ATG ATT: More than just an acronym trumpeting safety gear, it’s a polemic in shorthand on the nature of personal responsibility.
Lots of them this time of year. Days when you just want to get your motor running and head out on the highway. If only it were that simple. It takes me about 15 minutes to push the bike out of the garage, check the oil and tires, and get into my riding gear, by which time I’m a sweaty mess—unlike the bikers who roll the strip through my town be-jeaned and bare-armed. After all, how long does it take to slap on a Beanie helmet, sunscreen and shades? I’ll confess to occasional jealousy of the carelessly casual clothing many riders wear. Then I get the wake-up call.
One of our younger relatives arrives at Vancouver International Airport with her partner. A year ago, they were riding from Truro to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on Amy’s Honda Rebel when a distracted driver in a Toyota made a left turn across their path. The bike stopped when it slammed into the Toyota’s fender: Amy and Jessica launched over the top, hitting various car and bike parts along the way, and landed on the unforgiving tarmac. Both were wearing full-face helmets, so at least they kept their looks and their teeth. That’s the good news.
Amy almost lost her right leg, but many painful surgeries saved it, though half the kneecap is now missing: and she also wears a long scar as testimony to her shattered left humerus, still held together with a pin. As is her pelvis. Jessica collided with the gas tank, breaking her sacrum, which has yet to heal. That finished her season as a province-level softball player. The Rebel was written off—but that’s no real hardship as Amy has sworn off motorcycling, at least for now.
A day or so later, I get an email inviting me to join an Aug. 24-26 vintage bike event at the LeMay auto museum in Tacoma, Washington. Called Meet at the Ace (Café, that is), the event includes a ride to Mount Rainier on the Sunday, and the organizer signs off his email, “… and remember, ATG ATT.” The acronym’s a new one on me, so I Google it: All The Gear, All The Time.
BACK WHEN I WAS AN INSTRUCTOR with the BC Safety Council’s motorcycle training program, I signed an agreement that I would never sit on a motorcycle with the engine running—let alone ride away—unless I was wearing minimum motorcycling gear. For the BCSC, that meant: a DOT three-quarter helmet; leather or heavy textile jacket; jeans or work pants; gloves that covered the wrist; and boots that covered the ankle. Though the BCSC no longer exists, I stick by those rules. The problem is, they’re still not good enough.
Conversations with an orthopedic surgeon about facial reconstruction surgery following motorcycle crashes led me to swear I’d never get on a bike without a full-face helmet. And though I’ll sometimes ride in Kevlar-lined jeans, I’m not really comfortable unless my knees are armoured too—especially after seeing Amy’s scars. Gloves (with fingers) and boots are a no-brainer—watch anyone fall over, and their hands always go out first. Tough for me to work a keyboard with busted digits. And I’ve banged enough hard parts of a bike to know ankle bones are especially vulnerable.
All of this is just plain ol’ common sense, of course. The problem is that for many riders motorcycling has more to do with testosterone than transportation, usurping our sport and turning it into a swashbuckling lifestyle statement.
I’m pissing into the wind, of course, but if your ego needs the reinforcement of dressing exactly like all the other Captain Jack Sparrows on the road, you might consider professional help instead of a bike. Similarly, many sportbike squids wouldn’t be seen dead without a $1,000 replica helmet—then complete their couture with cotton cargo pants, skate shoes and a windbreaker.
In Maui, where the offices of Smith Inc. are relocated each November, default motorcycle wear consists of a muscle shirt, shorts, flip-flops and shades. A couple of years back, a passing acquaintance, similarly attired, dumped his rental Harley on the road to Hana: the results weren’t pretty. So if you dress for presentation instead of protection, it’s going to hurt a lot more when you go down. And we all go down. Amy was lucky: she can still walk.
I’m fairly sure now that a majority of motorcyclists, including the weekend pirates, would at least grudgingly concede that motorcycle helmets save more lives than loud pipes. But what about other safety gear? I’m not suggesting compulsory covering up, but there has to be a certain amount of personal responsibility and consequence for the choices we riders make. In some US states now, helmet use is optional—but the hatless rider waives their right to medical coverage. Sans skid-lid, the paramedics need a credit card imprint before they’ll peel you off the chipseal. Can it be long before an insurance company refuses to pay extra medical costs to an injured motorcyclist because they chose not to wear protective gear?
Just like helmets, there are standards, principally the European CE mark, that denote protection designed and tested for motorcycling. It’s easy to make the argument that riding a motorcycle without protective gear is about as foolhardy as driving without a seatbelt. It’s your choice—but don’t expect me to pay for your imprudence.
Of course, it’s impossible to say whether Amy’s and Jessica’s injuries might have been less severe—especially Amy’s knee—had they been wearing armoured motorcycle pants instead of jeans. But there’s a good chance they would.
So I’ll continue to take the extra 10 minutes to tog up—and endure the sweat until the breeze of the open road cools me down. And when the gal in the gas station says “nice day for a ride,” I might just be tempted to add: “if you’re dressed for it …”