Mystery Rattles

I’ve had way too many parts fall off of mountain bikes, motocross bikes, road bikes, and practically every other sort of bike, to ignore mystery rattles. Two of the worst incidents resulted in bodily injury. One involved a derailleur that found its way into a rear wheel on a 35 mph descent on the shoulder of a busy mountain road, and the other involved a stem that came loose and left me with a handful of handlebars that were suddenly detached from the rest of the bike on a steep singletrack descent. Neither had what I would call “positive” outcomes.

I don’t do a lot of singletracking or high speed mountain descending these days, having grown wiser and more cautious as the time it takes to recover from risky behavior seems to be getting longer and longer. But even if you’re only traveling at 12 mph, the wrong part falling off of a bike at the wrong time can still result in a swell patch of road rash, if not worse. So when I hear something rattling on my bike that I can’t identify, I can’t help but stop and figure out what it is; the memory of those old crashes triggers a reaction every time.

Just the other day, we were riding up to our favorite little Thai restaurant for lunch when I heard this strange “zing, zing, zing”, almost like the buzzing of a grinder on metal, but soft and faint. At first I thought I was hearing things, or that maybe my Brooks B67—the noisiest saddle in the universe—picked up yet another strange sound.

Just the other day, we were riding up to our favorite little Thai restaurant for lunch when I heard this strange “zing, zing, zing”, almost like the buzzing of a grinder on metal, but soft and faint. At first I thought I was hearing things, or that maybe my Brooks B67—the noisiest saddle in the universe—picked up yet another strange sound. This would be logical since I just went over the bike a couple of weeks ago to make sure nothing had rattled loose over the winter. But as I listened longer and harder it became obvious that something was going on and that this was, in fact, a new rattle. Of course, as soon as I realized this, I had to stop and figure out what it was. My wife, never having suffered the indignity of leaving large patches of skin on the road surface, couldn’t understand why I insisted on stopping when she was clearly hungry and was already thinking about veggie spring rolls. I offered a quick recap of the aforementioned stories and proceeded to go on a mechanical wild goose chase to locate the loose part.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it) I had my handy-dandy Park multi-tool with me. I had a sense that the rattle was coming from the front half of the bike, so I started with the handlebars and worked my way down and back, checking levers, stem, brakes, fenders, bottle cages, seat, seat post, pedals, rack, even crank bolts. By now we were over 10 minutes into the process without finding one loose screw, yet when I tapped on the frame or handlebars, there was that faint “zing”, as difficult to pinpoint as ever.

I finally gave up for fear that my wife was going to leave me on the side of the road and go have lunch without me, when I remembered that I bent one of my bottle cages the other day to keep my stainless water bottle from rattling. Knowing with complete certainty what was going to happen, I gave the cage a little flick and… “zing”, there it was. Little did I know that bending the cage to prevent a known rattle would introduce a new rattle into the mix.

So what’s the moral of this story? You know, I’m not really sure. I think it may have something to do with letting go of old fears, or maybe a little to do with relaxing already about the bike maintenance thing, or maybe it’s just a reminder to be thankful for an understanding wife who puts up with my quirks and eccentricities, even when she’s hungry and Pad Thai is calling.

16 Responses to “Mystery Rattles”

  • John says:

    I had the exact same experience with one of the stainless steel cages on the front of our Cannondale (grocery getter) tandem. I had stretched it a bit to fit the battery for our headlight and later without the battery it produced a disconcerting intermittent rattle that took me several rides to finally pinpoint. The bottle cage was about the last thing I looked at after ruling everything else out.

    Roseburg, Or

  • Adrienne says:

    I hate rattles!!! I am really sensitive to little noises and vibrations that don’t belong. I drive my husband and Jeff at Ocean Cyclery crazy because there is always something making me crazy! The last time, I kept saying there was something wrong with the rear wheel- it was vibrating at certain times and it felt like it was dragging. My husband looked at it several times and found nothing. Then the chain started to vibrate mildly all the time and I couldn’t take it. This time, hubby took the back wheel off and it was thunking with every revolution (didn’t do it on the bike). I had destroyed my brand new free wheel hub! The bearing was completely wrecked and out of round ( A brand new Shimano LX hub!). Fortunately, it was still under warranty.

