Monday, September 11, 2017

Getting real: MOGMOTT

My Facebook feed is a selective filter for ‘expert level’ riders; motojournalists, racers, and ex-racers predominate, along with many others who work in the motorcycle industry, from manufacturers’ press liaisons through retailers and on into aftermarket sales and service.

Among those pros, ATTGATT is a frequent refrain. These guys and gals heap scorn on hipster bike videos in which riders cavort in vintage open faced Jet-style helmets, $800 selvedge jeans, and t-shirts. To listen to them (or read their Facebook posts) they themselves would never venture out in anything less than All The Gear, All The Time.

I was thinking about that the other day, as I traversed Kansas City’s ‘Midtown’ district by motorcycle – an exercise that’s fraught with peril at the best of times, and this was rush hour.

It’s not that KC’s traffic is bad overall; it isn’t. Nor is traffic particularly dense in Midtown (although the drivers are.) It’s just a nexus for crazy. See that car trailing a cloud of white smoke? It could be a blown head gasket. Or just pot. Midtown pedestrians walk, facing away from traffic, right in the middle of travel lanes. That aging Grand Marquis will invade your personal space leaving the dialysis center; a Blazer dragging a tailpipe will veer in to sell plasma; turn signals? Don’t make me laugh. Look! There’s Gomer’s liquor store, the only place around here that reliably stocks Everclear.

I wondered what my Facebook cohort would think about me riding that gantlet in sneakers.

“Sneakers?!? No ATTGATT?”

Look the truth is, if I’m just riding from my house to the gym – a couple of miles through Midtown – I throw a helmet, gloves, and my aging Roadcrafter onesie over workout gear and call it protection.

Seriously though, it’s time for me to admit that while I recommend ATTGATT, the reality is that what I actually wear is MOGMOTT: Most Of The Gear, Most Of The Time.

There, I said it.

Case in point: Last year, the editor at one of my UK magazine clients, Bike, asked me if I’d go to Los Angeles and write a ‘Ride With…’ story. The subject of the story was an ex-pat Brit, who lives in Malibu where he builds expensive choppers. Bike had arranged for me to borrow a Harley-Davidson from Eagle Rider and booked ace motorcycle photographer Kevin Wing.

That put me in a tricky situation, wardrobe-wise. Bike expected photos of me, on some rented bagger riding in close formation with the builder on one of his expensive customs, through the canyons.

What helmet would I wear? I had several race-style full-face lids at my disposal; any of them would’ve provided good protection and be the obvious choice for a crotch-rocket story, but would not match the rest of the proposed assignment’s aesthetic. I had a few open-faced lids that I’ve used over the years for photo shoots with vintage or custom bikes, but they didn’t seem to offer enough protection for a spirited ride on an ill-suited bike and unfamiliar roads. I looked through the Bell catalog and thought that the Bullitt was a good compromise, combining a vintage/custom look with a chin bar and ECE-approved protection.

For modelling purposes, the Bullitt filled that bill pretty much perfectly. Not that it’s a perfect helmet; it generates a lot of wind noise – earplugs are a must even at legal/urban speeds – and it definitely generates lift, too. But, the wide-open face port makes it feel like an open-faced lid, while it still gives me most of the confidence of a race helmet. (And as an eyeglass wearer, I’ll note that it’s easy to get glasses on, and the liner doesn’t press the arms of the glasses into the sides of my head.)

I’ve come to dig the Bullitt’s custom/vintage vibe, and it’s become my go-to lid for short rides, so I was momentarily taken aback by my friend Greg Williams’ reaction when I rode down to his shop, Café Racer.

“You’re wearing a hipster helmet!” Greg blurted, with genuine dismay.

From his tone, you’d think the Bell was some novelty helmet with a spike on top. Which it isn’t, but everything’s relative. What does “all the gear” even mean? If you’re pulling away from the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, you probably figger that engineer boots, jeans and assless chaps, fingerless gloves, and a shorty helmet constitutes ATTGATT.

If you’re an ex-roadracer like Greg (or me) your standards are (sometimes) higher.

