Gearhead Diary: Avoid controversial subjects by talkin’ tires

PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN I suppose I should talk tires more. The internet said these tires I bought would fit our car. But the rims don't get along with the brakes. I'll find something or someone that can use them.

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Matt Bartmann

“How was school today?” my mom would ask every day when I got home.

“Fine,” I’d reply, as I shuffled off to my room to put my stuff away. She may as well have asked me how I felt about her new Michael Jackson album. Controversial stuff. And we might not agree. I really didn’t want to argue.

I would then go off on my BMX bike and meet up with my good friend Bobby. We’d ride our bikes around neighborhood construction projects, stalled for reasons unknown. New home basements dug, but not yet poured with concrete, and subsequent piles of dirt. Fun stuff for kids on their bikes.

Of course, we’d discuss the pros and cons of our bikes. He had a fancy new Diamondback. Lightweight and agile. I had an older French-built Univega. Weird stuff in the BMX world. It was built like a tank, and weighed about as much, by bike standards. We each thought we had a better bike.

On weekends, we’d ride to nearby Recycled Cycles to look at new tires. On that subject, we could agree. For hours, we would loiter in that store and discuss tire brands, tread types, tubes. I’m sure the folks at that store loved us. Although, sometimes, we’d actually buy stuff.

A few years later, things really hadn’t changed. High school days, and I drove a weird foreign car. My old Volvo wagon. Built like a tank. Not the zippiest car, admittedly, but it fit lots of stuff and people.

My best friend, Tom, had a Corvette. Super spiffy. His car was faster and arguably prettier (it had paint). If an activity involved more than two people, we’d take my wagon. Resale value aside, we both thought we had the better car.

Our cars had one thing in common. They both needed tires sometimes. Over games of pool, Tom and I would discuss the tread patterns, raised white lettering, and traction. Mostly we discussed tires for his car. A Corvette in the hands of a high school kid has a healthy appetite for tires.

We never argued about the tires. It was always a level playing field discussion, and we always agreed on what was best.

Later, the pizza delivery years. All the drivers thought they had the best car, of course. Reliability was the name of the game. One major aspect being tires.

Michael and I—the early morning prep crew—spent hundreds of hours discussing tires while we made dough balls for the day’s pizzas. We each covered about 50,000 miles per year. We’d discuss all things tires: summer/winter tires, tread-wear ratings, optimal fuel mileage.

I’m still friends with the pizza folks. There are lots of things we disagree on, but we can always talk tires and agree.

Now, it’s friends and neighbors. Collectively, we drive a variety of vehicles. Each best for our personal needs and budget. No need to argue. And tires are simple practicality. Ten miles of dirt road—often in poor condition—dictates our tire decision. “Good in all conditions” is the goal. Dry, mud, snow, ice.

We all know our tires pretty well, so there’s no need for much tire discussion except when a neighbor asks “You happen to have a spare for an F250?”

“Sure. How many do you want?”

Sure, I’ve got tires for your truck. F150? F250? Ranger? Come on up. They might not be pretty, but they hold air.

And if my mom were ask me “How are your new tires?” “fine” would not be my reply. I’d be glad to discuss how they are, good or bad. And if she asks my thoughts about that Michael Jackson album now, I’d gladly discuss that, too.

Turns out, there’s no disagreement about that either. I decided that I don’t mind Thriller at all.