TECH: WAYS TO GET RID OF RIM EYELET NOISE
Sometimes, the most beautiful of rides could be tarnished by an issue so minute you wouldn't believe could cause so much irritation until it hits you. And the following is one such cases.
SOUND THAT SHOULD NOT BE HEARD DURING RIDES
A friend of mine was going crazy. Out on a ride, he heard only the sound of the wind and his tires were barely touching the ground as he sped by me. What a sweet ride! There was no more perfect day, no more perfect ride. Its like he was floating on air. So why would that make him crazy? It doesn't get any better than that.
He was going crazy because his bike was making a sound. A sound it shouldn't be making. It wasn't doing that on his last ride. What is that? Instead of concentrating on his ride, now all he could hear is click…click…click. His mind raced with thoughts of tools and waterproof grease. Is it his crank, his new seat post, or should he have replaced his chain… the one that's so perfectly worn into his drive train? He told me that once again tearing down his prized machine to figure out a noise made him angry. Only he didn't say it as nicely as I'm telling you here. Even with his helmet on, I could tell that his ears were turning bright red.
Even though I tend to be more even tempered than him, we both have dedicated a lot to our bikes. A lot of time, a lot of sweat, a lot of money. We want them to look as good as possible. We want them to ride as perfectly as possible. Just as important, we want them to sound as smooth as possible, the way a well tuned bike is supposed to sound.
After convincing him not to toss his bike into a nearby river, we sat down in the warm sun to have a chat. I told him that I know that nothing is more annoying than an unwanted noise that you can't seem to track down. Having been involved with cycling for so many years, I knew what the noise was and how to solve his problem. Maybe this will help you too.
FINDING THAT SOUND!
One of the first things to keep in mind when tracking down bike noises is that they often don't come from where it seems. Many components used in cycling conduct sound very well. This means that a noise coming from a seat post can sound like it's coming from the handlebar or vice-versa. Finding the offending component can be maddening, and riding with clicks and creaks can change your ride. Instead of enjoying the ride and focusing on the reason you ride in the first place, your whole ride becomes focused on figuring out where that damn sound is coming from!
The noise I'm talking about here is rim eyelet noise. Have you been riding along and you hear click-click-click? Not your freewheel click, but a click that shouldn't be there. Maybe your bike was completely quiet on your last ride, and now, its making noise. Sometimes, there are multiple clicks that sound like there's sand in your bottom bracket. Sometimes, you only hear the sound when you pedal. In fact, when you push harder, the noise increases. That could only be bottom bracket or crank, or maybe chain or cassette…right? It makes you wonder why you spent so much money on the best drive train and it isn't completely quiet! You would expect it to be smooth as silk and practically float through the air. My friend had even gone as far as returning bottom brackets, waiting for the replacement, re-greasing and reinstalling, only to find that the noise is still there. He had checked out the cranks, the chain rings, the cassette, the hub, the complete drive train. Still noisy.
It wasn't until putting up with the noise myself for far too long that I discovered the true cause of the noises like this. A source of noise not often thought of. Rim eyelets. I'll talk about that in a bit once I calm down. Breathe, Mike, breathe. Count to ten.
To avoid rim eyelet noise, one alternative is to use rims that don't use eyelets. But that's just one option. I'm going to tell you how to get rid of that annoying eyelet noise so you and your rims can live in harmony and once again enjoy rides together.
(This rim has no eyelets.)
FRONT OR REAR
Let me describe what eyelet noise sounds like and how to identify it. Eyelet noise is a distinct "click" that can happen when you're pedaling, or when you're freewheeling. If it's eyelet noise and you hear clicking when you're pedaling and it stops when you stop pedaling, then it's probably the rear wheel. If you hear the click and you're not pedaling, then its probably, but not necessarily the front wheel. Remember, both wheels can click at the same time too. I'm not suggesting that every click you hear is eyelet noise. There are many other potential sources for noise. But getting rid of eyelet noise is cheap, easy, and does no harm, so it's certainly worth a try.
One thing to note is that from my experience, there's no way to get the eyelets to make their telltale noise "on the bench." So don't feel frustrated if you bring your bike to your favorite mechanic and he or she clamps it into a repair stand, spins your wheels, and can't get the eyelets to make a sound. The only way I have ever heard eyelet noise is with a rider actually riding the bike, loading the wheels with the stresses of actual riding.
GETTING RID OF EYELET NOISE
To get rid of eyelet noise, it's a simple matter of lubricating the eyelets in a way that also lubricates the spoke threads. Any type of relatively light bicycle oil will do, there's no need to be too picky about it. Before you lubricate, take a shop rag or paper towel and wipe all dirt and grease away from each eyelet area.
The most important part of the technique is to apply a drop or two of oil onto the threads of the spoke where they go into the nipple, as shown above. Then, let the oil drip into the eyelet itself. When applying the oil, position each eyelet at the bottom of the wheel so gravity will bring the oil into the eyelet. I've tested this method by only lubricating the eyelet and not the spoke threads, and the results are not as good. Choose a starting spoke, say the one near the valve stem, so you know where you are. Then go all around the wheel, making sure each and every eyelet gets the correct lubrication. It's very important to lubricate each spoke because you don't know which spoke is actually making the noise. While you're lubricating, avoid using any more than a drop or two on each eyelet, and keep oil off the rim braking surface if you use rim brakes, and keep oil off of the tire too.
