A Short History of ATGATT

 What is ATGATT anyway?

ATGATT is an acronym bandied about by experienced motorcyclists that stands for “All The Gear All The Time.”

Trivia fact #1:           An acronym is created when the first letters of a phrase are put together to become a word.  “NASCAR,” for example, is an acronym formed by the first letters of “National Association of Stock Car Racing.”

Please ignore for now the facts that NASCAR was not national for a long time, and that none of the competing vehicles have ever been stock or even close to it. Not the point!

As another example, the root words that form “NASA” are “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

An “initialism” is created when the first letters of a phrase are put together as a word but still pronounced individually.  “FBI” is the initialism created by the first letters of Federal Bureau of Investigation.  “ABS” is an initialism referring to automated braking systems (as on all current BMWs) or a slang term for stomach muscles if not all in capital letters.

Ain’t language fun?

Trivia Fact #2:                    When creating acronyms, small “place” words in the phrase may or may not be included.

Trivia Fact #3:                     The definition of “All the Gear” varies depending on the era referred to and the specific person.

In the early decades of motorcycle development, a century ago, all the “gear” that was available (and not of lot of it was) focused on protection from weather and dust. This was because most of the roads were dirt, rather than paved, because the speeds were low enough that a crash was much less likely to be fatal in and of itself, and because there was almost no other traffic. This is why you see early heroes of the sport clad in “dusters” that were very long coats meant to keep warmth inside and rain and (more often) dust outside.

World War II ramped up technological development to a fevered pitch on all sides, and that pace of development, allowing for the near total destruction of many production facilities in most industrial nations, kept right on going when the war ended.  Thus, by the mid-fifties, motorcycles and cars that could maintain sustained speeds of over 100mph were not exactly common, but certainly available.  President Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that would create the interstate highway system, and the pace of performance development continued. Not many people are aware that the original interstate highways were designed for safe travel by cars at 80mph.  Given the suspension systems and brakes of the day, this may seem alarming but then again, there was much less traffic.

The first crash helmets that could be expected to offer any sort of actual protection in a crash were produced in the very late 1950s. By and large, helmets previous to that offered the psychological placebo of making you feel safer, and possibly look better, and that was about it.

My own riding experiences began in 1967. I launched into riding armed with enthusiasm, what snippets I  had gleaned from five years spent reading every motorcycle magazine I could find several times, (while waiting for the parental “no’s” to abate) and utterly no formal ride training. No real training programs existed. 

However, I was very serious about motorcycle riding, and I did have “ATGATT” for the time.  It consisted of:

  1. An open fact Bell 500 helmet.  The full face helmet had not yet been invented, but the Bell 500 was the best helmet of the time.
  2. A clear or tinted “bubble shield” which snapped on to the helmet.
  3. A bandana across the face for protection from bugs (summer) or cold  (fall and spring) but really – because that is what Formula One drivers did and I wanted to look like them.
  4. Jeans  (not a good idea, but who knew?   In cold fall and spring days (this was Minnesota – VERY cold) the jeans were supplemented by snow pants which everyone in Minnesota has.  No padding, and the pants would have shredded into plastic smithereens on contact.
  5. White handball gloves (in summer).  Why white?  Motorcycles of the time did not have turn signals, and white gloves were easier to see in the dark in the headlights of the car behind when stuck out to signal a turn.
  6. A ski parka. Everybody in the Midwest had a ski parka, even if they, like me, did do not ski.  I wore mine as a “motorcycle jacket” for three years.  It worked fine –  but then again I never crashed in it
  7. Hiking boots.

In other words, not bad, but far from what would be considered minimally acceptable today.  I can give myself credit for at least trying, but it was from a desire to look cool and not because I had any real notion of proper gear.  As testimony for my desire to be cool, my first “real motorcycle jacket”  was ordered out of a Webco catalog.  Webco was the motorcycle equivalent of a J.C. Whitney in those days, although perhaps with products of better quality. My new jacket was black naugahyde with white stripes up the sleeve and a “Mandarin” collar.  I added to it a “kidney” belt that all the “real men” on their big machines rode. Oh how cool was I!

