My bike has been driving me crazy for about a month (maybe more) with a creak down by the bottom bracket every time I stomp on the pedals. I tried lubricating the rear suspension pivot bushings, since one of them was near the bottom bracket, but that did nothing so I’ve been stuck with it. Last Wednesday I did a group ride at Lehigh though, which required a fair amount of stomping, and my bike — which was the oldest there by far, and probably the only 26″ bike in the bunch — was squeaking and creaking to the point of embarrassment. Oh, the embarrassment…
The next day I decided to do a recovery ride at Jacobsburg, and I did something a bit different: I broke out the singlespeed. What was I thinking? The trails there are pretty mellow, but the SS, with its single gear and its lack of suspension, bring them back to “challenging” again. The truth is, I was thinking I didn’t want to hear that creak, but that meant forgetting about “recovery ride,” I had to work pretty hard.
(Aside: I think the singlespeed is a great training bike, very helpful to build leg strength, improve cadence and spin, improve technical handling, and improve overall ride smoothness and momentum conservation. However, it does not teach any of those skills, it merely incentivizes learning them, because until you do learn them you’re going to take a beating. I did OK, but the first few minutes were an eye-opener.
The other side of this hard work is that once you do figure it all out, even if the ride doesn’t get easier all your effort makes the ride faster, and you zip right along. There were other riders at the ‘Burg, on some pretty high-end bikes — the riders themselves looked like Soft Boys to me though — and I tooled right on past them. It didn’t hurt that they quickly spotted that my bike was fully rigid and had no gears, which blew their minds. Neophytes. They could probably have ridden as fast as I did, but their bikes allowed them to go slower and so they did, while mine wouldn’t allow me so I, uh, didn’t.)
There were other things going on over the weekend, so on Monday (before all Monday’s “other things” caught up with me) I did a morning towpath ride, again on the singlespeed. I thought I was going to go mad from all the spinning: an easy flat 25 miles, it felt like my hamster legs were whirling as fast as possible and I was hardly moving. Still, cardio- and leg-detox-wise it was a great ride.
Fast forward to this morning. I got up, not particularly early but I had a mission, and I accomplished it: I took the cranks off, took out the bottom bracket, cleaned and lubed everything near the BB, including the pivots again, and put it all back together nice and tight. No creak! As a bonus, the bike, whether because of my previous SS rides or the smoother lubed linkages, seemed to ride really well. I rode in the afternoon at Sals, and I felt like I could do no wrong — I climbed really well, rocky sections and other technical stuff were no problem, and I rode my entire “traditional” loop, something I hadn’t done yet this year (I usually get tired and hop on the road to shortcut the last part). Some of that I’ll attribute to recent saddle time, and some more to ramping up the difficulty level of the trails I’ve been riding, but some of it was because of my bike, riding like new, and the sheer joy of riding it like that.
In the way home, the creaking started up again. I guess it — that creak, or another like it — was inevitable…