Some of my most-read stories over the years have been on the topic of road safety. So I’m fully aware that if I do ever suffer serious road rash because I’m just in jeans instead of full leathers, I will suffer the scorn of my readers, as well as the pain of skin grafts! But, for all that I know better, it feels weird to ride a 10-horsepower scooter to the coffee shop or take a spin around the neighborhood on a 35-year-old 200cc dual sport, while dressed for the Bol d’Or or Alaska Highway. Even if ATTGATT obviously makes sense, I imagine people looking at me and thinking, “There goes Walter Mitty…”

Earlier this year, I was tapped to ride the new KawasakiNinja 650 out in Paso Robles. Part of the deal when it comes to such an assignment is, you don’t just come back with a rational review of the bike, you come back with suitable photos. It was a ‘street launch’ and Revzilla sent me street wardrobe: a pair of SPIDI jeans and XPD X-Zero ankle boots.  

I had a moment of thinking, is that really protection? But late in the summer riding season, those two items have entered my daily rotation, even though they would not be approved by ATTGATT Nazis.

The jeans have a too-prominent-for-my-taste logo on the thigh, but other than that they look like regular (albeit baggy) trousers. That loose fit conceals ECE-approved armor in the hips and knees. The fabric looks like cotton denim, but it’s woven with abrasion resistant nylon.

Do they offer race-quality protection? Of course not, but they’re obviously a lot better than Levi’s (or those $800 selvedge jeans). They’re not too hot for Missouri summers. As a bonus, they’re easier to move in – something I’m reminded of every time I throw a leg over a high seat.

The boots look like proper race boots, they just end right above the ankle. I suppose if I’m ever in crash that tears off one of my feet, I’ll wonder whether full-height boots would have protected me better. I certainly own lots of boots that offer better lower-leg protection – most of which offer all-day comfort on the bike. But if I have to walk anywhere in them, I clomp around like Lon Chaney’s Frankenstein.

Until I tried the XPDs, if I needed a compromise for riding-plus-pedestrian duty, I wore Doc Martens lace-up engineer-style boots which are certainly comfortable and offer a classic look. But I still remember that time in 1994, when I slammed an ankle so hard you could actually read part of the word ‘Yamaha’ in the resulting bruise, so every time I laced up those Docs, I was acutely aware they lacked ankle-bone impact protection. They’re stout enough for normal wear, but Doc Marten, whoever he was, didn’t plan for shift levers. I’ve worn right through the top of the left toe of a couple of pairs.

The XPD X-Zeroes seem to be engineered for moto-durability with shift patches and toe sliders, while remaining fairly functional as street shoes (albeit with a pretty technical look.)

I admit that my MOGMOTT, not ATTGATT, rule is largely ego-driven — I balance the nature of the ride and anticipated risks factoring in the speed, distance, and traffic I’ll encounter, and yes… style.  

That doesn’t prevent me from judging others.

I roll my eyes whenever I spot some stuntah wearing a full-face crash helmet like a cap, perched on the top of his head, chin strap flapping so that it will bounce away the moment his head hits the ground. And those guys who wear hard plastic back protectors with t-shirts? Puh-leeze. And yet I see them pulling shit I wouldn’t practice unless I was dressed for a space walk.

Different strokes, eh?

Groups like the MSF generally teach that a helmet, jacket, gloves, jeans, and over-ankle boots equals “full gear”. That’s as much as I wear for a trip to the farmer’s market. But I wouldn’t ride the Tail of the Dragon, or lane-split across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, with just a layer of denim between my ass and the asphalt. And as companies research, develop, and release ever better protection, the ATTGATT bar goes up (as does the cost to consumers.)

Have the ATTGATT fanatics on my Facebook feed now upgraded to air-bag-equipped riding gear? Do they wear Leatt braces? (One of the same friends who’s mocked my hipster helmet admitted, in the next breath, “Some of those ATTGATT people need to go do a track day every now and then, and improve their bike control skills.”)

Don’t get me wrong: I won’t even ride a bicycle without a helmet and gloves, so I’m definitely also in the SOTGATT camp (Some Of The Gear, All The Time). And of course I’m 100% ATTGATTATT – All The Gear, All The Time, At The Track.

I’m writing this because it often seems there’s really only two positions on gear: ABATE’s view that even helmets are really just another choice – perhaps less effective than loud pipes – and the ATTGATT absolutists’ equally obnoxious view that you shouldn’t even go to Starbucks unless you’re willing to gird yourself for the Dakar rally.

In between those two positions, there’s real life riding, where you balance risks with comfort, convenience and, yes, style. And I think that if guys like me promote ATTGATT or nothing, people may choose nothing. And that’s a bad thing.


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