Day before yesterday I hopped on the Boulder, rode down the street and then stopped abruptly. What the hell is that sound coming from the direction of my bottom bracket? At various times in the past I’ve heard pings, pops, dings, clacks, clicks, and various other sounds that seem to resonate from that general neighborhood and it always chills me a just little bit (no one wants to be twenty miles out when a bottom bracket freezes on them.) But such sounds are really tough to pinpoint and tend to fool me – after tracking them down, never once has one actually turned out to be the bottom bracket. In point of fact, the majority of the sounds have been traceable to things like the seat pin or the saddle. Figuring those were the most likely culprits, I put the bike up for the day and headed out on the Gazelle instead.
Yesterday, hoping the sound had miraculously disappeared on its own, I once again cruised down the street on the Boulder. Turns out they were louder now. Dammit! So once again, I turned around and this time took a moment to tighten the seat pin and the saddle. There was almost no play in the bolts though, and sure enough when I rode off again the sound was still there. I kept riding this time, albeit a bit apprehensively, continuously leaning over from side to side in a vain attempt to track down the origin of the sound. At the bottom of each and every down stroke on the drive side, as cyclical as clockwork, an annoying “clack” was clearly audible. I pedaled hard, I pedaled gingerly: with soft pressure it seemed to abate slightly – but not entirely. And my heart sank when I realized the noise was becoming more pronounced. I could feel a palpable reverberation as the click was now both audible and vibratory. Damn! Maybe my bottom bracket really was bad – and with only six or seven thousand miles on it too.
It occurred to me that I only felt the vibration on one side – the drive side – and so I got off and tested the crank arm to make sure it hadn’t worked its way loose: tight as a drum. I recalled an article I’d read by Jan Heine about pedals and bearings, and a similar style pedal that he’d used that went bad after only a few months. Could my problem be the pedal? I figured I could just swap them out when I got home to see if the noise and vibration went away. So as softly as I could, and in a very low gear, I limped the last seven miles home.
Once in the garage I grabbed my pedal wrench and went to remove the drive side pedal. It turned with ease.
Too much ease.
Noooo… could it be that simple?
Instead of loosening the pedal, I tightened it up. Jumping on the bike and riding down the street, I realized that my thoughts of bottom bracket Armageddon had been entirely unfounded: the sound really was as simple as a loose pedal.
And it was at this point that I realized the various clinks, pops, and rattles that emanate from a ridden bike had fooled me once again.