Do you noodle?

Yesterday I rode with a friend to the Maxxi Museum in Rome, from our hotel near Termini station. In planning our route, we spoke of "noodling" on over to the Tiber River, then taking the cycle path along the banks of the river until we reached Via Guido Reni, the road that links the river and the museum. Planning our return journey, we spoke of following the river South to Saint Peters, then "noodling" on back to our hotel, via various piazzas, churches, gelato joints and cafes.

From left: the quickest route across Rome, for anyone, is the bike track along the banks of the Tiber; Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the film Roman Holiday; Rome’s attempt at a designated cycle path network.   

So what is it to noodle? Noodling is what you do when you don’t quite know your way, don’t know and don’t care which streets are one-way, are legitimately frightened by traffic, and have nowhere to be by any fixed time. It involves switching back and forth between the road and the footpath, sometimes riding with cars, and at other times gracefully weaving between pedestrians, all with a jolly indifference to your impact on motorcyclists and drivers. In your head you just keep saying, "grazie, spiacente, grazie, spiacente," while waving and smiling and ploughing ahead.

I learned the term noodle, and the noble art of the noodle, from David, my friend in New York, who writes the ArchiTakes blog. “We’ll just noodle on over this way,” he would say, then ride as the crow flies from one corner of Times Square to the other. Wonderful stuff. So wonderful, I reckon the term “noodle” deserves spreading among cyclists all over the world. Do spread it, won’t you. You will make me deservedly famous. (David is quite famous enough). 

Rides a Bike is a great place to find photos of people noodling on bikes.

So, some qualifying remarks regarding the noodle, before it is used and abused. If you’re doing it in some way that startles pedestrians, you’re doing it wrong. It does not involve toe clips, track-stands or bunny hops. It does not draw attention unto itself (am half tempted to write this in the style of that Bible verse nitwits have read at their weddings, you know, “love never this, and love never that.” But I digress).

Some real masters of noodling can be found here in Italy. Just watch them noodle their way across a piazza. Hundreds do it, and nobody sees them. If you’re noodling well, you should be invisible to pedestrians, but highly visible to fast moving road users. You should have a mid fielder’s awareness of your surroundings. You should be able to anticipate kids suddenly running into your path, or motorbikes appearing out of nowhere, aiming right at you. That car driver revving behind you, should know he can rev all he likes, there is no way you will pull over, while you are noodling. The driver seeing you coming straight at him, because you’re heading the wrong way down some one-way street, should be thanking god he hit his brakes before he hit you. No driver wants to face court for hitting a noodler. And it is with this power that we strike fear in their hearts. 

It is far better to be feared than it is to be loved, Machiavelli once wrote. Decades ago, drivers frightened everyone into being like them, into getting a car or else getting skittled. The time has come for we noodlers to start frightening drivers.
The West-8 exhibition at the Maxxi in Rome, btw, was surprisingly good, with a prototype of the wooden bikes they plan to litter all over Governors Island, New York. It hangs in a forest of diaphanous drapery, while jewel like models of bridges are the main attractions on the gallery floor. No photos allowed in the Maxxi—which spares the place turning into a circus—so I can’t show you any of the dozens of old drawings and models that make up the current [Gerrit] Rietveld’s Universe show, that covers the entire ground floor. It has nothing to do with noodling though.  
If you agree that noodle, the verb, should be added to the bicycling lexicon, do share this link. Or perhaps leave a comment. Perhaps there is a better term already out there?


  1. It was fun to chat with you about noodling today on the train. (And I’m amused at how easy it was to track you down.)

    • Steven says:

      hey, brilliant! And what are the chances of sitting beside someone on a train in Rome who knows so much about cycling and architecture. I only wish I were more informed about computers. Hope you bought yourself some sun screen!

    • I didn’t, ultimately, because I was too busy at my meeting. Ah, well. But Sicily had great food and beautiful views. Could be much worse!

      Hope you’re having a good time in CPH.

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