Guest Article: The Art of Noodling

Like almost anything in Japan, the creation of noodles is a deeply ritualized art. Recipes are closely guarded secrets, and cooks apprentice for many years in the creation of a restaurant’s specific type of noodle. 

Not surprisingly, this type of ritualization can be appreciated by the Velominati, and Cyclops (who happens to be a bit of a gourmand with a particular interest in Southeast Asian foods) has drawn the parallel here and classified the progression through La Vie Velominatus into different types of “noodling”. A unique approach to say the least, but not without merit. Also note that I skipped lunch and the Article Photo may be skewing my impression of the approach.

Yours in Cycling, 

Noodling falls into three distinct categories.  The most common noodling – Level 1 Noodling – is usually done unawares by the common cyclist but true art is achieved when one does something exceedingly well without thinking about it.  It just naturally flows from the inner being.  It is when he or she is out solo and is just turning the pedals with no pressure on them.  They might be commuting to work in no hurry or going to the park and Sturmey-Archer 3-Speeds and Birkenstocks are usually involved.  A quick Googling of cycling in Amsterdam confirms that the Dutch excel at this level of Noodling.  Beautiful young women with Dutch accents, flowing skirts, and flowing hair gliding down cobbled lanes with windmills in the background can’t be considered anything but art.

Level 2 Noodling is an entirely different animal.  This level is usually done by the serious/competitive cyclist and is usually performed in one of two ways.  The first being the solo recovery Noodle.  At first glance it seems as though this version of Level 2 Noodling wouldn’t qualify as art.  I mean any meathead can plop some cash down for a discounted Discovery Channel jersey and plod along at 24 kph.  But when we consider that the average competitive cyclist has an extremely hard time not going all out all the time we see that there is more than meets the eye going on here.  What looks like a Lance Armstrong wannabe (Cadel Evans for those on the bottom of the planet) to the outside observer is actually a practice in refinement.   The artist is honing his skills by relaxing the shoulders, all the muscles in the face go into Ullrich mode.  There is a smoothing out of the pedal stroke.  Little details that are ignored when one is in the red zone or pedaling squares come into focus and are given the care and nurture given to the grapes in a French vineyard.

The other version of Level 2 Noodling is the one I like best – because at this late stage of the game I doubt I’ll ever reach Level 3 Noodling.  This version is also known as the early season training ride.  While one might see the aforementioned meathead out on the roads of summer you’ll never see him under the overcast skies and single digit temps of late winter.  While Meathead has been busily stuffing Cheese Whiz in his face at the neighborhood Super Bowl party we’ve been sitting on the trainer watching race videos and chomping at the bit waiting to get out on the road.  I actually like riding in early season cold weather kit more than the mere bibs and short sleeve jerseys of the heat of summer.  A serious artist has all the tools of the trade at his/her disposal.  Neoprene booties, windproof bib tights, long sleeve jersey and matching wind vest, various base layers and different weights of gloves.  These are the signs of someone that loves what they do. We may not get paid to do what we do but there is a certain level of professionalism to the matching kits, the immaculate bikes, and desire to be true to the art that Meathead will never understand. While going at this solo is commendable there is something truly sublime about a group of friends in a double paceline easily cruising in the stillness of (very) early spring.  The only sounds being that of the casual chatting and well maintained drivetrains.  No testosterone flowing.  No attacks by the Cat 2.  No urgency in the pedal strokes.  This is Level 2 Noodling at its finest.

Level 3 Noodling.  This level is reserved for professionals and those at the highest levels of racing.  It is when someone such as George Hincapie or Philippe Gilbert is at the front driving the pace all the while oblivious to the damage he is doing to those behind.  They are in an effortless zone that is free of suffering.  A walk in the park. Yet those behind are struggling to hold their wheel.  I would think that the satisfaction that comes from this level of Noodling could almost rival that of crossing the finish line in victory.  As mentioned above – most of us will never reach this level but sometimes the gods smile and peel back the veil and we get glimpses of it.  Like when the casual acquaintance that fancies himself fit dusts off the old 10 speed to join you on a “ride”.  Or when you see a rider struggling up the climb a half kilometer up the road and you smile to yourself as you reel him in in the big ring.

