Protective Gear

Why Are You (Or Are You?) ATGATT?

You’ve heard the preaching. ATGATT has become a word, now — people say the acronym like “I’m an atgatt rider.”

You’ve also seen folks riding motorcycles without any gear and, depending on the state, without even a helmet.

Often the type of gear the rider wears rider is dictated by the crowd they fall in with as a baby biker: the “ATGATT” crowd do not let others in their ranks get away with anything less, and freely shame those in no gear. The gearless riders “live and let live” and do not shame others about protective gear, or mention at-fault accidents, or the potential for more protection. It is akin to religion: whatever you were brought up with, is your current belief system. Anything else is foreign, ridiculous, unthinkable.

Can a gearless rider be converted? And should “ATGATT” riders be preaching gear, or simply quietly setting an example, or shutting the hell up?

“I am worried about your eternal soul bodily integrity” doesn’t generally garner any warmth.

Can it be that riders who do not wear gear simply wholly accept road rash, blood, injuries as the inevitable outcome of any crash? Do gearless riders and their friends accept a different eventuality? Is it a given? Are they battle scars, war wounds? Of course you’re torn up; you crashed your motorcycle. Is it more dangerous, more risky, more thrilling this way? That’ll take months to heal, man. Good luck getting any sleep. Those bandages sure look uncomfortable.

The “ATGATT” crowd says: Do not accept this eventuality. Think harder about your well-being.

What a gearless rider accepts as inevitable, other riders take every precaution to prevent.

Some “ATGATT” zealots get tangibly angry upon hearing about a rider who has crashed their motorcycle and needed stitches, skin grafts; has a cracked skull or a broken jaw; posts pictures of several square feet of road rash, some of it right down to the bone, weeping blood and lymph fluid. No-one likes to see or even think about that. It is much easier to live in denial.

We have all encountered riders who insist they’re not going to crash. Of COURSE I don’t wear a full-face helmet. I don’t need one if I’m never going to crash. It is comforting to think we are safe. We have normalcy bias, an illusion of control, harbor too much optimism.

Mustn’t gearless riders think about the fact that the right gear for the conditions keeps a rider cool or warm as needed, protects (especially the eyes and hands) from road debris and bugs, keeps sunburn to a minimum, and, yes, will often keep a low-speed “oops” from being a trip-ending incident or a hospital stay?

Many “ATGATT” riders assume that riders who do not wear all the gear, are not serious riders, and this (forgive, as the data set is in the tens but vociferous) is because any small mishap – a stone tossed up from the road; an insect large enough, at 50mph, to break skin; a cloud of sand in the face obscuring vision for several vital seconds; a low-mph drop – can end that rider’s trip. Can a serious motorcyclist plan a multi-day tour without any insurance against the smallest injury? Can a serious motorcyclist truly accept that any small mishap will keep her off a bike for weeks to months while skin, muscle, bone heals?

And in these gearless circles, are there lessons to be learned? When a rider has an “unplanned getoff” do those who know and love that rider say, that could have been me? Is there any analysis of the preparation, and the outcome? What can I do to prevent those injuries should I ever fall off my motorcycle? How could that rider who crashed, and is now sporting bandages over road rash, or stitches, or worse, done better?

Motorcycle gear has advanced quite a lot in just the last few years: fitment, abrasion resistance, armor, adjustability, breathability, waterproofness have all improved. If you’re a gearless rider who hasn’t looked at motorcycle gear beyond a sweaty leather jacket in a couple of years, you owe it to yourself to try out a Cordura piece or two.

Have you seen the rider in a scuffed-up Aerostich and scratched-up helmet, roll into an event and regale the attendees with a story about his crash that same afternoon?

It’s something. Listen to him, after he’s had a few ibuprofen and a beer. He’ll tell anyone who is willing to listen exactly what happened, and maybe what he did wrong, just so someone else doesn’t make the same mistake – and he may also say, I was wearing all the gear, and I don’t even have a scratch. Better replace these gloves soon though.


  1. I ride ATGATT, because although I love riding, I also want to give myself the best chance I can to see my kids grow up and ride with me.

    In having this conversation with an older coworker, who does not wear any gear and rides a much larger, more powerful bike than I do, he acknowledged that reality, then said that he’d “already had two accidents, and the next one would probably be his last, but it was okay, because his kids were grown up and moved out.”

    I just figure it’s down to everyone’s individual risk tolerance levels, and try not to judge people who are willing to accept more risk than I am.

  2. I feel like the ATGATT and squid thing is very much like our current political situation: all about extremes and divisiveness and yet ignoring the common interests and the sense of community that should be fostered.

    Personally, I always ride with full face helmet, armored jacket, gloves, moto boots. Pants? Well I have cordura re-enforced jeans (Levi’s skate edition 511). Not as good as full armored jeans but better than your average pair. Still some risk but yes, I do accept that in a compromise for comfort and uh, yeah, fashion. So I’m not really ATGATT but I’m more on that side than being a squid. I feel like a lot of riders are in the same grey area and I’d like to see more focus on that than the extremes. I think it’d be easier (and more helpful) to convince/convert someone who wears very little gear if you do it one piece at a time (and by example) instead of by preaching/being hardcore/all in about it.

    We probably all got into this at least partially for the enjoyment of the freedom of riding, and I can see how some people feel that’s hampered by wearing lots of gear. Personally, I don’t have that problem, but I can see where they are coming from.

  3. When I was a wee sprog, my Dad rode in a 3/4 helmet and sunglasses. He told me all about how helmets were dangerous, and caused neck injuries. He also didn’t like wearing seat belts in the car in case he needed to get out of the car after a crash. Love my Dad, but I don’t agree with a lot of his choices.

    When I was baby biker, most of my moto friends were ATGATT (or mighty close to it… Aerostich suits and hiking boots, or all geared up but with armored jeans). Those that weren’t, I started getting nervous about riding with, because I really didnt want to clean up after they street crayoned, and I didnt want others to have those thoughts about me.

    Good examples have always helped, and I try to be one of them now.

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