Not sure how much a 22yr old needed a kidney belt on a 250cc Yamaha on the street….

Of course, when I had my first big crash one day after moving to the Seattle area I was wearing almost none of my good stuff – just

  • The Bell helmet
  • The white gloves
  • Shorts
  • Penny loafers and no socks
  • A short sleeved shirt

Appallingly stupid? Absolutely.  Typical of what most others were wearing all the time?  Absolutely.

After the broken shoulder healed  (my only serious crash and injury in 45 years of riding)  my gear picked up where it left off –  another Bell helmet, more jeans, the same boots, etc.  

I did add my first actual leather jacket – again more for style than for any considerations of safety.  As a struggling young teacher, I could not afford both a real motorcycle jacket and a nice winter coat, so at a K Mart (I think it was) I purchased a mid-length kangaroo skin coat with open sleeve and buttons. It did not work as EITHER a dress coat or a motorcycle jacket.  Not sure what happened to that original Webco naugahyde jacket, which is probably a collector’s item by now.

I later moved on to a ski parka, which had the endearring qualities of being more or less waterproof and keeping  me warm.  Had I suffered an accident it would have exploded in a cloud of synthetic fluff, but there was little else available at the time that was not seriously too expensive for a young English teacher.  Ski apparel also provided my gloves, and winter “snow” riding pants as well.

My first real leather motorcycle jacket was a Vanson purchased as a very special 30th birthday gift by my loving wife. Not sure why I picked a medium brown color.  I probably did not want to be thought of as a “biker.” I was so proud of that Vanson trademark and it was a quality piece of gear.  No crash padding of course (had not been invented yet) but real zippers on the sleeves and quality leather, etc.

A few years later came my first “real” motorcycle boots – custom ordered from Frank Thomas boots in England in 1979, when the exchange rate happened to be very favorable.  For these I mailed them a tracing of each of my feet and the boots were made to fit each foot separately.  $89 if I recall, of my $15,000 income for that year. I wore those boots for 20 years, and they were resoled a couple of times.  Last I knew they were still in service with the friend I gave them to. State of the art for 1989, but again, no real crash protection.   Extra wear pads where you would shift  (on each boot, as shifts had come on both sides to 1973) and excellent fit and quality, and infinitely safer than hiking boots,  tennis shoes (shudder), or worse.

For my 40th birthday I moved up to a custom made leather jacket from a small shop in Seattle that no longer exists. I still eschewed black and went with a dark gray silver color for a jacket with significant padding, as well as heavy duty zippers and very thick leather. This was a fine piece of gear for the era but golly Bob Howdy was it heavy!  I added to this a cheap pair of black leather jeans worn inside my Frank Thomas boots and now I was stylish as well as relatively well protected, topped off with a black Shoei helmet.

When I entered the motorcycle business in 2000 I was given a new jacket by the dealership I worked for, and it was similar to the custom one but now all black with the dealer’s name across the back, more padding, and less weight.  By this time helmet technology had moved on so I amped up to an Arai Corsair, arguably the state of the helmet makers’ art and certainly the priciest helmet. At $700 it was more expensive that the first complete motorcycle I had owned, and about 1 and ½ month’s salary from my first year of teaching two decades earlier. I also replaced the Frank Thomas boots with some Sidis  – which gave me more crash protection and were utterly and completely waterproof.

By this time motorcycle gloves were becoming more driven by design than fashion, and began to offer increased scuff resistance and even some armor on the backs of the finger. Ever a fan of gloves (can’t have too many) I purchased them much more frequently than needed.

Can you go too far in the ATGATT quest?  I think so.  In 2002 I became the owner of a Muzzi Raptor superbike through a series of unlikely events I will really have to write about some day. This was a highly modified Kawasaki ZX 750R that was state of the art for exotic sport bike performance from 1997 to about 2001. Only 56 of them were made, and one was now in my garage.

