Bike Noises

I’ve never thought of myself as being neurotic or OCD in any real manner.  Generally speaking, I can pretty much accept or ignore a lot of things that seem to bother others.  In fact, I’m quite adept at filtering out most everything around me, especially when taking notice would require that I take some kind of action to address the source of the issue.  This is probably most evident when dealing with my autos.  Is the “check engine” light on?  I’m okay with that.  In fact, that light has been on for about five years straight.  I change my oil twice a year – whether it needs it or not.  Rust, rattles, squeaks, leaks and most other issues can readily be accepted and adapted to as a new level of normal.  Don’t buy a used car from me;  you’ve been warned.

In contrast to my normal modes of operation, all that seems to go out the window once I get on my bike.  My bike is supposed to be a silent, smoothly operating tool of riding efficiency.  I will pull things apart, clean and lube them just to make sure they are at their optimum.  My rims are pretty much true to within fractions of a millimeter, even now that I’m running disc brakes.  I could probably have saved myself thousands of dollars over the years if I treated my cars with the same care and concern.  Too bad I hate cars.

I used to do this when solving problems at the board.
A sound less bothersome than my bike.

This spring, I noticed that my bike had developed a very annoying creaking sound while climbing.  You might not think of this as much of a problem, but I would notice it all the time – even when climbing on rough terrain.  It only takes a very slight motion between two metal surfaces to create a surprisingly audible noise.  Everything can feel completely tight, but the combined stresses of putting your body’s weight into the bike can bring out a ping or creaking sound.   There only needs to be the most subtle amount of play to make a noise that will get on my nerves.

Unfortunately, the noise proved not to be transient.  It persisted and actually grew worse over the following weeks.  My focus was distracted by my constant analysis of the source.  Was it my seatpost?  No, it was there while climbing out of the saddle.  Chainrings?  It didn’t seem to be there when I backpedalled, but that’s not always conclusive.  It would almost go away while spinning on the pavement… almost.  My rides soon turned into diagnostic sessions.

While not on the bike, I would pull things apart to see if I could correct the source of the noise.  I spent an evening pulling off my cranks and bottom bracket.  I removed the bottom bracket  from the frame.  I scrubbed the frame threads out with a brush and cleaned the entire bottom bracket assembly.  Everything was re-lubed and the threads wrapped in plumber’s tape before reassembly.  I took apart my chainrings, cleaning every surface meticulously.  The chainring bolts were cleansed and a thin layer of anti-seize compound applied to them.  I regreased all of the crank arm surfaces according to specs.  I even removed the pedals and gave their threads the same type of treatment.

Where's Waldo? I don't know, but he's easier to find than a elusive bicycle noise.
Where’s Waldo? I don’t know, but he’s easier to find than an elusive bicycle noise.

I actually enjoy this process as long as I’m not feeling pressured to complete the job with a limited amount of time.  There’s something very relaxing about putting on some good music and working with my hands.  Building wheels has the same kind of feeling to it.  When it’s all done, there’s a real sense of satisfaction in having a well functioning bike as a result of my efforts.

I was actually looking forward to my next ride since I was pretty confident that I must have addressed the squeaking with all of that work.  I hit the trails after work the next day… ARG!!!  The noise was still with me.  There didn’t appear to be any change at all.  Now I was left with the task of trying to enjoy the ride while the bike was continually distracting me with an irrepressible sound.  More analysis ensued.  Could I induce some creaking by torquing on the bars?  Was it related to leaning the bike?  I checked the quick releases to make sure that there wasn’t any extra play that could be creating the sounds.  All my tests were inconclusive.  It was hard to tell exactly where the squeaking was coming from but it seemed to be coming from the front end of the bike.  At least it seemed that way, but I know that sound can resonate through a bicycle frame in strange ways.

I took out the tools again.  The bars were removed from the bike and the stem removed from the steerer tube.  I also disassembled the headset for good measure.  The steerer assembly received the same treatment as my cranks – thoroughly cleaned and well lubed as appropriate.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for so I attacked everything I could remove.