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127 Replies to “Guest Article: The Art of Noodling”

  1. ha i just read the rest of the thread…probably I am wrong about the 10speed shifters being ok.
    Never tried it but if the spacing of each throw on the lever is different which I guess it is, you will have the same problem I had trying to make a nine speed shifter work on a ten speed set up. You get a few gears at the bottom working and at the top but not in the middle or in the middle but not the top or a combination thereof. Very frustrating.

    Forgive my brain fart..I am just up after a week of nights…brains not working yet

  2. Sheldon has a section on alternate cable routing at the derailleur which can change the amount of lever throw and make a 10sp shifter work with a 9 sp cassette, 9 with 8 etc. I would find the link but I’m in bed with tea and muffins and trying doesn’t fit the current mood.

  3. @paolo @frank
    love the idea of sticking some old DA on it, but I really need 9 speed shifters with bar routed cables – like I’m even good enough to know the difference!

    ground the shit out of my 105s tonight doing some hills – think I need to learn how to ride properly first!

    thanks for all the interest and advice chaps – think I’m a bit out of my depth when we get techy

    shall still to frivolous paracycling banter meantime – play to one’s strengths

  4. @paolo
    ah, the Gylenhall Principle….. fair comparison regarding the lack of V I guess!


    Caught one while out fishing with the VMH and she thought it was so ugly she started to cry.Wild channel cats are good eating, I can’t stand the farm raised ones

    You eat cats……

  5. @Nate

    Right, so what I’m saying is, if Dr C wants to upgrade the Tiagra shifters without having to re-group, maybe he could get a used set of 7700 Dura Ace or equivalent Ultegra, probably pretty cheap. But I’m no Oli and I don’t have a copy of Zinn laying around my office so I don’t know if it’s actually compatible.

    Should work, but not a 100% sure. If Oli isn’t sure, I’m sure as hell not. But there’s really no downside. Get the DA 7700 and if it doesn’t work on the other stuff, that establishes the need for upgrading the other components. Win-win!

  6. @Dr C
    Sorry, I didn’t realise you were still on 9sp! But if you are getting the STI levers all you need to convert to 10sp is the chain and cassette. Despite the strict specs the derailleurs and chainrings won’t need changing.

  7. @frank


    Right, so what I’m saying is, if Dr C wants to upgrade the Tiagra shifters without having to re-group, maybe he could get a used set of 7700 Dura Ace or equivalent Ultegra, probably pretty cheap. But I’m no Oli and I don’t have a copy of Zinn laying around my office so I don’t know if it’s actually compatible.

    Should work, but not a 100% sure. If Oli isn’t sure, I’m sure as hell not. But there’s really no downside. Get the DA 7700 and if it doesn’t work on the other stuff, that establishes the need for upgrading the other components. Win-win!

    I put 9 speed Dura Ace shifters on a Sora bike. works like a charm. If you want to go to 10 speed then all you need is new shifters and Cassette. As I understand it the RD can be set for 9 or 10 speed by changing the setting on the limit screws.

  8. @RedRanger @Oli @frank
    so I’m thinking the best plan is pick up an old DA set of shifters and RD and get a 10spd casette and off I go – I’ll look at it all when I get the bike – ta chaps

  9. @Dr C

    Don’t get me wrong old chap I would never slag another mans V ability, Merckx knows there are far more capable people than myself. Just joshing about wealthy Dr’s laying out a ton for bling bike parts…

    As for getting techy I find I can do most stuff, not everything. My VMH bought me Mr Zinns big book of bikes for my birthday a year or two ago and I find that with patience and proper attention (you need to really watch whats happening when you start tweaking stuff) I can figure most stuff out. The more you do the easier it gets and of course you need the right tools whih is a fantastic opportunity to go to bike shops and lust after new tools. Stick at it..whats the worst that can happen ?

  10. @paolo
    with all the rain over here, we develop pretty thick skins, no offence taken, period :o)

    I have a rotting mountain bike which I take out and break every now and then – it’s a bit like a laboratory rat, poor thing, and I practice my surgery on it – spent too much time on books at Med School (Oops) to learn cycle maintenance from a text – youtube is good though, and of course, osmotic learning from the Velominati

    That said, in respect of the Gylenhall Principle, I shall in time proudly present my unnecessary upgraded Roubaix with Ui2 when it arrives!!

  11. Uhh, so a lot to wade through here, sorry. My right Force shifter still isn’t working, seems like I’m going to have to replace it.

    Shimano 5700 105 shifters will or will not work with the Red FD/Force RD I have on there?

