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CSI Kuala Lumpur

I have finally closed my Creak Source Investigation.  The case started on Sunday 7th October 2012.  The date of my first ride in Malaysia.  The scene was Jalan Gombak, heading up toward Genting Sempah.  My steel bicycle started creaking at the bottom of the climb and continued to do so all the way to the top.  I posted my initial case report on Saturday 13th October.

My assumption that I had cured the creak was premature.  On the very next ride the creak returned, seemingly louder than before.  The rasping still seemed to be coming from the chain rings or bottom bracket.

Alchemy ISKY 1 1

While working on the bike at Van’s, YC and I noticed that two of the chain ring bolts were slightly stripped.  We didn’t have any spares so we reinstalled the stripped bolts.  Could those damaged bolts be the source of the noise?  Or could there be something wrong with the bottom bracket?

I went to another bike shop to look for a second opinion and to buy some replacement chain ring bolts.  The shop mechanic also thought it was a problem with the chain ring bolts.  That shop didn’t have any SRAM bolts in stock either.  So I still had a creaking bike.

Alzheimer’s must be setting in.  It was another week or so before I remembered that I had a spare crank set.  With sound chain ring bolts.  I had replaced the standard crankset on my titanium bike with a compact crank.  It was a relatively simple task to swap cranksets.  I also removed the bottom bracket cups, cleaned out the threads on the cups and the frame, applied grease and reinstalled everything.

The bike still creaked.

If I were Horatio Caine, or Mac Taylor, or D.B. Russell, I would have access to some sort of scanning device that would locate the source of the creak.  Sadly I do not. To paraphrase The Who, “Where are you? I really want to know”.

Having eliminated the bottom bracket and chain rings as the source of the noise it was time to widen the investigation.  The next option was to look at the rear of the bike.  I removed the cassette from the rear wheel.  The cogs and freewheel hub splines got a good cleaning.   Grease went on the splines before the cassette went back on the hub body.  I checked that the bolts connecting the seat stays and chain stays were properly torqued.  Then the rear wheel went back on.

The bike still creaked.

It was time to call a friend and expert.  Who better to put on the case than James Flatman?  He built the bike for me.  His suggestion was to go over the entire bike, no matter how far away from the apparent source of the creak a particular component was.  So I started with removing the stem and bar.  I had upgraded those three months ago so they didn’t need cleaning.  I made sure the bolts were properly torqued.

The bike still creaked.

Next on the list was the seat post, seat post collar and saddle.  The seat post came out of the seat tube and the saddle came off the seat post.  I saw why it is recommended that the seat post gets an annual cleaning.  Despite regular bike washes there was a surprising amount of grit and dirt around the seat collar bolt and the saddle rail mounting.  The seat post needed a wipe down too.

All the moving parts on my bike were now freshly greased or oiled.  All the bolts were tightened to specification.

The bike still creaked.

I was running out of leads.  I checked the pedals.  The bearings turned smoothly and silently.

Perhaps the bike had been banged around during shipping.  I inspected the frame.  Fortunately there weren’t any cracks.

The only thing left to check was the rear hub.  I Googled the instructions for how to disassemble an Easton R4 rear hub.  The Easton Cycling site has videos to go with this drawing.


Diagram courtesy of Easton Cycling

Off came the rear wheel, for the umpteenth time in this investigation.  I removed the cassette from the hub body.  Then removed the hub body from the hub shell.

I had cracked the case at last.

The pawls on the hub body were completely dry, as were the splines in the hub shell.  So every time the pawls engaged with the splines, i.e. every time I put pressure on the pedals, there was a metal-on-metal creak.  The spring-loaded pawls are the black parts in the photo below.

Easton Pawls

I removed and cleaned the pawls, the retaining spring and the splines in the hub shell.  Everything got a good coat of grease before reassembly.

I took my bike out for a 70 km ride.

The bike doesn’t creak.

Creak (verb): To Make a Harsh, Grating Sound When Pressure or Weight is Applied

To quote the late, great Sheldon Brown:

Aside from the whoosh of the tires on the road, and the clicking of the freewheel, a bicycle should be silent.

I subjected YC to a continuous cacaphony as I rode beside him toward Genting Sempah.  A rasping noise accompanied each and every pedal stroke.  YC was the guy I called from the McDonald’s parking lot for directions to the meeting point for this, my maiden ride in KL.  More pertinently given the noise my drivetrain was making, he is also is the technical expert at Van’s Urban Bicycle Co.

We chatted about what the cause or causes could be.  In the back of my mind I worried that my bike had taken a hard knock during shipping.  We did what little diagnosing by eye was possible whilst spinning up a 6 degree slope.  My wheels looked true.  My chainrings weren’t bent.  There wasn’t any play in my cranks.  All the while the creaking seemed to get worse.  Perhaps the boost in volume was just in my mind but I was getting increasingly embarrassed by all the racket my bike was making.

I stopped and looked over my bike.  I had to at least give the impression that I was doing something about the noise.  I checked my chain ring bolts.  I loosened and retightened the quick release skewers on my wheels.  I gave my saddle a twist.  I ran through the gears.  I poked at my cleats.  Then I remounted my bike and grated the rest of the way up the hill.  At the top of the climb YC and I, hex wrenches in hand, made another attempt to find the source of the creak.  Unsuccessfully.

The next morning my bike was on the work stand at Van’s.  YC and I took the cranks off the bike, disassembled the chain rings and cleaned all the parts.  We checked the torque on the bottom bracket cups.  We put Loctite on the bolts when we reassembled the chain rings.  We reinstalled the cranks.  I went for a spin outside the shop.

My bike went back onto the work stand.  This time we removed the rear wheel and checked the hub for play.  We lubed the spoke heads where they exited the hub flange.  We checked the spoke tension.  We greased the dropouts and axle.  I went for another spin outside the shop.

There was an improvement.  However not enough to have impressed.  But was time for lunch.  Everything stops for lunch in Malaysia.  So with the hope that lubricant would continue to work its silencing way between the various parts on my bike, YC and I went to the cafeteria next door for a rice and curry feast.