Contrary to what my family and several friends believe, I'm not so obsessed with bikes that I see them in my sleep. Usually.
A few nights ago, I had some vague dream about skidding. I woke up remembering how fun it was to skid when I was growing up in the Midwest. Parents—who tend to look at bald tread and see dollar signs—usually discourage such behavior, scolding their kids and telling them not to shred their tires. On the rare occasions I've caught my kids burnin' a little rubber, I've tried to bite my tongue. A few rubber knobs are a small price to pay for good childhood memories.
The mid-1970s were pretty medieval, by today's adolescent standard: VCRs, personal computers and gaming systems hadn't yet been invented, and no kid that I knew had a TV in his room. Why bother? Our small town didn't have cable yet. Youth rec center? Please. We had a little mom 'n' pop burger joint on the edge of town, where we could ride our bikes to enjoy a jukebox and a pinball machine. At one point, the latest owners who had decided to get a taste of indentured servitude for the privilege of breaking even on the joint decided to go upscale. So for a while, we had two pinball machines. On a good week, they both worked.
I think you get the point. We had to make our own fun. Fortunately, the street in front of my house was flat, and Schwinn made cheap bikes with nearly indestructible coaster brakes. A few hours of boredom, a few kids from the neighborhood and, voila, a reason to lay rubber.
A couple of dozen yards of hard sprinting and a violent slam on the back pedal would yield a glorious black mark that, if you were lucky, would be a foot or two longer than everyone else's. A really good skid would send up a little puff of smoke behind the tire, which was the coolest possible result, regardless of distance.
This wasn't just thoughtless play. We developed technique. We knew smooth tread was best. Covert "borrowing" of a sibling's bike was acceptable if it had better performance. We figured out that shifting our weight forward would lighten the rear wheel, extending our distance and putting some style on the skid. A little bit of drift looked cool.
Then one day we tried it before the street dried after a rain. That little bit of lubricant on the ol' rubber made it a more satisfying experience all the way around.
Of course, this meant that bragging rights for longest distance were accompanied by an asterisk in the record book of our brains. Get in someone's face over your claim of the best skid, and he'd quickly remind you that his was on dry pavement while you had the benefit of recent rainfall. The merits of long skids were hotly debated, with arguments based on the conditions under which they were done.
To my parents' credit, they usually bit their tongues when they pulled into the garage after driving over the evidence of our tire-destroying afternoons. And my old red Schwinn's coaster brake never failed. That was back when owning a Schwinn was a point of pride, not the cheap-ass stigma it is today.
That sturdy old steel frame served both me and my younger brother well, and eventually went down in a blaze of glory after we moved beyond skidding and discovered one of the facts of life: Dads leave scrap lumber and concrete blocks in garages. The kind of scrap lumber and concrete blocks that, when correctly configured, can help launch helmetless kids into the wild blue, weld-splitting yonder.
Why lay rubber when you can catch air?