    I’d like to switch over to Shimano as I have never really liked the shifting on Sram, but the most cost effective fix is to just by a lone right Force shifter. Still, this puts me back where I was, which is with a shifter I don’t really like the feel of and which I don’t really trust to get me into the right gear as I grind towards that short, steep hill on the cx course.

  12. Thanks Oli!

    Hmm, tough choice for me here. Spend a bit more, switch over to Shimano or stick with Force & put up with it, but save some money.

  13. @Ron
    always a pain in the butt when you don’t have the spondulicks to spend at your stage of life (not that it gets better when you get older, though there is a window of opportunity before breeding takes place) – you often spend more by trying to cobble bits together

    I just bought my son a cheapy tablet PC because he wanted (well I did actually) and ipad – thing has now siezed, and I have wasted money and am no better off – false economy, what a pain

    But when you are short of dough, you are short of dough, so I guess Ebay is your freind – that said – I was looking at some Dura Ace stuff from 2006, and it looks like the current Tiagra, so not much gain there….catch 22 bro’

  14. @Dr C
    Not going to make some pathetic, impassioned case here, but Tiagra’s not that bad. Certainly, 105 is superior (not to mention Ultegra or Dura Ace) in terms of weight, etc., but Tiagra does what it’s supposed to do, and does it reliably well.

  15. @Steampunk
    you are quite right, I gave my 105s such a pasting the other day due to my bad biking technique that, as I say, I need to learn to ride a bit smoother before I whine about the groupset

    Actually, my gripe is on a wholly less credible level, and one of which I ham fully ashamed – I don’t like having the gear cables coming off the side of the shifters – how unimportant is that!! Think I may have spoilt myself with the 105s on my Roubaix, and am now talking like a Gylenhallian twat

    No, I shall man up a bit and stop thinking of my bike as a handbag and get out and dish some V – the Tiagra is more than good enough for me

  16. Finally back on the bike after nearly 2 weeks due to injury.

    Pretty sure I was the noodle.

  17. I ain’t broke, but I’m trying to actually only buy cycling gear I need, not just want, until I have steady income.

    I’ve never liked Sram, I do like Shimano. Would be $160 for the Force right shifter, $200 for 5700 105 shifters (hard to find used, as they are relatively new),$50 for RD, $30 for FD. So around $290 to switch to Shimano or $160 to stick with Sram. I could sell off the left Force shifter, Red FD, Force RD so would recoup a bit there.

    Hmm, leaning towards a move to Shimano here. Or, if I go Campa I’d have interchangeable wheelsets on my two main road bikes + my CX bike. But, more expensive to swap the CX bike to Campa than going to 105 or sticking with Force.

  18. Yeah I have 8 speed on the rain bike (generic shifters, 105 front and rear derailleurs) and reckon it’d be perfect for cross – large spacing, a brute of a chain and cheap cheap cheap to replace.

  19. @Nate
    now there is a good point – I imagine if you actually hold onto the cables themselves, nobody will notice – top tip – cheers Nate (and there was I trying to kick the Phaerobar habit!)

  20. @Nate

    Right, so what I’m saying is, if Dr C wants to upgrade the Tiagra shifters without having to re-group, maybe he could get a used set of 7700 Dura Ace or equivalent Ultegra, probably pretty cheap. But I’m no Oli and I don’t have a copy of Zinn laying around my office so I don’t know if it’s actually compatible.

    Pretty sure all 8spd + Shimano (when switched rear hub spacing and from freewheel to cassette) are compatible with any group of the same speed. There might be a few older (pre 1997) brifter/derailleur combos that won’t work (like pre 97 DA/Shadow rear derailleurs) but they are pretty rare finds now days.

    I’m running 9spd 7700 DA with 105 shifters on my roadie and 105 with DA shifters on my cross rig and both shift like butter. (The DA shifters really improved the crispness of the entire 105 gruppo’s shifting)

  21. @Frank

    My BMW 530xit has an inline 6 with tons of power. Europeans, in particular Germans, know all kinds of things about getting lots of power out of a fairly small motor. With the long pistons you get out of the inline 6, you can accelerate just as well at 60 as you can from zero. Amazing motors.

    I recently saw an interview with Jens and he mentioned his “big motor” and it reminded me of your crowing about little Bimmer engines. If big motors are good enough for Jens they’re good enough for me.

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