On my return to the trail, I was again disappointed.  I might have been starting to obsess about this a bit.  I gave more attention to the relentless creaking noise as I rode.  It even seemed to be there when I was descending.  That was odd.  It also seemed to confirm the idea that it wasn’t caused by my drivetrain.

Looks rather squeaky.
These look rather squeaky.

With my mind now fully preoccupied with the quest to eliminate this creaking sound, I turned to the wisdom of the internet.  It’s usually a pretty sad state of affairs when I have to go looking for help.  It’s like stopping the car to ask for directions – an open admission of defeat.  Likewise, I keep my owners manuals hidden in a drawer for such dire occasions.  Generally, the internet is more full of opinion than facts, and I think most of us know how much opinions are worth.  Still, there are a lot of good mechanics out there that will respond to questions on various discussion boards.  So, after reading through many, many recommendations to do the same things that I’ve already done (and some that shouldn’t be done), I did stumble across a few ideas that I hadn’t explored.  In particular, it seems that sometimes the headset bearing races can creak inside the cups or the cups can shift ever so slightly if there’s a tiny imperfection between the surfaces of the frame and the cups.

I thought that might be a direction to pursue.  Unfortunately, the bearings on my headset aren’t replaceable without sending them back to the manufacturer.  Maybe something was wrong with them.  They have at least 3 more years under their warranty (thanks Chris King) but I wasn’t about to go without my bike for the few weeks it would take for them to be shipped out, get serviced, shipped and then reassembled.  I wasn’t about to let that happen during the prime riding of the summer months.  Not a chance.

just dumber
Not quite the most annoying sound in the world.

So I opted to install a new headset.  Yes, I was that bothered by the creaking.  I was a little reluctant at first, but it was the logical next step in my crusade to eliminate the world’s most irritating noise. So, lacking a proper headset press, I dragged my bike down to the shop and left it with them to do a professional install.

I picked the bike up after work later in the week.  I went out for a ride that same afternoon and found true bliss.  Elation.   Nirvana.  Whatever it was, it didn’t make creaking noises.  The only sound I could hear over my breathing was the sound of root and rock impacts echoing in my tires. It was truly a wonderful thing.  I climbed seated in near silence.  I stood up, mashing the pedals and pulling on the bars without a peep from the bike.  I lost myself in almost two hours of squeak-free riding that afternoon.

I’ve since found that the problem was in the cup/frame interface, not the bearings of the original headset.  I could correct the problem with it by applying some Loc-tite 640 to the cups when installing.  Maybe I’ll do that some time in the future, but, for now, my neurosis has been subdued.


NOTE: After taking several months off, I think I’m back at this.


Review: O.W.L. Energy Bars

[Reposted from]owlbarOne of the many things that makes Vermont so great to live in is the abundance of small, local businesses who make great food or beverages.  I could fill pages with various examples, but, specifically, there are a surprising number of options for locally made energy bars: Garuka BarsMonkeychew, and Battenkill Brittle.  I may write a bit on these at some point, but I’m wanted to focus on my personal favorite, O.W.L. energy bars (O.W.L. = Original, Wholesome, Local).

I first got a taste of an OWL bar while at the VMBA festival at Ascutney a couple of years ago.  The owners were there with some free samples for anyone at the festival to try.  Their bars made a pretty good impression on me and the owners were genuinely nice people to talk with.

The bars only come in one flavor, but at least it’s a good one.  They have a moist, nutty flavor that’s lightly sweetened with honey.  I understand that food can be a very subjective thing since not everyone has the same tastes, but I think these have a pretty good appeal.  Everyone in our family likes them.  They’re also soft enough that taking a bite out of one is very easy. (Anyone remember trying to take a bite of a certain well known brand back in the early 90s?)  Even at winter temperatures they are manageable, even though they will firm up a little.

