It’s happened to me many times. I did everything right. I lubed my bike the night before, packed my saddle bag and laid out my riding kit. Man, I was stoked! The day of the ride I get ready to go and put my kit on as if I was suiting up for battle. I get on my bike thinking I’m all that, and tell myself I’ll go 2 mph faster today (yeah, right). I go. I’m feeling strong, like I could halfwheel some dude with chiseled super calves then I step on the cranks to accelerate and I hear, CREAK.
Me: “What was that?” [CREAK, CREAK] I sit down the noise goes away. I stand on the pedals, CREAK Arrggh!
Me: “What the?” My drive train CREAKED with every pedal stroke.
Me: “Damn it all to hell!”
I’ve got a bike creak; I hate bike creaks! I want to turn back to take my bike apart, but what about my ride? Should I go on and risk some guy in a shiny new Cervelo with chiseled super calves riding up next to me and passing me as he hears my bike creaking (which to me sounds like THUNDER) and be ridiculed? What do I do at this point? Do I need a new $500.00 dollar crank set? Or a new $100.00 bottom bracket? Is my frame cracked? All these thoughts run through my head and my mind is not in the ride whatsoever and suddenly I’m having a bad time.
So I pull to the side of the road and think. Thankfully in my profession I always have to use some form of trouble shooting method to get the job done so I decide to give the same thought process a try with this dilemma. It’s sort of like the Scientific Method which all technical individuals seem to have a personal version of.
For those interested, here is the Scientific Method I pulled from the web:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Construct a Hypothesis
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
- Communicate Your Results
Having used this before successfully, I dove right into my problem and here is how it went:
Ask a Question: What is creaking? I decide to answer myself and say it’s got to be the pedals.
Do Background Research: I think about this for a moment and decide that the creak only happens when I apply pressure on the cranks while standing. Hmm…pedal contact load varies greatly when I stand or sit. I also discover that the creak is coming from the left side and only on my left down pedal stroke.
Construct a Hypothesis: My left pedal is where the creaks are coming from due to load because the sound only occurs when I stand on them and it does not re-occur during fast seated climbs having the same virtual effort. It’s got to be the pedals, the left pedal.
Test Your Hypothesis: I ride some more and continue applying pressure to the pedals varying my riding style and the load to my left leg confirming the creaks only do occur when I am standing on the pedals and on the left side only.
Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion: I decide to cut my ride short and head home. As I pulled into my garage, I take my shoes off and inspect every part of my pedal mechanism from cleats to pedals and found that my cleats are actually worn on the outer edges (I use Look Keo Sprints) as if the rubber play adjusting pad has worn down engaging more of the cleat plastic against the pedal platform. Thankfully, I had a spare set of cleats in my tool chest and decided to slap them on my shoes. By this time it was dark out so I had to wait until the next day to finish my test.
Communicate Your Results: I tested my experiment the next day and was elated to find out that my creaking problem was gone. But my initial thought of a bad pedal was wrong. It was a cleat issue and not a pedal issue which makes sense. Most of the drive train parts are static and always engaged. The cleat comes off, dirt and grime get in between the pedal and cleat, the play adjustment pads get worn due to use. The lesson, I may have initially guessed wrong but my thought processes was right. More importantly always remember to check your cleats!
In the end, I was happy I did not prematurely start taking my bike apart, happy to not need a new crank set, bottom bracket or frame, happy to not have to take my bike into a bike shop where they would have never seen the problem because the creaks were caused by my cleats. So next time you have a problem, see if you can put the Scientific Method to good use and try reduce your issue to its simplest form by following the steps above. You just may find out that it really was not as big as you thought it to be. Like a pedal cleat.