from. So, let’s get into the sources for those and how to reduce them.
Why mountain bikes get noisy
Generally, clicking or creaking noises on a mountain bike are a sign of damaged or poorly maintained components. Rattling sounds are common and usually not concerning, but still avoidable. Dry, dirty or damaged bearings, bad gearing, dry chains, and loose bolts are among the main reasons why your mountain bike may make loud noises like clicking or creaking.
So, a loud bike may indicate that something is wrong and requires attention or is just ridden hard, depending on the type of noises that are coming from it. Here I will only discuss the former and how to silence them.
You have to distinguish between unavoidable noises and sounds, that indicate something not working quite right on the bike.
Eliminate rattling or clunking sounds
Banging noises are standard on a mountain bike, that goes over rough terrain. As it gets bounced around, bike components, namely the chain and cable hoses, start banging on the frame or against other components. While part of the game, rattling can be reduced.
In this article, I will go into how to stop unusual bike sounds that result from lacking bike maintenance like creaking, clicking and scratching noises.
There are also noises that naturally occur while riding like clunky, rattling sounds. For more on reducing those, check out this article.
There is however a source for unusual banging noises, that should get your attention and a timely repair.
Bolt checks should be part of the regular maintenance schedule. A couple of bolts should even be checked before or after every ride. Namely: Axles, stem bolts, and linkage bolts. The seatstay clamp, grips and brake levers aren’t a bad idea either but, not quite as susceptible to loose bolts.
Any loose axles or loose bolts in the rear suspension will lead to a lot of movement in the wheels, which not only feels uncontrolled but is also quite dangerous. Not to forget it’s accompanied by some annoying noises. So, loud rattling from the rear is definitely a sign to check your bolts.
To be able to quickly fix those issues, I always carry a multitool on trail rides in my hip pack or backpack or keep it in my car trunk in bike parks. Especially axles tend to get loose on a full day of rough downhills. The one I got is the Crankbrothers M20 multitool, which comes with pretty much any tool you’d need on the go. Before that, I carried a normal set of Allen keys. In any case, make sure to bring the Allen keys and Torx sizes your bike uses most.
Stop your bike from creaking
Creaking noises from a bike is a common sign of dry metal rubbing against metal, usually from bearings or the chain. It’s very common, actually, but needs to be addressed when it happens. It’s nothing that should happen and is a sign of unnecessary wear and tear.
Creaking sounds are a tough issue to solve as they are generally not standard noises from normal bike use but rather stem from dirty, worn or damaged parts. That’s why a new, unused bike does not creak.
There are a lot of individual components mounted together to build a bike. And each connection is a potential source for creaking noises. That being said, there are a couple of hot spots on any mountain bike, that are likely to creak.
In order to better locate the source of screeching sounds, we can distinguish between two cadences, if you will: regular and irregular creaking.
Rhythmic or creaking with a reliable repeat tends to come from pedaling or shifting weight (left to right while pedaling) and is generally caused by dirty or dry bearings. This happens from pressure washing bearings or ridding in sloppy, muddy conditions. Or generally lacking bike care and lubrication.
Likely affected bike parts:
- Bottom bracket bearings.
- Crankset and spindle.
- Chain, derailleur and casette.
- Pedal bearings.
- Dry axle.
The headset and bottom bracket are very prone to get dirty or even damaged on muddy days or tough impacts on rough trails. Whatever the conditions, do your sanity a favor and lube your chain regularly. This means a quick cleaning and lubing after every dusty or muddy ride and maybe skipping the cleaning after a clean ride.
Occasional creaking on the other hand likely has no overlap and stems from the bike reacting to the terrain.
Likely affected bike parts:
- Linkage and rear suspension bearings.
- Headset bearings (especially when turning the handlebar).
- Saddle or (dropper) seatpost (dirty or dry connections, and some play due to loose bolts).
- The suspension itself in rare cases.
Eliminate clicking noises
Any bearing like in the headset, bottom bracket, linkage, pedals, axles and wheel hubs can be the cause for clicking sounds. Similar acoustics can come from loose bolts, worn frame bearing housings or cable hoses banging on or inside the frame.
With such a multitude of possible origins, clicking sounds are definitely the hardest ones to locate. Especially when coming from the rear end of a full-suspension bike, there are loads of places to search at. What makes it even harder is that often they only occur when riding the bike or when it’s under load.
And again, we can distinguish two separate reasons due to how the sound occurs: regular or irregular. Rhythmic or not.
Rhythmic clicking occurs with movements of a certain cadence like pedaling and power transfers or weight shifts side-to-side as a secondary movement from it.
Likely affected bike components:
- Drivetrain and derailleur: Misadjusted gearing, bent mech hanger, loose cassette, worn derailleur cogs, wrong gearing resulting in hopping chain (especially with 2x and 3x drivetrains).
- Crankset: Loose bolt in the spindle. Too much play between cranks and bottom bracket
- Bottom bracket: Damaged bearings. Play due to worn housing.
- Pedals: Damaged bearings. Loose bolt.
- Frame bearings: Damaged bearings. Worn-out frame housing leading to play.
- Headset: From weight shifts side-to-side.
- Axles: Loose bolts, play in a hub or between hub and frame (while pedaling).
- Saddle & seatpost: Loose bolts in seatstay clamp or saddle clamp. Play in the dropper post (needs servicing).
Infrequent clicking is arguably the most frustrating issue to solve out of all. It happens only with certain movements, impacts or specific riding positions.
Here are common issues that lead to irregular clicking in these components:
- Cable hoses: Banging against internal routing canal, each other or against the frame.
- Broken headset bearing balls: Under braking or when turning.
- Suspension: Worn seals, loose bolts or play within the head tube.
- Frame linkage bearings: Broken balls, play due to loose bolts or worn bearing housings.
It’s also very common for infrequent clicking to occur with side-to-side weight shifts and power transfers, but only when enough force is applied.
In order to find the source, grab the two components you suspect the clicking to originate between (like the rear wheel and the top tube to inspect frame bearing play) and give them a wiggle or twist. Or pull the front brake, and rock the bike back and forth with one hand on the headset to feel any play resulting from loose bolts or damaged ball bearings.
For some bearings, it’s very easy to check. Simply rotate the part that’s supposed to rotate and feel for any unwanted resistance at any point in the range of motion. With rear suspension frame bearings, this can be done with an air damper when letting all the pressure out. Or when removing the rear shock.