Regardless, the bars really do taste good without having an overbearing sweetness.  For me, if something is too sugary, it’ll taste really bad when exercising hard.  I’ve made the mistake of trying out new energy bars during races or long rides only to regret it later, primarily due to the sweetness factor.  When I’m racing or otherwise working hard, my mouth gets dry and it can be difficult to get something like that down.  These bars are moist enough to avoid that issue.

For whatever reason, I have a bit of a sensitive stomach when exercising.  Maybe that’s because I don’t have enough sense to not push myself too hard, but it’s always been an issue for me. Many of the sport drinks or bars end up making me feel sick.  Fortunately, O.W.L. bars are one of the few that have passed my personal hard-ride nausea test.


One  bar contains just over 300 calories.  Remember, it’s an energy bar, not a low calorie diet bar.  On the plus side, those calories come from natural fruits and nuts – no corn syrup to be found anywhere in the ingredients list.  If you’re looking for a scientifically engineered, pre-digested, blood glucose infusion system, look elsewhere.  These bars are actually food, not the results of a lab experiment like some other energy sources marketed to cyclists.

They contain no eggs, dairy, or wheat for those who have issues with those foods and are also gluten free.  More important to me is the fact that they don’t contain any preservatives, artificial flavorings or other man-made chemical concoctions.  They’re just made with ingredients anyone can recognize.  Of course, if you have allergies to nuts or peanuts, you’d probably better run the other way.

O.W.L. bars come in a 2.7oz. bar or by a bag of “pellets”.  The pellets are a smaller, 100 calorie, individually packaged mini-bar that is intended to be a bit easier to eat on the fly.   At $3 for the individual bars, they’re a bit on the pricey end, as the products of many small, local food companies tend to be.  Still, they’re great to bring along on a ride, as a recovery food or whatever you happen to be doing.  For me, one of the advantages of mountain biking is that it strengthens my body; it’s nice to have something to eat that doesn’t work against that end.

The regular size vs. the pellet serving.
The regular size vs. the pellet serving.

Help Save Sidewinder

At Kingdom Trials, the land where Sidewinder, Webs, West Branch and a few other trails reside is now up for sale.  The 133 acres could possibly end up sold to someone who will develop the land (houses, big sand pit, who knows?) or simply close access to these trails.  Kingdom Trails is working with the Vermont Land Trust to purchase the land, preserving it for future recreational use.   You can find more details about the Save Our Sidewinder (S.O.S.) campaign on the Kingdom Trails website.   With several sources of funding secured there is still a $75,000 difference that needs to be met by the end of July.  You can donate HERE and help keep Webs from turning into a big sandpit, or worse.


Go!  Do it!  Whether you live in the area or just ride here occasionally, you need to help out!

A VAST Perspective

[Originally posted on]

VAST signIt’s no secret that fat biking has really taken off over the past couple of years, especially for riding in the winter months.   Somehow, this weird little niche has become the fastest growing segment of the bicycle market.  I was immediately hooked the first time I was able to borrow one and pedal around on the snow.  The potential for expanding the riding season to include the long Vermont winters was an extremely enticing prospect.  If you like mountain biking, it’s very difficult to understate the level of pure enjoyment these big, heavy, slow bikes bring.  I now look forward to the winter biking season almost as much as I do summer.

With more people getting out on the snow, there comes the inevitable challenge of finding some trails to ride.  Several groups have stepped up to the task, creating bike specific trails in the winter months – everything from organizations like Kingdom Trails and some Nordic ski centers to the odd groups of individuals that are willing to put in the sweat and effort to pack down single-tracks in the snow using snowshoes or other means.  It’s a situation that has been improving every year, but the available opportunities are still found only in various pockets scattered around the state.

That's some serious coverage.
That’s some serious coverage.

Looming in the background behind all this is an almost irresistible temptation stretching out all over Vermont with around 5000 miles of well- maintained winter trails.  The Vermont Association of Snow Travellers (VAST) has been around for well over 40 years developing and maintaining their trail system with the participation of numerous local clubs.  There’s hardly a town in Vermont where you cannot find access to these trails.

