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A while back I heard an ex-Navy SEAL give advice about carrying a pistol for self-defense. He said something along the lines of: “If you’re going to carry a firearm, you may as well carry and be ready to use it every time you step outside. The one time you don’t will be the one time you’ll need it.” 

The logic is sound, even if it might not be a realistic way to go about your daily life.

For many motorcyclists, the same reasoning applies to gear. We even have an acronym for it: ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time). Pretty self-explanatory. You never know when you might go down, so if you aren’t wearing full gear every time you swing your leg over a motorcycle, you’re running the risk of getting injured much more severely than if you were geared up.

When I first started riding, I was Team ATGATT. It seemed like anyone who wasn’t was a fool. Motorcycles are dangerous enough, right? Why not do whatever you can to make riding as safe as possible?

I spent a hell of a lot of money making sure every jacket or pair of pants or helmet I bought to ride in was highly rated for safety. I spent a lot of days sitting in restaurants and bars and walking around stores uncomfortable and sweating in bulky, Batman-style body armor.

These days, I’m not too keen on ATGATT. 


(1) Photo By James Barkman from "A Beautiful Nightmare" Issue 035 of Iron &Air Magazine.

ATGATT’s a myth. It’s impossible to do something all the time, every time. It’s inhuman. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still wear safety gear, and I still wear it a lot of the time. I’m not ditching ATGATT now because I’ve gotten ballsier the longer I’ve ridden. If anything, I ride more conservatively on bikes today than I ever have. The thought of ending up paralyzed or vegetized after a crash is horrifying.

But ATGATT makes safety seem black and white. Either you have gear or you don’t. Motorcycle safety streamers certainly treat it that way. If you watch helmet cam crash footage on YouTube, the one thing you see the streamers (and the viewers in the comment section) zone in on is the rider’s gear. 

A guy might have flawless technique and the crash might be entirely unpreventable, but if he’s missing a single piece of gear, he’ll catch hell from the safety patrol in the comments. He could be wearing an armored pair of gloves and boots and a jacket, a full-face DOT/ECE/SHARP 5-Star helmet… But if he’s in blue jeans and he goes down, they’ll roast the hell out of him for that before anything else.

On some level, it’s understandable. Skill, technique, and experience on two wheels take time and effort to acquire. Gear doesn’t. Acquiring and wearing proper protective gear just takes a bit of cash. So armoring up is the one decision a new rider can instantly make that will dramatically improve their chances of walking away from a crash. 

But the keyboard warriors and content creators who want to act like they don’t ever fire up their ride without full gear and CE-Level 2 armor on all joints and blah blah blah… Man, come on. 

Either 1) You’re lying, or 2) You don’t ride motorcycles very often.

(2) Photo by James Barkman from "A Beautiful Nightmare" Issue 035 of Iron & Air Magazine.

I spent the last few months living in Las Vegas with my bike as my only mode of transportation. It’s not a very walkable city (unless you’re a crackhead), and I was riding multiple times a day. I learned fast that I simply wasn’t going to put on armored pants and a leather jacket and shin-high boots to ride five minutes to the gym, then change out of all that gear and into workout clothes, then change back into it to ride five minutes home. I wasn’t going to strap on a CE-Level 2 back protector every time I took my bike to 7-Eleven for some hard-boiled eggs. (Big fan of those gas station eggs).

ATGATT’s a myth. It’s impossible to do something all the time, every time. It’s inhuman. 

I appreciate the principle… but there’s something about the #ATGATT community that stinks of pretension because I don’t believe anyone on earth has stuck to it. I don’t know a single motorcyclist—even the staunchest safety junkie—who hasn’t busted their vows once in a while. We’ve all hopped on a bike in a t-shirt for a quick cruise on a warm summer day.

Okay, maybe you haven’t worn a t-shirt. But I’m sure you’ve made a compromise somewhere. You’ve bought a helmet with a mid safety rating because it looks cooler. You’ve ridden in skate shoes instead of boots because they’re more comfortable… Whatever.

Yes, the ATGATT logic is sound. Wearing gear 99% of the time won’t protect you if you crash in the 1% of the time you aren’t. But statistically, you’re still a hell of a lot safer wearing gear 99% of the time than 50% of the time, and gearing up 99% of the time is almost as likely to prevent unnecessary injury as gearing up 100% of the time.

I get that ATGATT proponents say they mean well, but the line between well-meaning advice and posturing sometimes runs pretty thin, and a lot of the ATGATT folks online seem like they’ve got their panties in a twist about something that’s none of their business.

How you operate your motorcycle, of course, determines not just your safety but that of others. So it is other folks’ business if you ride like a maniac. Killing or injuring someone other than yourself or a passenger on your pillion is uncommon on a motorcycle, but still possible. So roasting squids for speeding through residential neighborhoods or doing wheelies through crowded intersections seems fair game.

The repercussions of improper gear, on the other hand, fall entirely on the person wearing the gear. So acting like not wearing ATGATT is somehow “wrong” or “incorrect riding” is just arrogance. If you follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion (i.e. Other people shouldn’t be able to do things that place them at unnecessary risk) then motorcycles shouldn’t be legal in the first place.

I used to think I had hardline rules about safety. Rules I would never, ever break. I used to think everyone should. But over the years I’ve realized every rule gets broken now and again. 

The idea is just not to break ‘em too often.

(4) Photos by Jason Spafford from "Two Wheels, Together Forever" Issue 037 of Iron & Air Magazine.

These days, I do my best to wear a full-face helmet, boots, and gloves whenever I ride, because the consequences of crashing without a helmet, in particular, are just too dire and too easily preventable. I usually wear a riding jacket, but not all the time. Sometimes I wear armored pants, sometimes I don’t.

If safety is a primary concern in your life, then man, don’t ride bikes in the first place. If you want to ride and be as safe as possible, wear your gear. 

I used to be Team ATGATT. These days I’m Team MOTGMOTT. Most Of The Gear Most Of The Time. Yeah, the acronym isn’t as pretty. 

But at least I’m realistic.

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