  • brad says:

    Annoying as rattles are, I prefer them over the out-of-the-blue surprises that come without any rattly warning. About 10 years ago I was riding my mountain bike up a steep 2-mile dirt road when the attachment between my seatpost and the saddle sheared off and the saddle tumbled off behind me. That was no fun.

  • Karl OnSea says:

    Sound advice! My Pashley developed a rattle from somewhere around the front wheel on Sunday when I was out. It sounded a bit like the front mudguard was coming loose . . . yet all its fixings seemed tight.

    It was only when I was putting it away that I noticed the front WHEEL was loose. I’ve no idea how that happened, but thank goodness for those tabbed washers that hook the axle into the fork!

  • EricaLucci says:

    This is a really sweet story. I especially loved the last paragraph.

  • Jason says:

    Reminds me of a funny little rattle story. Out with friends on a multiple day tour, her bike developed a tapping sound with each petal stroke. We were certain that it had something to do with the bottom bracket. After several miles and repeated stops to find the source, it turned out to be the pump handle hitting the crank arm. An easy fix after a long and exhaustive evaluation.

    Give me a hundred bicycle problems over one car problem. The simplicity of the bicycle matches my mental aptitude.

  • Alan says:

    Another rattle story. A few weeks ago I heard a rattle on the way home from work that got louder and louder, but I ignored it for quite a while because I was in heavy traffic. Finally I turned off onto a side street to check it out, and just as I did I heard “clink” as a nut and washer fell off of my fender. Miraculously, they fell off only three feet before stopping and I was able to locate both, put them back in place and continue on my way. Sometimes you just get lucky… :-)

  • Ows says:

    Best “rattle” I experienced was the entire dérailleur tearing itself away from the bike (well, BTO!) and twisting itself in the spokes of the rear wheel – thus destroying the rear wheel, chain and itself! Fortunately, I was only a few streets away from home at the time… no less humiliating dragging a limping bike home though!
    Needless to say, it went straight into the nearest skip!

  • Fritz says:

    Must be a bad month for bottle cages. I noticed a sudden rattle last week somewhere in the vicinity of my front derailleur. Took some hunting, but finally noticed my bottle cage was broken. Bah.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks Erica!


  • Hercule says:

    I’ve just spent almost a weekend dismantling my Trice QNT to locate the source of an annoying rattle. I only found out later that it was the rear light rattling ever so slightly in its mounting – fixed in seconds with a bit of old inner tube.

    I’m extremely sensitive to aberrant noises – perhaps the most bizarre being a loose locknut on a presta valve stem clicking every wheel rotation…

  • Steve Fuller says:

    I had the same thing happen to me as Fritz did. I was in the middle of Kansas on a gravel road when mine gave out. Water bottle survived being crushed between my crankarm and the frame on the climb up Texaco Hill. I always check bolts before the season starts, especially those that mount my water bottle cages, racks and fenders on my various bikes. Lack of maintenance will bite you and the checks don’t take long to perform

  • Perry says:

    Mmmmmmm….Thai food.

  • Alan says:


    LOL.. :-)

    We have a new regular Thai restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, Thai Basil is still the best, but they’re far across town and on the expensive side. There’s a new little place that opened up a 10 minute bike ride from the house, the food is very good, the service is excellent, they’ll modify anything on the menu to make it veggie, and the prices are about half of TB. Let me know when you want to go… :-)

  • Perry says:

    @Alan: Rub it in, why don’t ya? :) The food in CA is so far and above any other state I have visited. I am insanely jealous!

  • Steve Doroghazi says:

    I’ve read these entries with great interest and amusement. My wife and I ride a Greenspeed Grand Touring Tandem; actually, we are also Greenspeed ealers. In any event, I happen to be blind which is really a curse when it comes to unnecessary noise. The ironic twist to me having access to a mechanic is that now that I’ve located and pretty much quieted down every noise on our tandem recumbent trike, a couple came into our Fort Lauderdale store about a month ago and purchased the damn thing. Now, I’m having to assemble and break in another tandem recumbent trike.

    One thing I would like to mention, though, is that noises coming from a trike rarely result in having to discontinue riding due to safety concerns. That is, because you basically can’t fall off of a recumbent trike, unless something is going to have a major impact on the drive train, you can just keep moving until you reach your real toolbox.

    If you have any interest in looking over the various lines and models of recumbent trikes we handle, please go to for a quick look. You also can download a free gift certificate for just stopping by.

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