Finally, with a clean shop rag or paper towel, wipe any excess oil from the spoke, nipple, and eyelet area. You're ready to roll. And once you start rolling, the centrifugal force of your wheel will force the oil into the eyelets. If you hear eyelet noise when you first start, give it a few minutes of riding to see if the noise goes away.
I have definitely encountered cases where one application was not enough. Lubricate and ride, and if that doesn't get rid of the eyelet noise, lubricate again. Also, sometimes its very difficult to tell if its really the front or rear wheel. Lubricate both, which is a good idea anyway.
Really Stubborn Cases
If you are convinced that your eyelets are making noise but it won't go away after lubricating 2 or 3 times, there's one more thing you can do. Lubricate again, all the way around. Then, using a spoke wrench, give each nipple one-half turn in each direction, bringing the nipple back to the position it was originally. Your wheel might be a little out of true when you're done, but a touchup truing should be all that's needed to get your wheels true again. Lubricate once again, maybe twice. This will get rid of the most stubborn case of eyelet noise. If you still experience noise, then you probably don't have eyelet noise and should start looking at other components for the source of the noise.
SOME COMMON EYELET QUERIES
Why does this happen?
Eyelet noise occurs because there is some degree of movement and change in tension of the spoke and nipple in the eyelet as the wheel rotates. This is normal and the movement is very, very small. The eyelets themselves can also become microscopically loose, causing very slight movement. When new, the nipples and eyelets are tight and totally clean without a spec of dirt in them. After a while, dirt lodges into the eyelet and they eyelets can become slightly loose in the rim. Now the very same eyelet that used to be silent creates a noise because of the rubbing of the dirt against the metal in the eyelet or the eyelet in the rim. Oil prevents the movement from making a sound. The movement is still there, and the dirt is still there. Would it be best to clean out the eyelets? Absolutely. But a complete cleaning would involve completely disassembling the wheel, which is not a practical solution.
Are rims with eyelets bad?
Rims with eyelets are definitely not bad, in fact, they are quite good. And so are rims without eyelets. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
If you use a rim without eyelets, you really should use brass nipples which are heavier and may not be available in the color that you would like. There's nothing wrong with brass nipples other than they add a little bit of weight. They're more durable than alloy nipples too. If you use alloy nipples in an aluminum rim with no eyelets, the nipples will soon seize into the rim so that they will no longer turn, leaving you with a wheel that can no longer be trued. If you try to turn a seized nipple, it will strip and then the only way to replace the nipple and true the wheel is to cut the spoke and replace it with a new spoke and nipple. (Don't ask me how I know this.)
With eyelets, you can easily use lighter alloy nipples available in most any color. Eyelets are usually made of stainless steel, and being a different metal than the alloy nipple, the nipples and eyelets won't seize together. You can easily true your wheel at any time as the nipple will turn easily. The downside? Possible eyelet noise and the eyelets themselves add just a little bit of weight.
Keep in mind that not everyone who rides rims with eyelets will experience eyelet noise. I haven't conducted scientific studies, but I can tell from years of personal riding experience that I hear a lot of bikes that would sound so much smoother with just a drop or two of oil on each eyelet.
Rear Is More Needy
Because of the drive forces, the rear wheel tends to develop eyelet noise more often than the front. As I mentioned earlier, if you encounter eyelet noise that only happens when you're pedaling, the rear eyelets are possibly the source of the noise.
Bike Washing and Rain
It's always great to have a nice clean bike, but you can definitely over-wash your bike. One of the areas that gets water in it whether you've washed your bike or ridden in the rain is the rim eyelets. After a wash, maybe every other wash, its time to re-lubricate. If you forget, the eyelets will let you know.
To re-lubricate, you must let the eyelets dry completely first. Wipe all the excess water off the eyelets and let your bike dry in the sun or inside overnight. If you're in a hurry and don't let them dry completely, the results won't be as good and you may get the eyelet noise again. If you have a bike ride the next day, lubricate the eyelets the night before for a nice silent ride the next day.
Over time or if you lubricate the rim eyelets frequently, a small amount of the oil may make it past the eyelets and onto the rim tape. No harm done unless quite a bit of oil seeps through. Its a good practice to replace your rim tape regularly anyway. When you replace your rim tape, it couldn't hurt to clean out the eyelet holes that are normally under the rim strip as well as you can without disturbing the trueness of the wheel. Plastic rim strips are more resistant to oil that may seep through, but there hasn't been much of a problem with the familiar cloth rim tape.
Rim eyelets don't need constant lubrication, every few weeks should be fine. Bike washing, rain, and just plain noisy, dirty eyelets will call for more frequent lubrication. And heck, if you have no eyelet noise, then why lubricate them? You could spend that time riding instead.
If all your other components are in order, you'll now be enjoying a smooth, quiet ride. The only sound you will hear will be the whoooosh of your wheels as they fly along.
In any event, Happy Riding from Mike & the Team @ AVT.BIke!
Special thanks to Mike and the Team @ AVT.Bike (friendly online store for some of the best component brands) for the content share. Stay tuned for more technical articles from the team!