Monday 22 August 2011

Why am I so conflicted about ATGATT?

ATGATT, or All The Gear All The Time, is the credo of many motorcyclists. As a bare minimum it consists of a helmet, a good riding jacket – preferably leather, eye protection, jeans, solid boots and gloves. At the extreme it also includes armoured jackets and pants, da-glo green jackets or vests, and reflective tape sewn or glued onto every available surface – everything but a cabin surrounding the rider and passenger. Riding while wearing a do-rag, shorts, t-shirt and sandals does not meet the minimum standard. Nor does this Yamaha-riding-mankini-clad guy.

There are legitimate arguments to be made for any one of a long list of safety-related gear, all based on the assumption that the rider will (not “if”, but “will”) get in an accident and therefore should be protected – for his (or her) own sake, for the sake of his/her family, for the sake of the medical/insurance companies, and even for the sake of the taxpayer who may end up having to support a vegetable for years to come.

But there are also counter arguments, mostly frivolous but some that credibly posit that all that safety gear just make us feel more invincible and therefore more likely to push the boundaries.  Apparently humans are hard-wired to need a certain degree of risk in their lives. Everyone's threshold is different, but what seems to happen is that if we drop below our own risk threshold we tend to then engage in increasingly risky endeavours until our overall risk exposure levels are again in equilibrium. (See Wikipedia: Risk Homeostasis.) Hence more protection = more risky behaviour, and less protection = more cautious behaviour.

That’s certainly true in my case. I used to be an ATGATT guy,  especially during the years when I was teaching motorcycle safety courses – it just wouldn’t do to be seen by a student riding in jeans and a t-shirt when mandating full protection for them. But recently I’ve found myself relaxing my previously non-negotiable standards. Now if I am just going for a short putt over to the golf course (20 miles) on a hot day I may eschew the gloves and jacket and just wear a golf shirt, jeans and sneakers, or a light windbreaker. If I’m going for a longer ride involving temperature changes, possibly some bad weather, and maybe some twisty roads or high-speed highways I’m more likely going to put on all the gear, including wearing my full face helmet. And what’s interesting is seeing how I (instinctively?) change my riding style when so attired. I know for certain that I will ride more aggressively and faster when wearing full gear. It’s not a conscious decision and the thought process is not  “I will be riding hard therefore I will wear all the gear”. It’s quite the reverse, with the clothing dictating the riding style, almost like the way the speed creeps up on you when you’re listening to a good road song on the radio – it just seems natural.

Any of my former students would find it hard to believe I would ever feel comfortable riding in just jeans and a t-shirt but I have, belatedly, discovered there are times when it is right for me. Is it riskier? Certainly, when factors outside one’s own control are considered. But if I wanted to avoid all possible risk in my life I’d wear my helmet while driving the car, hang a life vest on the bathtub, sell my chain saws, and die of sheer and utter boredom years before my time.

No thanks. I’ll take my chances and wear what makes me comfortable.

(A brief word on helmets. I have had very limited experience riding on the street without a helmet and found that I simply could not relax and enjoy the ride. There are probably many reasons for that, but I just was not comfortable riding that way. Others are different. There is also no doubt that helmets do save lives, which puts them into a different category than gear intended to reduce possible road rash or increase visibility. Having said that though I still firmly believe wearing a helmet should be an issue of personal choice combined with personal responsibility for any possible negative outcomes.)

Tuesday 2 August 2011


I hadn’t seen Charles for a few years. We used to ride together back in the 80’s but then he got married, stopped riding and we drifted apart. Then just recently I heard through a mutual friend that Chucky was back on two wheels although his wife was not too pleased with his, as she called it, “midlife crisis”.

At any rate I gave him a call and we met for a ride for old time’s sake.

One of our favourite routes back then was highway 511 up through Calabogie (which I’ve blogged on here), so it seemed fitting we’d do that loop. After meeting up at the Timmy’s in Arnprior we headed west over to Calabogie and then across to Perth (Ontario) on the almost-world-famous highway 511. Then it was back north through Carleton Place, Almonte, and back to Arnprior where we stopped at the local pub for a bite and a pint as it was now about 2 PM. Over a late lunch we caught up on the last 20+ years, and then the conversation naturally turned to motorcycles and Charles’ new acquisition, a 2009 Fat Boy.

“So” I said, “I heard Christine wasn’t too happy about you getting another bike.”

“Aw hell, I needed to find something to get me out of the house. Alone.” he said, and then went on to explain they’d been having some marital difficulties. “I even considered divorce, but she hasn’t said a word to me in 6 months and a woman like that is hard to find. So (shrugs) I bought a motorcycle instead.”