We all know we should take care of ourselves. We wear seatbelts in the car. We avoid bad parts of town after dark. We eat right, or at least construct elaborate excuses to rationalize our bad eating habits. We know we should take care of ourselves.
Some of us just aren’t so good at doing things we’re told we should do. We don’t eat our veggies. We drive too fast. We hang out in those bad neighborhoods we’re supposed to avoid. We –gasp– ride motorcycles. Sometimes even in the rain. Sometimes we wear a brain bucket and all that nifty armor, sometimes we don’t.
There’s an acronym that gets tossed around motorcycle magazines and blogs quite a bit: ATGATT. All The Gear, All The Time. It means wearing full protective gear, head to toe, every time you swing a leg over the scoot. And sure, ideally, we’d all do just that. There are some inherent problems with that, though.
Honestly, the first problem that comes to mind is practicality. Most people don’t only ride their bikes on their day off from work. A lot of us ride to work, to the store, for fun, for travel. It’s just not practical to put on a set of trackworthy leathers and the accompanying heavy duty boots and gloves just to ride to work.
Another problem is comfort. For example, I live in Austin, TX. It gets hot here. As in Gates Of **** hot. The year before last we had over 100 days over 100 degrees, and more than sixty of those were consecutive. (Don’t even get me started on Global Warming deniers…). Granted, that summer was record-breaking, but seriously, temps in the high 90s don’t even warrant comment. Triple digit temps, while inspiring complaint, are normal in the summer (which runs from March to October). Add to that the fact that Austin has some of the worst traffic in our nation, and you have a recipe for heat exhaustion just trying to commute.
So, we compromise. I think that honestly, how much protection a rider chooses to wear comes down to comfort.
Some prefer physical comfort. They get on their bike dressed just like they would if they were getting into a car; dressed for the season. They add a helmet if the law requires it. They don’t wear gloves or jacket unless the temperature drops. They figure that they’re not necessarily going to crash when they get on that bike, but they are guaranteed to be hot if they wear the gear, so they take the chance. They trade safety in exchange for comfort.
Others don’t feel mentally comfortable knowing how vulnerable they are. They want to be protected as much as possible. They always wear a full face helmet, full finger gloves, heavy pants, protective jacket and boots. I’ve seen some so fanatical that they won’t even ride in jeans – they have to be in full leathers, or at least armored nylon purpose-designed riding gear or they won’t ride.
Personally, instead of ATGATT, I’m more MOTGMOTT: Most Of The Gear, Most Of The Time. Most of the time, I follow the idea of “Dress for the slide, not for the ride”, and I try to have as little exposed skin as possible. In the summer, I wear a mesh jacket with padded elbows, shoulders and spine. I usually wear a full face helmet, although I do sometimes wear a half shell or three quarter helmet in town in the summer. I do always wear gloves. It’s human reflex to throw your hands out to catch yourself if you fall, and hands are used for too much to let them go unprotected. I’ll admit to wearing the fingerless variety in summer, though. Same with feet: 90% of the time, I wear boots, but on occasion, I do wear my Chucks. They’re cooler, lighter, and at least they give a little ankle support.
The only things I believe should never be compromised on are:
Long pants. If you hit the ground, you can argue that your head or arms or even your hands may escape injury, but there’s no way I can think of to lay a bike down and not have your legs slide on the pavement. Plus, wrecks aside, I’ve seen many burn scars on legs from bare skin in close proximity to hot exhaust pipes.
Gloves. When I had to take a motorcycle safety course to ride on base back when I was in the Navy, the instructor made a very good point about road rash on your hands. He asked how comfortable we’d be if we needed help to take a **** because our hands were too bandaged. ‘Nuff said.
Eye protection. This is one area where I’d actually support a legal requirement. I don’t agree with laws that protect us from ourselves, but if you catch a pebble, big bug or even some grit in your eye, and lose control of your vehicle (even a motorcycle), you can cause serious trouble for someone else.
Closed toe shoes. Seriously, flip flops? Sandals? On a bike? That’s just asking for trouble. See the note about covering your legs, and amplify it when it comes to your feet.
So, yes, I do believe in protection, but like the line from the movie Risky Business said: “Sometimes you just have to say ‘what the f***’ “. Sometimes I forgo nearly all the gear and just ride in a T shirt, gloves, sneakers and sometimes even (Shock! Gasp!) leave the skid lid at home. It’s rare, but sometimes I just need to feel the wind and sun in my face and hair. Sometimes, caution needs to be thrown to the wind.
Riding is inherently dangerous – deep down, we know that’s part of why we do it. Everything’s too safe and sanitized in modern society. I believe we NEED risk to know that we’re alive. The question is: How much risk are we comfortable with?
Special thanks to E.T. for this post. If you want to read more about him, you can check out his Q&A session on YouMotorcycle.
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