ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time)

Like any large group of people, even ones focused on a specific activity such as motorcycling, opinions can vary. Bikers differ on just about every aspect of our lifestyle. Perhaps the biggest hot-button issue these days is what to wear and when. On one end of the spectrum we have the ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) people, who argue that riders should strive for maximum safety by always wearing full body armor and a premium full-face helmet. On the other end of the spectrum we have people who routinely ride in shorts and flip flops and no helmet. I even once saw a fellow in Tennessee pull up to a gas station on a street bike shirtless with shorts and barefoot! (I don't recall whether or not he was wearing a helmet.)

In a recent column in Motorcycle Consumer News, riding safety expert Ken Condon made the mistake of suggesting that perhaps we don't need to wear all of the gear all of the time. Well, his attempt at moderation lit a fire and the letters came on strong. The ATGATT community let him know how hypocritical they found it that the best-known advocate for riding safety was suggesting that less than ATGATT was acceptable. I applaud Mr. Condon for injecting some logic into what is otherwise an emotion-based discussion--if not a virtual shouting match. What he was suggesting is that mature riders are capable of weighing the benefits and risks of wearing less than "all the gear." At no time did Mr. Condon suggest that riding in shorts, flip flops, or helmet-less was a good idea.

Experienced riders learn that there are safety tradeoffs when it comes to what we wear. When you find yourself in 96 degrees with 90% relative humidity, wearing the usual protective clothing might induce heat exhaustion, which is far more dangerous than the risk of going down. On the other hand, experienced riders also appreciate the dangers of burning one's legs or ankles on hot pipes or even a mild case of road rash--if there is such a thing. Someday when I have a few extra bucks, I plan to buy Kevlar-reinforced denim pants. I think they're a great idea. I also wear chaps unless it's hot out. For a rain suit, I wear an Aerostitch Darien jacket with pants. They are made of abrasion-resistant nylon with Gortex and Scotch-Lite material. The elbows and knees are also reinforced with plastic protective shields.

The helmet issue is itself full of emotion with a long history of divisiveness in the motorcycling community. Questions such as, Should use of helmet be required for experienced riders? and Do full face helmets impair peripheral vision? continue to be argued in clubs and state legislatures across the country. I wear a helmet 99.5% of the time. However, I have been out West in the summer in states where helmets are not required and the temperature was over 100 degrees. I strapped the helmet to the back of the bike to better endure the heat. My primary concern was fatigue. I was riding a Harley Davidson Road King and was able to rest two bottles of water on the handlebars, so I had hydration under control. (That's a great trick I learned from my friend Mitch.) I did learn that helmets are a great way to prevent sunburn on one's head. :-)

What it comes down to is that we need to apply a little common sense when it comes to riding safely. When you take an American Motorcycle Association (AMA) certified course, you are required to meet a few basic dress requirements:

  • long pants, preferably heavy denim
  • over-the-ankle boots
  • gloves
  • long-sleeved jacket or sturdy shirt
  • helmet

These are the basics. Under some circumstances, more is better; under other circumstances, less may be better. We in the motorcycle community ought to give our fellow riders a little latitude on their choices for protective gear.

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