Sun Tzu, that ancient Chinese military philosopher and rap music reference point, famously signed a restaurant receipt with an unsolicited strategem in place of a tip, advising one fortunate waiter that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Legend tells that this vibrant slogan enriched the lucky plate handler — who previously regarded all of this restaurant’s staff as backstabbing adversaries — by transforming them abruptly all into bosom pals, a blissful union that would inspire a hoagie chain but later run aground, friendships dashed on the rocks of unpaid franchise fees and festering mistrust. It is the story of our times, and perhaps all time.
In the 1980s, widely regarded as an extended and turgid moment in which synthesizers remade nerds into dancefloor lotharios and yet justice still could be found at the pointy tip of an arrow, skateboarding still was in its awkward early years. Much like the homebound elementary schooler, or the waiter-in-training at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, friends were those nearest to hand, if not in spirit — and so it was that skateboarders and BMX bikers became kinsmen of a kind, occasionally sharing a taste for neon accessories and zeitgeist-flavored real estate, wherein ‘Thrashin’ and ‘Rad’ staked out neighboring claims on VHS rental shelves. These co-feathered birds flocked together even through the judgment-heavy early 1990s, when Jeremy Wray cheered BMX bro Mike Esterino hopping on his famed water-tower jump.
Alas, as ledge skating gained supremacy and skateable blocks began trading at a premium due to police pressure and general scarcity, peg damage and huffy attitudes came to divide the camps, such that by the time the handrail age set in, extreme bike riders became punchlines. Skatepark proliferation ignited turf battles, with some private-sector facilities segregating the rubbery-tired rollers to their own evenings. Bike-prohibiting public parks prompted some skateboarders to yellingly shout and point at “no bikes” signage in a true perversion of historic roles.
Extreme bike riders later clawed back respect points on a comparative basis as scooter riders, rollerbladers and other ne’er-do-wells rotated through parks, and John Cardiel’s fixed-gear resurrection earned bikes a warmer position in the cockles of many 97A urethane hearts after his accident. The gnarliness of slamming on a bike was to be respected, if not the motocross-aping kits and the fact that you can sit down. And yet this uneasy entente now takes a new and graver turn, as a non-Olympic bound subset of skating re-embraces illegality from coast to coast. For some thrillhousers enamored of San Francisco’s steeps, a bike may as well be a car or a brick wall, and have come to be perceived as a potentially mortal threat:
Thrasher: What has been your closest call to getting fucking annihilated when bombing hills?
Matt Finley: Dude, so many times. I mean, I’ve gotten hit by a car before but haven’t been hit too bad. Like, four days ago we were going down Twin Peaks and a biker dude—I couldn’t hear him or anything—zooms past me and is centimeters from running into me full speed. He went right between Taylor and I. If he had clipped me I would have gotten fucking smoked! I mean, he probably would have gotten really fucked up but that was something else. That’s another thing! Fuck bikers and cars. They are they enemy. Bikers are in the road and act like cars; they just don’t give a fuck. I’m being a hypocrite but they act so entitled.
Are bikers really just skaters astride one-half of a giant skateboard that uses different types of wheels with handlebars and a seat? If bike riders and skateboarders were to finally unite their powers, could the scooter scourge be ended once and for all? If BMXers and skateboarders were more closely aligned in the run-up to biking’s debut in the 2008 Olympics, could the event somehow have been ‘thrown,’ casting extreme sports in a negative and clownish light globally, thereby ensuring that skating remained safe from Olympic circusization for generations to come?