While I’d love to be able to jump into a glowing endorsement for riding on these trails, I can’t.  From all technical perspectives, they more than fit the bill for great winter biking terrain.  Unfortunately, the reality is that, with a very few specific exceptions, we don’t rightfully have permission to ride there.  I know that it’s pretty easy to find a fellow mountain biker who has, at least occasionally, ridden on the VAST trails at one time or another, if you haven’t done so yourself.  It’s one of those somewhat unspoken activities that is often viewed as a bit of a grey area.  I’ve even seen articles in regional publications suggesting biking on local snowmobile trails as an option.  I’m not attempting to take the moral high ground here; I’m guilty of occasionally giving in to this temptation myself.

As our numbers grow, our activities are being noticed more often by snowmobilers.  Just this week I had a co-worker mention that there was some discussion about fat bikes on the trails in Vermont on one of the bigger on-line snowmobile forums.  While it wasn’t really negative, on the whole, it’s an issue that will need to be addressed sooner or later by the biking community before it becomes a real problem.  In some states in the mid-west, there has been quite a bit of hostility between the two user groups.  Thankfully we have managed to avoid that fate, so far.

It’s important to be crystal clear about one thing before going any further with this discussion: these trails are their trail network, not ours.  VAST and its members have invested a lot of time and money to get things where they are today.  Many people do the hard work of clearing trails, putting up signs, creating maps and grooming these trails.  Then there’s the even bigger job of working with government agencies and land owners all over the state to keep them open.  This is done both as a state-wide organization and more directly by each of the individual clubs.  This is much like mountain bikers have done with the various mountain bike clubs and summer trail systems around Vermont.

To put this in perspective, try to see it from their point of view.  Mentally, pick your favorite mountain bike trail system.  Now, how would you feel about another group vying for access to it?  Maybe you helped invest in it’s development by paying membership fees, and possibly even kicked in some sweat and effort on some trail maintenance days.   Would you be okay with hikers trying to get official access to use those trails?  How about horses?  4-wheelers?  To approach the question about whether or not we belong on these trails should be done with some humility and some expectation that we will contribute something that will benefit both groups.


Personally, I feel that fat bikes could coexist with snow machines without lessening the experience for either group.  With some reasonable guidelines and education many of the potential conflicts between snowmobiles and bikes could be largely eliminated.

I think many winter bikers would gladly pay the regular fees for a VAST pass (TMA) in order to be able to use the trail system, just as we do for summer memberships.  Right now, this is not an option, even for those of us who would like to pay our fair share.  This shouldn’t be viewed as a “pay to play” option as much as it is contributing something back to help with the expenses involved in maintaining these trails.  Even though our low-psi tires and low power output create almost no impact on the trails, groomers still consume a lot of fuel.  Liability insurance isn’t free either.  Enforcement should be handled just like it is for snowmobilers who ride without a TMA.

Some thoughts on what might constitute reasonable guidelines: Bikes should yeild to sleds; Stay to the right side of the trail; Ride single-file.  There are likely others that would need to be considered.  Of course, this would be the bicycle specific guidelines in addition to the code of ethics that VAST expects from its members.  Most of this would be necessary to avoid injury for both the bikers and those riding a snow machine.  There is a big disparity in speed that brings some safety concerns.  Some of the busier trails might not be appropriate for bike use and would need to be unavailable to bikes or limited to off-peak hours.

Ultimately, we are looking for many of the same things in our recreation while enjoying all that the great outdoors in Vermont has to offer.  Contrary to the perception that many get from interacting with bicycles on the roads, most bicyclists have no desire to impede the enjoyment of other trail users.  We’re generally a pretty laid back group and can relate to the enjoyment that other trail users get in their own way.  Nobody wants to create any animosity between fat bikers and snowmobile riders.