To go with the bike I purchased the fanciest and latest design AlpineStar road race boots available. BIG error!  These were just fine when riding the bike, but impractical to the point of stupid everywhere else.  They took some time to put on, and were far from comfortable when walking around. Now I owned a motorcycle that was to be used to lead customers on sport bike rides, but was so radical it was not very good for that, and a set of boots that were a constant literal pain if I was not actually riding a motorcycle.   How clever of me!

A few years later the dealership changed its logo, so I asked if it would be a good idea to outfit me with new leathers with the new look. Amazingly, my request was taken seriously, and after 6 months of design, measuring, and all sorts of drama, a custom made set of Vanson leathers, both jacket and pants, became the stars of my ATTGATT universe. This was the acme of motorcycle apparel design of the “traditional” school.

For the last few decades textile motorcycle gear has been making huge strides. First there were the waxed cotton jackets worn by iconic British “rockers” which were considered stylish by a pathetically tiny percentage of humans. They were functional, but also labor intensive in terms of maintenance, odiferous, and very heavy. 

A couple of decades ago the Aerostich brand appeared  (mispelling intentional) with the first truly long wearing and practical one and two piece textile riding suits. Aerostich Roadcrafter suits have been in continuous development since, and are considered to be the cream of the crop. 

Other makers gradually got on the textile wagon, and today I do not think there’s any reason to select leather over textiles other then ego and style considerations. 

Which brings me to my point…

I have been riding pretty consistently for 45 years now. For most of that time I’ve been wearing the absolute best in apparel. At the moment that is defined as a pair of RevIt! boots,  Vanson leather pants or RevIt! textile overpants, a BMW or Fieldsheer jacket, one of about 6 pair of gloves, and an Arai RX –Q helmet.  I have invested heavily in safety gear for 45 years and… why?  It is not as simple as stating “Because I want to be safe.”

I am usually wearing great gear from head to toe, and yet the only serious crash I have suffered was the day (cue irony) I was wearing almost none of it.  Despite this, I have never been all that concerned about my safety, and I do not think I have ever been preachy about it. When I started riding, pretty much nobody wore protective gear because there was so little of it.

So, what factors motivated me to wear this gear, and how can we get young people moving into the sport to adopt an ATGATT attitude?  

My thought is that lectures on safety, or even a lot of time and attention paid to safety will not work. If they did, we would not have teen pregnancies, teen drinking, teen drug abuse…

But!     Ego and exposure – that works every time! 

When I was growing up the basement of our home was referred to by both my parents and both brothers as “Preston Enterprises.”  That is why my writing efforts today are under a business license in that name. 

Preston Enterprises had equipment – lots of it. There was a dark room, a pool and ping-pong table, a piano, a table saw and a metal lathe, and equipment for hockey, football, baseball, water skiing, hiking, canoeing –  most of the many available outdoor sports and activities in Minnesota. In addition, both parents were sports car enthusiasts, and discussed road racing and high performance design at dinner. Our family cars had seatbelts long before the neighbors.

I think the affect of all this was that when I got into motorcycles I was used to thinking of the appropriate gear as cool stuff, and more and more gear was a desired outcome.  My parents gave me my first helmet many months before I ever purchased a motorcycle, and it is surprising I was able to resist wearing it all day and every day, and sleeping in it!  After all, I had like wearing a football helmet, and a hockey helmet. With this piece of infinitely cooler and obviously quality gear, I was on my way!

My garage today is not similar to the family home of yore because my interests are narrower, but it does have far more motorcycle gear of good quality that I actually need. 

This might be the way forward when approaching young people about the wisdom of ATGATT.  No lectures, but visual reinforcement when you and everyone you know go out for a ride attired from head to toe in the gear of your choice.

I am sure gear will continue to evolve and improve, but the desire to wear it must be instilled in each new generation.   Be cool –  ATGATT!

If you will excuse me, I need to go wax my helmet – again.

Copyright 2012                                                          David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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1 Response to A Short History of ATGATT

  1. Robert Okrie says:

    Sweet, Mr. Preston! A joy to read and compelling, too!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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