As I mentioned earlier, winter fat biking is a rapidly growing activity and could help support the efforts of VAST and local clubs.  We have had our own experiences with gaining trail access and a culture of contributing to see these interests maintained has been developed over the years.  Fat biking could become another significant part of Vermont’s winter tourism opportunities.  Things like organized inn to inn treks could be a real draw and a great experience even for those of us who live here throughout the year.  Vermont has an opportunity to do this right with some careful thought.  I’m aware than VMBA and some other mountain bike organizations have already engaged with the snowmobile groups, at least on some level.  Hopefully, more discussion can occur and we can build some agreement that will avoid the contention over trail use that has become a problem elsewhere.

Being Antisocial

facebook-and-you-pigsI’ve been accused of being antisocial by many people over the years – not that I really care what they think.  This time, it’s a little more official.  I’m dropping off the face of the social internet world: deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  I’m not going to get into the reasons why in depth here  other than the quote: “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”  I’ve never used Twitter much at all, so no real loss there.  Facebook, on the other hand, has been tracking me since ’06.  Extracting myself from their databases will probably never be fully complete, but it’s time to move on.

If you’d like to keep up with my posts, I’d recommend entering your email in the “Follow Via Email” box to the right.  Either that, or add my RSS feed (the link is also found to the right).  I’ll still be posting things here occasionally, as well as on  My email can be found on the “about” page if you’d like to contact me directly.

Burrington Bench

"Caution Uphill Riding Only"  Now that's my kind of trail!
“Caution Uphill Riding Only” Now that’s my kind of trail!

I heard the idea of a climbing trail by Toady’s Tour discussed by various Kingdom Trails staff for over a year now.    After a long wait, it is finally here.  The new trail, Burrington Bench, climbs from the base of Cat Box Hill to Bemis.  The trail is just over a mile long and climbs a little more than 400 ft., at least according to my GPS/Strava data.

The stats....
The stats….

The ride itself is pretty good.  The entrance to the trail doesn’t look like much, but it quickly improves.  The only steep sections are found early on and are very short.  From there, the trail gradually gains elevation.  Switchbacks?  If you wanted switchbacks, you’ve come to the right place.  There are at least a dozen switchbacks helping to stretch out the climb into a more gentle grade.  Once you get rolling, the trail allows you to keep a pretty good pace – even to the point where some of the switchbacks might need a little more berm.  The entire trail is a comfortable middle-ring affair.  It reminds me a lot of the West Branch climb from the bottom of Sidewinder.


A ton of work had to go into making this trail.  Most of the trail is benched, which means that the trail crews had to spend a lot of time digging things out.

A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.
A lot of earth was moved to make this trail.

If I could make any changes, it would be the brief section following the doubletrack at the top.  I’d much rather stay under the tree canopy and wind through some more single-track right to the end.  Still, it’s only a few hundred feet and hardly enough to justify complaining about.  Once the logging is done in the area, the little bit of log road should firm up and be fine.

A short section of double track.
A short section of double track.

This new trail makes a great addition to the trail network on the west side of Darling Hill.  Prior to this, if you wanted to ride Troll Stroll, Tap n Die or Toady’s more than once you either had to climb back up River Walk or River Run or ride all the way down to the south end of West Branch.  River Walk and River Run have some pretty steep sections and are pretty much in the “not fun” category, as far as climbs go.  With Burrington Bench, we can more easily do repeat loops on these downhills.   Hopefully, we won’t be wearing out Troll Stroll as a result.

Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.
Intersection with Bemis at the top of the climb.

Take a survey

I ran across this survey being done by a University of Florida grad student.  He’s doing his researching  about how cyclists travel to events for his doctoral dissertation.  Since I work in the education field and hold a degree in recreation resource management, I have a little soft spot for this kind of social research.  Regardless, I know a good portion of those who read this blog would fall into the demographic that this student is hoping to learn about.  Yeah, it’s a little on the long side, but doesn’t take too much time to complete.  I hope his results are published so we can see just how weird we are.  Take a few minutes and make a grad. student happy.  Click below:

No, you’re not going to win an iPad or anything else like that.  Do it anyway.